History Isn't Very Instructive

With plenty of disruption across economic and political systems thanks to populism and its totalitarian supporters in the former Soviet Union, people who once thought we had democracy in the bag are feeling lost. More often than not, they will retreat into a fog of "well, if you look across history . . ." and then make relatively feeble comparisons from schoolbook historical glosses to today's predicaments.

These aren't very instructive. We know and have a lot more now than we did even 20 years ago, must less 200 years ago. We know germ theory, have vaccination, air travel, high-speed worldwide communications, satellites, radar, sonar, lidar, and microwave ovens (even, reportedly, some that take pictures as part of a deep state surveillance program). Historical lessons as far as motivations and human foibles may be instructive, but the context is completely different. We don't have polio and small pox. We don't have double-digit infant mortality.

Our problems and challenges are new and different, so our solutions have to be new and different. We are actually more tolerant of one another at a human level than we are politically or economically, studies have shown. Over the past 20 years, we've become more tolerant of interracial relationships, gay marriage, gays in the military, and people with mental or physical handicaps. We're much more chill about how we live our lives individually than we were in 1990.

Yet, we are more judgmental about political views or economic ability. The political intolerance seems to emanate from a media space that drives divisiveness and alienation. The economic Darwinism is more puzzling -- it's as if the feeling of social isolation and alienation has made people more miserly and protective, less generous and considerate, because they feel like they're on thin ice within a society that appears more willing to marginalize its own citizens.

These are new times, with few historical precedents. People are still alive who were born before commercial aviation was commonplace, much less taken for granted. There are people who still remember the polio epidemics. We've changed perhaps too quickly to realize that a new game requires a new playbook. Oddly, what the US electorate advanced is a team reading from a playbook that is truly historical, making them ahistorical -- they are living outside of history as we know it and as it has happened. We need to wake up to what today is, and move forward from here.

The Bear and the Fox -- A Modern Parable

Once upon a time, there was a small, old fox who fancied himself young and big. This may have been because his elder fox protected him from the harder lessons of the forest, or because the younger fox was given a big den and easy food at a young age. Nobody knows for certain. But the small, old fox grew up both spoiled and insecure, but also foolish and vain.

There was also a wise old bear in the forest, one who had once roamed the territories fearlessly, but who lately had become a relic of his old self. The wise old bear in the forest knew about the small, old fox and his vanity and insecurity. He kept this knowledge to himself, for the wise old bear knew many things about the forest, the most important of which was that you never knew when knowing something might matter.

The wise old bear was not the relic he seemed. Recently, something had stirred in the old bones, and he was once again marking his territory and venturing out. But, over the years, the forest had changed, and he could not make it his own unless he changed it back to be more like the forest of old.

Then, one year, the small, old fox entered a race to see who was the swiftest animal in the forest. The fox had tried running the race before, but the other animals had always been faster or bigger than the fox. But this year, sensing a weaker field, many small animals wanted to run, and there was only one big animal scheduled to run the race. The fox sensed it might be his year after all.

The big animal was different -- a female, rare in this race -- and another fox, but an arctic fox, which made her all the more different. She was tough, but austere. While younger than the small, old fox, the arctic fox seemed older somehow. The forest creatures were used to the small, old fox, but the arctic fox seemed aloof and remote. They thought she could win for she had run many races and always won, but the prospect didn't fill them with the same enthusiasm as the current champion's two wins had in the past. They looked at the arctic fox with detachment.

The day of the race came. The small, old fox quickly outpaced the small animals, who were easily kicked aside or scared away with a growl from the sharp-toothed and vain old fox.

The arctic fox took an early lead, and it was a big one. She seemed destined to win.

But then, the old bear started to work his tricks. He didn't like the arctic fox. She had embarrassed him in years past, and also she scared him because she was truly smart and wily, while the small, old fox was vain and easily fooled. The old bear knew which fox he wanted to win the race.

Before the race, the bear had enlisted the help of other forest creatures, and even creatures from outside the forest, to thrown sticks and stones at the arctic fox as the finish line approached. Why there were so many sticks and stones littered along the racecourse was never a question that entered their mind. They didn't know the bear had asked his friend, the ermine, to distribute them beforehand. The bear provided them, the ermine set them along the course.

The crowd saw the sticks and stones being thrown, and soon began to think that the only reason sticks and stones would be thrown at the arctic fox was if the arctic fox had done something wrong. They didn't know what, but just having the sticks and stones thrown was evidence enough for some. They, too, began to boo and harass the arctic fox.

