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Posts Tagged ‘Electronic Frontier Foundation

“The combination of economic inequality and economic segregation is deadly”*…

When we think of a social safety net, we tend to think about things like health care and environmental protection, social security, child care; lately here’s been lots of talk of Universal Basic Income. All of them are surely part of an answer. But if we want a social infrastructure that not only protects against personal and family challenges, but also creates personal and family opportunities, we need to look further– we need to look to something we might call Universal Basic Assets. The always-illuminating Rana Foroohar explains…

If American states are, as former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once put it, the “laboratories of democracy,” then it’s worth watching closely what’s happening in California right now.

The threat of rising taxes and a “soak the rich” political atmosphere has led some wealthy Golden State residents, including a number of technology entrepreneurs, to leave for cheaper pastures such as Austin or Miami. This has, in turn, prompted worries of a larger migration that would have an impact not only on the state’s tax base, but on the growth and innovation that have made California the world’s fifth-largest economy.

It is an exceptionally fraught situation. While nobody these days has much sympathy for wealthy individuals or companies (witness the recent justified fury about the ProPublica leaks showing how little tax the wealthiest Americans pay), or really believes in trickle-down economics, the threat of tax and regulatory arbitrage by other states is real.

The good news is that California is applying some typically creative thinking to the problem. What if there was another way to harness company and citizen wealth for the benefit of all?  

One such idea gaining popularity is what has been called “pre-distribution.” Unlike traditional methods of redistribution, in which the state taxes existing wealth and then uses it to bolster various projects and constituents, pre-distribution is all about harnessing capital the same way investors do, and then using the proceeds of the capital growth (which as we know far outpaces income growth) to fund the public sector…

It could help better align public and private incentives and rewards. The massive wealth accrued by leading companies is in part down to the strength of the public commons — good schools, decent infrastructure, basic research, and so on. As economists like Mariana Mazzucato frequently note, why should taxpayers pick up the bill for, say, laying high speed fibre without getting any of the commercial upside?

California Senate majority leader Robert Hertzberg, a Democrat… along with some very rich Californians like former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt and Snap founder Evan Spiegel, have proposed… something called “universal basic capital”. The idea is that seed contributions of equity from companies or philanthropists could be invested into a fund that would then be used by individual Californians for things like retirement security, healthcare and so on…

If pre-distribution works in the laboratory of California, I expect it will be adopted in some way at the federal level. The Obama administration actually tried to implement its own version of the CalSavers programme for the country as a whole, called myRA, but it failed in part because the funds were invested only in super safe low yielding Treasury bills at a time when the market as a whole was rising far faster. Even at this politically polarised moment, it’s an idea whose time may have come. Pre-distribution is supported by such unlikely bedfellows as hedge funder Ray Dalio and leftwing economist Joseph Stiglitz. Perhaps that’s because while it doesn’t fundamentally alter the market system, it does broaden share ownership: a mix of capitalism and socialism that is right for our time…

Capital for the people — an idea whose time has come“: @RanaForoohar explains how California’s nascent experiments in Universal Basic Assets could be a model for the nation.

In thinking about national possibilities, your correspondent’s favorite rationale/approach is Cornell economic historian Louis Hyman‘s formulation (toward the end of) this post.

* “The combination of economic inequality and economic segregation is deadly. It reinforces the advantages of those at the top while exacerbating and perpetuating the disadvantages of those at the bottom. Taken together, they shape not just inequality of economic resources, but also a more permanent and dysfunctional inequality of opportunity.” – Richard Florida


As we share and share alike, we might send grateful birthday greetings to the Electronic Frontier Foundation; it was founded by John GilmoreJohn Perry Barlow, and Mitch Kapor on this date in 1990. Over the last 30 years, EFF has become the leading nonprofit defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation.

Happy Birthday– and many more!

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood…

Consider the case of Gregor Mendel:

You probably know Mendel as the guy who pioneered the science of genetics… Anybody with a high school diploma has filled out those dominant/recessive trait Punnett squares … … though astute readers are probably wondering why that technique is called a Punnett square if it predicts patterns Mendel discovered.

