Our September/October 2022 issue is at the printers and will go out to e-subscriber soon. (Not a subscriber? You can get a print or e-subscription here.) Here is the p. 2 editors’ note for the issue:
The Power Behind the Machines
The large robots holding clocks in the illustrations for Robert Ovetz’s cover story about artificial intelligence-driven labor management algorithms are, of course, a metaphor. Robots are not the same thing as artificial intelligence, for one thing, and as Ovetz recounts, algorithmic management is used to discipline many kinds of workers in many settings, not just the factory settings we show. And while robot overlords may haunt our imagination and popular culture, the real power behind these latest surveillance machines resides with the bosses and managers who use them to control workers. Ovetz reminds us that resistance is not futile, as European unions are showing us today, carrying on a long tradition of workers disrupting bosses’ attempts to control them with new techniques and technology.
The images were produced by the text-to-image generator DALL.E 2, “a new AI system that can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language.” DALL.E 2’s name is a mash-up between the Disney-Pixar cartoon robot WALL.E and surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, perhaps because the images it generates in response to text prompts are sometimes surreal to the point of being creepy. The program still struggles with faces, letters, and numbers, but was remarkably successful at rendering robots in a variety of artistic genres and media that we prompted it to mimic. (Should we consider this self-knowledge?)
Algorithmic management can contribute to deskilling, outsourcing, and job loss. In the Australia-based technology and design magazine New Atlas, journalist Loz Bain raised similar concerns about DALL.E 2, characterizing it as both a “dream tool” and an “existential threat to visual artists”—not implausible, when an art director (or a staff editor) can create illustrations in short order that a trained professional would otherwise have been paid for hours of work to design. At D&S, we have always done some of our design work in house, but we remain committed to using custom work by professional visual artists and photographers, no matter how good AI-based tools get.
The rest of the articles in this issue cover climate change, finance, and housing.
On climate change: Robert Pollin responds to a letter taking issue with his March/April article on the role that nuclear power might play in a clean-energy future. Pollin argues that recent events at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine only make the safety concerns about nuclear power more vivid. And Doug Orr reports on and analyzes the Security and Exchange Commission’s new reporting requirements for corporations’ climate risk, while Henry Williams reviews four recent books on the economics of climate change.
On finance (besides Orr’s SEC piece): John Miller evaluates two finance-related tax provisions that were supposed to be included in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (what is left of President Joe Biden’s original “Build Back Better” bill). One of the provisions, an excise tax on stock buybacks, did make it into the legislation; the other, a narrowing of the “carried interest” loophole that lets private equity firms make out like bandits, did not. Miller explains why both tax provisions, and others, are needed to make sure that the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share. And Bill Barclay decodes the SWIFT financial messaging system that facilitated the great expansion of global trade in recent decades—and the continued dominance of the U.S. dollar.
Last but not least, housing: Ed Ford runs the dismal numbers on housing affordability in the United States, and Arthur MacEwan explains the multiple connections between growing wealth inequality and homelessness.
Note that two of the pieces on finance in this issue—Orr’s article on the SEC’s climate-related risk reporting requirements and Barclay’s primer on SWIFT—are included in the brand-new eighth edition of our textbook Real World Banking and Finance. You can find order information on p. 19.