A sobering book for policymakers and anyone considering on-demand gigs.

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GHOST WORK

HOW TO STOP SILICON VALLEY FROM BUILDING A NEW GLOBAL UNDERCLASS

An exploration of the hidden human labor force that works with artificial intelligence to power many popular websites and apps.

As Microsoft Research senior analysts Gray and Suri note, some 20 million individuals worldwide make up an “on-demand gig economy,” working as freelancers to handle judgment-call tasks that computers do not do—from moderating content and editing product reviews to developing web pages—and executing such high-tech piece work (for apps like Uber and websites like Facebook) in isolation, amid great uncertainty, without feedback or benefits, and under no clear labor laws. Drawing on a pioneering five-year study of workers in the United States and India, the authors provide a revealing, overly detailed view of this rapidly growing world of “ghost work,” in which “faceless” labor platforms (at the behest of well-known firms) hire workers represented by numbers rather than names. The platforms organize, route, and schedule projects to individuals working from home or elsewhere. This prospect—not the takeover of work by robots—represents the “inevitable” future of jobs, argue the authors. The book includes portraits of many workers such as Karen, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mom who does captions for an on-demand platform called Amara, earning $15 per hour; and Zaffar, 26, an IT graduate who handles tasks for LeadGenius, another platform, from his home in India. Most are college graduates under age 40, and many have failed to find—or do not want—9-to-5 jobs. Some are disabled, retired, or caring for children or elderly relatives; all take on first-come, first-served assignments at their convenience. Worker experiences are mixed: Some hustle to land steady work, while others find some of the hundreds of platforms (Amazon’s MTurk, Microsoft’s UHRS, LeadGenius, and Amara are examined in detail) hard to understand. Nearly a third report being unpaid for work completed. The authors urge many reforms, including a safety net for future workers and “company-issued, shared workspace.”

A sobering book for policymakers and anyone considering on-demand gigs.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-56624-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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