The New York Times
ERIE, Pa. — The cool breezes arrived a few weeks ago, coming in after a long summer of protest, illness and economic devastation. They brought a chilling reminder: Nov. 3 is almost here.Brenton Davis has stocked up on guns and ammo. Kathy Faticia is considering leaving the country, mulling the options for dual citizenship. The morning that the United States learned the president had tested positive for a dangerous virus, Eric Hawes had the same sentiment about what lies ahead that he has had for weeks: “It’s going to be hell no matter what.”Since 2016, when Erie County gave a slim majority of its votes to Donald Trump after years as a Democratic bastion, this slice of northwestern Pennsylvania has been seen as an especially precise gauge of the national political mood.The United States is separated into two mutually distrustful political camps, but in Erie, the camps sit side by side — friends, neighbors and family members who live and work together yet cannot fathom why the others believe the way they do. These days, Erie is carpeted with campaign banners and signs, one yard often facing off against the next, a battle posture borne out by national surveys finding the highest share of Americans in decades — more than 4 in 5 — who believe the outcome of the election “really matters.”But as the days lurch toward November, there is a remarkably bipartisan sentiment: dread.”Just stick the knife in,” Marlay Shollenberger, 33, said of the looming election and all of the terrifying discord that could accompany it. “That’s kind of where I’m at.”Already facing a resurgent virus and the growing toll of a pandemic economy, Americans are now looking with grim foreboding at the months ahead. The outcome of the vote itself, the claims of rampant voter fraud that Trump leveled during last week’s debate, the specter of a stolen election, the fear of violent clashes should the vote counting drag out — there is no limit to the bleak imagination.The country woke up Friday to the news that the president had the coronavirus. By the evening, he was hospitalized. The grim developments have not stopped, even if there is a limit to how much the country can digest. About 7 in 10 Americans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to a poll last month from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, a comparable percentage to four years ago. But now there is a sense of a country breaking down.Hawes, 47, rues the day he sold off most of his guns. His unease about November is one of the few things that he and his stepfather, Tom Ulrich, 73, a die-hard Democrat, agree on regarding the election.”There could be a lot of trouble on the streets,” Ulrich said. “Never mind the courts, I’m talking about on the streets.”For Ulrich, a decorated Vietnam veteran who worked for more than three decades at the local General Electric plant, the stakes could not be higher. He sees Trump as openly hungering to become “a freaking dictator”; Joe Biden seems decent, Ulrich said, but he would “stand outside in a blizzard for 10 hours” to vote against this president, whoever the alternative was.He is not alone in his sense of urgency. The county board of elections has sent out more than 45,000 requested mail-in ballots, 10,000 more than in the primary. And requests are still pouring in. The deadline to ask for a mail-in ballot does not arrive for more than three weeks.Hawes agrees with his stepfather about the stakes. Like most other Trump backers, he believes his man will prevail. But he is pessimistic all the same.”Right now we’re at a pivotal point,” he said. Now out of the service on disability, his military career curtailed by injuries in paratrooper training, Hawes holds strongly to his identity as a veteran, talking with veterans’ groups and keeping up with retired service members over Facebook. Many of them see a Biden win, he said, as the acceleration of a slow-moving “Marxist, socialist” coup that is being kept alive by left-wing protesters. “It’s scary,” he said, “it really is.”Still, while father and son both fear catastrophe if their preferred candidate loses, neither is particularly hopeful about what lies ahead even if their candidate were to win.”I’m going to be honest with you,” Hawes said. “I don’t believe that things are going to get better if Trump gets reelected.”The question that troubles Hawes is whether the country is just too broken at this point to be fixed. This is the same question that is routinely raised among voters in Erie who believe that Trump is the one who broke it.”This man has put us in a dark place,” said Linda McCabe, 67, during a recent meeting of the Drinking Girls, a group of Democratic women in Erie who have been meeting regularly for vodka and lamentations since the day after the 2016 election.The city of Erie had turned out as usual for the Democratic candidate in that election, but the voters of the suburbs and rural areas, many of whom had voted for Barack Obama, showed up and handed the county to Trump. The next morning, the Drinking Girls felt like they had woken up in a completely different country. This sensation had not gone away.”I’ve never been afraid,” Mary Jo Campbell, 69, said to the conclave, which on this night was meeting on the patio of an old