don't believe the hype, Imperialism is alwasy brain washing you.
June 16, 2019
Your #God inside a cube
"(...) [cube simulated - computer universe evolved] a chunk of our universe as simulated by the Grand Challenge Cosmology Consortium (GC3). The cube is huge - it would take light 500 million years to cross "
This simulation hypothesized that 1/3 of the universe is composed of slow moving “cold dark matter”, and 2/3 composed of fast moving “hot dark matter.”
La Russia ha annunciato, nei mesi scorsi, di voler creare la propria rete Internet, escludendo pian piano tutta l'influenza occidentale.
La Cina sin dall'avvento di Internet ha operato un'azione di controllo combinata, fatta di tecnologia, leggi e chiusura.
Gli Stati Uniti d'America vedono il cyberspazio come un nuovo terreno di guerra, e osservano con grande attenzione ciò che sta accadendo negli altri due Stati "concorrenti".
In questo podcast riflettiamo, partendo da un bel servizio del Financial Times, sull'attuale volontà di controllo sulla rete (e conseguente censura e soffocamento del dissenso).
June 15, 2019
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the second week of June, 2019.
Disclaimer: I wrote this article on the side of a mountain using an OLPC XO-4 with a Spanish keyboard. These typos were honestly come by and I intend to keep them.
June 08, 2019 (comments)
A webshit learns how much 'full-stack' development is worth. Hackernews is outraged to discover that some webshit oversteps its bounds when demanding access to personal information. The author shows up to explain that getting hosed by a client is par for the webshit course, but Hackernews sternly informs everyone that work belongs to the client, even if they stiff you.
June 09, 2019 (comments)
Some programmers confuse a licensing contract with a religion. Hackernews can't understand why more people don't convert to the religion. After spending some time bikeshedding the phrasing of the liturgy, Hackernews invents the labor theory of value from first principles, but mistakes 'typing things into VS Code' for labor.
June 10, 2019 (comments)
An Internet is upset about not being able to more efficiently contribute to Google's feature detection products. Some Hackernews suggest that it might be possible to be dissatisfied with Google; a donnybrook ensues.
June 10, 2019 (comments)
A webshit advocates creating websites by making dozens of smaller, shittier websites and mashing them together client-side. Hackernews strongly encourages this behavior, because the currently-fashionable pile of abstractions is too fragile to survive sane development practice. Also, it's what they were taught to do during their last stint either at Amazon itself or some also-ran who desperately cargo-cults Amazon's programming directives. Down at the bottom, greyed out by downvotes, one Hackernews plots an escape from the webshit mines...
June 11, 2019 (comments)
Some webshits try to figure out how to get anything done when nobody is in charge. For inspiration, they turn to the IETF, which disrupted voting by not counting votes and just doing whatever Google thought of. Hackernews, masters all of human interaction, know what the problem is but declare it insoluble. No technology is discussed.
June 12, 2019 (comments)
IPv6 still sucks, and an Internet recounts the path that got it there. A Hackernews Beauty Pageant finalist shows up, so there is a flurry of interest in this years-old post. Many words are excreted in defense of a protocol so awful that a majority of the Internet utterly ignores it with no measurable impact.
June 13, 2019 (comments)
Some rando is displeased with the disconnect between reality and corporate politics. Advice is dispensed: maybe try to fix it? but probably don't bother. Hackernews recounts all the times they were bullshitted via paperwork, then spends the afternoon telling each other why that was wrong. No technology is discussed.
June 14, 2019 (comments)
An Internet is radicalized. Hackernews isn't so sure this is the best plan, but can't get to the bottom of anything because each participant's opinion is based entirely on whether they write more code than they run or vice versa. Fully one quarter of the comments are Hackernews incorrecting each other about copyright law. Nobody changes their mind as a result of any of the text involved, in the article or in the comments.
June 14, 2019
June 12, 2019
Repris du site du Sauvage, journal consacré à l'écologie depuis 1973
Les élections Européennes de 2019 ont illustré un fait historique dans l’histoire politique de l’Europe: la totalité des partis français ont inclus l’écologie dans leur programme. Certains propos sont même tout à fait radicaux, là où l’on ne s’y attendait pas. Je vous laisse deviner de quels partis viennent les discours suivants:
« Plus largement, derrière notre projet européen, il y a l’ambition
d’une « civilisation écologique ». Cela signifie en finir avec le
courtermisme et la loi du profit immédiat, sans égard pour l’ordre naturel,
c’est-à-dire parfois le temps long. »
« La sécurité alimentaire, l’aménagement de notre territoire et la
transition écologique, qui sont des conditions essentielles de notre avenir,
passent d’abord par ce chemin. »
« Sensibiliser les citoyens, dès le plus jeune âge, à l’urgence
écologique, grâce à un enseignement sur les enjeux du climat et de la
« Engagés pour la transition écologique et la protection de
l’environnement, développer une agriculture sans pesticides en 5 ans en aidant
les agriculteurs »
N’en jetez plus ! Bien sûr, nous ne sommes pas dupes de l’incohérence entre
ces paroles de posture électorale et la nature conservatrice de programmes ou
de personnels politiques, qui, en réalité, prônent la continuation du modèle
productiviste actuel, voire son renforcement.
Nous ne sommes pas surpris non plus par l’emploi fréquent de « transition écologique », un fourre-tout bien pratique dans l’esprit des conservateurs, car il peut parfaitement inclure la continuation du capitalisme par le biais de la croissance verte.
Mais la présence de ces mots nouveaux, et parfois forts – « civilisation écologique », « écologie réelle »- dans les partis de droite ou d’extrême-droite n’est pas seulement issue de la conjoncture électorale. Il y a une préoccupation réelle des militants et de certains dirigeants face au bouleversement climatique et ses conséquences, notamment portée par la peur des migrations. On ne se refait pas.
