The Wolves of Wall Street
| Friday, March 21, 2014
“What a commentary on the state of twentieth-century capitalism,” mused “motivational speaker” Jordan Belfort as he looked back on his life of fraud, sex, and drugs. As head of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, he fleeced investors of hundreds of millions of dollars in the early 1990’s. I saw Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street and was sufficiently intrigued to read Belfort’s memoir, on which the screenplay is based. I learned quite a lot.
For example, the scam known as “pump and dump,” which netted Belfort and his fellow Strattonites their ill-gotten gains, comes into much clearer view in the memoir than it does in the film. The technique works by buying up the stock of worthless companies through nominees, selling it onContinue reading...
On Wednesday, for the first time in four Budgets, George Osborne will be able to claim plausibly that Britain has come out of the Great Recession. Growth was 1.8 per cent in 2013 and is expected to be between 2.4 and 2.8 per cent in 2014. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the economy is still 1.4 per cent smaller than it was in 2008 and 14 per cent smaller than it would have been had the recession not struck.
That lost output, amounting to £210bn, is gone for ever. Every household is almost £2,000 poorer on average than it would have been; the government’s revenue is £70bn less – that is (say) 70 hospitals, 1,000 schools and 250,000 housing units not built. Or, to take another number: 650,000 people now unemployed would haveContinue reading...
Yesterday morning Robert Skidelsky participated in one of the Guardian's podcasts, discussing Labour's job guarantee scheme and, ahead of next week's budget, whether or not GDP is a good measure of a country's wellbeing. With Diane Coyle, Larry Elliott and Tom Clark.
The Programmed Prospect Before Us
New York Review of Books
| Monday, March 10, 2014
Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans
by Simon Head
Basic Books, 230 pp., $26.99
The entire thesis of Simon Head’s arresting new book is contained in the subtitle. It goes all the way back to Adam Smith’s telling observation that the division of labor in a pin factory, while doing wonders for productivity (output per worker), would make workers as “stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be.” This was because no worker needed to know how to make a pin, only how to do his part in the process of making a pin. Artisan production was on the point of becoming industrial production; industrial production would destroy work skills.
By the start of the twentieth century, and after the IndustrialContinue reading...
Death to Machines?
| Friday, February 21, 2014
At the start of the Industrial Revolution, textile workers in the Midlands and the North of England, mainly weavers, staged a spontaneous revolt, smashing machinery and burning factories. Their complaint was that the newfangled machines were robbing them of their wages and jobs.
The rebels took their name, and inspiration, from the apocryphal Ned Ludd, supposedly an apprentice weaver who smashed two knitting frames in 1779 in a “fit of passion.” Robert Calvert wrote a ballad about him in 1985: “They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy/ That all he could do was wreck and destroy,” the song begins. And then: “He turned to his workmates and said: ‘Death to Machines’/They tread on our future and stamp on our dreams.”
The Luddites’ rampage wasContinue reading...