Why Canada should be paying attention to the brawl over inflation in U.S. economics establishment


Summers and Blanchard are calling on Biden to show restraint, lest he wreck all that was accomplished by finally harnessing runaway inflation in the 1980s and 1990s

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The economics establishment in the United States has been putting on a show worthy of World Wrestling Entertainment this month.

Lawrence Summers, the former Democratic treasury secretary, and Olivier Blanchard, a similarly famous economist who once led the International Monetary Fund’s research department, created waves by going public with their worries that President Joe Biden’s US$1.9-trillion stimulus plan could cause inflation to blow past the Federal Reserve’s target of two per cent.

That’s not what Janet Yellen, the current treasury secretary, needed to hear. Summers and Blanchard sounded like the Republican minority in the Senate that could curb the Biden administration’s ambitions. They were supposed to be on her side.

“As treasury secretary, I have to worry about all of the risks to the economy,” Yellen, who, as a former Fed chair, is an intellectual heavyweight in her own right, said on CNN. “And the most important risk is that we leave workers and communities scarred by the pandemic and the economic toll that it’s taken, that we don’t do enough to address the pandemic and the public health issues, that we don’t get our kids back to school.”

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Canada’s economic community is also split on whether inflation is a serious threat. However, it lacks stars such as Summers, so its members are mostly talking amongst themselves. That probably should change.

William White, a retired Canadian central banker who now ranks as a respected critic of his former profession, this week warned against assuming that the low inflation of the past couple of decades was the new steady state. Bond yields have been drifting higher, a sign that traders anticipate inflation. Climate change could be an inflationary force, and globalization, which has exerted downward pressure on prices for decades, has been slowed by resurgent nationalism in important economies, he said.

In other words, inflation may look contained, but the lid isn’t as secure as it used to be. “You can’t extrapolate past performance to future performance,” White, now a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute, said during a virtual event hosted by the Global Risk Institute on Feb. 18.

Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem is in Yellen’s camp. He has made it clear that he is far more concerned about disinflation than he is about losing his grip on prices, a stance that was supported by Statistics Canada’s latest update of the Consumer Price Index this week.

The agency on Feb. 17 said the CPI increased one per cent in January from a year earlier, well short of the Bank of Canada’s target of about two per cent. There isn’t even a hint in the data that inflationary pressures are building. The central bank’s three “core” price measures, which cancel out noisier items in the CPI basket, averaged 1.5 per cent, a level that is “unlikely to concern the central bank,” Charles St-Arnaud, chief economist at Alberta Central, said.

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Statistics Canada on Feb. 19 reported that retail sales dropped 3.4 per cent in December from the previous month, and 1.4 per cent in 2020 compared with 2019, additional evidence that the pandemic’s second wave has interrupted the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

You can’t extrapolate past performance to future performance

The U.S. debate over inflation is interesting because it is a family feud, rather than yet another squabble between dovish liberals and hawkish conservatives. Blanchard and Summers have effectively accepted to play the heels in this drama, former heroes who suddenly and unexpectedly turned on their fans.

Summers is best known these days for having reintroduced the idea of “secular stagnation,” a condition in which savings pile up for lack of decent investment opportunities, resulting in meagre economic growth. His solution to the problem is a big increase in public investment, which is one of the reasons his critique of Biden’s plan was so surprising.

Blanchard disrupted conventional thinking about government deficits in 2019 by showing that growth will erode the debt over time, as long as borrowing costs are lower than the rate at which the economy expands, negating the assumption that new spending must be matched by tax increases and/or spending cuts. It was the weapon liberal policy-makers needed in their fight against knee-jerk austerity. Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s finance minister, cited Blanchard when she made the intellectual case for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s deficits last year.

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And yet, Summers and Blanchard are now calling on Biden to show restraint, lest he wreck all that was accomplished by finally harnessing runaway inflation in the 1980s and 1990s. Their critique is multi-faceted, but, essentially, they argue that sending US$1,400 cheques to most Americans is unnecessarily generous, given that Congress just approved a US$900-billion stimulus program in December.

Their math suggests the hole left by the COVID-19 crisis simply isn’t that big, so the excess cash risks supercharging the recovery and putting the Fed in the position of having to explain why it’s letting inflation run hotter than its target, or jacking up interest rates to cool the economy, risking another recession. “I’d rather not go there,” Blanchard said in a blog post on Feb. 18.

Biden’s fiscal policy will have repercussions around the world, which is probably why Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s current chief economist, joined the inflation debate on Feb. 19.

Gopinath came down on the side of Yellen, arguing that the global economy remains too weak to stoke inflation pressures. She also said that increased automation would allow companies to keep prices low, as would the growing dominance of larger companies, since their fat profit margins will help absorb any increase in input costs.

All told, the IMF reckons Biden’s plan might cause inflation to rise to 2.25 per cent in 2022, “which is nothing to be concerned about,” Gopinath said.

• Email: kcarmichael@postmedia.com | Twitter:

In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.

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Jennifer Lopez “Chooses Not to Pay Attention” to A-Rod Speculation – E! Online


Jennifer Lopez is busy with her work while ignoring chatter about her relationship with fiancé Alex Rodriguez

A source tells E! News exclusively that Jennifer is heading overseas soon to film her new rom-com Shotgun Wedding. This follows recent online rumors involving the former baseball player and Southern Charm star Madison LeCroy.

“J.Lo will soon begin working on her movie in the Dominican Republic,” the insider shares. “Everything is fine with Alex. She doesn’t let the cheating rumors get to her and chooses not to pay attention.”

While the 51-year-old Hustlers star shoots her upcoming movie opposite Josh Duhamel, Alex will remain stateside due to his own professional obligations. 

“A-Rod is not going with her to the Dominican,” the source continues. “He has his own work and a busy schedule. This is her thing, and she’s very excited to get started on the project. They are celebrating Valentine’s Day in Miami.”



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how Rihanna brought attention to the plight of farmers



A planned visit to India by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on Jan 26, was postponed because of Covid. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did publicly refer to the protests as “concerning” in December, under pressure from Canada’s sizeable Punjabi community, receiving a dressing down from the Indian Government in response.

What happens now?

To the surprise of many, the Indian Government published a statement on Wednesday in response to tweets from Rihanna and other public figures.

“Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken,” it said. “The temptation of social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible.”