Du côté de la presse, les grands journaux n’hésitent plus à titrer en Une sur certains événements liés au réchauffement, sur des appels de personnalités ou de scientifiques, ou sur certaines prospectives scientifiques graves qui donnent à réfléchir. Il y a encore quelques années, ces articles étaient relégués au secondaire volet « Environnement », et les grandes manifestations pour le climat, excepté autour de la COP21, n’étaient pas autant mises en valeur.
Mieux, à la télévision ou sur internet, la notion d’effondrement commence à apparaitre, bien qu’elle ne fasse pas encore partie du vocabulaire politique courant. Une partie du grand public a découvert en 2018 la série de 6 reportages de TF1 sur l’effondrement ( ici ), ou la vidéo du Live Facebook du Premier Ministre Edouard Philippe et de Nicolas Hulot, devisant sur le best-seller « Collapse « de Jared Diamond (ici). Youtube foisonne de centaines de vidéos francophones sur le sujet, dont la teneur peut varier de l’analyse scientifique jusqu’au délire mystique, décrivant les phases d’effondrement observées, modélisées, prévues, vulgarisées, niées, moquées, redoutées ou attendues, il y en a pour tous les goûts.
En revanche, la notion de décroissance, pilotée ou subie, mais inévitable, n’arrive pas encore à pénétrer la société et les médias, tellement le formatage de plus de 2000 ans d’exploitation des ressources terrestres est implanté dans notre pensée. La finitude de beaucoup de ressources essentielles (énergies, minerais, métaux, biomasse) dans les prochaines décennies, qui survient en même temps que la crise climatique, n’est pas autant connue ni médiatisée que le réchauffement.
Nous vivons cependant le tout début d’un moment-charnière, celui de la prise de conscience d’un changement radical, généralisé et inévitable, qui scellera un nouveau destin pour l’humanité. Une fenêtre cognitive unique. On aurait tort de sous-estimer l’importance de cette période très courte, dans laquelle nous vivons encore en relative stabilité, mais voyons se rapprocher des échéances incontournables. C’est dans cette période encore pacifique que se définissent aussi bien les orientations les plus ouvertes que les plus sombres.
Les citoyens vont être de plus en plus nombreux à chercher des informations, des analyses, des prévisions. Qui sont généralement pessimistes, si on écarte les prospectives transhumanistes et autres cécités futuristes. Ils chercheront ensuite des solutions, des repères, des programmes, des actions, et y trouveront leur compte, et éventuellement leur gourou.es, ou sinon, s’orienteront vers des valeurs séculaires ou archaïques de repli sur soi, d’autorité, de religiosité, ou de sécurité, ou, pire encore, transformeront l’inévitable angoisse de l’effondrement en désespoir ou en violence, en chasse aux bouc-émissaires, en désespoir collectif ou en nihilisme haineux, opérant la « convergence des chaos », climatiques et sociétaux.
Il s’agit donc pour le champ politique, médiatique et culturel, non seulement de répondre aux interrogations actuelles des gens, mais aussi de gérer l’angoisse que génère la découverte de l’effondrement et de l’inévitable décroissance. Orienter le grand public vers des perspectives non réjouissantes nécessite un courage politique important, et une connaissance fine des aspects psycho-sociaux. Les collapsologues en étudient toutes les phases, individuelles comme collectives, et c’est une contribution importante de leur travail.
Il semble important de ne rien masquer de la réalité actuelle du réchauffement et de la finitude de certaines ressources. Il paraît essentiel qu’on ne minore aucune prospective scientifique inquiétante, et même, qu’on l’intègre rapidement dans la réflexion politique et citoyenne. A ce sujet, il est stupéfiant de voir que les études publiées fin mai 2019 par l’Académie des Sciences US sur les niveaux de fonte des glaces polaires (1), et qui dessinent une élévation des mers bien plus rapide et bien plus forte que prévue 5 années auparavant (jusqu’à 2m40 d’ici 80 ans), n’ont aucunement déclenché de réflexion politique d’ampleur, alors qu’elles sont capitales pour la prospective des 40 prochaines années.
Il semble également salutaire de ne pas mentir à la population sur certains aspects du dérèglement climatique. Il n’est pas raisonnable, par exemple, comme on l’a entendu aux élections Européennes de 2019, dans la bouche de certains leaders écologistes, qu’on pourrait gagner le combat contre le dérèglement du climat. L’ »inertie temporelle » du CO2 déjà libéré depuis 150 ans, et d’autres paramètres comme l’accélération actuelle de la libération de méthane (2), provoquent des changements climatiques hors de portée de nos efforts, fussent-ils radicaux, globaux et immédiats. Oui, la bataille du climat est perdue, mais celle de la résilience ne l’est pas. Ce qui n’empêche pas de tout faire pour laisser le pétrole enfoui là où il est, et limiter ainsi les effets à long terme.
C’est aussi sur les temporalités de l’action politique que se pose un nouveau problème. Les derniers constats scientifiques nous montrent que les perturbations issus du réchauffement s’opèrent de plus en plus vite, et impactent rapidement la société ( cyclones, sécheresses, inondations, incendies, perte de récolte, etc.). Ils nous montrent aussi que des phénomènes d’emballement sont probables, bien que difficilement quantifiables et presque impossibles à placer sur un calendrier. A l’inverse, la résilience se prévoit sur un temps long. Elle peut se mettre en place aisément dans une période encore calme, comme maintenant, mais ne peut plus se construire en période d’effondrement plus important.
Enfin, il faut avoir le courage de constater que ce que nous appelions avec fierté « démocratie » n’est plus que l’ombre d’elle-même, tellement l’imbrication entre l’économie et le politique a détruit toute possibilité citoyenne d’intervention et de réforme systémique dans la marche des nations. Là aussi, devant l’impuissance du politique face à la finance, il se pourrait bien que l’action populaire, dont on ne peut prévoir la teneur, populiste & claniste ou bien citoyenne & associative, prenne l’initiative, avec tous les risques ou les bienfaits que cela peut apporter.
