Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist
If you’ve ever felt disadvantaged by imperfect knowledge of the events that shaped the second half of the twentieth century; ever been party to a conversation where people of a certain age make knowing reference to mysterious characters and events like the Blake spy case, Profumo, or Keeler; or your shaky grasp of recent history and literature has ever been exposed. Don’t worry, it happens to us all! Right now, earnest pundits who’ve never even cracked the spine of 1984 are referencing doublethink, newspeak, and the Ministry of Truth, in support of their opinions about fake news! But all is not lost. Here is your chance – through one man’s career – to join up the dots of modern social history.
Where I have a problem is with the book’s style and execution. Alternating chapters between two different authors leads to a disjointed and repetitive reading experience. Thornton’s chapters are clear, concise, and brief. Goodman’s are rambling, plagued by extraneous quoted dialogue, and gushing in their admiration of Thornton.Jonathan Porritt’s flyleaf endorsement may be correct in saying that ‘more important still are the vision, values, and gritty dedication of an amazing group of lawyers’, but I can’t escape the feeling that this book has something of the Hollywood movie about it. So, can our plucky heroes defeat the forces of evil?! Published by Scribe Publications 2017 (www.scribepublications.co.uk) UK edition 978 1911 344 087 ©2017 M J Hoare
Bigger the Better In 1907, Charles Darwin’s cousin Sir Francis Galton asked 787 villagers to guess the weight of an ox at a country fair. None of them got the right answer, but when Galton averaged their guesses, he arrived at a near perfect estimate. Beating not only most of the individual guesses but also those of alleged cattle experts. Thus the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ was born. Groups of people pooling their abilities to demonstrate collective intelligence and average judgement converging on the right solution. It’s a pleasing theory and tempting to apply to all sorts of decision-making processes. Until, that is you realise that the crowd is far from infallible. Good crowd judgement only arises when people’s decisions are independent of one another. Influenced by other’s guesses, there’s more chance that they will drift towards a misplaced bias. In other words groups, when fed with information, tend towards a consensus to the detriment of accuracy. Witness the recent election polling predictions.Analysing the Detail Nothing in doing data analysis is neutral. How data is collected, cleaned, stored. What models are constructed, and what questions are asked. All tend towards discrimination. As Dana Boyd, in her excellent article, ‘Toward Accountability’ asks, “How do we define discrimination? Most people think about unjust and prejudicial treatment based on protected categories. But discrimination as a concept has mathematical and economic roots that are core to data analysis. The practices of data cleaning, clustering data, running statistical correlations, etc. are practices of using information to discern between one set of information and another. They are a form of mathematical discrimination. The big question presented by data practices is: Who gets to choose what is acceptable discrimination? Who gets to choose what values and trade-offs are given priority?” Even so, making data available to the public must be a good thing – it’s democratizing – right? But what if it’s not? For instance, what happens when big data is used in conjunction with a computer algorithm to predict crime? In theory analysing large amounts of crime data should spot patterns in the way criminals behave. Resources could then be deployed more effectively in the areas of predicted criminal activity. Result! Or, what happens when parents are encouraged to select their children’s school places on the basis of an education data ‘dashboard’. Benchmarking every aspect of a school’s performance against the mean should tell you everything you need to know to make a rational decision about your child’s future. Simple! Lastly, how good would it be if, when you applied for a job online, you were swiftly shortlisted for interview on the basis of your merits? Your CV having been analysed against the qualities of those who had previously succeeded in that role. Brilliant! But wait! Critics of this kind of data analysis raise a number of ethical concerns. They claim predictive policing, for instance, leads to victimisation, and unnecessary stop and searches in areas with high crime rates; displacement of crime elsewhere; gathering of sensitive data, leading to invasions of privacy; and lastly, that it ignores the social, economic and cultural factors that cause crime. Advocates, on the other hand, argue that a variety of policing approaches are necessary; that research has found no evidence of victimisation; and that it makes police decision-making less biased. Surely no one can argue that giving parents access to school data is a bad thing? But what data? What constitutes a good school? Is it test scores, student makeup, parent ratings, or facilities? Presented with the data, does every parent have the time, language skills, and ability to interrogate the statistics? And, if they do, is everyone equally able to act upon their findings by dint of wealth or mobility? Oh yes, that job you applied for! Being filtered for interview on the basis your abilities is one thing. But what about your gender, ethnicity, or sickness record? You’ll never know, because you won’t get the chance to explain. Not that anyone would be so crass as to filter on that basis. But subtle clues, like blips in your career timeline or post-code may result in unwarranted inferences. Combine these factors with feed-back loops and machine learning and before you know it you may never work for a large company again.
