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1 Global boom, but only for some (Eduardo Porter in The New York Times) What globalization did achieve was to greatly improve the lot of hundreds of millions of people in China and other corners of Asia. The lopsided results have opened a rift between the experience of global capitalism between the developed world and many poor countries. Branko Milanovic, an expert on global development, puts it succinctly. From a global perspective, two decades of globalization have produced what “seems like a fairly benign outcome.” If you look at the world as a single nation, income inequality has, in fact, declined. Income in the middle has grown faster than at the top.
What’s happened is that while income growth stalled for middle-class workers in developed countries and surged for people in the 1 percent, it also grew sharply for hundreds of millions of workers in China, India and other Asian countries. In the late 1980s, for instance, workers in the middle of China’s urban income distribution made 56 percent of the median American income, according to Mr. Milanovic’s calculations. By 2008, that figure rose to 71 percent.
This is astonishing progress. And although incomes of workers in the developed world didn’t rise much as the Asian poor moved up the ladder, they didn’t fall either: Globalization lifted all boats. The new pessimism in the developed world is perhaps best captured by the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who in 1997, likened workers displaced by trade agreements to blacksmiths displaced by cars, asking, “Are we going to say we’re not going to allow the automobile?” By Saturday, his views had changed. The old idea that winners from trade would compensate losers is based on many assumptions “which are simply wrong,” he wrote. Most Americans, are “on the wrong side of globalization.”
But as Dani Rodrik of the Institute for Advanced Study put it to me: “If you were an ethical cosmopolitan you’d say ‘To hell, what do I care?’ The world has become less unequal and has experienced a lot of poverty reduction.” There are, however, powerful reasons to worry about this pattern of global development. “If there are hundreds of millions of people that were in abject poverty one generation ago and are not anymore, that is an important and positive thing,” said Damon Silvers, policy director at the AFL-CIO. “But I don’t think we should accept radical inequality as a necessary corollary of equal development.”
And indeed, the equalization of incomes between countries has been accompanied by growing income inequality within most nations, rich or poor. In the new world of lower growth and higher unemployment, the US and other rich nations are unlikely to tolerate similar imbalances. The question is what will happen as countries push back against export-led growth strategies, as commodity prices fall and capital flows fail to recover to their former scale.
2 UK big grocers’ sales go in reverse (Sarah Butler & Sean Farrell in The Guardian) Nine years of constantly growing sales have come to an abrupt end at Sainsbury’s in another sign of the huge changes in Britain’s shopping habits. The change in fortunes makes Sainsbury’s the last of the UK’s big four grocers to see sales at established stores go into reverse as a result of shoppers searching for bargains at discounters, switching to cheaper own-label goods, moving online – or simply buying less.
Over the last three months sales in Sainsbury’s stores open for more than a year tumbled by just over 3% – ending a 36-quarter run of growth. The decline was worse than expected and the news marred one of the last outings for the grocer’s high profile chief executive, Justin King, who engineered a turnaround of the group. One leading retail analyst, David McCarthy at HSBC, said: “This sector is in structural decline, with no end in sight.”
All the major grocers have now been affected by the rise of the discounters, as even middle-class shoppers have started shopping around for bargains. At the same time more shoppers are buying online and avoiding big superstores in favour of smaller local shops. Analysts at another City group, Bernstein, estimated that sales at Sainsbury’s biggest stores were down 5%. If the impact of rising food prices is included the declines are even larger.
3 Jesse Jackson protests tech sector’s poor diversity (San Francisco Chronicle) Rev. Jesse Jackson plans to lead a delegation to the Hewlett Packard annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday to bring attention to Silicon Valley’s poor record of including blacks and Latinos in hiring, board appointments and startup funding. Jackson’s strategy borrows from the traditional civil rights era playbook of shaming companies to prod them into transformation. Now he is bringing it to the age of social media and a booming tech industry known for its disruptive innovation.
It’s widely recognized that the tech industry lacks diversity: About one in 14 tech workers is black or Latino both in the Silicon Valley and nationally. Blacks and Hispanics make up 13.1 and 16.9 percent of the US population, respectively, according to the most recent Census data. “Technology is supposed to be about inclusion, but sadly, patterns of exclusion remains the order of the day,” wrote Jackson in a letter released to Apple, Twitter, Facebook, HP, Google and others. Jackson said Tuesday that he isn’t singling HP out, he’s just using the company’s annual meeting to highlight the broader issue.
4 Every man for himselfie (Tom Eaton in Johannesburg Times) I am no expert on selfies. In fact I hardly see them anymore. There are simply too many to notice: Snapchat, a site that involves snapping and chatting, reportedly processes 350million photographs a day, the vast majority of which are selfies. They are everywhere, and have therefore become invisible.
Then again, perhaps we’re no longer noticing selfies because we’re realising that most are not pictures to be looked at but simply the by-product of a moment. They are photographic sweat, endlessly produced, endlessly washed away by time and events. Fans of selfies would say I am over-thinking their production and meaning. An informal poll by the New York Times established that most people take selfies simply to create a kind of visual diary, a record of their moods across the days and months.
But then again, what is a diary but a statement of existence? Certainly the great diaries dazzle us with the insight or humanity of the diarist, or make us wish we had known them; but behind the minutiae of other people’s lives the diary remains a single sentence, written over and over again: I was here. Every day our technology reminds us of our obsolescence. The more we try to affirm our existence by sharing photos and experiences on our gadgets, the more we see the world as an operating system that must be updated daily or crumble under the onslaught of bugs and security flaws.
Perhaps the selfie is a response to that terrible rush towards obsolescence. Perhaps, for all its technical wizardry, it is a hand-print on a cave wall, outlined in blood and ochre, human, familiar. Saying nothing more, and nothing less, than: I was here.