Italian social club. “Now I’m scared to death.”The situation, the group concurred, was indeed grim. The possibility of civil war was discussed. There was talk of passports and connections in other countries. All of this was before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and before the president said, plainly and repeatedly, that he might reject the results of the election if he lost.”I don’t know where we’re going with this,” Campbell said last week. “I’m more scared than I was.”Trump supporters are less likely to consider fleeing the country if their candidate loses, which most do not expect to happen anyway. They are more likely to talk of digging in, well-armed, to fend off whatever forces a Biden victory would purportedly unleash.But a number of people did share the uneasy sense that the country was headed toward some kind of violent break no matter who wins in November. Not in Erie necessarily, they clarified; people here get along mostly. Something more national in scope.”A lot of people are just dying to have a civil war,” said Shollenberger, who likes Trump’s policies but nonetheless fears widespread postelection violence more than he worries about a Biden victory. The level of vitriol right now has grown to a point where some sort of clash seems inescapable, he said. “Honestly I couldn’t name a side that wants it more or less.”Down in Union City, a little town that has been drained over the years by factory and plant closures, a Biden campaign storefront opened in August. It was the first presidential campaign office to appear in town in a long time, if ever. Within two weeks, a Trump office opened up two doors down the block and huge Trump signs appeared all over the vacant warehouse across the street.Kelly Chelton, 58, a volunteer at the Biden office, is on friendly terms with most of the people at the Trump office; one of her sons-in-law is a volunteer there. But she said threats and insults have been lobbed at fellow campaign workers over the last few weeks — a lot more tension in town than there ever was around a presidential race.”I’m worried when the results come in,” Chelton said. “I’m worried they might get a little on the rowdy side.”It is not uncommon to hear people in Erie boast of having stocked up on guns and ammunition ahead of time, equipping for the worst like residents of hurricane zones.”I got all the ammo I can handle,” said Mark Schumacher, 67, a retired corrections officer and minor league umpire who has a yard full of Trump decor. Schumacher doubts he has enough on hand to face down “the surge of a thousand rioters” that he believes could show up in the aftermath of a contested election. He was not convinced that any outcome in November would preclude the possibility of violence. But he was committed to his candidate nonetheless.”Trump winning is our No. 1 concern,” Schumacher said. Then he added, “We are absolutely terrified should Biden win.”There are some in Erie who know what civil war really does look like, and one of them was sitting in a backyard one afternoon on the east side of the city. Deng Rag fled Sudan 23 years ago when his country was engulfed in fighting. He is one of thousands of refugees from all over the world who resettled in Erie over the past several decades, and since becoming a U.S. citizen, Rag, 50, has voted in every presidential election. He has voted Republican and voted Democratic, he said, though it was Obama who best represented what he had always admired about America.Now he lies awake at night, wondering if he had misunderstood.”I can tell anyone who will listen, I don’t know if my heart can take four more years,” he said.Rag is not a fan of Biden, mentioning some of the scandals involving Biden’s son Hunter. But he wonders what Trump would do if he won and no longer needed to worry about reelection. He wonders how daily life in Erie might change; a man called him a racial slur and told him to get out of the country this summer, something that had never happened to him in all his years in America. He wonders what he should tell his brother back in Sudan, who calls asking with increasing desperation why it is so much harder for people to get into the United States now.During the early autumn nights, Rag also lies awake wondering whether his own U.S. citizenship really is permanent, or whether it could be stripped away. This had once seemed unthinkable, he acknowledged. But he knows firsthand how things can turn in a country.”It basically reminds us of where we came from,” he said.If it gets a lot worse, Rag said, he would have no choice. He would have to pack up and leave his divided country, again.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
What would delayed election results mean for the economy? – Marketplace
It’s likely we won’t know who won the presidency on Election Day this year, and some people are concerned about the possibility of a contested election. Last week, Fitch Ratings wrote in a report that it will be watching the election for “any departure” from the U.S.’s history of accepting election results and the orderly transition of power. If there’s any departure from this norm, it could affect the country’s AAA credit rating, which influences the interest rate the U.S. pays on its national debt.
