Default is not the answer; When robots disrupt the labour market; How Lego lost its innocence

1 Default is not the answer (Omaira Gill in Khaleej Times) At the height of Greece’s financial troubles, the cry we heard again and again was that Greece should default on its debt. The explanation given was simple. Argentina had defaulted, and look how well they were doing now? Default was painted in a much more favourable light than austerity and all that comes with it.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The economic crisis in Greece has been terrible. The crisis has broken up families, imposed poverty on thousands if not millions and even caused deaths. Yet the alternative, defaulting and returning to the drachma, was always a much worse alternative. No matter how bad things got, right in the middle of the crisis, public opinion polls kept reporting that despite all the agony, the majority of Greeks still supported their inclusion in the Euro.

So-called experts predicted that by the end of the year (nearly every year since 2010) Greece would have defaulted and exited the Euro. Some were foreboding about this. Why not default? Why not start afresh with a newly valued drachma? Greece after default had potential. It could only go up. It worked for Argentina, it would work for Greece too!

They forgot some tiny details in the “Default and start over” argument. First, Argentina is a much larger economy than Greece, with a much larger export sector. Greece is not. Greece, in real terms, doesn’t produce much. In Argentina, manufacturing is the greatest source of value added to the nation’s GDP at 16%, followed by tourism at 14% and retail at 13%. The economy grew 4.3% in 2013. In Greece, the economy shrank 4% in 2013.

Which brings us now to Argentina. It all seemed to be going so well, so what happened? Like a bad smell, a debt default will follow you around. In technical terms, Argentina didn’t default off its debt, it was forced to do so by a judge in New York who wouldn’t let it pay its bondholders until they also paid the hedge funds that had positions on the previous default. Argentina’s experience should be a cautionary tale to anyone who is so quick to whip out the default card in the future.

2 When robots disrupt the labour market (Dawn) Robots and artificially intelligent devices will take over many jobs now done by people, and experts are divided as to whether their spread will do human society more good than harm. The Pew Research Centre said experts see a growing role for self-driving cars, delivery drones, robotic workers, smartphone-based assistants and even algorithmic journalism by 2025.

But they are divided on whether these technological advances will be helpful, with 48 per cent of respondents to Pew’s survey saying they will destroy jobs and increase income inequality. Nevertheless, a slim majority said the technology will take over undesirable tasks and generate new kinds of human employment.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Internet Project, saidexperts see “the accelerating displacement of work that can be done more efficiently and cost-effectively” by robots. This means “a transformation of labour, especially in the fields of transportation, fast food and medicine; freedom from day-to-day drudgery that allows people to define work in a more positive and socially beneficial way”. But Rainie said many see this as leading to “a shrinking of the middle class and expansion of the ranks of the unemployed”.

Stowe Boyd, lead researcher at GigaOM Research, said the growing use of autonomous vehicles will take away important jobs for men such as truck and taxi drivers. “The central question of 2025 will be: What are people for in a world that does not need their labour, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy?’ “

Justin Reich at Harvard University’s Berkman Centre for Internet & Society, said, robots and artificial intelligence “will increasingly replace routine kinds of work — even the complex routines performed by artisans, factory workers, lawyers, and accountants. “Others were optimistic such as JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for

“Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist for Google, said: “Historically, technology has created more jobs than it destroys and there is no reason to think otherwise in this case. Someone has to make and service all these advanced devices.

3 How Lego lost its innocence (Sue Palmer in The Guardian) I‘ve been watching with interest as Lego struggles under the spotlight of Greenpeace’s latest campaign. Alongside three-quarters of a million petition signatories, the environmental campaign group is calling on Lego to drop its line of Shell-branded cars and quit endorsing Shell for good. A co-promotion with Lego is a lucrative PR stunt for Shell.
But as Greenpeace is keen to point out, Shell is an appalling choice of partner, not least because of its controversial plans to extract oil from under the melting Arctic region.

Lego was formed in the 1930s by philanthropist Ole Kirk Kristiansen. His vision was to make it a stalwart cultivator of creative play and contribute to healthy child development. This idea was enshrined within the company. Even Lego’s name translated from Danish means “play well”.

But over the last few decades child’s play has been turned into big business. Marketers have learned how to exploit children’s emotional vulnerabilities in the name of profit. Instead of toys that benefit children, the industry has focused on creating quick-fix fun that makes money for shareholders. As a result, research tells us, modern children find it harder to maintain concentration, self-regulate behaviour and develop appropriate levels of empathy.

As a specialist in child development, I’ve had growing concerns that now even Lego has lost its way. Increasingly Lego churns out lucrative but unimaginative lines of “must-have” sets to promote new movies, games and videos. These little boxes, unlike the traditional Lego bricks, do not result in child-directed, open-ended “real play”. They do not promote imagination; they stifle it. They do not allow children to be creative and learn to think for themselves; they tell children what to think, instilling consumerist values that risk increasing rates of stress for parents and children alike.

Lego is trusted by parents because most will have played with it themselves as children. But it is now abusing this trust by putting profit above the core values of real play from which it originated. If Lego wishes to retain its reputation as a bastion of children’s interests and “playing well”, then it must be faithful to its roots. It must return to putting child development at the core of its toys; not just the core of its corporate communications.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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