Work Futures Daily - Yes and No

| Microsoft's Vision | Prosocial Investors | Coal Miners into Coders? | New Amazon Bots | Lionel Jospin | Isabel Sawhill |

Beacon NY - 2019-05-15 — Today's title is inspired by the quote of the day (which is a trend), today's by Lionel Jospin, the former prime minister of France.


This brightened my day:


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Social Now 2019 — Lisbon Portugal — 6-7 June 2019

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Quote of the Day

Say yes to a market economy, but say no to a market society.

| Lionel Jospin (cited by Isabel Sawhill, below)


Microsoft’s Vision: Trawling with Engines of Meaning | I visited Microsoft's Envisioning Center last week, and I wrote up some thoughts of their post-document vision, as hinted at by Fluid Framework and made more clear by the workplace of the future demos that Anton Andrews and the team at Microsoft dreamed up.


How the Dominant Business Paradigm Turns Nice People into Psychopaths | Lynn Stout (who recently passed away) explores the cascade of issues that arise from 'maximizing shareholder value' as the credo for corporate strategy, and how the individual shareholder is coopted into asocial behavior, even when otherwise inclined to being prosocial, meaning 'In the right circumstances, we can be counted on to make modest personal sacrifices to follow ethical rules and avoid harming others'.

In a 2005 article, Harvard law professor Einer Elhauge explored this puzzle. He concluded that for at least two reasons, when otherwise-prosocial people put on their shareholder hats, they’re likely to make asocial investing decisions that cut against their own prosocial inclinations. First, uninvolved shareholders ignorant of a company’s day-to-day operations decisions are in no position to police against, or even know about, antisocial corporate behavior. To the contrary, because the only thing they see is stock price, they may even pressure managers to adopt strategies that make corporate injury to third parties more likely.

Second, prosocial investors face a classic collective action problem, a kind of Investing Tragedy of the Commons. If SRI [socially responsible investing] funds provide even slightly lower returns than other funds, the investor who chooses SRI funds is paying a modest price for his prosociality. Yet his individual decision to “put his money where his conscience is” will have little or no impact on the behavior of the corporate sector as a whole. Elhauge concluded that “it is remarkable that many people do invest in socially responsible funds considering that their individual decision to do so has no significant impact on furthering even their most altruistic of motives.”

Other data reinforces Elhauge’s conclusion that the nature of modern stock markets discourages prosocial investing. This is because, while most people are capable of and even inclined toward prosociality, the data demonstrates our prosocial impulses depend on largely on external social cues. As I explore in my 2011 book Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People, in some social situations (buying a used car) a person will act purely selfishly, while in another social situation (attending a wedding reception) the same person becomes more altruistic. We might call this the “Jekyll-Hyde Syndrome.”

What are the most important ingredients in the social elixir that triggers our prosocial Dr. Jekyll? Researchers have found that experimental subjects act more prosocially when experimenters (1) ask them to act prosocially; (2) lead them to believe other subjects would behave prosocially; and (3) structure experiments so that prosocial decisions provide larger benefits to others. Conversely, people act more selfishly when told they should be selfish, when they believe others are selfish, and when they think selfishness imposes only a low cost, or no cost, on others.

We are then coaxed into asocial behaviors contextually in the investing scenario; so I wonder how that plays in the workplace? I bet we are more likely to adopt an 'everyone for themselves' mindset when it appears that other are doing so, or when they are explicitly told to do so.

[from Lynn Stout on Prosocial Investors]


They Were Promised Coding Jobs in Appalachia. Now They Say It Was a Fraud. | Campbell Robinson reports on yet-another-scam-education-program, this one set in West Virginia, ostensibly to teach coal miners to code:

Many West Virginians like Ms. Frame signed up for Mined Minds, quitting their jobs or dropping out of school for the prized prospect of a stable and lucrative career. But the revival never came.

Almost none of those who signed up for Mined Minds are working in programming now. They described Mined Minds as an erratic operation, where guarantees suddenly evaporated and firings seemed inevitable, leaving people to start over again at the bottom rungs of the wage jobs they had left behind.

Over two dozen former students in West Virginia are pursuing a lawsuit, arguing that Mined Minds was a fraud. Out of the 10 or so people who made it to the final weeks of Ms. Frame’s class in Beckley, only one formally graduated. He is now delivering takeout.

“It was a too-good-to-be-true kind of deal,” said Billyjack Buzzard, 33, who attended another class and was the only former West Virginia coal miner to finish classes and get a job with the program. He was fired after 14 months and went back underground. “Just false hope.”

Mined Minds came into Appalachia espousing a certain dogma, fostered in the world of start-ups and TED Talks, and carried with missionary zeal into places in dire need of economic salvation. The group was premised on the notion, as one grant proposal read, that “anyone can have a successful career in the technology industry,” and that if enough people did, the whole area would be transformed.

Zeynep Tufekci has a great tear-down for this story on Twitter:

Decades of research shows job training programs don't work at scale because of lack of supply of appropriate good jobs. There are always nice learned-to-code stories (I'm one: started coding as a kid and it literally saved my life) but those don't scale.