The small, old fox was gaining as the arctic fox was pelted with the sticks and stones -- the bruises, the tripping, the distraction all slowed her down.

Bolstered, the small, old fox spoke to the crowd, but his words were so strange and his breathing so labored that they began to worry about his mind and heart. He slowed down, out of breath, and the arctic fox sped ahead.

Then, a very strange thing happened -- one of current champion's coterie, who swore to have no effect on the race, began to jeer the arctic fox, as well. He even found some sticks and stones nearby and threw them at the arctic fox. This caught the attention of the crowd, for this animal was viewed as a friend of the current champion. Again, the mere fact that he threw sticks and stones made the crowd wonder about why so many animals were against the arctic fox.

The arctic fox had slowed by this time to enjoy the final yards to the finish line while avoiding the last sticks and stones, but she stumbled upon hearing the jeers from the champion's compatriot. By this time, the small, old fox, rallied by the betrayal coming from the champion's camp, found one more burst of speed, and appeared to win the race. Yet, in one more oddity, the arctic fox was shown later to be the fastest, but the small, old fox won on points awarded by the judges of the race.

In the heat of battle, everyone had forgotten about the wise old bear, who was now far away from the spectacle and having a hearty laugh. His ploy had worked, and now the champion was a small, old fox who was easily fooled and only concerned with his image. The wise old bear immediately sent a flattering message to the small, old fox, while plotting his next moves. He would have to be careful now. But, being wise, he was prepared.

The wise, old bear did not trust just flattery and foolishness to keep the small, old fox in line. He knew it would take more. So, while everyone had been throwing sticks and stones at the arctic fox, the wise old bear had been saving up some sticks and stones of his own, the kind that would scare the small, old fox the most. They were ones taken from around the big fox den the elder fox had left for his offspring, and they held secrets and special meaning the small, old fox would fear.

And so, when the small, old fox was awarded the champion's medal, the wise old bear knew that the medal being slipped around the neck of the small, old fox was really his medal. He had won the race, and the championship was his victory.

The Irony of Gold

Investing in gold is stated by some as a "safe haven" approach in dire economic times, as gold supposedly retains its value in bad times, and perhaps gains value while other financial instruments decline.

However, there is an irony to this idea of "the value of gold" which often escapes proponents of this investment strategy.

To understand this irony, you first have to understand that gold itself only has value because we believe it does. It is a commodity, within a commodity marketplace. Therefore, it has value because I believe you believe it does, which is what makes value-based trading possible. If you didn't believe gold had value, you wouldn't want it. Only because we agree does gold have value.

We often express this value in terms of a local currency. In the US, this means expressing the price of gold in US dollars. The thinking is that gold will be worth more US dollars in bad times. This makes gold a counter-currency -- if the US dollar loses value, gold gains value relative to the dollar. You can get more dollars for each ounce of gold in bad times.

Because the value of gold is expressed in dollars, which themselves have value for the same reason -- because you and I agree they do. If one of us stops believing this, the dollar becomes valueless to our exchange. 

Therefore, your faith in gold is based on your faith in the US dollar. If the US dollar loses its value entirely, gold is worth very little, if anything. Or its value will be stated in entirely alien terms. It's only in a very limited set of circumstances that gold is a good investment -- as a way of hedgingagainst the US dollar or whatever local currency you have. 

Aluminum used to be the most prized metal on the planet. Napoleon's most cherished eating utensils were made of aluminum, and preserved for us at state dinners of the highest order. But when our abilities to mine and refine aluminum made this metal commonplace, its value dropped precipitously. It is now so cheap that we wrap leftovers in it. Like gold, its value is based on scarcity, and measured by a fiat currency.

The valuations of both gold and dollars are based on a shared belief. They interact, but neither is any more "real" than the other. As a metal, gold has some nice properties, but it's of limited utility. This is why separating currencies from a gold standard and into fiat currencies has worked so well. There was no inherent dependency. The relationship was imaginary, and the separation only shows how fanciful our belief in the value of gold was. 

The irony of gold is that its value is imaginary value is measured relative to another thing of imaginary value. But as long as we agree, we're all set.

Government Is Not a Business

We're seeing some strange things these days, some of which seem to emanate from confusion about the role of government compared to the role of a business. 

Among other things, government is supposed to enact laws to ensure a safe, fair, and free society; collect tax revenues to get things done collectively that we can't do individually; deal with international affairs and diplomacy; and adjudicate national and international disputes and treaties. Governments are political entities..