All the uncertainty surrounding this presidential election could affect the economy in other ways, too. “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal talked with Wendy Edelberg, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of its Hamilton Project, about what might happen. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: So broad brush, lay it out for me. We have been told that we’re probably not going to know who won the election on election night. What do you think that means writ large for the American economy in the next two months?
Wendy Edelberg: I suspect it means that it will take too long to get the kind of fiscal support that we need to support this really fragile recovery. And that frustrates me because doing it now is too late. Doing it a month from now is much too late.
Ryssdal: So I will stipulate that that is a thing that could or will happen on election night or afterward. What happens if it becomes contested and challenged and acrimonious?
Edelberg: So right now, measures that tell us how uncertain things are for businesses, for investors, for households, those measures are through the roof. And uncertainty is generally really bad for economic activity. It prevents firms from putting investments in place and expanding and putting in hiring decisions. And it prevents households from making decisions about the future. And we’re just going to create one more really significant headwind if November and December, for that matter, is that much more an environment of uncertainty, layered on top of the immense uncertainty we have because of the pandemic.
Ryssdal: I say on this program all the time, and regular listeners know this, the stock market is not the economy. I do wonder though, beyond the real economy measures that you have laid out in that answer, what do you imagine stock markets will do? Just because a lot of people look at that as an indicator.
Edelberg: So you’re absolutely right. The stock market is not the economy and the stock market is giving us all sorts of incorrect signals right now. And it wouldn’t really surprise me if it continued to give us really incorrect signals. As much as uncertainty and a contested election would be really bad for small businesses, for individual households, it may well be good for some of the large firms that are driving the stock market gains. That’s really hard to know. And I’m also guessing that people who hold equities are pretty aware of the issues that you and I just talked about. And so my thought is that that’s mostly baked into the stock market. And so those investors are expecting things to be pretty chaotic for a couple of weeks after the election, and I would expect things to basically move sideways, which is to say the flip side, that if we get a clear outcome, and uncertainty is largely resolved very quickly, yeah, I can imagine that being fabulous for the stock market.
Ryssdal: Huh. Let me point out that if he loses, President Trump will still be president for two and a half months, right, Election Day to the 20th of January. Contested election aside, challenged election aside, random tweets aside, he’s still the president with full executive authority to influence this economy.
Edelberg: So maybe this means that with all of these issues leading up to the election off the table, because that uncertainty is resolved, I don’t know, maybe we can hope, maybe policymakers will then come together and do the right thing. I’ve been asked before, “What would you tell policymakers on January 20th to do to support our economy?” And the first thing I’ll say is get in a time machine and go back six months to support the economy then. So I have grave concerns about policymakers waiting until January to pass the kind of fiscal support that the economy needs right now.
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Algorithms Are Making Economic Inequality Worse – Harvard Business Review
There is a code ceiling that prevents career advancement — irrespective of gender or race — because, in an AI-powered organization, junior employees and freelancers rarely interact with other human co-workers. Instead, they are managed by algorithms. As a result, a global, low-paid, algorithmic workforce is emerging. You will increasingly find a gap between top executives and an outer fringe of transient workers, even within organizations. Whether in retail or financial services, logistics or manufacturing, AI-powered organizations are being run by a small cohort of highly paid employees, supported by sophisticated automation and potentially millions of algorithmically managed, low-paid freelancers at the periphery. Job polarization is only part of the problem. What we should really fear is the algorithmic inequality trap that results from these algorithmic feedback loops.
The risks of algorithmic discrimination and bias have received much attention and scrutiny, and rightly so. Yet there is another more insidious side-effect of our increasingly AI-powered society — the systematic inequality created by the changing nature of work itself. We fear a future where robots take our jobs, but what happens when a significant portion of the workforce ends up in algorithmically managed jobs with little future and few possibilities for advancement?
One of the classic tropes of self-made success is the leader who comes from humble beginnings, working their way up from the mailroom, the cash register, or the factory floor. And while doing that is considerably tougher than Hollywood might suggest, bottom-up mobility was at least possible in traditional organizations. Charlie Bell, former CEO of McDonalds, started as a crew member flipping burgers. Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of General Motors, started on the assembly line. Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, started in a distribution center.