Il apparait donc essentiel que le champ politique encore en activité, s’il veut survivre, intègre ces nouveaux paramètres: psychologiques, scientifiques, temporels et sociétaux dans de nouvelles formes de réflexion et d’action ouvertes. Cette mutation du politique est incontournable. Ceux qui la portent aujourd’hui, dans le champ politique ou en dehors, notamment dans le champ associatif, auront une possibilité de construire des zones résilientes moins impactées par l’effondrement, où la vie pourra prendre toute sa valeur et toute sa puissance renouvelée. Une seule chose est certaine: il n’y a pas une seconde à perdre.
June 10, 2019
June 09, 2019
I termini "privacy" e "data protection" hanno un'origine e una storia differenti.
Col passare dei decenni alcuni aspetti hanno iniziato a sovrapporsi, ma sono due idee (anche giuridiche) ben radicate nella cultura USA e in quella europea.
In questo podcast cerchiamo di spiegare la differenza e, soprattutto, come, nel GDPR, si possa "sentire" chiaramente questa tradizione della protezione dei dati uscita dalla tormentata storia europea.
June 08, 2019
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the first week of June, 2019.
June 01, 2019 (comments)
The New York Times reviews Boeing's Full Self-Driving project. Discussing a pair of crashes that killed almost three hundred and fifty people, Hackernews can't decide whether the failure was one of user experience or branding. Other Hackernews think that this plane would have worked better if it were designed by programmers with a tendency to work late for free. A majority of the comments are Hackernews incorrecting one another about FAA regulations, avionics, and lift.
June 02, 2019 (comments)
SRE is what you get when you treat operations as if it’s a software problem. Hackernews whiles away the downtime by trying to guess which aspect of Google's network went tits-up. Another popular pastime involves trying to figure out if Amazon Web Services might be more reliable than Google Cloud. The rest of the comments are complaints about Google's (hypothetical) customer service and (extremely real) billing. Nobody considers the obvious root cause: Google, being unable to embed ads into TCP packets, has discontinued the product.
June 03, 2019 (comments)
Apple invents single sign-on and disposable email addresses in one fell strike. Hackernews writhes in ecstasy, joyously praising Tim Cook's selfless devotion to the plight of the commoner. Some seditious apostates complain that Apple is not tithing sufficiently to app programmers, but since the only permissible dissembling is criticism of the laptop keyboard, the apostasy is banished from the halls of "Hacker" "News." Aside from Macbook Testaments and delirious gratitude, most of the comments are Hackernews wondering how they're supposed to port their webshit into compatibility with actual security practices.
June 04, 2019 (comments)
Mozilla continues the war against its own sponsors. Hackernews likes all the words in the post but none of them are particularly interesting or novel, resulting in a 4:1 vote:comment ratio. Just about all of the comments are people telling us what web browser they prefer. Since there are only three web browsers, the comments get a bit repetitive.
June 05, 2019 (comments)
Apple pretends to share the reasons it approves or disapproves of software in its repositories. Hackernews focuses on the part where Apple disapproves of tracking and manipulating children, struggling with the relative morality of tracking and manipulating ... you know, anyone at all. Various alternatives to personal-data mining and advertising are discussed, but nobody really takes the idea seriously. A few Hackernews can't understand how it could be possible to write and maintain a program that doesn't constantly send all collectable usage information directly back to the programmer.
June 06, 2019 (comments)
Some rando gets paid by the word. We get five thousand of them, all pretending to explain why some people are sad and alone. Hackernews is frequently sad and alone, so there is intense interest in this particular article. Because it insists that bad people are making wrong decisions and ruining society, Hackernews is 100% sold on this wall of text. The sadness and loneliness, in other words, should not be ascribed to wearing toe shoes, spending eighty-five percent of their income on studio lofts, drinking Soylent products in their open-plan offices eighteen hours per day, or spending every waking moment attempting to lure rich people into paying them to undermine worker protections on a global scale. Nope, it's just the zeitgeist. Nobody's fault!
June 07, 2019 (comments)
After a decade in the ad mines, a webshit relates some valuable lessons, which fall into a few categories:
- Computer Science is not software engineering
- All software-related text and speech contain lies
- Everyone sucks at software engineering
- You should voluntarily suck at it too
- Nobody cares, so half-ass it
Hackernews organizes a humility tournament, then breaks up into teams to bikeshed whatever part of the article stung the worst.
June 06, 2019
Olga Nassis, antropologa siciliana di famiglia greca (i Nassis sono stati protagonisti sia della lotta di liberazione anti-ottomana che della resistenza contro i nazisti), ha partecipato – come Lidia Menapace – a queste elezioni europee con Syriza in Grecia, ottenendo quasi 30mila voti. Le sue considerazioni sull’Europa post-voto ci sembrano interessanti: il suo originale punto di vista “greco” potrebbe in realtà interessare tutti i Paesi del Sud Europa, fra cui anche il nostro.
Chi ha perduto le elezioni in Europa? Le ha perdute Trump, perché queste elezioni erano sulla sopravvivenza o meno dell’Europa, e l’Europa alla fine c’è ancora.
E chi le ha vinte? Le ha vinte la ragazza svedese – Greta Thunberg – di cui tutti ridevano perché aveva l’ingenuità – una ragazzina! – di mettersi davanti al suo parlamento a gridare ai politici che è ora di non perdere tempo e di salvare la Terra.
Trump, con la sua arroganza e la sua faccia da bullo, sembrava forte. E Greta, con la sua faccia pulita, sembrava buffa. Intanto il bullo non è riuscito a dare fuoco alla scuola – e la ragazzina (ma migliaia e migliaia di ragazzini hanno manifestato con lei, in tutto il mondo) ha vinto le elezioni.
“Come, ha vinto le elezioni?”.
Ha vinto le elezioni. Le ha vinte in Germania, dove il partito ecologista (il partito verde) nella sorpresa generale ha stracciato tutti quanti. E’ andato molto bene in Francia, dove è il terzo partito. Così, nel Parlamento europeo, finiranno per esserci più allegri Verdi che feroci e (si diceva) invincibili Neri…
E questo, a noi Greci, che cosa importa?