A business is supposed to take a seed of capital and attempt to grow it into a mighty oak capable of spawning new trees, while providing shelter and shade to its workers and partners.

Businesses are economic entities governed by political entities. There is interaction, but that's the general relationship.

The stunning Brexit vote was based to some extent on arguments that portrayed the government as a business -- for example, the now-famous-worldwide "£350 million per week" argument, as if the UK government were a business flushing capital down the drain recklessly. Not only is the figure inflated, but the value is not included. It may turn out that for the benefits derived, the UK may need to spend far more. But the spending is beside the point. The political importance of the contributions to the EU are clearly far more important than the money, as the aftermath has shown. 

In the US, the student loan scandal -- in which the government earns a profit off student loan interest -- shows this conceptual mistake in all its glory. Running the government as a business has led our politicians to make a decision to exploit its citizens, not through a tax (the government's proper way of raising money) but through the banking system. State lotteries are another business-like way of levying regressive taxes under the guise of business, turning storefronts into de facto tax collectors.

Candidate Trump also reflects this confusion. A businessman with no experience in civil service, very little experience in politics (and most of it apparently not having left a mark), and no military experience is doing well in the run up to the election. His demagoguery aside, he is running as a businessman. This shows that the confusion between government and business has been sufficiently smudged as to be meaningless to a wide swath of voters. 

It's odd particularly because businesses have historically been much more volatile than governments. They take more risks, and often lose. But perhaps they've also been much better at escaping accountability. When the US automakers needed to be bailed out after the banks needed to be bailed out, the US government was the steady hand on the rudder of the economy -- the politicians provided the firebreak that kept the whole house from burning to the ground. Yet, sane, steady political leadership is vulnerable to an insurgency from a businessman candidate of such questionable acumen and judgement that he is regularly regarded as a con man.

Governments are not businesses. Running them as businesses leaves a political gap, and certain important political work undone. Let businesses be businesses, and please, governments, get back to governing.

Brexit, Risk, and the Governance Problem

Again and again when you talk with non-profit leaders and employees, the problem of governance arises. While there are certainly incompetent, malicious, and corrupt boards, the main problem seems to center more around boards who are risk-averse and unwilling to take chances -- not realizing that there is no risk-free move available, as taking no obvious risk is still a risk.

"If the rate of change outside an organization exceeds the rate of change inside an organization, the end is near."

This famous Jack Welch quote misses the mark in one way -- there can be differential rates of change within the same organization. For non-profits, which are famous for having silos and many moving parts that move at different rates, governance often moves either the slowest or the most unpredictably. This creates friction, jerkiness, or breakdowns.

Brexit exhibits some of these traits, with the metropolitan centers of the UK moving more rapidly than the rural areas, changing faster, becoming more European -- with the breakdown occurring when the playing field was leveled through referendum. However, even calling for a referendum shows how out-of-touch and arrogant the PM and others had become.

The unpredictability of governance is often an underlying problem in nations and organizations.

In our world, some non-profits have presidents who rotate in on an annual basis, bringing with them initiatives that divert staff and resources, slowing and warping the organization. Others have board terms that are too short or too long. Some see activist boards micromanaging, which only causes strain and often bad decisions.

One innovative solution worth trying would be to have the board indicate to management where they would like the organization to be in three years, in general terms, and then step back, attending only to the most basic duties possible -- signing off on the audit, for instance. Three years hence, I would bet most organizations and boards would have a happy meeting to toast the success -- while the board would have to ask itself hard questions about what value it truly adds.

As the UK grapples with the Brexit outcome, perhaps this approach could work with both Parliament and the UK population in general -- simply state that in 5-10 years, it would be best for the UK to be more inclusive, more prosperous, and more influential. Then it will become clear that Brexit is not the path toward these future traits.

Money and Unity

Money is known technically as "fungible" -- that is, it can be exchanged for nearly anything. For instance, a few hundred years ago, prostitutes could exchange money for indulgences, essentially using sex to buy salvation. A criminal can use money gained by theft to pay for food for his or her child.

Not all transfers are this extreme, but as human inventions go, money is one of the most remarkable. As Yuval Noah Harari writes in his excellent book, "Sapiens":

For thousands of years, philosophers, thinkers, and prophets have besmirched money and called it the root of all evil. Be that as it may, money is also the apogee of human tolerance. Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs, and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don't know each other and don't trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

Debt is one expression of money. In recent times, debt has been demonized as unhealthy and worrisome. And, like all things, at a certain intensity or level, this is so. But at a modest or manageable level, it can be beneficial. Because it's money, debt aligns the interests of people who might otherwise not cooperate. With the musical "Hamilton" bringing the founder of the US banking system to the fore, it's worth remembering that one of the major steps in unifying the states was to make every state and every citizen responsible for a common federal debt. Not only did this allow the US to borrow at a much higher level than any state or individual could have alone, leading to the rapid emergence of a viable nation, but it aligned the interests of the states in a way no pledge or oath could have.

