If data is the new oil, the state must assert its right to raise revenue from it – and use it for the public goodPhilip Hammond’s decision, announced in Monday’s budget, to introduce a digital services tax is a brave and welcome step into the unknown. …Read more
An idea whose time has come: Over the holiday season the Guardian is examining themes that have emerged to give shape to 2018. Today we look at intangible economies
No country is governed by a Capitalist party, although there is no shortage of capitalism on the planet. There have been Socialist parties for socialism, Liberal parties for liberalism and Communist parties for communism. Yet acolytes of the most powerful model of all are reluctant to brand themselves with its name. One reason is that the word “capitalism” was popularised by its critics. The most common usage is pejorative, denoting a system characterised by exploitation of workers by bosses. Another reason is that there are too many kinds of capitalism in practice for any single party to claim ownership of the idea. In the west the pendulum swung between more liberal and dirigiste modes, while the underlying structure stayed remarkably stable. But that doesn’t make it permanent. Already a digital revolution has transformed the way business is done. What if it is changing the nature of capitalism itself?
The rise of a handful of vast corporate powerhouses whose business models have no instructive precedent from the analogue-era forces a reappraisal of the way capitalist economies work. The top seven highest valued companies in the world are all in the technology sector. Titans such as Alphabet (which owns Google) and Facebook specialise in products that do not exist in three-dimensional space. Apple and Amazon sell real-world objects as well as concepts, but their fortunes and market dominance have been built on nebulous concepts – models, brands and algorithms.Read more
Automation and globalisation are combining to generate a world with a surfeit of labour and too little work
A new age is dawning. Whether it is a wonderful one or a terrible one remains to be seen. Look around and the signs of dizzying technological progress are difficult to miss. Driverless cars and drones, not long ago the stuff of science fiction, are now oddities that can occasionally be spotted in the wild and which will soon be a commonplace in cities around the world.
With a few flicks of a finger, we can use our phones to order up a meal, or a car, or a translation for a waiter’s query in a foreign country. Gadgets such as the Amazon Echo are finding their way into living rooms, where they sit listening, ready to comply with a voice command.Read more
Argentina’s Pia Mancini is using technology to destroy barriers between politicians and people around the world
For a woman whose day-to-day work revolves around reimagining democracy for the digital era, Pia Mancini is pretty relaxed. On a windy day in San Francisco, where the Argentine political scientist is based, she Skypes me between meetings, her hair whipping across her face in the breeze.
The 33-year-old has worked for thinktanks, in public policy and on a range of political campaigns. But in recent years she has devoted her time to launching non-profit organisations and venture-backed collaborative projects that could change the way citizens engage with politics all over the world.Read more
Some of the policy needed updating. But it cannot be made cost-free
The government’s energy policy is chaotic. On the one hand, with time running out before the Paris climate change summit in December, it is committed to agreeing tough international targets, backed by demanding European and domestic programmes for carbon reduction and renewable energy growth. But then there are Treasury-driven cuts to subsidies for renewables, and a cabinet that looks set to back off from existing schemes such as the Green Deal to incentivise energy efficiency.
It is easier to offer consumers a cheap fix for energy bills by removing the small element that pays for investment in renewables than it is to pay an incentive for boiler modernisation. Lower efficiency standards for starter homes have been announced, a new committee set up to take the decision on a third runway at Heathrow is packed with supporters, and fracking has the greenest of lights. Under cover of the drive for austerity, and reinforced by a desire to appease Tory voters opposed to onshore windfarms, the foundations of a green economy are being undermined one by one.Read more