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How to reform the attention economy business model of Big Tech


Seeing reality clearly and truthfully is fundamental to our capacity to do anything. By monetizing and commodifying attention, we’ve sold away our ability to see problems and enact collective solutions. This isn’t new. Almost any time we allow the life support systems of our planet or society to be commodified, it drives other breakdowns. When you commodify politics with AI-optimized microtargeted ads, you remove integrity from politics. When you commodify food, you lose touch with the life cycle that makes agriculture sustainable. When you commodify education into digital feeds of content, you lose the interrelatedness of human development, trust, care, and teacherly authority. When you commodify love by turning people into playing cards on Tinder, you sever the complex dance involved in forging new relationships. And when you commodify communication into chunks of posts and comment threads on Facebook, you remove context, nuance, and respect. In all these cases, extractive systems slowly erode the foundations of a healthy society and a healthy planet.

Shifting systems to protect attention

E.O. Wilson, the famed biologist, proposed that humans should run only half the Earth, and that the rest should be left alone. Imagine something similar for the attention economy. We can and should say that we want to protect human attention, even if that sacrifices a portion of the profits of Apple, Google, Facebook, and other large technology corporations.

Ad blockers on digital devices are an interesting example of what could become a structural shift in the digital world. Are ad blockers a human right? If everybody could block ads on Facebook, Google, and websites, the internet would not be able to fund itself, and the advertising economy would lose massive amounts of revenue. Does that outcome negate the right? Is your attention a right? Do you own it? Should we put a price on it? Selling human organs or enslaved people can meet a demand and generate profit, but we say these items do not belong in the marketplace. Like human beings and their organs, should human attention be something money can’t buy?

Is your attention a right? Do you own it? Should we put a price on it? Like human beings and their organs, should human attention be something money can’t buy?

The covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and climate change and other ecological crises have made more and more people aware of how broken our economic and social systems are. But we are not getting to the roots of these interconnected crises. We’re falling for interventions that feel like the right answer but instead are traps that surreptitiously maintain the status quo. Slightly better police practices and body cameras do not prevent police misconduct. Buying a Prius or Tesla isn’t enough to really bring down levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Replacing plastic straws with biodegradable ones is not going to save the oceans. Instagram’s move to hide the number of “likes” is not transforming teenagers’ mental-health problems, when the service is predicated on constant social comparison and systemic hijacking of the human drive for connection. We need much deeper systemic reform. We need to shift institutions to serve the public interest in ways that are commensurate with the nature and scale of the challenges we face.

At the Center for Humane Technology, one thing we did was convince Apple, Google, and Facebook to adopt—at least in part—the mission of “Time Well Spent” even if it went against their economic interests. This was a movement we launched through broad public media-awareness campaigns and advocacy, and it gained credence with technology designers, concerned parents, and students. It called for changing the digital world’s incentives from a race for “time spent” on screens and apps into a “race to the top” to help people spend time well. It has led to real change for billions of people. Apple, for example, introduced “Screen Time” features in May 2018 that now ship with all iPhones, iPads, and other devices. Besides showing all users how much time they spend on their phone, Screen Time offers a dashboard of parental controls and app time limits that show parents how much time their kids are spending online (and what they are doing). Google launched its similar Digital Wellbeing initiative around the same time. It includes further features we had suggested, such as making it easier to unplug before bed and limit notifications. Along the same lines, YouTube introduced “Take a break” notifications.

These changes show that companies are willing to make sacrifices, even in the realm of billions of dollars. Nonetheless, we have not yet changed the core logic of these corporations. For a company to do something against its economic interest is one thing; doing something against the DNA of its purpose and goals is a different thing altogether.

Working toward collective action

We need deep, systemic reform that will shift technology corporations to serving the public interest first and foremost. We have to think bigger about how much systemic change might be possible, and how to harness the collective will of the people.

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One new community case in NSW, as state turns its attention to virus mutations | Goulburn Post


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There has been one community case of COVID-19 found in the 24 hours to 8pm on Friday, amid about 25,500 tests across the state. Returning from holidays, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that Saturday would be the final day of lockdown for the northern part of the northern beaches as the cluster the was “in the main under control”. The same restrictions – including the mandatory wearing of masks and visitor and venue restrictions – will stay in place throughout Greater Sydney. Ms Berejiklian said it was important for the state to keep reassessing its COVID-19 settings, especially as new strains of the virus have been found in overseas travellers returning to Australia. She said it was vital people kept coming forward for testing in the coming weeks. Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said there had been five new cases from overseas found in the 24 hours period. “We are seeing the emergence worldwide of a number of strains,” she said. “We live in a global world, and all returning travellers are at increasing risk of having one of these mutations.” She said this was a normal part of the evolution of a virus, but said extra safeguards would be put in place to help manage the new strains of the virus. She said no one would be released from isolation until at least 14 days after their symptom onset, for instance, and people will get tested at the end of their isolation period. Dr Chant said NSW Health was following up with returned travellers who had the virus. “We have identified one case that has been tested and does still show remnants of the virus,” she said. “We are taking a precautionary approach by announcing some of the venues that that person attended.” NSW Health last night announced several new venues in Burwood in Sydney’s Inner West that have been visited this person including Artisaint Cafe, Bing Lee and Burwood Westfield. Health minister Brad Hazzard said the increasing number of new variants of the virus appearing in hotel quarantine was a concern. He said all staff in quarantine hotels would now have daily COVID-19 testing, which would mean there were about 10,500 extra tests in the state. Airline crew will also be tested daily. NSW Health is treating 110 COVID-19 cases, none of whom are in intensive care. Most cases (99 per cent) are being treated in non-acute, out-of-hospital care, including returned travellers in the Special Health Accommodation.

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Trump privately admits it’s over, but wants to brawl for attention



Trump’s team hopes to secure 180 House members, along with 13 senators, to object to Biden’s Electoral College win, likely turning a traditionally short ceremony into a day-long event.

If lawmakers contest results from the six swing states of Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan and Arizona, the vote could drag into Thursday.

Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who visited the Trump campaign headquarters shortly after the election, is expected to play a role in contesting his state’s results, according to a former Trump campaign staffer. And newly sworn in Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia recently spoke to Trump, making it likely she will play a role in contesting her state’s results.

Still, Democrats are expected to join with numerous Republicans to eventually declare Biden the winner.