I have seen many, many "teach computers to poor people" efforts over the year and studied them in my disseration. My most common observation is that they are wasting people's time and should just give people the money directly. Focus should be on living wage for realistic jobs.

I don't discount the occasional success story, and I think there are a significant number of reasonable online resources for the few people who might be inclined & actually able to take this path. It just isn't a realistic path out of poverty in places like the one in this piece.

I've seen "teach-them-code" efforts run by grifters. I've seen them them run by very well meaning people. I think there is some value in coding bootcamps, especially already well-positioned people to switch careers. It just isn't and won't ever be a way out of poverty at scale.

Go read the thread on Twitter, which includes Raghav Arora stating he's involved in a legitimate effort to scale such tech education, and can't:

We started @engyinlabs to help college students and dropouts get better at deep tech. We realized that 1. unless you engage in creaming, teaching is incredibly difficult and 2. that the one-to-one / one-to-few approach cannot run at scale. We'll shortly be shutting down.

These stories are the real backdrop to the hand waves we read endless about retraining workers, which proves to be incredibly difficult and costly, or else almost totally ineffective.

[from Can You Turn Coal Miners into Coders? Not at Scale.]


Exclusive: Amazon rolls out machines that pack orders and replace jobs | Jeffrey Dastin breaks a story we've been waiting for: Inc is rolling out machines to automate a job held by thousands of its workers: boxing up customer orders.

The company started adding technology to a handful of warehouses in recent years, which scans goods coming down a conveyor belt and envelops them seconds later in boxes custom-built for each item, two people who worked on the project told Reuters.

Amazon has considered installing two machines at dozens more warehouses, removing at least 24 roles at each one, these people said. These facilities typically employ more than 2,000 people.

That would amount to more than 1,300 cuts across 55 U.S. fulfillment centers for standard-sized inventory. Amazon would expect to recover the costs in under two years, at $1 million per machine plus operational expenses, they said.

Bezos' goal is to automate everything possible, as soon as possible. And note that robot dexterity of the sort involved in packing random products into boxes was one of the key elements in Frey and Osborne's analysis of how quickly jobs would be automated. We're there, now.


We need to rethink our economic assumptions | Isabel Sawhill takes a run at the fallacies of neoliberalism:

At the core of the neoliberal theory – arguably its most influential precept — is the idea that people are paid what they are worth. If incomes are unequal it’s because skills and talents are unequal. The rich deserve their riches because, for the most part, they earned them. The poor lack income because they have too little education or the other skills needed to get ahead. There is a lot that’s ignored in the wages equal marginal productivity equation: the asymmetry of bargaining power, the difficulty of discerning who contributes what, the stickiness of established wage norms and employment relationships, and the lack of competition. So, yes, productivity matters and the importance of investing in human capital makes sense, although not as much as your economics 101 textbook suggests.

As an economist, I was schooled to think along neoliberal lines and still hang out with people for whom this type of thinking is second-nature. I wouldn’t want to throw out the existing paradigm unless I thought there was something better in the wings. But I am becoming wobbly. Why? Because the evidence is mounting that a) the assumptions of neoliberalism are unrealistic and b) it has led to distrust of almost any kind of government action to temper or complement market activity. As the former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin put it, we can “say yes to a market economy but say no to a market society”.

In my 2018 book, The Forgotten Americans, An Economic Agenda for a Divided Nation, I take some tentative steps in the direction of questioning the wisdom of prevailing economic ideas. I show how hard it is to raise the growth rate, how wages are no longer tracking productivity, how the nation’s income is being reallocated from labor to capital, how compensation at the top has gone through the roof for reasons that remain opaque, how companies that share their profits and treat their workers well are often more successful than those that don’t, and that wage gaps between firms and nations have more to do with market power or institutional factors than with productivity.

Go read it. This is coming from a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, a staunchly conservative organization.

Social Now 2019 — Lisbon Portugal — 6-7 June 2019

At Social Now, enterprise social tools battle it out for the chance to be voted “the best tool for my organisation”.

Every year, Social Now shows ways of improving internal communications, collaboration, and knowledge sharing and retention. This 8th edition Social Now 2019 will also pay special attention to several key questions:

  • how leaders can adapt to fully rip the benefits of digital transformation efforts; and,

  • how to use enterprise social tools to identify, nurture and develop great digital leaders.

Cablinc is a fictitious company with very real challenges. At Social Now, you will hear:

  • amazing speakers offer practical recommendations to help Cablinc;

  • platform vendors tell “day-in-the-life” narratives of smarter work practices at Cablinc;

  • peers from real organisations share their own experiences, in short talks and in the innovative “peer assist” session.

Come to sunny Lisbon. Join a small group of 100 professionals for 2 days of practical talks, rich debate, great networking, and gorgeous food and wine.

Click to register, or for more information.

Social Now uses a totally different lens to zoom in on key questions about social tools. More of a workshop than a typical tech conference, and dedicated to on-the-ground exploration of tools, rather than abstract theorizing. It's my third (fourth?) Social Now and I can't wait. | Stowe Boyd