Pluralistic: 22 Jun 2020

Today's links

The Case for a Job Guarantee (permalink)

It's hard to imagine a more timely moment for the publication of Pavlina Tcherneva's "The Case for a Job Guarantee," a slim and sprightly book that makes the plainest, most straightforward case yet for ending involuntary employment.

The Jobs Guarantee is not a new idea – it came within a whisker being part of FDR's New Deal – but with unemployment at levels to rival (or exceed) the Great Depression, and with countries minting trillions to cushion the pandemic, it's an idea whose time has come.

Tcherneva's argument has several strands:

  • Unemployment is really terrible, and exacts a huge toll on unemployed people, their families and society. This is both a human tragedy and a massive economic drain.

  • The private sector's job-creation is "pro-cyclical": it creates jobs when the economy is good, and shed jobs when the economy is bad (that is, when we most need new jobs)

  • The private sector is really bad at valuing caring and sustaining work – education, health care, climate remediation, eldercare, daycare

  • No amount of money for private sector job-creation would end unemployment: giving every unemployed person a $15/h job with good benefits is MUCH cheaper than handing out subsidies or contracts to private firms, and even if we did that, millions would still be unemployed

  • Minting money to buy the labor of unemployed people isn't inflationary. Inflation isn't about the monetary supply, it's about bidding wars – buying the labor of people who lack jobs won't bid up their wages, because no one else wants their labor

  • A Jobs Guarantee scheme would provide training, continuing education, certification and rehabilitation and be especially good for formerly incarcerated people, young people, people with disabilities, parents re-entering the job market, etc

  • Governments guarantee lots of things: price supports for agribusiness, loans for mortgage lenders, education for every child. Guaranteeing jobs is both a bargain (less than 1% of GDP, factoring in savings from ending unemployment pathologies) and humane

Today, we protect against inflation by keeping people unemployed – unemployed people are a "buffer stock" of workers who might be hired when the economy grows.

Tcherneva proposes that we replace unemployment with a buffer-stock of jobs: federally funded, locally determined, jobs that the private sector won't do, jobs that pay well (and eliminate sub-subsistence private sector work better than any minimum wage would).

These are the jobs that need doing, but not necessarily now: remediating public spaces, doing after-school programs at the local library or care home, weatherizing houses. When the economy sheds jobs, laid off people know they can get good work the next day doing these.

When the economy grows, workers with newly acquired skills – and no gaps in their employment history – can walk straight into the new jobs the private sector is creating. When deflation is a risk, a Jobs Guarantee heats up; when inflation is a risk, it cools off.

It's an "automatic stabilizer."

Tcherneva clearly wrote most of this before the crisis (the introduction does take note of it though), but despite that, it's eerily applicable to this moment.

40 years of deficit hawkery has hollowed out our institutions, emptied our stockpiles and replaced the social safety net with punitive workfare. As the pandemic emergency surges, with the climate emergency right behind it, we need capacity building.

We need care work. We need the Jobs Guarantee.

The real cyberwar is Goliath, slaughtering an army of Davids (permalink)

"A tale of two cybers – how threat reporting by cybersecurity firms systematically underrepresents threats to civil society," in Journal of Information Technology & Politics by Lennart Maschmeyer, Ron Deibert and Jon R. Lindsay, reveals a serious problem with infosec research.

The authors document how our dominant narrative of cybersecurity – that it's about cyberterrorists using tech to leverage asymmetric attacks against nations and powerful companies – has skewed how we investigate and report on security incidents.

What's more, since the majority of reporting comes from commercial firms hoping to sell security services to corporations in the global north, "threat reports" are absurdly skewed towards corporate espionage, frauds, and attacks on powerful governments.

But this is completely skewed. Considered by both volume and consequences, the commonest form of hack-attack is corporations and governments attacking poorly resourced civil society groups – it's not David felling Goliath, it's Goliath slaughtering armies of Davids.

"The original cyberwar narrative had things precisely backwards. The information revolution does not portend a new anarchy rife with destructive disruption but rather the encroaching hierarchy of the surveillance state. Cyberspace may create asymmetric advantages, but they are advantages of the strong to monitor and enforce the behavior of the weak."

But embattled civil society groups do not procure expensive threat-mitigation contracts from commercial cybersecurity firms, so they are omitted from published case-studies in favor of the rare instance in which companies or governments are the victims, not the aggressors.

This skews the entire cybersecurity narrative: from the scholarship to the news-media's reportage to fictional portrayals, giving us the sense of an invisible threat landscape in which tech acts as a force-multiplier for otherwise lost causes.

But the problem isn't just one of distorted perceptions. Our false conception of cybersecurity threats leads us to develop defenses that benefit the habitual aggressors at the expense of mitigations for their preferred victims.

The authors go to great lengths to quantify this selection bias, and make a very compelling case. More significant are the case studies, which come from the work of the Univerity of Toronto's Citizen Lab (with which two of the three authors are affiliated).

