Happy International Women’s day everyone!
Well, as you can see from the title, we’ve made it to the fourth newsletter. A whole month down – if you don’t count my missing last weekend. So, on to this week’s exchange:
1) Fights over the minimum wage are universal and never-ending, and not just in the popular press and among politicians either. Labour economists themselves are prone to put down their sherries and monocles, and get their hands dirty too. So, it’s probably time to highlight one side of the argument. According to MIT Professor Zeynep Ton, many companies pursue labour policies that see employees and wages as simply costs to be minimised. She calls this the “bad jobs strategy”, which sees employees become disaffected and unproductive, companies unable to capitalise on opportunities (due to the technical deficiencies of staff), and leaves customers unsatisfied. What else could be done? What Professor Ton calls the “good jobs strategy” – pay higher wages and invest in employees.
2) While hundreds of millions of people go hungry every day, the world produces more than enough to provide for all of us. According to Jose Cuesta at the World Bank, the annual production of food fit for human consumption is around 4 billion metric tons – equivalent to 2700 kilocalories per person, per day (to give you an idea exactly how much that is, I am a 6″3, 24 year old male and it is recommended that I eat about 2500 kilocalories per day). But between a fourth and a third of all that food is lost or wasted – Asia and Africa alone account for about 67% of global food waste, and North America and Oceania waste 42% of what they produce. This is a travesty on so many levels it is hard to compute. If the world wants to end poverty, clean up the environment, and do something to mitigate climate change (etc.), then it needs to tackle the global food waste problem. Especially the deliberate decisions to throw away good food.
3) I’ve long been an evangelist of technology taking over white collar and knowledge jobs (I’m particularly looking forward to the time when doctors become redundant). But it seems like the point at which computers can produce genuine analysis has already been reached. According to an article in the Financial Times ($); Google Ventures is backing a new startup that uses computers to process financial information and issue recommendations – something currently done by very well paid and trained bankers and traders, and British firm Markit recently purchased a similar company, whose computers produce newswire-esque financial reports.
4) There are two overarching stereotypes when it comes to Africa and technological progress. The first; that there is none, and that Africa is still stuck in some kind of dark age. The Second; that innovation is confined to the kind of decentralised systems that the developed world has only recently started to appreciate – telephone banking for example. But according to Marguerite Ward at the World Policy Institute, Africa has undergone a “digital revolution” in the past five years, as companies like Microsoft and Intel make large investments, local telecommunications companies spend hundreds of millions on new infrastructure, and a new undersea internet cable was finished. “The virtual revolution means sudden improvements to education, health and political spheres – prompting more leaders to embrace technological development as they would more “traditional” development projects.”
5) For most of us, the word fatwa probably brings to mind Salman Rushdie’s woes after publishing Satanic Verses. But the Indonesian Council of Ulama, Indonesia’s top Muslim body, has just released the first ever fatwa against wildlife trafficking. “The fatwa requires Indonesia’s 200 million Muslims to take an active role in protecting and conserving endangered species, including tigers, rhinos, elephants, and orang-utans.” According to the chair of the Council of Ulama; “People can escape government regulation… but they cannot escape the word of God.“, although the fatwa does apply to the government as well as the people.
6) Shortly after I started working at Dominos, my boss called a big meeting to tell us that he had just sold his car in order to keep the business afloat. It turned out that he only made a few cents profit per pizza. Every mistake we teenagers made would eat into the minuscule profits, and was putting the company at risk. Why on earth would anyone take on such a business, I wondered. This week, an article by Timothy Noah in Pacific Standard brought me right back to those days. It tells the story of franchisees in America, who face higher failure rates than other small businesses, small margins, few protections, and controlling franchisors. Why, oh why would people do this to themselves?
7) The ‘digital divide’ lives on, according to researchers at Northwestern University, but in the form of digital ‘literacy’. While services like computers at public libraries has closed some of the gap to access, there is a direct correlation between the socioeconomic and educational level of parents, and the internet skills of children, particularly when it comes to picking sources. “Many students are unaware that Google is merely a search engine rather than a source of information itself, and that it does not vet the quality of the content on sites it searches. When clicking from Google or Facebook to a link, they may pay no attention to the name or URL of the site they are going to…”
8) In 2013, Apple audited 451 facilities run by its suppliers, and found 23 people who had been younger than 16 when they were hired. In total, Apple has found almost 350 child workers since they started public audits in 2006. Tim Fernholz at Quartz has the story of what Apple does after they catch down-stream companies using child labour, which includes making “any transgressing supplier pay not only for the education of any child laborers it is found using, but also keep paying them wages until they graduate (thus removing their incentive to stay out of school). Apple follows up with the former workers to ensure they are still in school.”
9) It’s International Women’s day today, so the World Food Programme has decided to celebrate the role that women play in reducing poverty. “Giving women the power to make choices over their lives is one of the first steps towards a world with zero hunger,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. “In every country where WFP works, women are front and centre in programmes to tackle the problems of food insecurity and undernutrition. We work with women farmers, traders, nutrition workers, school cooks and we serve millions of schoolgirls, pregnant women and nursing mothers.”
10) And now something to highlight the injustice faced by many women around the world. Reuters photographer Navesh Chitraka has the story, and heartbreaking pictures of a Nepalese practice called Chaupadi; “Chaupadi is the practice of treating women as impure and untouchable when they menstruate. When they go through their monthly cycle, they are not allowed to enter a house or pass by a temple. They cannot use public water sources, touch livestock, attend social events like weddings, or touch others. When they are served food, the person who gives it to them will not even touch the dish. And at night, they are not allowed to sleep in their homes – instead they have to stay in sheds or outbuildings, often with no proper windows or doors.”
And that’s all for this week’s exchange. The exchange will hopefully be back again next weekend with more under-covered stories and ideas. Same bat channel.