WHEN Tony Wagner, the Harvard education specialist, describes his job today, he says he’s “a translator between two hostile tribes” — the education world and the business world, the people who teach our kids and the people who give them jobs. Wagner’s argument in his book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” is that our K-12 and college tracks are not consistently “adding the value and teaching the skills that matter most in the marketplace.”
This is dangerous at a time when there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job — the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation. Now there is only a high-wage, high-skilled job. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried — made obsolete — faster than ever. Which is why the goal of education today, argues Wagner, should not be to make every child “college ready” but “innovation ready” — ready to add value to whatever they do.
Plutocracy literally means rule by the rich. “Rule” can have various shades of meaning: those who exercise the authority of public office are wealthy; their wealth explains why they hold that office; they exercise that authority in the interests of the rich; they have the primary influence over who holds those offices and the actions they take. These aspects of “plutocracy” are not exclusive. Government of the rich and for the rich need not berun directly by the rich. Also, in some exceptional circumstances rich individuals who hold powerful positions may govern in the interests of the many, e.g. Franklin Roosevelt.
The United States today qualifies as a plutocracy – on a number of grounds. Let’s look at some striking bits of evidence. Gross income redistribution upwards in the hierarchy has been a feature of American society for the past decades. The familiar statistics tell us that nearly 80% of the national wealth generated since 1973 has gone to the upper 2%, 65% to the upper 1 per cent. Estimates as to the rise in real income for salaried workers over the past 40 years range from 20% to 28 %. In that period, real GDP has risen by 110% – it has more than doubled.
The United States is plagued by large corporations with outsized political power. They are “too big to fail.” So if they are about to fail, they get rescued. Many are so big that they can block the laws needed to stop them fro destroying the economythe environment.
We need to replace them with smaller companies, but U.S. antitrust law is inadequate. It exists, but has been weakened over the past decades. Consider the proposed “Volcker Rule,” which would make many bank split into two companies, one for risky investments and one for loans based on savings, as the old Glass-Steagall law required. This would address some problems, but would not make banks small enough. Eliminating “too big to fail” banks eans making sure that each is small enough that regulators, prosecutors and elected officials won’t hesitate to let it suffer the consequences of its own decisions.
Using anti-trust law now to split up a company requires a lawsuit, and many large companies can make that costly – as Microsoft did each time it was convicted. Corporations can also use their political influence to avoid being split as Microsoft did hen last convicted.
It is clear that the larger companies get, the harder it is to enforce antitrust laws against them. Yet, a business-friendly government can vitiate the law simply by launching no antitrust cases – as the Bush administration did.
When the government wins such a suit, the court splits up the company to remedy the specific anti-competitive behavior proved. It can’t split the company into 50 parts just to ensure they are all small enough. We can’t fix the problem of too-big-to-fail companies this way.
I propose another method – one that can be applied to all companies. It works through taxes. There will be no need to sue companies and split them up – because they will split themselves up.
The method is simple: a progressive tax on businesses. We tax a company’s gross income, with a tax rate that increases as the company gets bigger. Companies would be able to reduce their tax rates by splitting themselves up.
With this incentive, over time many companies will likely get smaller. They could subdivide in ways they consider most efficient – rather than as decided by a court. We can adjust the strength of the incentive by adjusting the tax rates. If too few companies split, we can turn up the heat.
Big companies can afford clever lawyers. They may try, for example, to pretend to split up into several companies that effectively work together as one. So the new tax law must recognize this and treat such entities as one company that pays the rate for its combined size. As for how to recognize and define such combinations, we can probably borrow solutions from antitrust law.
Companies hav many accounting tactics for reducing their declared profits ndash; so if the tax is levied on profits, they will likel game the system. It is far harder, however, for a company to disguise its gross income. So let’s compute the tax based on gross income. This is larger than the profit, so the tax rate we apply to gross income should be smaller than what we would use to tax profits.