Jason Miller, who served as a Trump campaign senior adviser, argued Trump’s election fight is not about his own race but about fixing the election system for future elections.

“We want to make sure people have confidence in our election system,” he said. “We don’t want this all to get swept under the rug.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

For the two months, Trump has falsely insisted he won the election, even as states across the nation certified wins for Biden and selected electors who voted last month to make Biden the 46th president.

But privately, Trump has told some allies he knows he won’t prevail. And even publicly, Trump has made statements about Biden that show he expects the Democrat will be in the White House.

At a campaign rally in Georgia Monday night, Trump speculated about what a relationship between President Biden and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un might look like. “I got along very well with Kim Jong Un. I don’t think that Joe’s going to, based on what I’ve heard, but I got along very well with him,” Trump said without calling Biden the next president.

Those around Trump compared the president’s attitude to someone who knows he lost a game, but believe it’s only because the referee made a bad call. “He’s come to terms with the election results,” said one of the three people. “He accepts them, but he doesn’t believe them.”

Trump has repeatedly asserted the election was fraudulently stolen from him, using unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud to file lawsuits trying to overturn the results. He filed a new challenge last week and still has a half dozen appeals and motions pending at the Supreme Court. None of them are expected to go anywhere.

Trump has long played the victim card, arguing he’s just like Americans who feel betrayed by the political system. As evidence, he and his allies have latched onto Robert Mueller’s probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia on its 2016 election interference campaign. While Mueller uncovered extensive Trump campaign efforts to conspire with Russian contacts, he concluded there was no criminal conspiracy.

“After experiencing all of the baseless allegations around Russia and being proven right, you now have similar people coming to you and telling you that this system screwed you again and his view is, ‘I’m not going to get screwed a second time,’” said former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Even though the election’s certification has reached its last step in Congress, Trump hasn’t stopped pushing state officials to act.

Last weekend, Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory, and also held a conference call with about 300 legislators from Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Phill Kline, a former Kansas attorney general who hosted the call on behalf of the group Got Freedom, which says it’s fighting election fraud, said state legislators still have time to act.

“The state legislatures have the constitutional authority and they have not been allowed to meet as a body to review the election and exercise that authority,” he said. “Up until Inauguration Day, they can meet and decertify electors.”

In Arizona, Republican T.J. Shope, an incoming state senator, said he expects at least one local legislator to try to decertify the election before Inauguration Day. “I fully expect some sort of late shenanigans of some sort,” he said. But Shope doesn’t expect the objections to have widespread support in Arizona, even among Republican leaders.

Election lawyers say the time to contest the election, either through litigation or in the states, passed in December.

“If the goal is some kind of PR move to try to get legislators to try to come out and say, ‘Congress shouldn’t accept electoral votes,’ it might play politically,” said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

And the political play is why Trump keeps going publicly with the election subversion campaign, even as he privately accepts Biden will become president.

Indeed, Trump’s fights have been cheered by his MAGA base, which is expected to descend on Washington Wednesday for massive protests on the election results.

“He 100 percent knows it’s not going to happen, and he is calling people and doing stuff,” said one of three people. “But all of this is about demonstrating to his loyal followers on Twitter and the people who give $5 and $20 and $50 a month that he is fighting to the bitter end.”

Bryan Bender, Josh Gerstein, Natasha Korecki, Meridith McGraw, Gabby Orr and Holly Otterbein contributed to this report.

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Nathan Lyon turns his attention to Ajinkya Rahane


“I think Rahane played me extremely well in Melbourne so I know I have already come up with a couple of different plans for him and a few different guys, so I am looking forward to putting them in place,” Lyon said on Monday.

“To be honest with you, I think we have been pretty happy with our bowling as a squad. To take 20 wickets quite quickly in Adelaide and then to be challenged a little bit in Melbourne and to stay there and keep creating chances was a positive, so we are very confident as a bowling group.”

Rahane’s composure is one of his greatest assets, and his ability to avoid any on-field verbal scuffles means he remains focused on the task at hand. He is technically strong on the off side, punishing any deliveries that give him width, and plays with soft hands. He also used his feet well to Lyon, with one drive wide of mid off, which took him to 70 – the Australians had a slip and square short leg in place – particularly memorable.

Ajinkya Rahane after being run out on day three of the second Test. Credit:Quinn Rooney

“He is, obviously, a world-class batter which, obviously, helps with everything. I think his patience that he shows out in the crease, he doesn’t seem to get flustered too much, he doesn’t buy into any sledging or any conversation out there in the middle. He is a pretty calm and collected batter,” Lyon said.

“He is standing up [as a leader] at the moment so I know we will have our plans ready to, hopefully, combat him come the SCG Test.”

The Indians are set to be bolstered by the return of Rohit Sharma, although the dasher boasts only a modest record against Australia, averaging 31 in five Tests. Despite being one of five Indian cricketers forced into isolation and investigated for a potential COVID-19 bubble breach in Melbourne, Sharma has replaced Pujara as vice-captain for the rest of the series.

“Obviously, Rohit Sharma is one of the best players in the world going around so it’s going to be a big challenge for us bowlers but we are not going to shy away from it,” Lyon said.

“We love challenging ourselves. He is a big in for the Indian side so it’s going to be interesting to see who they leave out. We will have our plans ready for Rohit and, hopefully, we can get on top of him nice and early, but respect him for how good a cricketer Rohit is.”

Lyon, two Tests shy of his century, and six wickets short of becoming only the third Australian to 400, has been overshadowed by off-spinning counterpart Ravi Ashwin to date.

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On paper, Lyon has had a relatively quiet series claiming four wickets at 36.25, but this doesn’t tell the full story. In India’s first innings in Adelaide, he dismissed Pujara just as the batting wall appeared set, while in Melbourne his 3-72 off 27.1 overs in the first innings helped to keep the home team in the game after a sub-par batting performance.

However, Ashwin has enjoyed greater returns, claiming 10 wickets at 17.7, and leaving Steve Smith, experiencing a rare slow start to a series, declaring he needed to be more aggressive against the veteran tweaker.

“He has bowled quite a straight line to our batters, which they haven’t come up with a plan yet. Fingers crossed they will come up with one and counteract Ashwin’s plan,” Lyon said.

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Is EOS the New BTC? Pay Attention to Peter Thiel


Although Peter Thiel may be controversial for his outspoken political views that often clash with those of Silicon Valley type, his acumen for investing and picking winning startup ideas is rarely in doubt.

