Tragedy of the Internetz

On Friday, huge chunks of the internet were taken offline in an apparent distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. From what we know so far, thousands of internet-enabled devices ranging from cameras to thermostats were marshalled to attack the servers of Dyn which provides domain name services (DNS) to connect the addresses of websites to their location on the web. While DNS has been described as an internet phonebook, it’s closer to your phone carrier providing cell service to your phone number allowing people to call it. This is less like someone ripping up a phonebook than it is them shutting down AT&T by programming your printer to make hundreds of calls per minute.

The immediate reaction has been a pessimism at the future of cyber warfare. Already in this presidential campaign, the candidates have extolled the pitfalls and promise of “cyber,” especially as it pertains to national security. Further, a joint committee of 17 intelligence agencies is insisting that Russia is behind the hacking of emails from the DNC that are currently being released by WikiLeaks. While the prospect that you can get an ageing political functionary to fall for a spear-phishing email scam is nothing knew, shutting down the ability for people to access hundreds of websites using their televisions is quite another.

In spite of the prospect that our civilization can be thrown into a new dark age if intelligence agencies or hostile non-state actors competitively shut down portions of the internet, I remain optimistic. What this attack highlights for me, above all, is the fundamental contradiction between cyber-security and data-capitalism. These internet-enabled devices – the so-called “internet of things” – are designed with security flaws built in.

In addition to the discrete tasks the user seeks to accomplish without having to go through the trouble of walking to push a button or plug in a cable, these devices also enable manufacturers to access usage data and apply patches and updates remotely. While businesses are interested in providing a product that consumers want to buy and use, they have more recently become interested in capitalizing on their products’ use data. In order to do this, companies making these products have built in the capability for these machines to routinely send data to the manufacturer through the internet without user initiation. That functionality, as we have seen, can be coopted by anyone.

Ultimately, businesses will have to rethink the degree to which they breach their customers’ privacy. A machine that can be used as a drone by a manufacturer is necessarily able to be used as a drone for a nefarious actor. In spite of domestic and international law, the power of individuals on the internet is only limited by what you are able to code. As far as a machine is concerned, an FBI agent has no more authority to use it than a hacker. If tech companies don’t want users to lose control of their devices to malicious coders, they will likely have to give up much of the control they currently have back to the consumers using their products.

Distributing the Costs of Climate Change

In an event sponsored by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) and the student group oikos, Professor Randall S. Abate of Florida A&M University College of Law lectured and led a discussion on the issue of climate refugees.  

As broadening swaths of earth are rendered uninhabitable by— let’s not mince words— capitalism, villages currently, subsequently nations, will be forced to seek relocation.  Climate refugees—those who are forced to emigrate as the land they’ve lived on is transformed to either desert or ocean—must appeal for clemency from the very countries that have disproportionately contributed to their problem.  In the midst of these slow-burning kinds of genocides are numerous legal imbroglios, petty feuds, impolitic discourses, and opportunities for redistribution from poor to rich.

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Call for Papers: The Political Economy of University, INC.

Neoliberal restructuring includes an unprecedented attack on the autonomy of universities, their faculties, administrators, support staffs and students. How has your work—as a professor, graduate student, educational support professional, administrator or researcher—changed in response to policies designed to remake the University in the image of the for-profit business concern? How have you and your colleagues organized resistance to these changes?

The premise of this special issue of World Economic Review: Contemporary Policy Issues—an on-line peer reviewed journal with a global subscription of 13,000—is that every aspect of post-secondary education is affected by the corporatization of the university. Thus, we seek contributions from all disciplinary fields and every location within the university. We welcome papers exploring the intellectual, personal, pedagogical, and theoretical dimensions of the attack on public higher education.

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Why Isn’t The World Bank’s Choice of Chief Economist More Controversial?

This week it became clear that the World Bank has chosen Paul Romer as its next Chief Economist. As Chief Economist he’ll have the overall responsibility of the Bank’s research program and be able to shape the developments of the highly influential development institution. Commentators have named the choice of Chief Economist impressive, great, huge news, bold, and forward-thinking. The choice of World Bank Chief Economist rarely garners this much attention – so, why the fuss?

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What’s Curiously Missing from the Wolfers Slides

Once again, the New Keynesians are cherry-picking from post-Keynesian and Marxian critiques of economic theory. This time the subject is macroeconomics – the whole thing. Justin Wolfers out of the University of Michigan recently posted a slideshow he presented at a lecture in celebration of former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard. The contents are largely what has come out of the RRPE for the past 50 years with some key omissions.

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The Anxiety of Economics

We live in especially anxious times. The past half-century has seen a decided turn away from public provisioning – a shift known as neoliberalism or the Washington consensus depending on what side of the Tropic of Cancer you live on.

Certainly this shift was primed by the simultaneous experience of the Cold War and decolonization which motivated a model of economic development that relied on private investment over government enterprise. While it would be convenient to tell this story as merely one of corporate rapaciousness seeking ever broader frontiers, it wouldn’t tell the whole story. The full story involves a shifting in the way economists view economic policy itself.

Katherine Moos, a PhD student at the NSSR & lecturer at Sarah Lawrence College, points to the Lucas Critique as the pivotal point in this turn away from policy. In her work-in-progress “The Transvaluation of Values,” Moos argues that this represented not merely a recalibration of fiscal management, but a philosophical anxiety about the possibility of good public policy itself.

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Transcript: Comments on The Future of Capitalism

I will start this talk by explaining where I come from. My background is from Norway, a tiny country in the outskirts of Europe, where the struggle to stay outside of the EU has been fought from the left.

We fought against what we saw as a neoliberal project that would move our democracy to Brussels. With a coalition of farmers, unions and the political left — and against the will of the political elites and the main media — the Norwegian people said ‘no’ to the EU in two referendums, in 1972 and 1994.

So, in many ways, I was looking at the unfolding of the Greek crises from the outside.

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Climate Change & Class War

This Thursday NSSR PhD student Julia Puaschunder gave the oikos lunch presentation with a talk called “Intergenerational Justice: Climate Change Burden Sharing,” which suggested the possibility of using bonds to fund mitigation and adaptation costs of climate change.

If we take as a given a trade-off between sustainability and growth, the problem of climate change can be presented as a zero-sum game to be played with our children: We may expend the earth now and leave our children with nothing, or we may bolt for asceticism and leave our children a plenitude.

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Is Development Possible In Capitalism?

Last Friday was the Debating Development conference, organized by the titular scholars of INET’s Young Scholars Initiative, a group coordinated by NSSR’s own Ingrid Kvangraven. The conference put many scholars of different regions and different theoretical perspectives in conversation. Although it was titled “debating development,” as NSSR economics professor Sanjay Reddy noted in his opening remarks, most of the perspectives presented were more intersecting than mutually exclusive, so the conference could also be understood as a means to compound or complexify perspectives, rather than adopt or discard them.

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Coffee vs. Capital

On April 14th, Oikos NYC launched its first out of three lunch talks scheduled for the spring semester 2016 at The New School. In line with its mission, to enhance student’s engagement with sustainability in economics, the speaker, Christopher London who is Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Milano, discussed the issue of environmental sustainability of food production.

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