Another advantage in this is that an inefficient company pays the same tax rate as an efficient company of the same size. A tax on profits would tax the efficient company more, because its profit would be a larger fraction of the same income.
You can also think of this as a variable-rate sales tax.
When corporations all pay the same sales tax rate, they pass the cost along to customers. Thus, if the goal is to tax wealthy business owners, a fixed sales tax doesn’t do the job.
However, businesses can’t pass the entire amount along to customers if they pay different tax rates. If a large company pays 5 percent and a competing small company pays 1 percent, they could both pass along 1 percent but no more. The owners of the large company would have to pay the other 4 percent – which is exactly what might convince them that splitting up is desirable.
This tax would operate gently but firmly on a long time scale. It would surely not make every large company split up in the first year. But it could well change a structure that promotes mergers into one that promotes dividing.
Copyright 2012 Richard Stallman
Released under the Creative Commons Attribution Noderivatives 3.0 license
Picture yourself driving down Whittier Street toward the Scioto Audubon Metro Park, hoping to see migrating birds. Instead, you come across a blur of speeding bicyclists. In a velodrome.
It’s one of those steeply banked oval tracks that you might have seen during the Summer Olympics. Why would you see one at a Metro Park? It was the top pick among young professionals asked what they’d like to see at the park, which opened south of Downtown in 2009. Sure, it got only 72 votes on the Facebook page, but first is first.
Second place went to an outdoor ballroom-dance space. It was followed by a winter sports area, a wooded area with trails, a disc golf course and a community garden. In all, 423 votes were cast. John O’Meara, Metro Parks executive director, and his staff will look at the suggestions and try to determine what will work. He plans to ask his board next month to select a design firm to plan improvements for the former city impounding lot land, which was cleaned up last year.
O’Meara reached out to young professionals, whom city leaders are trying to lure to Downtown. Still, he said he didn’t expect to see a velodrome or dance space topping the list. “We’re certainly not in the ballroom business,” O’Meara said. As for a velodrome, he said, “We’ll see if it’s practical. I’m sure we won’t build an enclosed one. Too much money.” The city of Rock Hill, S.C., is building an outdoor velodrome. The price is $4 million, which will be financed with tax credits. O’Meara said that’s out of his price range, too.
In Cleveland, Fast Track Cycling Inc. plans to open a $350,000 portable track by next year. The Columbus Rotoract Club, which works with young professionals, set up the Facebook page.
Jeff Aufdencamp, an avid cyclist, said a word-of-mouth campaign generated the high number of votes for the velodrome. Aufdencamp, a businessman whose Mama Mimi’s Take N’ Bake Pizza sponsors a cycling team, said a velodrome would be a regional attraction, drawing riders from Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
In the meantime, Metro Parks officials will pore over the ideas, which also include a concrete skate park, a BMX bike course and a zipline.
Oh. There was one vote for a cat sanctuary. In the middle of an Audubon park. Audubon, as in birds, you know. That one won’t fly.
alt text: "I don't know what's worse--the fact that after 15 years of using tar I still can't keep the flags straight, or that after 15 years of technological advancement I'm still mucking with tar flags that were 15 years old when I started."
26-year-old Internet activist's tragic suicide raises questions about prosecutorial overreach
by: Steven Hsieh
Hundreds of mourners filled the Great Hall at New York's Cooper Union on January 19th to honor the life of Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who took his own life earlier this month at age 26.
Swartz was well-known in technology circles for helping develop the RSS web feed format and the popular site Reddit, among other accomplishments. At the time of his death, he was facing 13 felony charges and up to 50 years in prison: Prosecutors had accused him of using MIT's network to download too many scholarly articles from an academic database called JSTOR.
Swartz's friends and family have said they believe he was driven to his death by a justice system that hounded him needlessly over an alleged crime with no real victims. "[He was] forced by the government to spend every fiber of his being on this damnable, senseless trial," his partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said at the memorial, "with no guarantee that he could exonerate himself at the end of it."