Citizen Lab is the most prominent and successful entity when it comes to researching and mitigating threats to journalists, human rights orgs, and other civil society groups who are targeted by powerful corporations and governments, using military-style cyberweapons.

These weapons are so cheap and readily available for the powerful that they are used in incredibly petty ways.

For example, the Saudi government used the NSO Group's Pegasus malware against Omar Abdulaziz, a Canadian university student who ran a comedic Youtube channel that mocked the Saudi state.

NSO's Pegasus was also implicated in the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.

There is seemingly no pretence so slight, no critic so minor, that the rich and powerful don't sometimes target them with the same weapons that nation-states use to attack each others' national security apparatus.

The authors make a compelling case that this asymmetry feeds on itself. Not only do we have an enormous array of powerful weapons for rich and powerful people (who are supposedly under constant assault from weirdly threatening pipsqueaks); but we have almost nothing for the victims of this aggression to use to defend themselves.

Ron Deibert, who runs Citizen Lab, wrote a powerful afterword for Attack Surface, the forthcoming Little Brother novel.

Attack Surface is about a cybersecurity contractor who can no longer rationalize away her work building cyberweapons to attack dissident movements for corrupt and powerful dictators.

She returns from Eastern Europe to Oakland, only to find the weapons she developed being wielded against the social justice movements her friends have founded, and has to reckon with the full consequences of her actions.

In his afterword, Deibert wrote, "I hope you will be inspired by this book in the same way I have. I hope, like me, it encourages you to question the technologies that you depend on, that you carry with you wherever you go. Like Masha, I hope you find a way to turn them to your advantage by knowing them from the inside-out in the way she does.

"Above all, I hope you become inspired to use them to create a better world than the one in which we now live."

Coders as RPG classes (permalink)

This morning, my attention snagged hard on Daniel J Thomason's Software Engineer D&D; Classes ("Ever suspected that software development is more like a big, poorly structured RPG than anyone admits at interviews? You're going to enjoy this, then…")

After thinking about it, I realized that the explanation is right there in the strapline: it's not merely that software development is nerdy and D&D; is nerdy so they go together.

It's really a kind of backhanded critique of the software INDUSTRY, with its back-breaking, human-destroying work schedules defined by arbitrary demands for extra work, a ginned-up sense of urgency and the casino-like possibility of an IPO or (more likely) acquisition by a Big Tech company, which lines up neatly with the post-adventure denouement in the tavern, except it's a cushy "campus" with massages and kombucha on tap.

I love the quotes on each: "Barbarian: Unit tests give you a false sense of safety. coding should never feel safe. every line of code you write should give you anxiety about how it'll destroy the rest of the program. ride fiercely into that dark abyss."– Katerina Borodina.

And the special abilities: "Bard (AKA 'product manager'): You unfurl a document (can be paper-based or electronic, your choice) that envelops a single enemy of your choice and leaves them incapacitated until the start of your next turn."

Some of the matchups are spookily good, like "Healer = Quality Engineer" ("Once per day you may rollback the codebase to an earlier state, causing all party members to return to the HP and spell slots they had at that point")

And who among us has never worked with a rogue ("security engineer")?: "While fun to have in the party,rogues can sometimes be a little unreliable, mysteriously disappears when it's time for regression testing, for example."

Podcast: Someone Comes to Town Pt 7 (permalink)

My weekly podcast is up! This week, it's part 7 of my serialized reading of my 2006 novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," which Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read."

This week's reading, fortuitously, has a pretty powerful father/son moment, something I didn't realize until I took a few minutes away from yesterday's Father's Day family stuff to read it aloud. Here's an MP3:

Thanks as always to Internet Archive for hosting – they'll host your stuff to!

Here's the RSS for the podcast:

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Beloved Toronto singing cowboy/mayoral candidate Ben Kerr, RIP

#10yrsago Canadian Heritage Minister smears DMCA opponents as "radical extremists"

#10yrsago Bruce Sterling's story about astroturfer gulag

#5yrsago Australia's own Immortan Joe turns off the water, I mean, Internet

#5yrsago GCHQ psychological operations squad targeted Britons for manipulation

#5yrsago GCHQ hacking squad worried about getting sued for copyright violation

#1yrago In a bid to avoid climate vote, Oregon Republican Senators cross state lines, go into hiding, threaten to murder cops, as white nationalist paramilitaries pledge armed support

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Four Short Links (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 503 words (29686 total).

  • A short story, "Making Hay," for MIT Tech Review. Friday's progress: 317 words (2251 total)

Currently reading: Adventures of a Dwergish Girl, Daniel Pinkwater

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 07)

Upcoming appearances:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: Get a personalized, signed copy here:

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden:; personalized/signed copies here:

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commerically, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.

How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

2 thoughts on “Pluralistic: 22 Jun 2020”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.