Conclusion “Data scientists”, said Mike Loukides, VP of O’Reilly Media, “are involved with gathering data, massaging it into a tractable form, making it tell its story, and presenting that story to others.” So, I remain conflicted on the benefits of big data. It has its uses. But, rather than thoughtlessly surrender ourselves to its machinations – in the belief that the outcome will always serve the interests of humanity – we should remain sceptical, questioning, and downright belligerent. Especially when told that it’s for ‘our own good’. I plan to keep in mind a quote from Ronald Coase, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, when he said, “Torture the data, and it will confess to anything.”Michael Hoare June 2107 Sources / Further Reading: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zqsg9qt http://www.thwink.org/sustain/glossary/FeedbackLoop.htm https://points.datasociety.net/toward-accountability-6096e38878f0?goal=0%203391a19d97-ade738409c-101345329&mc%20cid=ade738409c&mc%20eid=ca3d28b2b4 https://www.ap-institute.com/big-data-articles/how-is-big-data-used-in-practice-10-use-cases-everyone-should-read https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted
The jewellery industry has been angst-ridden for most of the current century over the moral, ethical, and environmental damage done by the exploitation of gold and diamonds. Child labour, the blighted lives of miners, the spoil left by extraction, the financing of civil wars, and the buttressing of repressive regimes have each left their own stain on the industry. The Kimberley Process, the Dodd Frank act, OECD Due Diligence, and subsequent legislation, attempted to deal with these concerns, and bring forth order out of chaos. However, the plethora of initiatives in the supply chain remains perplexing for retailers, and those that want to trade ethically.
As CEO of the now defunct National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and a founding Director of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), I worked with NGOs and others for over a decade to influence the practices and policies of miners, refineries, processors, wholesalers, retailers, and banks in their efforts to regulate and monitor the movement and provenance of gold and diamonds within the supply chain.
Today, rigorous policies – both imposed and self-policed – are impacting on the tracking of both commodities back to responsible origins. But the work still isn’t complete, and the industry still needs to shore up its claims to social and ethical sourcing with transparency, trace-ability, and communication across the entire supply chain, before retailers can trade with complete confidence in the attribution of their stock. Platinum group metals have also been added to the scope of the RJC, but one of the unsolved problems remains the provenance of coloured gemstones!
Therefore the announcement of the launch of a technical feasibility study to include coloured gemstones into the scope of the RJC should be music to jewellers’ ears. But, past experience of working alongside the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A), whose work is the study and identification of gemstones, I am acutely aware how complex a task it is likely to be. Not just because of the range of stones, but because of the fractured supply chain.
Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – labour intensive and often in remote and inaccessible areas – still accounts for the majority of the worldwide supply, raising obstacles to transparency and trace-ability at even the production stage. Compared to diamonds, the supply chain of coloured gemstones is highly complex, making it nearly impossible to trace their trajectory from mine to end-user.
Mined in roughly fifty countries – located mostly in the global south – gemstones pass through numerous hands before being polished, transformed into jewellery and sold in the international retail market. And – unlike diamonds – the coloured gemstone supply chain doesn’t have a history of being governed by a centralised cartel, so opportunities for human rights abuses, environmental damage, and illicit activity, are legion.
So, while the RJC’s intentions are entirely laudable, their desire to plug the remaining gaps admirable, I think we should all recognise that the road ahead will be strewn with moral and ethical boulders, and some will be very difficult to work around!
Contact me on email@example.com for strategy, communications, and public relations consultancy.