Swartz's tragic death has already begun forcing lawmakers to start rethinking our draconian computer laws. And House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California) even promised an investigation of the Justice Department prosecutors who did their best to send a young Internet pioneer to prison.
Two zealous federal prosecutors handled Swartz's case: U.S. district attorney Carmen Ortiz and assistant attorney Stephen Heymann. In the days after his death, writers, tech experts, and many of Swartz'sfriends have called out Heymann and Ortiz for prosecutorial overreach. A White House petition demanding the removal of Ortiz garnered well over 25,000 signatures, reaching the level which guarantees an eventual response from the Obama administration.
Some of Swartz's advocates believe the prosecution sought excessive punishment to set an example in the age of Wikileaks and Anonymous.
"This was, in my opinion, part of a coordinated campaign to scare young Internet activists," says Roy Singham, ThoughtWorks chairman and a friend of Swartz.
It's worth reviewing the so-called crime which put Swartz in the government's crosshairs. From September 24th, 2010 to January 6th, 2011, he accessed MIT's network to scrape an "extraordinary volume of articles" from the academic database JSTOR. Initially, he used the university's open wireless network to grab the files. But after several attempts by JSTOR and MIT to block him, Swartz gained access to a restricted closet and directly hardwired his laptop to the network, leaving it there to pull data.
MIT personnel found Swartz's laptop on the morning of January 4th, 2011, and connected a second computer to the network switch to monitor Swartz's activity. They also fingerprinted Swartz's device and installed a camera in the closet to identify their culprit.
On the same day, the U.S. Secret Service took over the investigation. Court documents reveal that Secret Service agent Michael Prickett recommended MIT personnel leave Swartz's laptop in the closet for monitoring. All acquired data was eventually disclosed to the Secret Service.
On January 6th, 2011, MIT and Cambridge police, with the help of special agent Prickett, arrested Swartz on charges of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony. As blogger Marcy Wheeler suggests, the early involvement of the Secret Service "makes it clear that this was a nationally directed effort to take down Swartz."
JSTOR chose not to pursue charges against Aaron Swartz – who not only returned all downloaded content, but also ensured it "was not and would not be used, copied, transferred or distributed." That didn't stop MIT and the feds from indicting Swartz on 13 felony charges and insisting on prison time.
Ortiz and Heymann charged Swartz under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a 29-year-old law, notorious in the legal world for being broadly interpretable. They argued that Swartz accessed MIT and JSTOR computers without "authorization," despite MIT's extraordinarily open network policy and Swartz's legal access to JSTOR content.
Despite admitting that Swartz wasn't financially motivated by his act – and even after learning that the 26-year-old had battled depression – Ortiz and Heymann refused to offer a deal that didn't include at least six months of prison time and a guilty plea on all 13 charges. If Swartz chose not to label himself a felon for life, he'd risk the possibility of many years in the slammer.
Any probe into this case must raise serious questions about prosecutorial overreach by Ortiz and Heymann. Heymann's record, in particular, reeks of bullying and power-hungry ambition. A damning report from the Huffington Post paints the assistant U.S. attorney – and head of his court's computer crimes task force – as a careerist who sought tough convictions to bolster his reputation. In 2008, Heymann prosecuted another hacking case that ended with a suicide.
But holding Heymann and Ortiz accountable, while necessary, won't be enough to stop the persecution of Internet activists and hacking culture in this country. It's time to have a serious conversation over whether Swartz's fight for free information truly warranted Secret Service investigation. Should participating in a DDoS attack, the Internet's equivalent of a sit-down strike, send someone to 30 months in prison? As Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig has put it, our government pursued Swartz as if he were a "9/11 terrorist."
Last month, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi noted the absurdity of HSBC bankers skating on serious drug money laundering charges while hundreds of thousands of Americans sit behind bars for petty drug offenses. The Secret Service's involvement in hunting down a 26-year-old charged with downloading too many scholarly articles is just another example of our justice system's chillingly warped priorities