By comparison, how many Uber drivers do you think will ever have the chance to attain a managerial position at the company, let alone run the ride-sharing giant? How many future top Amazon executives will start their careers by delivering packages or stacking shelves? The billionaire founder and CEO of Instacart may have personally delivered the company’s first order, but how many others will follow in his footsteps?
Here’s the problem: There’s a “code ceiling” that prevents career advancement — irrespective of gender or race — because, in an AI-powered organization, junior employees and freelancers rarely interact with other human co-workers. Instead, they are managed by algorithms.
In this new era of digitally mediated work, there is typically a hierarchical information flow, in which the company decides the information they choose to share with you. Unlike driving a taxi, where there is open radio communication between drivers and the dispatch operator, and among the drivers themselves, when you work for Uber or Lyft, the content of your interactions is the output of an optimization function designed to maximize efficiency and profit.
To be managed algorithmically is to be subject to constant monitoring and surveillance. If you are one of the millions of food delivery workers in China working for Meituan or Ele.me, an algorithm determines how long it should take you to drop off an order, reducing your pay if you fail to meet your deadline. Similarly, employees in Amazon distribution centers are also carefully tracked by algorithms; they must work at “Amazon pace” — described as “somewhere between walking and jogging.”
When you are a gig economy worker, it is not only your AI bosses that should concern you; your co-workers are often also your competition. For example, Chicago residents who live near Amazon’s distribution points and Whole Foods stores reported the strange appearance of smartphones hanging from trees. The reason? Contract delivery drivers were desperate to trump their rivals for job assignments. They believed that hanging their devices near delivery stations would help them game the work allocation algorithm; a smartphone perched in a tree could be the key to getting a $15 delivery route mere seconds before someone else.
Work has been changing over the last few decades. The labor market has grown increasingly polarized, with middle-skill jobs being eroded relative to entry-level, low-skill work, and high-level employment that requires greater skill levels. The Covid-19 crisis has likely accelerated the process. Since 1990, every U.S. recession has been followed by a jobless recovery. This time, as AI, algorithms, and automation reshape the workforce, we may end up with something worse: a K-shaped recovery — where the prospects of those at the top soar, and everyone else sees their fortunes dive.
The new digital divide is a widening gap between workers with access to higher education, leadership mentoring, and job experience — and those without. In my recent book, The Algorithmic Leader, I explore one particularly dire scenario: a class-based divide between the masses who work for algorithms, a privileged professional class who have the skills and capabilities to design and train algorithmic systems, and a small, ultra-wealthy aristocracy, who own the algorithmic platforms that run the world.
A global, low-paid, algorithmic workforce is already emerging. In Latin America, one of the fastest-growing startups is Rappi, a mix of Uber Eats, Instacart, and TaskRabbit. Customers in cities like Bogotá and Mexico City pay about $1 an order or a flat $7 a month. In return, they can access a vast on-demand network of couriers who deliver food, groceries, and just about anything else you want. Amazon has an informal network of delivery people, called Amazon Flex, ready to drop packages right to your door — and soon even hand them to you in the street, place them in your car trunk, or open the door to your house and store your groceries in your fridge.
In his 1930 lecture Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes predicted that by around 2030, the production problem would be solved, and there would be enough of everything for everyone. The catch, however, is that machines would cause technological unemployment. The scenario that Keynes didn’t fully anticipate was our present case of high technological employment, with an accompanying degree of high inequality.
The workforce is changing; so too is the workplace. You will increasingly find a gap between top executives and an outer fringe of transient workers, even within organizations. Whether in retail or financial services, logistics or manufacturing, AI-powered organizations are run by a small cohort of highly paid employees, supported by sophisticated automation and potentially millions of algorithmically managed, low-paid freelancers at the periphery.
Job polarization is only part of the problem. What we should really fear is the algorithmic inequality trap that results from feedback loops. Once you are a gig economy worker reliant on assignments meted out by your smartphone, not only are there few opportunities for promotion or development, but other algorithms may further compound your situation. Think of it as a digital poorhouse. With their earnings and work assignments held hostage by market fluctuations, the new AI underclass may be penalized by automated systems that determine access to welfare, lending, insurance, or health care, or that set custodial sentences.
