Time to Tame the Tech Titans?

Late last year, I wrote in these pages about technology as a double-edged sword for social progress. Yes, advances in technology continue to underpin sustained improvements in living standards. But, I also highlighted several downsides detrimental to the wellbeing of certain cohorts of the population. One question I posed was whether we need to use anti-trust competition regulation to break up the tech behemoths that have come to dominate the digital economy.

Some tech firms, like Amazon and Uber, have found a new way of doing business that undercuts traditional providers. Others, like Apple, have carved out a dominant market position through in-house product innovation and cultivating brand loyalty. Yet others, like Google and Facebook, operate in markets – internet search engines and social networks – that barely existed two decades ago.

But Big Tech increasingly faces the public wrath, and risks a regulatory backlash. By re-locating their intellectual property, they manage to pay minimal taxes. By putting bookshops and taxi drivers out of business, livelihoods are undermined. By harvesting their users’ data, and then selling it or using it to target online advertisements, they put peoples’ privacy at risk. Recent revelations that the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users was compromised shows the risks people have been taking without even realizing it.

The question then is what, if anything, should be done about it. Continue reading

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Irish Women are still just ‘a little bit equal’

You can’t be ‘a little bit pregnant’, as the saying goes, but you can be ‘a little bit equal’.

In February, we marked the centenary of women getting the vote in Ireland and the UK. Later this year, we will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the 1918 general election. This was a momentous occasion not only because it marked a seismic shift on our path to independence. Sinn Féin’s Countess Markievicz became the first woman elected to the House of Commons.

But, all else was not equal. All men over 21 were entitled to vote, but women had to wait until they were 30. Combined with property ownership requirements, this meant that less than half the women across Ireland and the UK could actually vote.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 18 April, 2018 ***

But, things are surely getting better? Continue reading

Time to use fruits of economic growth to invest in housing and healthcare

LIKE A SUNNY spell sandwiched between snowstorms, the number crunchers at our Central Statistics Office published their own blizzard of economic data recently.

The headline numbers are nearly too good to be true: at 7.8%, GDP growth last year was comfortably the highest in Europe, and ahead even of India, which has leap-frogged China as the fastest-growing big economy in recent years.

Strong growth helped generate nearly 1,300 new jobs per week during 2017. This meant that by the end of the year the total number of people in work was within touching distance of the two-and-a-quarter million peak hit in late-2007. Cue cries that the lost decade is over. These are neither lies, nor damned lies: just statistics.

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 26 March, 2018 ***

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Time for Ireland to get real about climate change

A hundred years from now, catastrophic climate change may have completely changed the way our children and grandchildren live, work and farm. Possible doomsday scenarios include a shutdown of the Gulf Stream, which Ireland depends on for its relatively mild weather, leading to another ice age.

The science is incontrovertible. Global warming is man-made, and emissions of carbon and other gases are the main culprit. Sure, Ireland makes up only a small amount of total emissions. Because of its size, China alone accounts for more than a quarter of all emissions annually. The US, another 15%. But, we rank highly in emissions per person, and total emissions are going in the wrong direction, up 3.5% in 2016 when the government is targeting a 5% reduction.

While the worst environmental impacts of climate change might still be some way off, we could be facing a bill of nearly half a billion euro every year from 2020 onwards unless we get our house in order. As part of European and global efforts to reduce emissions, we have committed to a reduction of 20% (from 1990 levels) by 2020. Ireland is one of the few EU countries on course to miss its target, leaving itself open to annual fines equivalent to widening the standard income tax band by €2,500 or building 2,500 social houses.

So, what to do? Continue reading

USD/MXN facing a perfect storm in H1 2018?

Overall, the Mexican peso has had a relatively good year in 2017, set to close a shade under 20 to the US dollar at end-December (19.72 at time of writing), having opened at the year at 20.74. This would make for a gain of about 5% for the year.

At the beginning of the year, the peso was still reeling from the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the U.S. on a platform hostile to imports of goods and people from Mexico. There was concern that he may follow through on threats to unilaterally withdraw from NAFTA, tax remittances and build a big border wall, among other measures. It was in the latter stages of a rout which would see the peso climb from a shade under 18 to the dollar in mid-August 2016 to an all-time high of nearly 22 in the third week of January 2017.

A strong nine-month run would see the peso more than retrace this move as the worst fears of a Trump Presidency appeared to have been unfounded, with the Mexican currency dipping back below 18 to the dollar during the summer months.

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Previewing Ireland’s economy in 2018: It’s gonna get better, before it gets worse

PEOPLE LIKE TO have something to look forward to. That’s why, even in the dark days of December, people look forward to ringing in the New Year, full of new possibilities.

They may call economics the ‘dismal science’, but even economists are not immune to looking for silver linings among the winter clouds. So, what’s in store for the Irish economy in 2018, I hear you ask?

*** This article was first published on thejournal.ie on 22 December, 2017 ***

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Technology: friend or foe to working people?

First, they came for the factory workers, but I did not speak out –

Because I was not a factory worker.

Later, they came for the bank tellers, but I did not speak out –

Because I was not a bank teller.

Soon, they’ll come for the taxi drivers, but I do not speak out –

Because I am not a taxi driver.

Are they coming for me?

***

This adaption of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem about the Nazis’ creeping reign of terror is supposed to illustrate the ambivalence of ordinary people to technological change.

We like the fact that TVs, computers, mobile phones and domestic appliances are better and cheaper than in the past. Progressive automation in manufacturing has been a key driver of the productivity gains that allowed this happen.

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