What you probably didn’t know was that before making his revolutionary discovery, Gregor Mendel flunked out of school and resigned himself to a quiet life as the abbot of a monastery. It had an extensive experimental garden and there Mendel patiently spent the next seven years of his life breeding and cross-breeding peas.

He carefully documented his work and developed what would eventually be known as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance. Then he wrote it up and got it published in an lesser-known journal, the Journal of the Brno Natural History Society in 1866.

His genius was rewarded by … A quiet life of complete anonymity. Mendel’s work was read by about zero people, even after he took it upon himself to contact the highest minds of his time by personally sending them copies of his theory… Why did they ignore him? Because the greatest minds of his time couldn’t understand him. It wasn’t until 16 years after his death that three independent botanists rediscover Mendel’s work and started the genetics ball rolling.

Read a more colorfully-worded version of Mendel’s story, and the tales of four other scientific pioneers, in “5 Famous Scientists Dismissed as Morons in Their Time.”

[Special Holiday Bonus:  The Animals singing this post’s title song]

As we reconsider the advice we got from the wild-eyed gentleman standing in the DMV line this morning, we might recall that it was on this date in 1900 that Nature reported the development of the first fully-electric musical instrument, the Musical Arc (or Singing Arc) developed by English physicist and engineer William Dudell.

Before Edison “invented” the electric light bulb in the United States, electric street lighting was in wide use throughout Europe; the carbon arc lamp generated light by creating a spark between two carbon nodes. But this method of lighting produced an annoying constant humming noise from the electric arc.  Duddell, who was appointed to solve the problem in London in 1899,  found that by varying the voltage supplied to the lamps he could create controllable audible frequencies from a resonant circuit caused by the rate of pulsation of exposed electrical arcs.  He attached a keyboard to the arc lamps– and created the first electronic instrument that was audible without using the yet-to-be-invented amplifier or loudspeaker.

Duddell– who also invented the moving-coil oscillograph (an early oscillator-type device for the photographic monitoring of audio frequency waveforms), the thermo-ammeter, thermo-galvanometer (an instrument for measuring minute currents and potential differences later used for measuring antenna currents and still used in modified form today), and a magnetic standard (used for the calibration of ballistic galvanometers)–  never patented his discovery.



Tabletop science…

source: RSC

Two bulletins…

First, from New Scientist:

An electromagnetic “black hole” that sucks in surrounding light has been built for the first time.  The device, which works at microwave frequencies, may soon be extended to trap visible light, leading to an entirely new way of harvesting solar energy to generate electricity.

A theoretical design for a table-top black hole to trap light was proposed in a paper published earlier this year by Evgenii Narimanov and Alexander Kildishev of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Their idea was to mimic the properties of a cosmological black hole, whose intense gravity bends the surrounding space-time, causing any nearby matter or radiation to follow the warped space-time and spiral inwards.

Narimanov and Kildishev reasoned that it should be possible to build a device that makes light curve inwards towards its centre in a similar way…  Now Tie Jun Cui and Qiang Cheng at the Southeast University in Nanjing, China, have turned Narimanov and Kildishev’s theory into practice, and built a “black hole” for microwave frequencies…

More (including a cool video) at New Scientist.

Then, from Network World:

A 12 million digit prime number, the largest such number ever discovered, has landed a voluntary math research group a $100,000 prize from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The number, known as a Mersenne prime, is the 45th known Mersenne prime, written shorthand as 2 to the power of 43,112,609, minus 1 . A Mersenne number is a positive integer that is one less than a power of two, the group stated.

The computing project called the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) made the discovery on a computer at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Mathematics Department.  Computing manager Edson Smith installed and maintained the GIMPS software at UCLA, and thousands of other volunteers also participated in the computation…

More at Network World.

(Readers may recall that (R)D reported last March on GIMP and the effort to find the next Mersenne Prime– at which point the estimation was that it might stretch to a mere 10 million digits.  Clearly, GIMP’s over-achievement affirms its worthiness of the EFF award.)

As we channel Mr. Wizard, we might run a celebratory riff for Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry, born on this date in 1926–  Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll!

Chuck Berry

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