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Investment, fairness, prosperity

16 April 2021

Nobody expected Jeff Bezos to gloat openly at Amazon’s successful battle to fend off unionisation at its warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. But the tone of humility in his letter to shareholders yesterday was still striking. “It’s clear to me,” he wrote, “that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees—a vision for their success.” This could, of course, be the boilerplate language of a corporate mogul trying to look magnanimous. But an alternative explanation is possible: that Bezos, limitless in his ambition, grasps that the gig economy will need to adapt and humanise itself if his company is to continue its march towards global dominion. The Guardian reports research that workers in insecure jobs are twice as likely to die of Covid – precisely the sort of data point that, when aggregated, might eventually cause serious political problems for Amazon, Uber and other mega-digital platform employers.

15 April 2021

Big lie
Bernard Madoff, who ran the largest and possibly most ruinous scam in history, died in a North Carolina prison. Madoff deposited client funds into a bank account and let them sit. When clients wanted to redeem their funds, he paid them out with new capital. A classic Ponzi scheme, which ran for decades and earned him tens of billions of dollars until the financial crisis hit and redemptions outstripped his ability to pay out. The Madoff story is one of greed, chicanery, and great personal loss. His victims were devastated. His sons, who reported him to the authorities, died – one by suicide, the other cancer. But it’s also a story of official failure: regulators investigated Madoff’s company at least eight times before its collapse and never filed charges. In the crisis, Madoff had summoned one of his sons to a meeting and told him: “It’s all just one big lie.”

14 april 2021

Security spending
Facebook paid Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive and co-founder, $23.4 million for security at home and when travelling. The company said the spending was in response to “identified specific threats”. In 2019, when Zuckerberg’s security allowance was $10.4 million, he reportedly had armed officers outside his home 24 hours a day, a team that sweeps anywhere he goes, and bullet-resistant windows. The company, currently under fire for facilitating authoritarians’ harassment campaigns against dissidents and journalists, has suffered a number of large-scale data security breaches.

13 April 2021

Call centres
Companies are using artificial intelligence to remind human staff members how to be empathetic to customers, an analysis piece in the FT (£) explains. But call centres are run as hyper-efficient institutions – to a point where there is absolutely no capacity for the employees to be people: “I have gone through being fed up and angry…now I have developed a sort of voluntary disassociation.” Maybe give people a break rather than using AI to rehumanise your dehumanised employees? 

12 APRIL 2021

Cameron talks
How do you make up for 30 days of silence? With a 1,800 word statement, of course. David Cameron has finally broken cover and acknowledged that texting the chancellor and going for a drink with the health secretary – while lobbying on behalf of scandal-hit financial firm Greensill Capital – wasn’t advisable. The former UK prime minister has insisted that he didn’t break any rules but accepts that he should have used more “formal” channels to contact the government about the company from which, before its collapse, he stood to gain millions. Labour says that’s not enough: they want an investigation and for Cameron to answer questions in parliament. He’ll be kept squirming for a while yet.