Monday, March 20, 2023

Homecoming by Rana Foroohar

 My previous book blog was depressing about the state of the future world.  Rana Foroohar is well aware of problems, but sees room for hope and strategies.  There is a lot of meat in "Homecoming."

The Covid pandemic revealed weaknesses  and is forcing some rethinking.  The supply chain turned out to expose the global vulnerability.  Capitalism is all about profit and how to increase it.  Rana points out that efficiency is valued and favors single source.  Very often the single source is cheap and far away.  

Rana suggests that America needs resiliency which can be supplied by local and multiple sources as well as innovations.  We have been forced to find new sources and new methods. 

A few complications are the threats of military intervention and the actual one in Ukraine.  Taiwan is an obvious target and is critical as it is the top global provider for essential computer chips and semiconductors.  Rana admires the system of governance adopted by Taiwan that allows its citizens to express their opinion on a wide range of issues.  The government is ready to respond to false information (steady stream from mainland China) within hours.  China was supposed to be freer as they became richer, but that has not happened.

 A big theme is that capitalism with its emphasis on a free market trends to efficiency at the expense of resiliency.  In the name of efficiency businesses gravitate to single sources to increase profits.  In a previous blog it was pointed out a number of innovations brought  dramatic reduction in costs of transportation and communication that opened up modern growth in global wealth.  Lots of scaling up for supplies that had become part of our standard of living.  Now society needs to boost our resiliency to survive..  Check:     Much specialized equipment although designed in America is boosting manufacturing in other countries.

Climate change is the major global issue, but still the world seems content with changes that don't totally  deal with the issue.  The author draws attention to some of the key factors, overlooked.

Agriculture is the greatest threat and it tied into other complicating streams.  Single crops are normal, but harmful for biodiversity and in many cases add to supply chains.  Much of apparel comes from cotton which can be grown very cheaply far away and encourages fashion cycles going faster that in turn leads to much waste.  Many of us are aware of methane being a crucial factor in global warming, but getting food to our tables and seeds and fertilizers to the fields are major transportation inputs.  The author suggests that vertical farms can increase local control while increasing bio diversity and reducing transportation.

Housing is another major cause for climate change.  Building housing and maintaining  them against heat and cold needs to be done more efficiently.  3-D printing appears to offer cheaper costs, environmentally better and higher long term quality.  Personally I see a fundamental problem is human  desires.  Check    Much of the housing price increases can be attributed to (foreign) investors who buy houses for the expected price increases.

Jobs are a crucial concern.  Automation and Artificial Intelligence assure traditional jobs will disappear everywhere.  Immigration frightens many, especially from poorer parts of the world.  Inequality is increasing with the rich able to grab a bigger share of resources.   Mankind can have more meaningful lives with a change in attitudes and structure.

Gig workers (work with temporary contracts) are also vulnerable and deserve more protection.  Germany and others have found that working with unions is good for business, but there is a lot of resistance in United States. 

Large corporations concentrate power that by itself promote inequality, but more importantly tends to diminish innovation.  Rana suggests that co-operatives (like Ocean Spray) should be encouraged and anti trust laws should be enforced and expanded as small companies do more innovation.

Two big areas are healthcare and education.

Much of healthcare requires human contact and although long distance diagnosis is increasing it is not possible to ignore human contact.  We learned from the pandemic that health care workers are vital, but they feel under assault.  Prevention is much better than cures as many nations have found, but again there is resistance from Americans to medicare.  Americans are now experiencing a decline in longevity. 

Education is another field where progress can be made for both jobs and leisure enjoyment.  Much of the student debt crisis can be the result of poor direction.  Many prospects feel they have to go to university to get a degree in order to get a job, but the world doesn't need that many degrees.  What the world needs is more vocational training for the newer technical jobs.  The world does need critical thinkers and the world wants to enjoy life more.  Although there will be more online teaching smaller classes are also a boost to education. 

Democracy is assaulted by surveillance states and needs to reassert itself and offer a better life than too many are forced to.  Quadratic voting is a new concept brought forward by Glen Weyl.  It allows voters to have digital tokens that enable them to allocate their preferences among many issues that gives them power to express their priorities.  

Inequality seems to be growing.  The very wealthy have found their best allies are those like Donald Trump who can stir up voters against their own best interests.   The huge tax cuts have enabled many companies to buy back shares.

A quote from Adam Smith that warrants more attention:  "It was not by gold or silver, but by labor, that the wealth of the world was originally purchased."  It is the workers of the world the made everything else possible and they should not be ignored.  

This is a very complex book with lots of encouraging ideas.  Unfortunately the world is full of apathetic and greedy people who stand in the way of a more resilient world that we need to survive.  The ideas are being enacted by many people, but we still need more globally minded earth citizens.  Be one of them.

  Rana Foroohar is someone more people should pay attention to.  She appears in CNN from time to time and has written other books.  Check

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