Trust is the fundamental reason that slip of printed paper in your pocket has value. We believe it to be so, and it is. There is no other reason. Currently, ninety percent of money is intangible, existing only in computers. But more importantly, even in its tangible form, its value is created in the same way as computerized money -- by agreement. If we all agree that a currency of a former Eurozone country has no value, it has no value.

This trust system is remarkable on many levels, but it also has a special two-step aspect to it -- it's not that you trust money, but you trust that the other person trusts money, which the other person also assumes, closing the trust loop.

Even events like the hacking of the SWIFT system supporting international banking do little to break this trust system. We distrust the computers and people using them -- everything points to a social engineering exploit here -- but not money. In fact, the millions stolen from the hack only reinforces the trust in money.

But Sci-Hub and its ilk break our trust in money. Suddenly, rather than a fluid economic system that pays for the work done in the past and for work upcoming, publishers, editors, and professionals supporting book and journal sales can no longer trust that other people will assume their work will be worth anything. While not a breach of trust in money per se, it is a breach of trust in value and a clear disdain for money. The Sci-Hub sympathizers don't believe that an economic transaction -- any economic transaction, even one that provides content for a few cents to users -- is defensible when it comes to whatever content or websites they hack.

The damage to the trust system of basic economic value in academic and scholarly publishing may be the most pernicious aspect of the Sci-Hub flap. Again and again, the expenses publishers incur -- billions of dollars per year -- to manage peer-review, pay editors, pay staff, pay vendors, pay for digital platforms, pay to support archives, and so forth, are pointed at as somehow illegitimate or unworthy of support.

At the same time, Sci-Hub itself has had to raise money to support its stolen cache of content, because of course it has computer, systems, bandwidth, and staff costs.

As I've written before, Sci-Hub is a dead end. It makes no economic contribution, and has no economic future. But it represents a fundamental threat to a major human achievement -- the ability through money to transform one thing into another. Sci-Hub represents the end of human alchemy. It represents economic death.

In our imaginings of the future, we often envision a world without money. Maybe that will come to pass somehow. But as long as we need to efficiently transform one thing into another through the exchange of common tokens of agreed upon but abstract value, and as long as we seek unity of economic purpose in a way that allows for personal diversity and choice, money in some form will be part of our culture. Those who try to undercut this reality are working against "the apogee of human tolerance."

Pragmatism in an Age of Ideology

We no longer live in a time in which ideologies are inherently distrusted. From identity politics to economic ideologies, it seems almost ignorant today to not have a badge of ideology of some sort. We also live in a media landscape in which labels travel well and are a strange source of unity amidst fragmentation. This same media landscape -- virtual, removed, asynchronous -- insulates purveyors of labels from the downsides of stereotyping and pigeonholing. This is a change worth contemplating.

A recent article in the New Yorker does an excellent job portraying some messiness around this trend at Oberlin College in Ohio. By encouraging diversity via labels so heavily, Oberlin has many "n of 1" situations, where a particular student feels she or he must represent all the gender, racial, cultural, or socioeconomic labels they possess, even to the point of undermining the university's role of resolving differences and moving them toward a level of common educational achievement. Instead of diversity being resolved, differences have become something to embellish and emphasize. From custom degrees to protests and outrage, it's a can of worms that's not easily closed.

Peace and prosperity may have something to do with this. Nathan Heller, the author of the piece, quotes Alexis de Tocqueville in an especially compelling section of the article:

Tocqueville thought [the French Revolution occurring in a time of prosperity] wasn’t a coincidence. “Evils which are patiently endured when they seem inevitable, become intolerable when once the idea of escape from them is suggested,” he wrote. His claim helped give rise to the idea of the revolution of rising expectations: an observation that radical movements appear not when expectations are low but when they’re high, and vulnerable to disappointment.

This is an interesting tangent to our own world of ideologically-driven discontents, especially as these relate to public access, open access, free article sharing, and piracy. 

