Money doesn’t grow on trees, but we know some people have vast reservoirs of wealth at their disposal. In certain cases, their tools for wealth creation are passed down from generation to generation. Why do these bottlenecks happen and why does wealth inequality exist? How can we work towards a more equitable society, where those in poverty have a better change at upward mobility?
The answers to these questions aren’t easy, especially when the law itself appears to be a hindrance to the masses. In this episode, Katharina shares her valuable insights on how the law works—and why it is not working in favor of the most vulnerable.
Policymaking around assets is concerned with creating conditions where everyone can prosper. As a result, the legal code is constantly designed and redesigned in an attempt to evolve alongside society.
However, Katharina discussed how the people behind the code have consistently chosen to angle the content towards their benefit as the resource holders. This means that when wealth is created, it is typically bottlenecked within families or corporations who have the resources and power needed to influence state decisions. These exclusive groups can generate value from that asset for a longer period of time.
This is where power asymmetry happens. The state is responsible for turning land into physical property, ideas into intellectual property, and assets into financial property. Legal backing is a social resource that is used to cordon wealth from the masses. It’s time we think of ways we can level out the playing field and stop this one-sided reinforcement of wealth accumulation.
The state endeavors to produce a legal environment where everyone is equally protected to the law. However, this lofty goal often discounts the reality that not everybody has equal access to the law. The privileged would have the resources to hire lawyers who can bend the law to their will across not just one, but multiple legal systems.
The mantra “it’s legal” now carries a darker undertone.
Katharina described gaming the law as “exploiting every little gap in the scaffolding of existing regulations that we can find.” Lawyers are taught to look at the existing rules and regulations, and find a gap where the client can slip through. The really sophisticated ones know how to bend some of it.
It would be impossible to aim for the pillars, because these are parts of the case where their actions are clearly seen as illegal. Their goal is to fit new things in the gaps between the scaffolding. It’s taking the phrase “know the rules so you can break them” to a whole new level.
One poignant revelation in their discussion was Katharina’s explanation that the law can never really be complete. This leaves our legal system vulnerable to malicious actors in positions of power who are capable of exploiting the gap for private gain—reducing the law to a mere barrier in their climb to the top. It is truly a threat to both the rule of law and to democratic governments.
Where do we draw the line and who gets to do it? Having access to legal coding is the key to wealth. This isn’t just about physical or material assets; it’s also applicable to ideas as well. One key turning point in the discussion is their perspective on whether such a trend would carry over to digital assets, such as cryptocurrencies as well.
Katharina pointed out the irony in how Bitcoin only became valuable once it was centralized, and urged people to think of alternatives where real people can participate in the arrangement without having to delegate all their power to figureheads that may not align with the interests of the masses.
The legal code is a collective commitment to stand behind a particular use of the collective means of coercion.The community designs who has access to that centralized needs of coercion and under what conditions. Under this definition, it would certainly carry over to digital assets too. Now, it’s up to us to push for an environment where social mobility and wealth creation is available for all.
There is clearly an impetus for a platform where everybody has an equal playing field; a safe space for ordinary people to build a portfolio in transacting with today’s hottest asset, which is data.
The TARTLE marketplace is a platform with the vision of bringing back power to the people. Users are fully equipped to profile and market their data to causes around the world that matter to them the most. Here, people have the opportunity to fight for something bigger than themselves while earning at the same time. Everybody has an opportunity to create wealth.
What’s your data worth?
If the first part of their discussion explored the parallels between social systems and AI technology, this second half provides insight on how Christian’s work draws inspiration from an unlikely source: the natural world and the animal kingdom.
From there, he touches briefly upon the responsibility of modern tech professionals to be aware of the social implications of their work, providing words of encouragement to listeners of the podcast within the industry.
Ants leave trail pheromones to food that they find and then return to the colony. This leaves a road for other ants to find, which leads to the collective outcome of being able to feed everyone in the community. Similarly, honey bees coordinate with other bees to maintain their hive and protect the queen.
These are examples of biological systems that are naturally capable of self-regulating— so where’s our capacity to solve that on a larger scale, in business and societies?
Here, Christian discussed the possibility of our efforts being limited because we approach problem solving with a two-dimensional mindset—when in reality, we should be looking at the scenario in three dimensions. For example, one may be able to see, hear, and touch a forest, but they won’t be able to see what happens underneath the soil.
There is a call for us to “move away from the two dimensional, polarizing world that sticks us in buckets and says, this thing is this or that, but there can't be a flexibility or the nuances of an entity in between that can actually move throughout dimensions.”
But is it possible to run multinational corporations and governments as efficiently as beehives without taking away an individual’s creative capacity, while ensuring that the system remains flexible enough to meet challenges brought about by outside forces?