Long before the cryptocurrency phenomenon spread like wildfire, Thiel was already famous for his investment picks. His $500,000 angel investment in Facebook turned into a post-IPO fortune, and he has had a hand in big names like SpaceX, Airbnb, and payment processor Stripe.  Moreover, Thiel has gone on record stating his belief in bitcoin’s explosive growth. Thus, the PayPal co-founder’s recent move to support Block.one, the developer behind EOS which raised a record $4 billion during its offering, should come as no surprise to industry enthusiasts. 

His bullish attitude towards the sector has seen him strategically invest across the blockchain ecosystem over the past few years, allocating noteworthy sums from his Founders Fund towards Tagomi and Harbor. He has also been open about his desire to bring big investors into the blockchain sphere. However, the latest allocation to EOS could reflect a serious directional change in strategy, and investors should take note. With a promise to build a better, more scalable protocol for blockchain, EOS has found itself the center of attention in an often bitcoin-centric universe.

Shifting Ecosystem Momentum

Thiel’s decision to invest in Block.one, the company responsible for developing EOSIO, represents a sharp departure from his other blockchain-based investments to date. Joining high-profile investors like Mike Novogratz, Bitmain Technologies, and Moore Capital Management, Thiel’s allocation represents the changing mindset and gradual maturation of blockchain as a widely applicable technology platform for other ideas to flourish.

The investment announcement shows a growing trend in the sector. Serious investors are seeking out those projects that can provide more than a simple solution to a problem. This is clearly evidenced by the most well-funded and VC-backed blockchain projects. Cryptocurrencies continue to command the top spot in terms of attention, but the rest of the field is rounded out by companies building enterprise software, projects focused on improved mining, and those developing better crypto payment solutions.

EOS, one of the most promising projects (as well as one of the most well-funded) is building more than a narrow solution. Instead, the EOSIO ecosystem is a protocol—much like Ethereum—and not an application. The difference is more than semantic; the former is about building solutions that are meant to improve blockchain functionality, while the latter are simply programs that provide a specific function. In this sense, projects like the Lightning Network stand out, as their goal is to upgrade the ecosystem and provide broader functionality.

Why Protocols Present The Smarter Path Towards Success

Investors seeking out companies that offer broader protocols or use cases as opposed to narrow applications is not news. Such is the case of Ripple, a cryptocurrency designed specifically to settle cross-border transactions and large payments between parties. The company counts major multinationals such as Accenture and Santander Bank’s investment branch among its investors. Similarly, The Elephant, a smaller but promising platform that is building a secondary market to tokenize equity in private companies, recently announced a partnership with Eastmore Group, a prominent institutional investor. Eastmore has joined the Elephant STO as the first institutional investor.

Eastmore joining the Elephant platform reveals an interesting—and perhaps entirely innocuous—tidbit that ties it to Peter Thiel’s crypto moves as it offers investment opportunities in shares of unicorn companies such as Palantir Technologies, a company Thiel founded in 2003 to apply software similar to PayPal’s fraud recognition systems to reduce terrorism while preserving civil liberties.

The Elephant, a secondary market platform, has shares of unicorn companies including Palantir Technologies, BlaBlaCar, and Gett.

Taking Thiel’s Cues

While newer entrants into the ecosystem may not be able to reap the same sort of returns as earlier investors, the shifting blockchain landscape might signal a significant transformation in terms of attitudes towards investing. With more institutional investors entering the field, few of these investors are likely to try and hit a home run in cryptocurrencies. Rather, they will likely echo Thiel’s moves towards embracing protocols over products.

As the only viable path towards greater adoption in a field that is encountering difficulties in terms of accessibility and scalability, projects like EOS represent the next logical leap forward. While greater institutional and accredited investor participation seems like a foregone conclusion, the investment tsunami that it potentially represents may not find its way to highly capitalized coins, but instead, the protocols that deliver the most applicable solutions. The only question that remains is, what will be the next EOS? Early investors like Thiel will undoubtedly be rewarded, while laggards and later adopters will see their potential returns diminished by a belated entrance.

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Podcast: Attention shoppers–you’re being tracked


In some stores, sophisticated systems are tracking customers in almost every imaginable way, from recognizing their faces to gauging their age, their mood, and virtually gussying them up with makeup. The systems rarely ask for people’s permission, and for the most part they don’t have to. In our season 1 finale, we look at the explosion of AI and face recognition technologies in retail spaces, and what it means for the future of shopping.

We meet:

  • RetailNext CTO Arun Nair
  • L’Oreal’s Technology Incubator Global VP Guive Balooch
  • Modiface CEO Parham Aarabi
  • Biometrics pioneer and Chairman of ID4Africa Joseph Atick

Credits

This episode was reported and produced by Jennifer Strong, Anthony Green, Tate Ryan-Mosley, Emma Cillekens and Karen Hao. We’re edited by Michael Reilly and Gideon Lichfield.

Transcript

[TR ID]

Strong: Retailers have been using face recognition and AI tracking technologies for years.

[Audio from Face First: What if you could stop retail crime before it happens by knowing the moment a shoplifter enters your store? And what if you could know about the presence of violent criminals before they act? With Face First you can stop crime before it starts.]

Strong: That’s one of the largest providers of this tech to retail stores. It detects faces, voices, objects and claims it can analyze behavior. But face recognition systems have a well-documented history of misidentifying women and people of color. 

[Sound from 2019 Congressional hearing on facial recognition (Ocasio-Cortez): We have a technology that was created and designed by one demographic that is only mostly effective on that one demographic. And they’re trying to sell it and impose it on the entirety of the country?]

Strong: This is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a 2019 congressional hearing on facial recognition. Photo technologies work better on lighter skin. And datasets used by companies to train facial analysis systems are largely based on faces collected from the internet where content tends to skew white, male and western. 

[Sound from 2019 Congressional hearing on facial recognition (Ocasio-Cortez): And do you think that this could exacerbate the already egregious, uh, inequalities in our, in our criminal justice system]

[Sound from 2019 Congressional hearing on facial recognition (Buolamwini): And It already is.]

Strong: Joy Buolamwini is an activist and computer scientist.

[Sound from 2019 Congressional hearing on facial recognition (Buolamwini): So, there’s a case with Mr. Bah, an 18-year-old African American man who was misidentified in Apple stores as a thief. And in fact, he was falsely arrested multiple times because of this kind of misidentification.