C’importa sì. Intanto perché il governo tedesco – il nostro più duro avversario – adesso avrà altro a cui pensare, che non stringere la corda al collo di noi Greci. E poi perché anche in Grecia ci sono in realtà un sacco di Greta, solo che noi non le vediamo. In Germania e in Francia la vittoria degli ecologisti è stata conquistata soprattutto dai giovani, da quelli che “ingenuamente” hanno dato retta alle domande nuove. E anche in Italia, dove la sinistra “ufficiale”, nelle sue varie forme, ha fatto tutto il possibile per rovinare se stessa, le piazze si sono riempite tantissime volte da folle di ragazzi “ingenui” e senza partito, ma decisi – sia pure confusamente – ad andare avanti. Basti pensare alle grandissime manifestazioni antifasciste e antimafia.
Ecco: noi dobbiamo imboccare con decisione questa strada. Una strada veloce, coraggiosa, senza compromessi. Non solo nei sentimenti, ma proprio nelle misure concrete, tagliate su misura per noi Greci in Europa, per risposte vincenti ai bisogni greci. Per esempio? Tre proposte concrete.
1) Proporre alla Germania – cioè ai Verdi tedeschi – la conversione del debito greco in riconversione ecologica e climatica;
2) Studiare con la Germania – cioè, ancora, coi Verdi – un trasferimento di tecnologia e know how;
3) Dichiarare lo stato di emergenza climatica, rivedere in questo quadro i vincoli economici della Bce e impegnarsi a reinvestire le risorse in tal senso.
L’economia, nel ventunesimo secolo, non è solo finanza: è il momento di comprendere questa realtà fino in fondo e la Grecia deve contribuire, anche stavolta, a tracciare la strada per l’Europa.
L'articolo Il bullo e la ragazzina: chi ha vinto le elezioni e cosa importa a noi greci proviene da Il Fatto Quotidiano.
June 04, 2019
- Historical context of IMF and World Bank critiques.
- Democratic governance.
- Human rights.
Founded in 1944, the World Bank Group (WBG, or Bank) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF, or Fund) are twin intergovernmental institutions that are influential in shaping the structure of the world’s development and financial order. Also known as the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs), they were initially created with the intention of rebuilding the international economic system following World War II (WWII). The key decisions leading to the establishment of both institutions were largely steered by the US, and to a lesser extent the UK, and during the post-war period the BWIs were significantly influenced by the US’s geopolitical strength. Their mandates, focus and programmes have evolved greatly over time, as seen, for example, by the shift of their pivotal role as designers of the fixed exchange rate regime created by the Bretton Woods System, to their active promotion of a fluctuating exchange rate system after its collapse in 1973. Their functions are detailed in the World Bank’s and IMF’s respective Articles of Agreement (see also BWP, What are the Bretton Woods Institutions?)
While the establishment of the Bank and Fund was presented as an apolitical effort to rebuild the world economy in the aftermath of WWII, some interpretations also view them as an effort to defend or expand the reach of western capitalism in the face of a potential challenge from the Soviet Union, and to promote US interests in particular. Under President Robert McNamara (1968-1981), the World Bank’s mission began to shift, as it developed a focus on income inequality and poverty for the first time.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the policies championed by the BWIs were inspired in principle by the so-called ‘Washington Consensus’, which focused ideologically on promoting free-market economic policies such as deregulation, privatisation and trade liberalisation, as well as targeting unlimited economic growth, and were implemented primarily through Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). As many authors have argued – including, for example, by demonstrating the links between the decimation of African health systems by SAPS and the response to the 2014 Ebola crisis (see Observer Winter 2015) – the devastating impacts of SAPs have been enduring and persist to this day.
While the BWIs have historically been seen as an instrument of United States and other Western countries’ political and economic power, their role and relevance has been continually debated. This debate has regained momentum in the decade since the 2008 global financial crisis, where the rise of China, often presented as the coming of a more multipolar world, is seen by some as a challenge to the perceived hegemony of the BWIs. However, others have noted that this analytical framework is flawed, as the private interests promoted by the Bank and Fund cannot always be understood in this light and there is a high degree of cooperation between the Bank and Fund and other multilateral institutions, including those established by China and other developing countries.
The more frequent financial crises since the 1970s – and the 2008 crisis in particular – have had an impact on the work of the Fund, which has been forced to move beyond essentially national interventions to a greater focus on the global economy, and from scanning the horizon for potential crises to dealing with them in order to avoid regional or global contagion. The role of the Bank has also changed dramatically, from an initial focus on infrastructure lending in its incarnation as the poster child for the Washington Consensus and Post-Washington Consensus, to the “Knowledge Bank” where it tried to position itself as the repository of ‘development expertise’.
Today, the work of the Bank is currently framed by its twin goals, established in 2013: “eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity.” These are primarily targeted in principle through: direct lending for development projects; direct budget support to governments (also known as Development Policy Financing [DPF]); financial support to the private sector, including financial intermediaries (FI); and via guarantees for large-scale development. The current stated aims of the Fund are promoting international fiscal and monetary cooperation, securing international financial stability, facilitating international trade, and promoting high employment and sustainable economic growth. It aims to do so by providing loan programmes to states with balance of payments problems, as well as policy advice through either technical assistance or bilateral and multilateral macroeconomic surveillance.
There is no question that the IMF and World Bank continue to be amongst the most relevant and significant powerful norm-setters, convenors, knowledge-holders and influencers of the international development and financial landscape. This Inside the Institutions sets-out some of the most common criticisms of the World Bank and IMF under three broad lenses: democratic governance, human rights and the environment.
One of the central criticisms of the World Bank and IMF relates to the political power imbalances in their governance structures where, as a result of voting shares being based principally on the size and ‘openness’ of countries’ economies, poorer countries – often those receiving loans from the BWIs – are structurally under-represented in decision-making processes.