Modern organizations find themselves adapting to a strange new status quo: one where management must deal with remote employees and asynchronous work. It’s a symptom of decentralization in a structure, where control and command has become less concentrated on hierarchy.
Therefore, the ability to make collective decisions while operating asynchronously is an indication that the business has a strong internal culture that naturally reinforces good decision-making despite the time differences and differences in flows of information.
Prior to this, most organizations preferred to take an authoritarian approach to systems management. This is where the leader is responsible for planning out the entire route from start to finish and people are expected to follow. It works in instances where the leader has a clear vision and knows what needs to be done to achieve it across multiple levels. However, not a lot of people enjoy working in an environment where they are only ever expected to be followers of someone else’s vision. There is little to no room to foster genuine creativity on a micro level/on the ground.
Organizations also try to implement the consensus approach, where everyone communes to find a solution that pleases everyone. While it’s a more democratic method, the process is slow and the end goal remains restrictive for the people on the ground.
Could a more relaxed approach to implementing a system be in order? Christian muses over a world where companies focused on establishing a strong organizational culture. This would encourage everyone who was hired, who understood and was aligned with the company’s vision and mission, to naturally work towards a solution in both a collective and individual sense.
This alternative gives more flexibility to individuals and small teams when a new challenge arises. While people still need to attend meetings and management will continue to make room for mistakes, this approach gives people the opportunity to proactively think of how they can use their talents towards their goals instead of wedging them into a box—or turning them into drones.
Diffusing a small element of the decision-making process could help your organization by injecting a diverse array of perspectives and skillsets. Upper management shouldn’t take the entire burden of thinking outside the box.
Christian briefly discussed the responsibility of leaders to build diverse teams, especially when they are in the tech industry or developing artificial intelligence. He drew from his personal experience working with an insurance domain to prove his point.
In this case, the domain was working on using AI to scan aerial images and assess the value of a home, seeing if it would fit within their risk profile. However, they found out that the AI system automatically excluded homes with a chain link fence. If this algorithm made it to the market, it would not have underwritten any homes with a chain link fence—which is a common fixture in poor neighborhoods.
This would have created a bias against people who needed insurance the most, and it would have been an unintended outcome of trying to solve a simple problem using AI without the added layer of human intervention. As much as possible, the teams behind AI development need to come from a wide array of backgrounds so that the creation of new technologies incorporate as many perspectives as possible.
Christian encourages professionals employed in data science, analytics, and technology to internalize the weight of their responsibility: their capacity to change the market and directly affect people through products and services.
“People in positions of decision power, who are practitioners and implementing, have a responsibility to optimize for the right thing, and really be humble and understanding. And that's just something that leaders have to do,” he explained.
He also revealed that what stood out for him the most from TARTLE was the ability to “have a bottomless approach to data collection and ownership.”
TARTLE is our step forward towards a reality where people have better control over their own data. Currently, our personal information is working for the benefit of the wealthiest people and the most powerful organizations in the world. The concept of getting paid for your Facebook account, Instagram posts, and Twitter feed may be a little far-fetched—but this is exactly what makes money for these platforms. The TARTLE marketplace is our work towards inverting this model and bringing back the power to where it truly belongs: the people.
What can machine learning and data engineering tell us about how social systems are wired to function? As it turns out, these fields are more alike than meets the eye.
Christian Lemp, an early TARTLE adopter and professional systems thinker, explains that he was drawn to his career path after years of observation and experience in different parts of the world. While Christian originally studied math and economics, which led to a short career in finance, he found himself more attracted to how different communities thought and interacted with each other.
From there, he took a leap and entered the world of machine learning and data engineering. Christian helped find ways to understand organizations and optimize their work processes. However, he quickly realized that this work entailed untangling a series of systems that were all interconnected—some of which would require more creative, community-centric solutions.
The deeper Christian delved into studying operations of organizations, the more he saw that problems in his line of work could not be solved individually. Since all the problems were so intertwined with one another, trying to make solutions one at a time would only reroute the issue to another part of the organization at best, and make the overall situation more dire at worst.
Instead, organizations needed to commune and mutually come to one big solution that could solve all the problems at once.
Outside of organizations, this is an issue that can also manifest on a cultural and national scale—especially in locations with diverse cultures. For example, the banner of the United states houses numerous states and regions, each with their own special communities. All these communities are bound to have their own personal interests and biases.
Given how complex all of that is, what place does mere efficiency have in our understanding of it? Not much, at least as it is currently understood. This is true across the board. Many things that seem as though they should be efficient don’t wind up being so at all.
For example, monocropping is a common practice amongst farmers, where they grow the same crop on the same plot of land year after year. While it is simpler to manage and highly efficient, monocropping also makes the soil less productive over time because it depletes the nutrients found in the soil. As a consequence, it reduces organic matter in the soil and can cause significant erosion. While there are short-term gains for the farmer, it eventually nets a long-term loss because it hurts their soil.