Expectations around the Internet were very high initially when it came to information businesses, with this best represented in the rallying cry, "Information wants to be free." The expectation which formed was one of unfettered access, and this soon came to mean unpaid access. Over the past 15 years, there has been a protracted campaign to find a way to make this come to pass. When the most viable solution (Gold OA) combined with embargoed Green OA for papers from particular government or philanthropic funders proved unsatisfactory to some, a more dramatic and illegal approach was created in Sci-Hub and implicit or explicit support of illegal piracy.

Ideologies can lead to an inability to cede ground in order to reach pragmatic solutions. In the case of Oberlin's identity politics, adding diversity has driven a lack of tolerance among the diverse -- they feel that unless their worldview is completely honored and respected, they have been done a disservice by the college and society in general. Some loud voices are unwilling or unable to accept that diversity and compromise can co-exist. They also find themselves trapped by their own identity politics. As one student activist says:

As a person who plans on returning to my community, I don't want to assimilate into middle-class values. I'm going home, back to the 'hood of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin.

The fragmentation of experience and identification is clear -- there is nothing larger defining this person's world than her own differences, which she clings to in a cycle of self-absorption. And within self-absorption, pragmatism -- which requires balancing a number of competing and addressable factors -- is out of reach.

Building a better scientific and academic publishing world includes many possible pragmatic improvements and changes -- semantic engines, better editorial practices, more peer-review discipline, greater use of statisticians, tighter controls on study design, more insights into conflicts of interest, more refined interactions with the media, and more use of mixed media to explain findings. 

Yet, ideologies about access, now taken by some to an extreme with Sci-Hub, are drawing us away from pragmatic advances. Just as ideologies in American politics have distracted us from building better infrastructure, dealing with childhood poverty, and dealing with wage stagnation, ideologies in publishing are now causing some of the largest and best-funded to move from being content businesses to being technology businesses. while others depart certain markets too inflamed by ideology to be commercially viable.

About six years ago, there was a period of months during which many noticed a shift -- the excitement about the possibilities for online content dissipated, replaced with the notion that content was no longer viable except as a commodity. That trend has cemented itself, driven mainly by an ideology, not by pragmatism. 

In this ideology, content becomes a commodity -- undifferentiated, with volume-based pricing. This leaves little to no room for content pragmatists to flourish and grow. So they start looking for greener pastures with less ideological pollution.

What Sci-Hub represents is an ideology gone too far. It is so anti-pragmatic that it serves as an existential threat, and requires legal intervention. Even then, some ideologues argue that our laws themselves are invalid or wrong.

Pragmatism acknowledges constraints and boundaries. The problem with ideologies is that they know no bounds.

Questioning the Sci-Hub Data

Recently, more Sci-Hub IP data were shared (in a highly processed form) and discussed, and like the results in an article in Science, the results are cloudy at best.

Bastian Greshake received results of Sci-Hub matching its IPs associated with downloads with a public (and somewhat outdated) database of institutional IPs. The results suggest less than 8% of the downloads come from academic institutions.

The IP set used as a check against Sci-Hub's data is itself problematic. IP ranges change quite frequently, so a five-year-old set of publicly available IPs is likely a weak data set to use. It's akin to checking a lineup of NFL players against rosters from five years ago -- with the average NFL career running 3.3 years, you'd expect a low rate of matches. The career of an institutional IP address may be much shorter.

But there remains a more compelling explanation about why these data are flawed. When you combine this latest set of analyses with the Science maps of data nodes, the two findings start to suggest that Sci-Hub does not have actual IPs of downloads in their system, but rather "last user packet" IPs, which would obscure the location of users and substitute exchange nodes, or Internet exchange points. Publishers I've spoken with, who have done their own local analyses and spoken with their own IT experts, also believe this to be true.

So, once again, we are left with little idea of who is actually using Sci-Hub. The new data and new analysis only suggest weaknesses in Sci-Hub's usage data and in its ability to track originating requests, while pointing out a willingness to over-interpret these data. Greshake claims that these data demonstrate that:

". . . we can answer John Bohannon’s question on Who’s downloading pirated papers? with a resounding Academics do for sure!."

I disagree. We might have to accept that the data generated by Sci-Hub are too imprecise to use for interpretation at that level. The data seem to be imprecise or inaccurate (or both). But one set of facts remains clear -- Sci-Hub is a pirate that exploits taxpayers and everyday citizens by stifling growth and leaching away taxpayer-funded research's direct paybacks; Sci-Hub deceived academic institutions to divulge usernames and passwords that could make them vulnerable to hackers; and Sci-Hub leads nowhere.

The data about who is using it are of questionable quality and importance. What Sci-Hub represents changes not one whit either way.