Strong: As awareness of these issues grows, more places are looking to put restrictions around its use such as in Portland, Oregon, which recently passed the most sweeping ban on face ID in the US.

[Sound from store in Portland, Oregon: please look into the camera for entry]

Strong: The ban takes effect in January and when it does that voice and camera will go away from places like this food store where the tech unlocks the door to late night shoppers. But use elsewhere is moving well beyond fighting crime (and is starting to play other retail roles) like remembering your past orders and payment details.

Miller: These face-based technologies, uhh artificial intelligence, machine vision allow us to see our customer in the offline world like amazon sees its customer in the online world. That allows us to create tailored experiences for the customer and also allows us to directly target that customer in new ways when they come back to the restaurant.

Strong: That’s the chairman of Cali Group, John Miller, its fast-food restaurant Caliburger tries out technologies it later markets to the entire industry. Other retailers use face recognition to know when VIP shoppers or celebrities are in their stores, not unlike this scene from the film Minority Report where as Tom Cruise strolls through a mall, his eyes are scanned and the ads address his character by name.

[Sound from Minority Report where voices address John Anderson in person]

Strong: The face measurements powering these applications can also be used for many other things besides just identifying someone. For example, some shopping malls use it to help set their store rents by counting how many people walk by, and using face data to gauge gender, age, and other demographics. Sometimes face recognition cameras are even hidden inside in mall directories. And inside stores, retailers use it to better understand what shoppers are interested in. It’s also embedded within shopping apps and store mirrors that let people try on anything from eyeglasses to makeup virtually. 

I’m Jennifer Strong and this episode, we wrap up our first season (and our latest miniseries on face recognition) with a look at how it’s used to watch, understand and influence your shopping habits.

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Strong: So I’m out front of what used to be the largest store in the world. This is Macy’s on 34th Street in Manhattan. The building fills an entire city block and in some ways it’s kind of the center of gravity for the holiday shopping season here as, among other things, the inspiration for one of New York’s most famous Christmas films, Miracle on 34th Street. 

But the company may also have a history of using face recognition and a lawsuit was filed about that in Illinois which has a biometric privacy law requiring companies get permission before using it on customers. That suit alleges Macy’s is a client of ClearviewAI. We’ve had the founder on this show Hoan Ton-That and his product works by matching images, in this case of shoppers or shoplifters, against a database of perhaps billions of photos taken from social media posted by people who haven’t changed their settings to make the photos private just to their friends.

Now, New York City’s councilmembers just passed a biometrics measure here that if signed by the mayor will make retailers here also tell shoppers that face recognition is being used and perhaps what’s happening with that data. But you know it’s too soon to say what that might look like. I mean does walking as part of a big crowd of shoppers past a wall plaque that says face recognition is present, does that equal being informed, let alone giving consent? But I’m going to go inside with my producer, Anthony Green, and see if we can find totally different applications of face mapping to show you.

Several of these beauty counters have iPads that double as mirrors with augmented reality. We tried out three of them just one though asked for consent to analyze our faces. Two of the systems saw us just fine through our masks. The other didn’t recognize our faces at all.

I walked up to a mirror and it says my lighting is okay. Come closer until your face fills a circle. Apparently I have dark circles, uneven texture. irritation and redness and eyelines. At least we’re on the less side? I don’t know. Woah. Hey Anthony, you should see this. I wasn’t sure it was doing anything and now look in the mirror. 

Green: Wow. 

Strong: Right?

Green: Wow.

Strong: I don’t really have words for describing this, but it is so funny seeing myself this made up. 

Green: Just kind of like glammed up.

Strong: Yeah. I’m like super glammed up. And literally all I was doing was looking in this mirror and then I looked down on an iPad and Holy, wow.

Green: This is working with your mask on.

Strong: This is with my mask on. And if I pull my mask down, I am made up everywhere. 

Green: Oh yea.

Strong: Like glossed and all. Oh, look at you. 

Green: Wow. 

Strong: Okay, so Anthony just took a step over towards me and now he’s made up to the nines. Okay. These experiences are among the many many ways that face mapping can be applied.

But because they’re so controversial most brands simply don’t want to talk about it. And mostly, they don’t have to. There’s no national requirement that companies disclose the way they gather or use our biometric data even though we can imagine a not-so-distant future when that data becomes more important than any document we have. This personal data is likely to replace all of them proving who we are and what we own.

Most of what we know about the use of face recognition by retailers started in 2013 when it became public that identity company NEC had about a dozen brands and hotels as clients and they were using its face-reading technology to identify celebrities and other VIPs as they walked through their doors. 

The following year Facebook announced it applied neural networks to face ID for the first time, making it work significantly better. And retailers, including Walmart, began testing it as a way to identify people caught shoplifting. 

By 2016 fast food companies were experimenting with other use cases. One partnership, between KFC and the Chinese tech giant Baidu, recommended menu items to customers based on their age and mood as deemed by face scanning. These days it’s also possible to pay with your face, though so far, these applications haven’t really caught on. And so, wherever you shop, it’s reasonable to assume you might encounter some aspect of this technology and it could be combined with any number of other trackers. But it’s equally true that much of the tracking that’s done in retail stores using computer vision involves no facial recognition at all. 

Nair: If you build a website today, there are a lot of tools available that you can use to give you data, like how many people visited your website, who they were, how they navigated your website and so on and for e-commerce sites the eventual purchase activity as well. And you can use all of this data to understand visitor behavior and optimize your site. We do the exact same thing, but for physical spaces. My name is Arun Nair. I’m the CTO and co-founder of RetailNext.

Strong: Their tracking software is deployed in offices, museums, even bowling alleys, but their primary market is retail. Ceiling cameras equipped with computer vision track customers as they journey through the store. It can guess basic demographic information like gender, who’s an employee—based on whether they go behind the register, even interactions between employees and customers. 

Nair: We even have a prediction algorithm that will tell you based on historical information when your store is going to be busy later in the day, later in the week. And it is extremely helpful for staffing. So making sure that when you do expect a peak, that there are people there to assist shoppers and they’re not standing in queue and so on as well as you’re not always staffed when no one needs to be there.

Strong: He says the company is capable of determining what you’re looking at, but it doesn’t track eye gaze, expressions, or faces. And they don’t individually identify anyone.  