If that is true for an activity like farming, how much more true is it as applied to human society? The fact is that there is simply too much going on in any society for it to be completely understood, much less controlled by any one individual. It’s just impossible. Yet when we get out of the way (for the most part), things seem to organize themselves into a symbiotic relationship.
Short of that understanding, we tend to try to wedge people into different boxes. This is an effort that is not only doomed to failure but will also sooner or later lead to resistance, which can affect the work we put towards providing solutions as a whole.
With all this information, it may feel like we’ve reached a dead end for the problems we face in our society: we can’t solve one problem at a time, and thinking of one big all-encompassing solution seems like an impossible task.
However, the discussion with Christian suggests that there is one simple thing we are capable of doing that can help alleviate the solution: we can treat everybody we come across with dignity. Instead of forcing them to fit into a system based on our preconceived notions, we give them the space to see where they can fit in instead. Those in charge of creating systems should not be building people around systems; rather, they should be taking the time to understand everyone in their complexity, and building systems around people.
This is the kind of work that the TARTLE platform is putting in. We want to provide a safe space for people on the ground to take back control of their data and funnel it to causes and organizations that are important to them. When we give them the power to directly support what reflects their own personal ideals, we empower people to become more united and open to one another.
What’s your data worth? www.tartle.co
So, the World Bank is wanting to help people in poor and undeveloped countries? Great! Always good to hear when someone wants to help. However, these big, global organizations have a way of not actually helping a whole lot. Pledging money, sending investigators and doing some studies don’t actually do much to really help. Yet, perhaps this time will be different, so let’s give the World Bank the benefit of the doubt and take a look at what they are proposing.
Turns out what they are proposing is a study of economic inclusion programs. These programs typically operate by trying to introduce jobs into third world countries and training people to be able to work them. What the World Bank is attempting to do is to actually do a full study of whether or not these programs are working. You know what that means – they’re going to need a lot of data. This is where we start to get into the problems. They are collecting data of course – as they should – but they are collecting it from the 219 economic inclusion programs already underway in over seventy countries on multiple continents. But, is that really the best approach? Why get data from these programs that by their own admission, they aren’t even sure whether or not they are working?
Why not do something really crazy? Something like…getting the data from the people they are trying to help? That seems nutty, right? If you want to get the real picture of the way things are really happening on the ground you should talk to the people on the ground. That way the World Bank, or anyone else genuinely interested could find out from the actual people if their programs are working. If they are working, in what way they might be working. What actually sets them apart so they are effective? Or if one is failing miserably, they can tell you why. After all, if a program isn’t very good at its intended purpose the people running it aren’t likely to be fully honest about it. That’s just human nature.
And who knows what the World Bank might find out? They might actually get some real answers about how to really go about developing programs that will really help people. Or they might find out something truly startling – that maybe people don’t even want them around. It is possible that people are happy with where they are at. It may be that people like being a tribe living in the jungle, or the desert, or wherever. It reminds me of a couple of things. One, an anecdote I read a long time ago about a pair of people trying to figure out how to incorporate a rural area in Russia into the global economy. Finally, another party asked what was wrong with just leaving them alone? The response was incredulous.
But of course there are people who want nothing to do with the modern world. There are plenty of groups that simply reject it. Think of the Amish. They have chosen to live another life that is separate from the developed world. By modern standards, they are indeed poor, yet they are happy and content. Why do we assume that the people in what are considered undeveloped countries are any different?
Naturally, we shouldn’t assume that they don’t want something different either. That’s why we should go out and get that data so that we can be sure. In fact, why not go through TARTLE so that the World Bank or whomever can get the best possible data straight from the source and actually pay the people for it, thereby doing some real economic inclusion.
What’s your data worth?
You’ve probably seen those payday loan businesses in strip malls across the United States. They’re small one or two room places with a desk and some crappy chairs and ridiculously gaudy signs. If you haven’t seen them, you have probably heard of their reputation as predatory lenders. They’ll give people a loan at an insanely high interest rate against the person’s next paycheck, and tend to lock people in a cycle of debt that is very hard to get out of. While these places are bad, they have nothing on what goes on in India on a regular basis.
Over in the Asian subcontinent, they handle this sort of thing digitally and there are too many different lending apps to keep track of. In essence, they operate on a similar model to the American payday loan companies. They offer small, short-term loans at a high interest rate against the next paycheck. The similarities end there though. While American companies charge an average of 20% interest, their Indian counterparts often charge an interest rate of 80% or more. They also charge their victims in another way – the lender demands access to all their data. So to get $40 at an 80% interest, you have to grant the lender’s app access to all the data on your phone.