Despite the 2016 voting reforms at the Fund, which shifted voting powers somewhat (to the particular advantage of China), the distribution of voting power remains severely imbalanced in favour of the US, European countries and Japan, in particular. Importantly, the US still has veto power over an array of major decisions (see Observer Winter 2018). In the case of the World Bank, in addition to calls for greater representation of low-income countries on the Executive Board, civil society organisations (CSOs) have historically demanded reforms of decision-making through the introduction of double-majority voting, where an agreement would require both shareholder and member state majorities, thus giving developing countries a larger role in these processes.
The under-representation of low- and middle-income countries on the BWIs’ Executive Boards is exacerbated by the historic ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the United States and European countries, which has seen the Fund and Bank led by a European and US national, respectively, since their inception. Civil society has long called for this opaque system to be replaced with a merit-based, transparent process. However, the April 2019 appointment of World Bank President David Malpass – a US national who ran unopposed for the Bank’s top job – demonstrated that the gentleman’s agreement remains alive and well despite civil society opposition (see Observer Spring 2019).
The issue of political power imbalances is exacerbated by another long-standing critique of the Bank and Fund: that the economic policy conditions they promote – often attached or ‘recommended’ as part of loans, projects, technical assistance, or financial surveillance – undermine the sovereignty of borrower nations, limiting their ability to make policy decisions and eroding their ownership of national development strategies. This is particularly the case for the IMF as ‘a lender of last resort’ for governments experiencing balance of payment problems.
While historically the IMF and Bank enforced conditionality primarily through SAPs, today, the IMF requires a ‘letter of intent’ from governments requesting a loan. To be approved by the IMF for a loan, the letter requires prior actions, quantitative performance criteria and structural benchmarks – the latter of which continues to contain structural macroeconomic policy reforms. Despite efforts to ‘streamline’ the number of conditions in the face of severe criticism, the IMF’s 2018 Review of Program Design and Conditionality found that the number of structural conditions is on the rise. Once again, this raises concerns about the restriction of policy space for developing countries. For the World Bank, conditionality is now most directly issued through its DPF, where loans and grants for development projects are provided to countries which adopt the required ‘prior actions’ to receive this fungible finance. In 2017, the Bank issued 434 prior actions, according to research by Belgium-based CSO Eurodad.
In addition to the formal conditions introduced through lending programmes, both institutions play a more nuanced role in restricting policy space through their research, publications, policy advice and training. Particularly for low-income countries that find it difficult to attract capital at affordable rates, IMF and Bank pronouncements on domestic policies can lead to important reactions by ‘the market’ (including potential lenders or investors), therefore potentially limiting (or increasing) countries’ financing options. The Bank and Fund’s bias towards fiscal consolidation, the private sector and debt servicing also restricts public policy space and the ability of governments to finance infrastructure and social services (see the ‘Human Rights’ section below). The Bank and Fund have established substantial normative power through their research, publications, pronouncements and support of ‘independent’ academic work. Their ability to position their policy prescriptions as ‘best practice’, supported by ‘robust’ theoretical and empirical work, oftentimes results in the internalisation of Bank and Fund positions by scholars, development practitioners and finance ministers.
The Bank and Fund have also been heavily criticised for the role played by the political expediency of important shareholders in its decision-making and choice of interventions, including its support to dictatorships. The IMF’s decision to break its own rules and support the highly controversial Greek loan programme, agreed in 2010, prompted Brazil’s Executive Director to the IMF to protest that, “… the program … may be seen not as a rescue of Greece, which will have to undergo a wrenching adjustment, but as a bail-out of Greece’s private debt holders, mainly European financial institutions.”
In general, the transition from the Washington Consensus, underpinned by the trust in the efficiency of markets and consequently a drastically reduced role for the state, to its ‘more progressive’ post-Washington Consensus successor – which acknowledges market failures and re-inserts the state’s relevance, is often presented as a significant change in Bank and IMF thinking and their principles. However, the Bank’s emphasis on using public resources to leverage (subsidise) private investment through its Maximising Finance for Development (MFD) approach demonstrates the state’s role has merely been reframed essentially to ‘create an enabling’ environment to allow the private sector to pursue its objectives.
The IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) was set up in 2001 to conduct evaluations of the policies and functionalities of the institution with the aim of enhancing the learning culture, strengthening credibility, and supporting institutional governance and oversight. On the World Bank side, the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) was created in 2006, integrating several individual accountability mechanisms, and is charged with evaluating the activities of the entire World Bank Group and determining what works, what doesn’t and why.
However, the Bank and Fund have been criticised for failing to implement the recommendations of the IEG and IEO, respectively. In the case of the Bank, this reflects larger criticisms of staff incentives being misaligned with its twin goals, and the Bank having an insular, self-referential approach to knowledge production, which – according to the landmark Deaton Report published in 2006 – sometimes borders on ‘parody’ (see Observer Summer 2018). Meanwhile, a third independent evaluation of the IEO itself, published in 2018, found that the IEO’s recommendations continue to “lack traction” within the Fund (see Observer Autumn 2018). This echoes the findings of previous evaluations of the IEO, amidst accusations of ‘groupthink’ at the IMF, which the IEO deemed partially the cause of the Fund not foreseeing the 2008 global financial crisis, arguably its most important job and clearest recent failure (see Update Issue 74).
In the 1980s, the Bank was beset by a string of controversies related to environmental and social impacts of Bank-financed projects (see Human rights and Environment section below), with the Sardar Sarovar dam project in India – which sparked a global opposition campaign – leading to the establishment of the Bank’s Inspection Panel (its independent accountability mechanism [IAM]) in 1993 (see Observer Autumn 2017). A separate IAM for the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private sector arm of the World Bank – the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), was created in 1999. These accountability mechanisms were set up to hear complaints of people and communities affected by Bank and IFC-funded projects, and to foster redress where relevant. While the Bank’s IAMs are generally considered to be ‘best of class’ among IFIs, their mandates are limited, their remedy mechanisms for those negatively impacted by Bank projects continue to lack, and management responses to their findings are often inadequate.