Nevertheless, it is dangerous to seek quick fixes for a problem that has yet to fully manifest, especially if it means grafting 20th-century worker protections onto 21st-century business models. Already, governments and regulators supported by populist platforms are focused on attacking global digital giants. They seek to prevent them from avoiding tax liabilities and are working to regulate their freelance workforce’s labor conditions, to apply restrictions on their collection of data, and even to tax their robots. Some of these ideas have merit. Others are premature, or worse, just political theater.
The longer-term solution to algorithmic inequality will not lie in just taxation and regulation, but rather in our ability to provide an adequate education system for the 21st century. Rebooting education will not be easy. Rather than looking for ways to use AI in teaching, the real question is: How do we teach people to harness machine intelligence in their careers? And how do we teach people to be prepared for a lifetime of constant learning and retraining?
Business leaders have a crucial role to play. Not only should they carve out channels of communication, feedback, and advancement for freelancers at the edge of their organizations, they need to get serious about retraining and community engagement. For example, AT&T is retraining half of its workforce, while Cisco, IBM, Caterpillar, McKinsey, and JPMorgan are offering internships to high school students and are working with local schools to upgrade their teaching curriculums. These are all good initiatives, but more will be needed — not just for social cohesion, but also to ensure the diversity and agility of tomorrow’s workforce.
We need a better plan for the future. Without one, the algorithmic inequality trap will be a story told not in statistics and wealth ratios, but in distress signals — smartphones hanging from trees, tent cities for the homeless, and human couriers scanning the skies for the delivery drones that spell their impending end.
Next Saskatchewan government will have to juggle budget, pandemic economy – Global News
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the largest global economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Economists agree an economic stimulus is the best first move to help businesses rebound as many continue to operate with safety precautions.
“Some of the (historical) lessons we’ve learned is that temporary spending seems to work pretty well and allows you to get your financial house back in order,” University of Regina’s Jason Child’s said.
A recent Scotiabank report found Saskatchewan’s economy is in a relative position of strength despite those precautions.
Last week’s report noted oil production was down 8.6 per cent, but there has been a 33 per cent increase in agricultural crop exports compared to this time last year.
Those exports combined with a bump in the potash and uranium sectors has helped ease some of the concerns.
In August, the province reported its deficit for this year went from $2.4 billion to $2.1 billion.
A Scotiabank senior economist believes one of the ultimate tests in order for the economy to flourish is how well the province handles the virus.
“How businesses respond to it, how households respond to it and ultimately to support growth for the longer run, this is the most important thing to get under control,” Marc Desormeaux said.
Before the campaign, the province committed to spending $7.5 billion in infrastructure over two years, which included a $2 billion stimulus package after pandemic measures kicked in.
The Saskatchewan Party has made several promises to help spur economic recovery including a temporary elimination of the business tax rate, and decreasing power bills by 10 per cent.
Leader Scott Moe also promised a balanced provincial budget by 2024.
The NDP’s Ryan Meili has not committed to a timeline to balance the budget.
The New Democrats have promised to help the economic recovery by introducing a $15 per hour minimum wage and a Saskatchewan first procurement policy to offer public contracts to workers living in the province.
Childs noted while striving for a balanced budget in that time span is a good goal to set, the province shouldn’t be committed to it noting circumstances can change fairly quickly.
He added simultaneously making sure the government’s cheque book is stable and the province’s economy is in a better position will be a task for whoever forms government.
The associate professor said one can suffer at the hands of the other, but both can’t afford to take sharp downward trends.
Childs went on to say the shotgun approach of providing funding to all sectors is a common one and will help temporarily but ensuring long-term growth is generally more stable when it comes from grassroots initiatives.
“If you’re trying to grow an economy, that’s a different story. And again that’s going to require a much defter touch than just trying to keep the lights on,” he said.
Childs said spending during an economic crisis makes sense, but the real direction for the budget and economy will be more clear once Saskatchewan is on the backside of the virus.
In August the province reported its debt could reach $33.6 billion by 2024-2025.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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