Nair: We do not know who they are as individuals, and we specifically try not to as well. And in actually a lot of cases, once we get that information, we throw away the video or we blur the video.

Strong: When it comes to privacy, he believes systems using face recognition for identity should be opt-in

Nair: Consent is not just about like, Oh, I put my data out there so you can do what you want. I think consent is also about  you know, we want you to do this so that we can do this in return for you. Are you okay with that?

Strong: But he admits that’s easier said than done.

Nair: It’s not easy to opt out of those things. And even if you opt out, the challenge is that let’s say, you say that, Hey, I want to opt out of my face.   As a technology company, I still have to store a digitized version of your face to make sure I don’t track you again in the future cause next time I see your face, I need something to map against to say that, Oh, I should be dropping this person’s face. But then again, you know, in a weird way, I’m now storing a digitized version of your face, which. Again, it’s not really your face, but it is a representation of it. 

Strong: And these challenges aren’t going away. Most tracking technologies aren’t regulated, and we simply don’t know how often things like face data gets captured. What is clear the retail industry is shifting to a world that’s centered around real-time analysis of customer experiences. 

Nair: I think they’re going to see more and more of that moving forward, where there’s fewer purchases actually happening in these locations, but that’s kind of how you’re learning about the brand. [00:12:15] Almost like advertising, as well as kind of building a brand loyalty. 

Strong: Tracking customers and their interaction with the store doesn’t just help retailers know what’s selling  It also gives them insight on what customers want. 

Nair: You introduce a new product. And you want to make sure that people are seeing that product. Our algorithms will tell you if people actually go into an area of the store and interact with a product and actually make a purchase afterwards.

Balooch: I think that it’s a combination of AI with physical objects that creates really an exciting moment in time. You know, you could never really try a trend and then actually dispense it. That wasn’t possible ever. But now because of AI, we are able to really go through trends really quickly. We’re able to curate trends, we’re able to give people what they desire. My name is Guive Balooch and I run the global technology incubator at L’Oreal. I’ve been at the company for 15 years and my job is to find the intersection between beauty and technology.

Strong: L’Oreal is the world’s largest cosmetics company with Estee Lauder, Maybelline, Garnier and countless other consumer brands under its corporate umbrella. 

Balooch: We started about eight years ago with an augmented reality app called makeup genius. That was the world’s first virtual try-on. And since then we’ve launched projects around personalized beauty like skincare personalization, foundation personalization. We’ve launched a UV sensor at the Apple store that’s a wearable that has no battery and can measure your UV exposure. And now we’re, we’re moving more and more towards mass personalization and finding ways to combine technologies like AR and AI to create new physical objects that can be magical for beauty consumers and hopefully delight our users.

Strong: And this is harder than it might sound. Designing experiences that let customers try on makeup in augmented reality presents huge technical challenges for face detection.

Balooch: You need to detect where the eye is and where the eyebrow is. And it has to be at a level of accuracy that when the product’s on there, it doesn’t look like it’s not exactly on your lip. And it’s, it’s funny because I come from an academic background with a PhD. So I didn’t realize how complicated that specific part of this technology is. I thought, “Oh, it’s okay. We’ll just get the software. It will be easy. We’ll just make it work.” But it turns out no, it’s really complicated because people’s lips can vary in shape, the color between your skin tone and your lip can also be very different. And so you need to have an algorithm that can detect it and make sure it works on people from very light to very dark skin. 

Strong: And he says one of the largest impacts of AI in the beauty market could be more inclusivity—something the industry has long struggled with.

Balooch: I’m under this, you know, strong belief that inclusivity is the future of beauty and inclusivity means that every human being has the right to have a product that is what they need for themselves and to showcase to the world how they want to be showcased. And I think that only through things like AI and tech, will we be able to reach that level of personal relationship with people’s desires for their beauty habits.

Strong: Those habits are shaped around our skin. And skin tone has historically been one of the hardest technical and cultural challenges.

Balooch: We launched this project called which is this foundation blender. And when I first started this project, I thought it was going to be very simple because when I went to Home Depot umm I’m not really a handyman, but I went with my, my dad a lot to Home Depot and he would buy paint. He would match the paint and they would just make the paint right there. And I said, okay, it’s that easy? So when we first started the project, we realized, okay, you know, you just take a skin tone from a piece of, you know, a paper and you can just match the foundation. And I realized later that our skin is not like a wall, it’s biological tissue that changes depending on what kind of skin tone you have.

Strong: In short, the algorithm didn’t work. 

Balooch: And so we had to stop and spend another six months to improve it. First we did that with a little device that kind of measures your skin tone, using a physical object, because your skin tone is hard to measure if you don’t actually touch the skin cause the light can change the color of your skin. And so depending on if you’re outside or if you’re inside, you could have a big difference in the measurement. But not anymore. Thanks to AI, I think more and more with AI, we’re going to be able to get accurate measurements. We have to test them and make sure that they work as well as objects. But once we get to a point, when we think we’re getting close to that, then you can solve some really, really big challenges. And in foundation, 50% of women can’t find the right shade of foundation. And there’s no way that the number of products on the shelf will ever solve that because you will always have more skin tones in the world than products you can put on the shelf.

Strong: And the future could open up a whole new class of personalized beauty tools.  

Balooch: We can make objects that are, you know, not huge–handheld–and can do incredible things. Like in the future, you could imagine that you can dispense eyeshadow on your eyelid automatically just through detecting the face and being able to have an object that could dispense it. 

Strong: To build that future, L’Oreal acquired a company called Modiface which makes augmented reality tools for more than 70 of the world’s top beauty brands.

Aarabi: One big step that happened a few years ago was going from photos to live video simulation. Really hard feat technologically, but really impactful on the consumer experience. Instead of having to take a photo and upload it, they could see a live video. 

Strong: Parham Aarabi is the Founder and CEO of Modiface. 

Aarabi: The next big step that I see that I’m really excited about is a combination of AI understanding of the face, along with our simulation. So not only telling you, okay, so you choose a lipstick and this is what it looks like, but saying, because you chose this lipstick and because your, you know, you have blue eyes, we believe this eye shadow might match it the best.

Strong: His background is in face and lip tracking.