Reflexive Responses and NatGeo

When the news broke last year about Rupert Murdoch's Fox Corp. gobbling up most of the assets of the National Geographic Society, including its vaunted publishing operations, the repulsion was reflexive by many in the academic and publishing community. This was not unreasonable, as the NatGeo cable network had dabbled in reality television that certainly deviated from the brand promise of the "gold box." How wicked could tuna be? How many hoarders or diggers could they profile?

A recent article in BusinessWeek sheds a brighter light on the story leading up to NatGeo's sale of its core assets to Fox, as well as what has transpired since. While much of the concern revolved around Rupert Murdoch's well-deserved reputation as a hard-nosed businessman and global warming skeptic, it turns out the NatGeo sale and subsequent management is falling to his son, James, who is both an ardent environmental and science champion. He and his wife run Quadrivium, which is devoted to science education and causes like preserving European fisheries and other natural resources.

He is quoted by a co-worker as saying:

I wish we could do more stories about why people don't believe science.

To reverse NatGeo's declining fortunes, James Murdoch has brought in a ton of media talent and begun to implement an HBO-like programming vision. As the leader of this effort, Courteney Monroe, who worked at HBO for years, described it:

Our strategy before was a volume play. It was a lot of low-cost hours. Quantity over quality. We're inverting that.

An example of this is an upcoming miniseries, Mars, which is being produced by Ron Howard, Michael Rosenberg, and Brian Grazer. 

In addition, management has taken a notoriously dysfunctional and siloed organization and put them on the same page. This means that for their upcoming miniseries on the Red Planet, the magazine will coordinate a package on Mars, the Web team will develop content to match, and the book division will publish a Mars book. In years prior, pulling off this kind of coordinated splash was not feasible.

This is not what people reflexively expected last year -- a Murdoch-led overhaul emphasizing quality and led by a family member devoted to science and environmental issues. 

Let's hope it works.

Sharing or Stagnating?

Sci-Hub continues to make waves, but it really represents a trend that's hidden in the modern economy -- some call it the "sharing economy." Sci-Hub merely represents an extreme -- sharing for no payment.

A recent article in BusinessWeek about Larry Summers' economic alarms shined a spotlight on a deeper problem within the sharing economy, even that part generating revenues for its participants. In this case, we're talking about familiar entities such as Airbnb, Uber, and Spotify. These and other of their ilk are weak economic participants for two reasons -- they use existing infrastructure (homes and apartments, cars, and wi-fi/music/devices), and they mainly work through software. As Peter Coy writes in BusinessWeek:

. . . the new economy is asset-lite: Companies such as Uber and Airbnb prosper by exploiting assets (cars and houses) that already exist. Software, which is pure information and doesn't require the construction of factories, accounts for a bigger share of the economy.

The snowball effect is that executives see little upside for big capital-spending projects (new factories, for instance), and keep their money in financial instruments and out of the working economy, further slowing growth. 

In music, the slowdown is made clear with studies showing that artists make more from vinyl sales than from digital sales. Software also allows for a lot of content leakage, and companies like Google/YouTube aren't motivated to stop this, as another story illustrates

In scholarly publishing, the value contribution in the UK alone is worth £4.4 billion. This includes jobs for parents, careers for professionals, and payments to academic institutions. Sci-Hub puts these contributions at risk, but on a scale which goes far beyond the UK alone. 

Making new things is vital to economic growth. By siphoning off revenues from artists, from publishers, from industries, from hotels, and so forth, we are taking the "low price" economy another notch down on our 40-year-long race to the bottom, a race that has left wages flat for 30 years in the US and led to the painful (and continuing) saga of 2007/08. As Summers argues compellingly, the only way out of this trap is to make major investments in new infrastructure -- roads, bridges, buildings, transportation systems -- while changing laws to counteract the consolidation of wealth among relatively few firms and individuals.

The recent news that one-third of cash in the US is held by five tech companies (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Oracle, and Cisco) underscores the stagnation of technology -- there is not enough to make for these companies to reinvest at high levels, so they sit on their cash. This is confirmed by their desire to stash nearly $1.2 trillion in earnings overseas, to avoid paying taxes -- if there were investments in research and development that would generate profits sufficient to justify repatriating the money, they'd do it.

That's the ultimate irony of the sharing economy -- we're sharing what our forebears put in place (homes, infrastructure, the auto industry, the music industry) using software from companies who take our money, then hide it away. No wonder we're stagnating -- the sharing stops there.