Category: work

A renewed focus on predistributive outcomes

Today I read an opinion piece by Tristam Hunt, UK Labour MP, that spoke to my heart. In it he critizises the narrowed down focus of social democracy on redistribution and its relative neglect of predistributive outcomes. As such he scolds Labour for having “neglected our associationalist heritage as a movement of democratic grassroots activists: our history of co-operatives, mutual societies and unions.”

Tristam Hunt, Labour MP

How exactly a Labour government would support such bottom-up initiatives is left open in this short, edited opinion piece. I would be interested to know more about it. For there are many cases in which co-operatives and mutual societies can bust monopolistic structures, contribute to more equal predistributive outcomes and abate principal-agent problems.

Take for example today’s network effects on the internet: How does Ebay make its money? It’s the biggest online market place. Why is it the biggest online market place? Because most market participants know it’s the biggest market place — so it’s the place to go. Once a firm dominates a market place like this, there is no real competition anymore. The prospect of monopoly rents may have given an incentive to set up the website in the beginning — a laudable quality — but after a while remuneration for the service provided is not determined by competitive markets but by possibility for extracting monopoly rents.


Recently a very interesting initiative has come up in Berlin, Germany, that seeks to scale up its business model to the global level: Fairnopoly. It’s strives to deliver the functionality of Ebay but with an emphasis on filters for fair and ecological products. Even more: It’s a co-operative. That way a global market place could come into being that is in the hands of its users and that delivers its services without extracting monopoly rents — and even if it did, it would probably use such proceeds in the interest of its users-owners.

Such business models may be seen as an expression of a renewed social democratic movement. However, it would also be interesting to hear how social democrats in government may support such bottom-up initiatives as well.


My digital social science engine

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time optimising my workflow and identifying the right software for each step. As a result I’m indebted to lots of other nerdy knowledge worker blogs on the web.

Let’s go!

An admission: I do love and support Linux. However, since a former employer had Mac OS running, it gave me sort of a rationale for my betrayal. So the setup I’m presenting is for Mac. Some of the software is available for Linux and Windows, too.
Love Linux!

1. Search: I mostly use G**g**-Scholar for search. I do so with the free and open source browser Firefox and two plugins: Zotero and the Zotero-to-BibDesk auto-import utility.


2. Research library: The Zotero-to-BibDesk auto-import utility syncs my Zotero database with my Bibdesk database. The free and open source Bibdesk allows me to save my reference data in a Latex format with uniquely identifiable and portable reference keys. Bibdesk also serves as an iTune-like research library, where I can assign keywords, comments and ratings. I can also tick whether I’ve already read a text or collect texts in a reading list.


3. Annotation: From inside Bibdesk I can start the (once again) free and open source PDF reader Skim. Skim allows me to highlight and comment PDFs. After having done so, I can copy everything highlighted or commented to a text editor, complete with an indication of the relevant page numbers.


4. Page number adjustments: Often the digital PDF page numbers and the nominal page numbers of ebooks and journal articles will not be congruent. This will impinge upon the page numbers indicated after copying from Skim to your favourite text editor. It’s a hassle to adjust the page numbers for each individual entry. For page number adjustments I have only found one solution: Adobe Acrobat Professional, which comes with a rather hefty price tag (particularly considering that you only really need it for this one task). It can save lots of work, though.

5. Database and draft editor: I use Scrivener as a database and for drafts. It’s lightweight, has tons of functions and hardly every crashes. It’s great as a complex outliner (for simpler outlines, I recommend OmniOutliner). Scrivener is proprietary but value for money. You can just copy your highlights and annotations, from Skim, alongside the citation keys from Bibdesk, to Scrivener and then rearrange them according to the structure of your research project. If you do it properly, you will always know what are your own thoughts and what you took from which page of what publication, thus avoiding plagiarism.


6. Compile it all into a beautiful text: I use TexShop for setting the final text in LaTex. TexShop works harmoniously with Bibdesk. Of course, you may often need to exchange documents with people who don’t use Scrivener of LaTex. Then you will need to use OpenOffice or Word for the final draft. Combining that with Bibdesk is a little more of a hassle, though rudimentary Plugins do exist.


7. Get published or die trying.