Aarabi: And so we had created this sample demo where you could track someone’s lips and swap the lips with a celebrity, for example. My co-founder had the idea that before we do this, we should actually apply some changes on the, on the skin. And so it was really the combination of these two ideas that became the foundation of Modiface. 

Strong: The beauty industry thrives on the in-person shopping experience. And even though e-commerce sales have long been on the rise this sector has been a lot slower than others. For context, the top ecommerce seller in beauty of 2018 was shampoo. But the pandemic is speeding things up. Online sales at beauty giant Sephora jumped 30 percent in the U.S. this year. And it’s also partnered with Modiface to develop an app that acts as a virtual store, complete with product tutorials and an augmented reality beauty counter. 

Aarabi: You see a try-on button, you press that, and a window opens up. You see your own video in that window, but with different virtual products being shown.

Strong: And building consumer trust in these simulated products means engineering an experience as seamless as looking in a mirror. 

Aarabi: If someone actually tries on a lipstick and a hair color and then videotapes themselves versus using our technology and then having a virtual simulation of those products, the two should be indistinguishable. The lag, within the simulation being applied versus when you’re looking at your face and you’re seeing movements needs to be not apparent to the user. And so these are huge challenges. One is of realism. You don’t want the eyeliner to be flickering on someone’s eyes and the second is to do it so fast that on a website in live video, you don’t notice any lag. So these are major, major challenges.

Strong: And it’s more than just cosmetics. Elements of face detection are increasingly used in medicine to diagnose disease. And he believes in future their products will detect all kinds of skin disorders. 

Aarabi: So we’ve been pushing on this skin assessment, um, direction by looking at someone’s image. And based on that, knowing what skin care products are best for them, and more, the more we do this and the more that better we train our AI systems, we find that they’re increasing in the level of accuracy matching that of dermatologists. And I think if you follow that line, that this AI, that can actually not replace dermatologists, but really helped them as.. an objective tool that can look at someone’s face and make recommendations.

Strong: It feels like there’s more awareness of face recognition of its risks, immaturies and biases but also its increased presence in our lives and just raw potential. To me, it seems like we’ve just scratched the surface – in this messy digital race to something different and big. And it got me wondering how might one of its inventors feel about all this?

Atick: I started working on the human brain about a year after I graduated and made together with my, collaborators made some fundamental breakthroughs, which led to the creation of a field called the biometric industry and the first commercially viable face recognition. That’s why people refer to me as a founding father of face recognition and the biometric industry.

Strong: That’s Dr. Joseph Atick. He developed one of the first face recognition algorithms back in 1994.

Atick: The algorithm for how a human brain would recognize familiar faces became clear while we’re doing mathematical research at the Institute for advanced study in Princeton.

Strong: But the technology needed to capture those faces wasn’t yet in everyone’s pockets. 

Atick: At the time, computers did not have cameras. Phones that had cameras did not exist. We had to build the eyes for the brain. We had a brain, we thought we knew how the brain would analyze signals, but we did not have the eyes that would get the information and the visual signal to the brain.

Strong: Webcams came along in the 90s and computers with video capabilities arrived on the market a few years after.

Atick: And that was an exciting time because all of a sudden the brain that we had built had finally the pair of eyes that would be necessary to, to see.

Strong: This was the breakthrough he and his team needed to bring their concept to life. So they started coding.

Atick: it was a long period of months of programming and failure and programming and failure

Strong: But eventually…

Atick: And one night, early morning, actually, we had just finalized, um, a version of the algorithm. We submitted the, source code for compilation in order to get a run code. And we stepped out, I stepped out to go to the washroom. And then when I stepped back into the room it spotted my face, extracted it from the background and it pronounced “I see Joseph”. And that was the moment where the hair on the back–I felt like something had happened. We were a witness. And I started, um, to call on the other people who were still in the lab and each one of them, they would come into the room. And I would say, it would say, I see Norman. I would see Paul, I would see Joseph. And we would sort of take turns running around the room just to see how many it can spot in the room.

Strong: They had built something that had never been built before. Months of math and coding and long nights seemed to be paying off. But within a few years that excitement turned to concern.

Atick: My, my concern about the technology that I helped create and invent started very quickly after I had invented it. I saw a future where our privacy would be at jeopardy if we did not put in place protection measures to prevent the abuse of this powerful technology.

Strong: And he wanted to do something about it.

Atick: So in 1998, I lobbied the industry and I said, we need to put together principles for responsible use. And this is where an organization called IBIA was born in 1998 as an industry association to promote responsible use. Um, and so I was the founder of that, that organization. And I felt good for a while because I felt we have gotten it right. I felt we’ve invented the technology, but then we put in place a responsible use code to be followed by whatever is the implementation. However, that code did not live the test of time. And the reason behind it is we did not anticipate the emergence of social media.

Strong: Face recognition relies on a database of images. The size, quality, and privacy conditions of this database is largely what determines how safe or intrusive the technology is. In 1998, Atick built his databases by manually scanning thousands of pictures and tagging them with names. It was tedious and limiting in size.

Atick: We have allowed the beast out of the bag by feeding it billions of faces and helping it by tagging ourselves. We are now in a world where machine learning is now allowing for the emergence of over 400 different algorithms of face recognition in the world. Therefore, any hope of controlling and requiring everybody to be, to be responsible in their use of face recognition is difficult.

Strong: And this is made worse by scraping, where a database is created by scanning the entire internet for public photos.

Atick: And so I began to panic in 2011, and I wrote an op-ed article saying it is time to press the panic button because the world is heading in a direction where face recognition is going to be omnipresent and faces are going to be everywhere available in, in, in databases. Computing power is becoming very, very massive to the point that we could potentially recognize billions of people. And at the time people said I was an alarmist, but they’re realizing that it’s exactly what’s happening today.

Strong: So in a way, he’s kind of lobbying against his own invention even though he still uses biometrics to help build things he believes might benefit the greater good like digital ID for people in developing nations.

Atick: The chilling effect is something that is unforgivable. If I cannot go outside in the street, because I believe somebody’s using an iPhone, could take a picture of me and connect me to my online profile and, this online and offline connection is, is a dangerous thing. And it’s happening right now.

Strong: And he thinks we urgently need some legal ground rules.

Atick: And so it’s no longer a technological issue. We cannot contain this powerful technology through technology. There has to be some sort of legal frameworks.

Strong: The way he sees it, the technological edge will keep pushing forward—with AI at the forefront. But the people building and using it? They’re at the center.