Relatedly, a 2019 US Supreme Court decision found in favour of Indian fisherfolk, and against the IFC, rejecting its claim to ‘absolute immunity’ from prosecution in US courts; the plaintiffs took the IFC to court in the US after failing to receive adequate compensation following a CAO investigation ruling that IFC’s investment in the Tata Mundra power plant in India had resulted in substantial damage to their livelihoods. Despite the Supreme Court decision, the vast proportion of the Bank’s lending and other programme portfolios remain immune from legal action, as does the IMF.
Finally, critics also argue that the opaque nature of investments in FI (i.e. commercial banks and asset funds) by the IFC – which constitutes a growing part of its portfolio – and its inability to screen and monitor FI sub-projects adequately, undermines accountability. The lack of public disclosure of FI investments makes it difficult for communities and civil society to bring cases to the CAO and hold the IFC accountable for its actions (see Observer Winter 2017).
A second stream of longstanding critiques has focused on the content of the policies, programmes and projects that the BWIs promote and enforce and how they have undermined a broad spectrum of human rights, with the Bank even being labelled a “human rights-free zone” in 2015 by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
At the macroeconomic level, following on from the original Washington Consensus, the Bank and IMF continue to push a particular set of macroeconomic policy prescriptions across almost all their member countries. Most typically, these are fiscal consolidation measures (or austerity), and include reducing the public wage bill, introducing or increasing VAT and other indirect regressive taxes in particular, labour flexibilisation, rationalising (cutting) and privatising social services, and targeting social protections and subsidies, while maintaining low levels of inflation, corporate taxation rates and trade tariffs.
In particular, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, this ‘pro-cyclical’ approach was criticised for leading to a decline in economic activity, leading to lower consumption, lower public revenues, lower investment in vital public services, and higher levels of inequality, which in turn also lowers growth. Critics have also repeatedly pointed out this approach does not address the root causes of the government’s balance of payments distress (see Observer Winter 2017-18). While the IMF has softened its position on some important issues, such as the recognition that capital controls may be necessary in certain (limited) circumstances, and the increased acknowledgement of the potential benefits of anti-cyclical policies (also in very limited circumstances), the general direction of travel remains largely unchanged.
Labour unions, for instance, have long opposed the BWIs’ systematic weakening of labour rights either directly through conditionality or indirectly through policy advice in flagship reports and surveillance, such as the IMF’s 2017 loan programme to Greece (see Observer Autumn 2017), or the World Bank’s 2018 World Development Report (see Observer Winter 2018), respectively. Other economic and social rights, such as the right to social security, health and education, as well as the broader right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, are all undermined by the BWIs’ promotion of excessively constrained fiscal policies and aggressive privatisation that preclude states from delivering core public services and meeting their international human rights obligations.
A related and intersectional thread of human rights critiques focuses on how these policies supported, proposed or required by the BWIs are designed unevenly in favour of those already at the top of the economy and society, further exacerbating inequalities within and between countries and disproportionately harming the marginalised, who already are most vulnerable to human rights violations. Groups that are often disproportionately and cumulatively disadvantaged by the types of macroeconomic policies the BWIs promote include the poor, women, immigrants, the elderly, children and youth, ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities, and LGBTQI communities.
World Bank-funded projects have also continually been found to be in direct, serious violation of international human rights standards. Major recurring issues include mass evictions and the forced displacement of peoples and communities for major infrastructure and agricultural projects (see Observer Spring 2015), violations of the rights of indigenous and forest peoples, targeting of human rights defenders, triggering local food insecurity, and serious labour rights violations, such as child and forced labour reportedly being used in Bank-funded projects (see Observer Winter 2016). The IFC has also been shown on several occasions to have invested in companies that avoid or evade taxes (see Observer Autumn 2016). More recently, the Bank has also acknowledged that its projects can create an environment that can foster gender-based violence, including sexual abuse and the spread of HIV/AIDS (see Observer Spring 2017).
To safeguard against risks like these, the World Bank launched its revised Environmental and Social Framework in 2018, although it applies only to its project lending and not to its DPF. Many in civil society remain unconvinced that the safeguards are fit for purpose if the Bank is to deliver on its mandate to implement policies that benefit the poorest, especially as the Bank is set to focus on more complex and difficult environments from 2018.
While maintaining they have no obligations under international human rights law, despite objections of myriad human rights experts and the opinion of one of the Bank’s former General Counsels, both the Bank and Fund claim their work to eradicate poverty and increase economic growth and stability ultimately contributes to global welfare and the fulfilment of human rights, without clear evidence. First, this ‘win-win’ scenario has been the subject of countless critiques pointing to obvious trade-offs and conflicts between ‘pro-growth’ and ‘pro-equity’ policies, including in a paper by the IMF’s own research department in 2014.
Second, according to data on poverty rates, the vast majority of the poverty eradication achieved during the last 40 years is actually largely attributed to China, which has certainly not followed the policy prescriptions of the BWIs (see Observer Winter 2017-2018), while the IMF’s 2018 conditionality review found several IMF programmes where “debt overshot projections by significant margins, reflecting disappointing growth and higher fiscal deficits”, with lower programme completion rates. Additionally, the pace of poverty reduction is reportedly slowing, while the number of people living in extreme poverty in Africa is increasing, and even the way the Bank measures poverty levels remains highly disputed. These and other critiques call into question the efficacy of the BWIs’ policy prescriptions more generally and their theoretical ability to effectively contribute to the fulfilment of human rights in the first place.
At the same time, repeated calls to measure the harmful impacts Bank and Fund policies have on the enjoyment of human rights, including systematic and comprehensive gender and inequality impact assessments, as well as including human rights considerations in the BWIs’ Debt Sustainability Assessments, whether at the macroeconomic policy or project level, remain unanswered (see Observer Spring 2019).
Finally, the BWIs’ approach to development and economic policy, as well as their financing decisions, have generated long-standing and ever-more pressing criticisms related to the protection of the environment and staving off climate change.