So what happens if you can’t pay? Does the company cut their loss and consider the data as payment? No. Not even close. They actually start harassing their victims. Calling and texting over 1000 times a day in some cases. Some people make use of multiple lending apps, making the problem even worse.
I’ve used the term ‘victim’ twice now. That’s a pretty strong word and not to be thrown around lightly. Yet, it is perfectly appropriate here. With that kind of harassment, it is driving many to suicide, and straining every relationship the victim has as he struggles to figure out how to get out of this debt. They are also victims because often the terms of the app are in English which not everyone can read fluently, and even if they can, just like lenders here, the loan agent will do whatever he can to convince the victim that they can handle the loan without any problem, they have full confidence it will get paid back on time.
There have even been some companies that would hire professional harassers to stand outside of a victim’s home or business and scream at and berate them for hours on end. Small wonder that some would be driven to suicide and no doubt to crime in a desperate effort to make the yelling and the phone calls stop.
To add insult to injury, even after the loan is paid off, the lender still has access to the victim’s data, allowing them to increase their profits by collecting and selling it to third parties until the phone gets replaced.
All of this has been made worse over the last year as many people throughout India have lost their jobs thanks to the response to COVID. Millions have found themselves going from working hard to get a little ahead to desperately scrambling to scrape by. Its left these people open and vulnerable to predators who have no regard for the people they are hurting while they are getting rich.
One way the Indian people can work towards ending this ridiculous cycle is to sign up with TARTLE. You can protect your data with us without giving us access to it. In fact, we never see our users’ data. We just give them the means to protect it. Once signed up, you can share your data on your own terms and make a little money in the process. Control over your data, financial compensation, and no harassment. That’s what TARTLE offers.
What’s your data worth?
Draw the Line
The world is full of lines. They are everywhere, they are on the road, on walls, on maps, in the sand, in our minds. Like I said, everywhere. The lines themselves are like a tool, they can be good or bad. Lines on the road keep us from driving off into a ditch or into oncoming traffic. A line on a wall might lead the way to an exit in an emergency. The lines on a map represent the separation between a horrible dictatorship and a free and prosperous country. However, a line can also be totally arbitrary and be based on not on protecting or helping people but on manipulating or separating them.
A while back we talked about how some manufacturing companies would set their production goals by drawing a line on the wall. So along as the product stacked up at least as high as the line at the end of the day everything was good. If not, the bosses were upset and looking for ways to get people to be more efficient, which in the minds of too many means firing people in the hopes of finding someone to work faster. Not to mention scaring people into working faster.
Or back to the example of the map. Look at the lines in the Middle East and Africa. A lot of those countries didn’t exist as defined entities until after WWI and some as recently as WWII. Those lines were drawn arbitrarily as the empires of France, Britain, and the rest of the European powers retreated. Those lines have not exactly been beneficial for humanity.
Let’s spend some more time though with a couple of mental or psychological lines, one is the bottom line and the other is the line between risk and reward. The bottom line of course is a big deal for business. If your bottom line isn’t big enough, you won’t be in business for long. So it’s a valid concern. However, it can become too big of a focus. When it becomes all consuming, your business has gone from the beneficial endeavor it started out as to a monster intent on growing itself regardless of who get in the way.
Our attitude towards the bottom line also has an effect on that risk/reward line. On one hand, a desire to grow the bottom line can drive a person to take a little more risk in the hopes of doing so. An excessive focus on that line has a tendency to make a person overly cautious to avoid any risk if it means a potential loss of money. That leads to absolute stagnation.
The other big thing in that equation that is often neglected is people. Could the risky endeavor help people or not? Could it be a benefit not just to oneself but to others? Could it just be something that leads to a breakthrough in technology, or expanding our knowledge?
Think back to the birth of the digital age in the 1990s. The tech world was bursting at the seams with innovation. New programs, hardware and applications for them were being developed faster than it was possible to keep track of them. Suddenly we could snap photos, get directions, make calls, and keep in contact with friends old and new almost anywhere. Computers and programs to make them useful became affordable for almost everyone who wanted them. How was all that possible?
The venture capitalists back then understood that to get some reward, you needed to take some risk. They put forth some of their money understanding that they might lose it. But they saw the risk as being worth the potential reward. Whether their motive was profit or helping people, they understood that to make progress of any kind you have to be willing to take a risk. Today, everyone is more interested in how money is going to get made than in the idea and its potential. We need to recover some of that spirit, that desire to take risk, to get out in front before anyone else.
TARTLE is doing that, getting out before others and creating a new way of looking at and treating data. With your help, we can remind others that we need to get back to people, back to being willing to take a chance. That’s the only way anything worth doing gets done.
What’s your data worth?