“Another big problem identified by the researchers stems from something called the “diet gap”: food that’s grown, and could be feeding people, but never makes it to their plates. That gap is massive — currently, only 51 percent of the calories we grow end up being consumed as food. The U.S., Western Europe and China are responsible for most of this, the study found, by feeding “cows and cars” (livestock and biofuels) instead of people. The crop calories we currently feed to animals, for example, could be used instead to feed an additional 4 billion people. Lessening the diet gap, lead author Paul West told Salon, is our “biggest opportunity to move the dial on the global food system as a whole.””
“The future has already been a disappointment.”
Paul Starr, The Second Machine Age, Reviewed
Starr juxtaposes techno optimism and pessimism, spiraling about the core question: why doesn’t rapid innovation in technology and science lead to a/ higher productivity and b/ better economic outcomes for all?
Brynjolfsson and McAfee, the authors of The Second Machine Age, blame the former on organizational inertia, and the fact that value may not be falling, even when prices are (think about the music industry). Basically, they say our economics hasn’t caught up with the foundational changes in our economy.
Robert Gordon is a Northwestern economist who has long contended that technology’s benefits are largely overstated. His work suggests that growth might be less than 1% in the decades to come because of various ‘headwinds’ — like demographic change, declining educational quality, inequality, and economic adjustment (think music business).
Starr summarizes Gordon’s position on b/:
Unless we change our policies in such areas as education, health care, and taxation, the bottom 99 percent will not see much improvement in living standards. For the great majority of Americans, the problem is that productivity growth, whatever its real level, is not translating into higher incomes. The gains from growth are going to the top—and on this point Brynjolfsson and McAfee have no disagreement with Gordon.
Starr wants to end on a hopeful note, so he suggests that ‘we will find a way forward only when we can put growth and equality back together’.
But that is more of dream than a roadmap. Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century suggests that we might be moving into an era — the postnormal — when income inequality and the oligarchic conservation of wealth will become the new steady state. And technological innovation may be an engine for that, rather than a force for equality and a better future for all.(via stoweboyd)