In general, the growth-based approach to poverty reduction that the World Bank and IMF both promote has immense environmental consequences, as is evidenced by the deepening climate crisis. As noted by former World Bank Chief Economist Sir Nicholas Stern in 2007, “Climate change is a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen.” Since their inception, the BWIs have played a formative role in aiding and abetting the global forces that have caused this market failure, through promoting economic growth as the core component of their development model, despite – as noted in the aforementioned Deaton report – mixed evidence that economic growth and poverty reduction are linked. While the Bank, and to a lesser extent, the Fund, have both increasingly tried to account for environmental and climate factors in their work over recent decades, these efforts have largely been limited to attempting to integrate these concerns into a growth-based development model.
In terms of its direct lending, the Bank’s investments in fossil fuels have been criticised for undermining climate goals – with the Bank continuing to fund a considerable number of fossil fuel projects in the years after the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015, which saw countries jointly commit to limit average global temperature rise to “well below 2°C” relative to preindustrial levels. Despite the Bank’s recent climate commitments (see Observer Spring 2018), CSOs remain concerned that the Bank lacks a comprehensive approach to align its entire lending portfolio with the Paris Agreement. In addition to project finance for oil and gas infrastructure, there are other remaining types of Bank investments that are a cause for concern. The IFC now invests nearly 50 per cent of its portfolio in FI, and a lack of sub-project disclosure in these investments makes it difficult to assess the exposure of these investments to fossil fuels, including coal (see Governance above). However, CSO research has linked IFC FI investments to the construction of 19 new coal-fired power plants in the Philippines, while another report found IFC FI investments linked to 41 new coal plants between 2013 and 2016. While the IFC announced a new Green Equity Strategy in October 2018 that will require new FI clients to divest from coal over time, this policy will not affect past FI investments (see Observer Winter 2018).
CSOs are also concerned that the World Bank has thus far not developed a framework to Comon Criticisms World Bank and IMF FINALassess the climate impacts of its Development Policy Finance. CSO research has found that in some cases, these contain ‘prior actions’ that benefit the fossil fuel and extractive industries. Finally, the Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) has in recent years provided a number of guarantees that have backed fossil-fuel projects. According to CSO research, in FY16, MIGA did not support a single renewable energy project: “[its] guarantees to energy were worth $1.9 billion … of which $0.9 billion went to fossil fuel projects”, with the rest going to projects such as hydropower dams, often with detrimental environmental and human rights impacts.
The Bank’s shift towards leveraging private sector finance for development (see Governance above), which has gained momentum since 2015, includes a particular emphasis on promoting ‘infrastructure as an asset class’, in order to crowd in institutional investors. This policy initiative is highly dependent on mega-infrastructure projects – and, as noted by a letter sent by concerned economists in October 2018, currently lacks a framework for aligning such mega-projects with the Paris Climate Agreement or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This is of major concern, given that many planned ‘mega-corridors’ in developing regions are predicated on building a new generation of carbon-intensive infrastructure. In many cases, the Bank continues to support such projects that, while not ‘fossil fuel investments’ per se, are part of such carbon-intensive mega-corridors (see Observer Autumn 2018).
Finally, the Bank’s forest policy and weak safeguards on forest protection have also been observed to infringe the rights of local communities and have failed to protect one of the planet’s most important ‘carbon sinks’ (see Observer Spring 2017). CSOs have called for the Bank to open up its Forest Notes – which are meant to guide the interface between its lending and forests – to consultation (see Observer Winter 2017-2018). CSOs have also been highly critical of one of the forest initiatives the Bank manages, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), a climate investment fund that supports Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects. A March 2017 post in REDD Monitor called the FCPF, “the most cost-inefficient tree-saving scheme ever,” owing to high administrative costs between fiscal years 2009-2015 absorbing 64 per cent of FCFP’s $55 million expenditure. More generally, the Bank’s overall approach to lending has undermined the protection of vital natural ecosystems in borrower countries. As noted by Bruce Rich in his influential 2013 book, Foreclosing the Future: The World Bank and the Politics of Environmental Destruction, “When one examines the failures to conserve ecosystems, or to mitigate environmental impacts of development, one finds that failed governance at all levels is almost invariably at the root. …Many of [the Bank’s] problems are associated with a dysfunctional institutional culture in which the relentless pressure to move money out the door, even in violation of the Bank’s own policies and rules, often overrides all other considerations.”
Seventy-five years on the Bretton Woods Conference, and despite the Bank and Fund’s efforts to portray themselves as beacons of knowledge and expertise on development and macroeconomic issues, both institutions have been and continue to be the subject of robust academic, UN and civil society criticism. Indeed, both have faced and continue to face resistance and mobilisations from civil society and social movements, from the global 1994 “50 years is enough” campaign to the 2018 Peoples Global Conference Against IMF-World Bank.
An extensive academic literature, with which the Bank and Fund rarely engage, challenges the robustness of the theoretical and evidence bases for Bank and Fund’s principles and policies. Volumes of documents testify to the experiences of millions of people negatively impacted by Bank and Fund policies and programmes. Together they suggest that Bank and Fund’s policies have failed to achieve their stated objectives and instead support an economic order that benefits elites and private sector interests at the expense of poor and marginalised communities.
As the Bank and Fund – and others – now face a challenge from ‘populists’ and far-right groups about the continued relevance of multilateralism amidst a changing global order, the BWIs continue to deny their role in creating the social, political and economic conditions that have led to the frustration and disenfranchisement that brought us here.
June 03, 2019
Hello, interwebs! Today I'd like to share a little skunkworks project with y'all: Pictie, a workbench for WebAssembly C++ integration on the web.
wtf just happened????!?
To find out the answers to these questions and to evaluate potential platform modifications, I needed a small, standalone test case. So... I wrote one? It seemed like a good idea at the time.
pictie is a test bed
Pictie is a simple, standalone C++ graphics package implementing an algebra of painters. It was created not to be a great graphics package but rather to be a test-bed for compiling C++ libraries to WebAssembly. You can read more about it on its github page.