Atick: I believe there has to be some harmony between what technology can do for us and helps us live with dignity and have easier lives and connect with the people we love, but at the same time, it has to be within what our morals and our expectations as human beings allow it to be. 

Strong: In other words, once again… it seems up to us. This episode was reported and produced by me, Anthony Green, Emma Cillekens, Tate Ryan-Mosley and Karen Hao. We’re edited by Michael Reilly and Gideon Lichfield. Thanks too to Kate Kaye with the Banned in PDX podcast. That’s it for season one. Thanks so much for choosing to spend your time with us. We’ll meet you back here in the new year until then happy holidays and… Thanks for listening, I’m Jennifer Strong. 

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Economics issues that big thinkers say need the world’s attention in 2021


There’s an old but revealing joke in the news business from when most television news programs were a broadcast of fixed duration.

The joke went: “Isn’t it funny that every day, there is always exactly half an hour’s worth of news?”

The point was, of course, that of all the millions of things that happened in the world that day, news editors selected a half-hour’s worth. No more. No less.

In news, big stories crowd out important but lesser stories. One classic example was that on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, two literary lions — C.S.Lewis and Aldous Huxley — died as well, but they were virtually ignored.

In the internet era, access to events seems infinite. But that does not mean they get equal attention.

Pandemic steals the thunder

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has stolen the thunder from other important economic issues that deserve greater attention in 2021. Here is a by-no-means exhaustive list.

Perhaps the most conspicuous topic to be upstaged by COVID-19 during most of 2020 may have been climate change. And climate economist Mark Jaccard, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, has said he expects 2021 to be different.

A climate activist stands on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean on Sept. 20. COVID-19 upstaged climate change for much of 2020, but Canada’s recently announced plan to hit its 2030 climate target and a new administration in the U.S. suggest the issue will become more prominent next year. (Natalie Thomas/Reuters)

Certainly a new climate-conscious administration in the United States, plus the recently announced plan from the Canadian government to actually hit its 2030 climate target, means investors, entrepreneurs and ordinary Canadians will have to take a closer look at how the need to cut carbon will affect them.

There’s reason to think the impact in 2021 will echo through all parts of the economy.

Some issues don’t have that kind of profile. Chris Kutarna, a Regina native who is now an author and big thinker at Oxford University, says most Canadians may have missed a game changer.

Despite an innocuous title, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership created the biggest regional trade bloc in history. The 15 member countries, as diverse as China, Japan and Australia, will represent a third of the world’s population and a third of its GDP.

“The U.S.-China story is a very narrow lens,” Kutarna told me in an email. “It’s not crazy to see EU-style integrated supply chains and markets emerging fast in Asia.”

Battling the black hats

For Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., global trade will come back into clearer focus in 2021. Despite international co-operation in creating a vaccine, Momani sees “trade hampered by supply-chain disruptions and rising nationalism” next year.

Momani, who is also a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, also worries that the cyberattacks that we have seen over the past weeks are likely to grow as cybercriminals learn how to exploit our increased use of digital technologies.

WATCH | Concerns hackers are trying to disrupt COVID-19 vaccine supply chain:

There are growing concerns that hackers are targeting the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain with the intent of disrupting the rollout once the vaccine arrives in Canada. 2:00

A new way of doing things during the pandemic may have sped the process along, as it did for shopping and working from home. Now may be the time to catch up to the growing reach of black hat hackers — a crucial task for 2021.

Part of getting that job done is having the right people, and according Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, despite the pandemic, future business success means a focus on generating and welcoming a qualified workforce.

“While the pandemic has created short-term — yet significant — job loss,” Hyder told me in an email, “the fact is that in the longer term, employers will struggle to find enough skilled workers as the population ages.”

In its recent report, Powering a Strong Recovery, the council said that in 2021, Canadian business must put new emphasis on internal training and development, and increased immigration.

Also important is “encouraging labour market participation from underrepresented groups, including women, Indigenous peoples, Black people, people of colour and disabled Canadians,” Hyder said.

The report also demands a new effort to remove interprovincial trade barriers.

A sign in the window of a closed storefront boutique business in Toronto pleads for help. The pandemic has had a devastating effect on incomes in racialized communities, including on businesses, says the director of the Institute for Social Research at Toronto’s York University. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Supporting immigration means looking for ways to support and sustain businesses that form the heart of immigrant communities, said Lorne Foster, director of the Institute for Social Research at Toronto’s York University.

Foster says the pandemic has had a more devastating effect on incomes in racialized communities, including on businesses, adding another layer of danger to community hubs, such as Toronto’s Little Jamaica and Chinatowns across the country.

“I believe that the decimation of the small business infrastructure in racialized communities compounds the racial inequities and is having a more inherent impact of creating gaping community wealth gaps,” he said.

Gig economy needs attention

Also on the labour front, Canadian historian and author Shirley Tillotson said the failures of the gig economy — where companies could wash their hands of people who served like employees but were paid like independent contractors — was a lesson learned during the pandemic that we must begin to rectify in 2021.

“Some of the gig economy problems have had some attention in the business press,” Tillotson, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University in Halifax, told me by email. “But we’re a fair distance from a regulatory and tax response that will enable what’s good and prevent what’s bad both for individuals and for the social fabric.”

When gig workers found themselves out of work without benefits, Canada saw the aggravation of a problem that had been growing for years, expanding the gap between rich and poor, said Louis-Philippe Rochon, founder of the Review of Keynesian Economics and a professor at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont.

Even while governments have tried to throw a safety net under those worst affected by the pandemic Rochon said that the main motor of recovery — rock-bottom interest rates — has created a disproportionate windfall for those who were already rich.

Solving what he sees as a division of Canada into a profit economy and a wage economy will not be easy, Rochon said, but a new effort must be made in 2021 to recreate and maintain a healthy middle class.

Not all news is bad news. Tabatha Bull, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, says the success of Indigenous businesses needs more attention in 2021. (CCAB)

And before you decide that everything was bad in the past year, at least one of the Canadian big thinkers I spoke to for this column, Tabatha Bull, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, pointed to a new wave of success and corporate encouragement in her sector.

“In 2020, we saw a surge in support for Indigenous business,” Bull said. And she hopes that is a story that gets a lot more attention in 2021.

Follow Don Pittis on Twitter: @don_pittis





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