Nano Management

Jeff Bezos' efficient, inhumane economy; leaked DMs from WikiLeaks group; and more.


  • This is civic tech: The Civic Engagement Fund, a nonprofit devoted to “unlocking creative solutions to today’s civic engagement issues,” gets profiled in Forbes by MeiMei Fox. Last year, she reports, “CEF worked with Pantsuit Nation, Town Hall Project, Community Justice Reform Coalition, The Love Vote, Only Through Us and Rise to Run, offering these groups help with back-end services such as office space, compliance, legal contracts, management training, and fiscal sponsorship.

  • Here are the new members of Code for America’s national advisory council, elected by a vote of nearly 700 Brigade members around the country.

  • The progressive organizing group Wellstone Action has announced the removal of David and Mark Wellstone from its board.

  • Brad Schenck, the former digital training director for the Obama 2012 campaign, has announced the opening of the Digital Plan Training Community.

  • The Hewlett Foundation has made a new five-year $50 million committee to its Cyber-Security Initiative, making it one of the few big foundations focusing on the issue, as Jon Pattee reports for Inside Philanthropy.

  • Civic Hall member Adam Greene is looking for some bookkeeping help on Xero. If interested in the freelance consulting position, you can email ‪agreene@seniorstogether.net‪ for details.‬

  • What sharing economy? “Cars are to us what books are to Amazon,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told a San Francisco conference this week, Eric Newcomer of Forbes reports. Khosrowshahi predicted that in five years the company could provide the whole transportation network for a city.

  • Virginia Eubanks, author of the terrific new book Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police and Punish the Poor, talks with The Atlantic’s Tank Misra about the themes of her book.

  • Life in Amazonistan: Since taking over Whole Foods, Amazon has imposed a strict set of procedures for purchasing, displaying and storing goods on store shelves and in back rooms, called “order-to-shelf” or OTS, Hayley Peterson reports for Business Insider. Executives say it is cutting costs, but many employees report being hyper-stressed by the new system. “I wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares about maps and inventory, and when regional leadership is going to come in and see one thing wrong, and fail the team,” a supervisor at a West Coast Whole Foods said. “The stress has created such a tense working environment. Seeing someone cry at work is becoming normal.” Another said, “This ‘nano’ management is downright insane.”

  • Riffing on this news, New Inquiry editor Malcolm Harris ties other threads together about Amazon’s growing power and argues that Jeff Bezos is building a planned economy that could be way more efficient than anything dreamed of by Soviet commissars, but equally inhumane. A must-read.

  • OK, maybe the comparison to Stalin’s Russia isn’t completely fair, but Harris is on to something:

    “Depending on who you ask, dekulakization was literal genocide, comparable to the Holocaust, and/or it catapulted what had been a continent-sized expanse of peasants into a modern superpower. Amazon’s decimation of small businesses (bookstores in particular) is a similar sort of collectivization, purging small proprietors or driving them onto Amazon platforms. The process is decentralized and executed by the market rather than the state, but don’t get confused: Whether or not Bezos is banging on his desk, demanding the extermination of independent booksellers — though he probably is — these are top-down decisions to eliminate particular ways of life.” And this: “In aggregate, as average consumers, we should be cheering. Maybe we are. But as members of a national community, I hope we stop to ask if efficiency is all we want from our delivery infrastructure. Lowering costs as far as possible sounds good until you remember that one of those costs is labor. One of those costs is us.”

     

  • It’s not for nothing that The Nation depicts Bezos as a giant sucking squid on the cover of its new issue on “Monopoly’s New Rules.” As Stacy Mitchell writes, “Bezos has designed his company for a far more radical goal than merely dominating markets; he’s built Amazon to replace them. His vision is for Amazon to become the underlying infrastructure that commerce runs on….By controlling these essential pieces of infrastructure, Amazon can privilege its own products and services as they move through these pipelines, siphoning off the most lucrative currents of consumer demand for itself. And it can set the terms by which other companies have access to these pipelines, while also levying, through the fees it charges, a tax on their trade. In other words, it’s moving us away from a democratic political economy, in which commerce takes place in open markets governed by public rules, and toward a future in which the exchange of goods occurs in a private arena governed by Amazon.”

  • These critiques are helpful, but not sufficient. What’s needed is a vision of a different future not dominated by MAGAF (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook) but where individuality and genuine community can thrive. One clue: the Internet has eliminated too much of the friction in life that allows people with middling skills a niche to make a middle-class life possible. Is holochain an answer?

  • Leaks from WikiLeaks: The Intercept’s Micah Lee and Cora Currier published leaked text messages that show WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange rooting for a Republican presidential victory as early as November 2015. “The messages also reveal a running theme of sexism and misogyny, contain hints of anti-Semitism, and underline Assange’s well-documented obsession with his public image,” they write.