Structurally, pictie is a modern C++ library with a functional-style interface, smart pointers, reference types, lambdas, and all the rest. We use emscripten to compile it to WebAssembly; you can see more information on how that's done in the repository, or check the README.
Pictie is inspired by Peter Henderson's "Functional Geometry" (1982, 2002). "Functional Geometry" inspired the Picture language from the well-known Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs computer science textbook.
prototype in action
So far it's been surprising how much stuff just works. There's still lots to do, but just getting a C++ library on the web is pretty easy! I advise you to take a look to see the details.
If you are thinking of dipping your toe into the WebAssembly water, maybe take a look also at Pictie when you're doing your back-of-the-envelope calculations. You can use it or a prototype like it to determine the effects of different compilation options on compile time, load time, throughput, and network trafic. You can check if the different binding strategies are appropriate for your C++ idioms; Pictie currently uses embind (source), but I would like to compare to WebIDL as well. You might also use it if you're considering what shape your C++ library should have to have a minimal overhead in a WebAssembly context.
I use Pictie as a test-bed when working on the web platform; the weakref proposal which adds finalization, leak detection, and working on the binding layers around Emscripten. Eventually I'll be able to use it in other contexts as well, with the WebIDL bindings proposal, typed objects, and GC.
prototype the web forward
As the browser and adjacent environments have come to dominate programming in practice, we lost a bit of the delightful variety from computing. JS is a great language, but it shouldn't be the only medium for programs. WebAssembly is part of this future world, waiting in potentia, where applications for the web can be written in any of a number of languages. But, this future world will only arrive if it "works" -- if all of the various pieces, from standards to browsers to toolchains to virtual machines, only if all of these pieces fit together in some kind of sensible way. Now is the early phase of annealing, when the platform as a whole is actively searching for its new low-entropy state. We're going to need a lot of prototypes to get from here to there. In that spirit, may your prototypes be numerous and soon replaced. Happy annealing!
June 02, 2019
June 01, 2019
An annotated digest of the top "Hacker" "News" posts for the last week of May, 2019.
May 22, 2019 (comments)
Some Internets would like to sell you a handheld video game system with all the expense and inconvenience of a Nintento 2DS but without the color screens or the games you want to play. Hackernews enjoys bad video games and kitschy electronics, so plenty of both are recited from memory, linked to, and discussed. Since the product in the article is currently vaporware, Hackernews decides to argue about whether the crank on the device is a gimmick or a useful input device.
May 23, 2019 (comments)
Microsoft regards Patreon as a threat to GitHub's lock-in business model, and does something about it. Hackernews is doubtful of the concept of accepting money for work performed, and suggests instead selling ad space in README files. Despite the fact that people have been able to distribute money in myriad ways for centuries, Hackernews believes that GitHub getting involved is a fundamental revolution. A fight breaks out regarding whether seeding the virtual hat proffered to the software buskers' audience will encourage donations or convince the marks to find needier performers. Later, some Hackernews notice that this is more lock-in fodder, and some Microsofts arrive to defend their realm.
May 23, 2019 (comments)
A Reddit finds out nobody cares. Hackernews suspects that the Reddits are misrepresenting Papa Apple's extremely infallible process, and start digging around for games they don't play in languages they don't speak in order to defend Apple's virtue. Some Hackernews want to spend time competing to see who knows the most about registering trademarks in a nation known for ignoring any and all intellectual property laws. Other Hackernews just apparently really hate China. Later, some Chinese patriots arrive in the comments to explain to everyone that anything uploaded by Chinese firms must take priority over people who are trying to get money in exchange for goods and services.
May 24, 2019 (comments)
An insurance firm spills their actuarial tables. Hackernews lists all the ways that they are smarter than every large organization that exists. A debate is held regarding whether regular counting is okay or long strings of text should be used to index data instead. Many Hackernews feel that these organizations should be held responsible for careless handling of other people's information, as long as the people in those organizations who are actually held responsible will be at a comfortable distance from the programmers tasked with implementing the data management.
May 25, 2019 (comments)
A charlatan recommends dealing with problems by pretending they are happening to someone else. Hackernews nods, purses lips, cradles chins between thumbs and index fingers, and regurgitates airport pop-science books which pretend to understand how the human brain processes emotions. After explaining to one another the definition of 'self' for six or seven hours, everyone gets back to the standard Bay Area conversation-ender: "you should just meditate more."
May 26, 2019 (comments)
AMD would like to sell some computer processors. Hackernews bikesheds the computer processors, and is angry that they are not also video cards. The rest of the comments are people demanding higher core counts, interposed with people demanding to know who could possibly need higher core counts.
May 27, 2019 (comments)
May 28, 2019 (comments)
May 29, 2019 (comments)
Google continues the war against its own users. Hackernews is mildly concerned that there is literally only one web browser on earth and it is actively hostile to performing the functions the user would like it to perform. Some radicals mention Firefox, but are quickly reminded that Mozilla exists at Google's convenience and thus Mozilla is just an unacknowledged parasite waiting for the host to brush it off and leave it for dead. No solution is reached.
May 30, 2019 (comments)
Mozilla, upholding its reputation, belatedly responds to yesterday's top story. A website claims that it takes mere minutes to ditch Chrome and start using Firefox, but Hackernews is keenly aware that both programs are essentially just wildly inefficient operating systems and moving from one to the other is an extremely time-consuming and difficult process. A thousand comments appear, wondering why Mozilla exists, when Google will explain the current salvo in its current Ruin Everything We Touch sprint, and which extremely complicated technical solutions may exist to counteract Google's extreme contempt for the entire planet.
May 31, 2019 (comments)
Some webshits put all their eggs in the worst low-rent basket they could find, then have a tantrum when the bottom falls out. Hackernews doesn't really give a shit about the problem, but are ready and willing to link to 4,654,032 similarly low-rent competitors a fresh young company might use to flush its entire business down the toilet. A DigitalOcean appears in the comments to damage control. The attempt is successful.