Current Affairs

Challenges in the automotive industry’s business model

How have 21st Century technologies allowed companies in the automotive industry to change their business models?

Since the beginning of the 21st century new players from the technology and communications sectors are entering the automotive industry and dramatically changing its chain value and traditional business model.  The main segments that were altered significantly are production, sales experience, key partners, product innovation and R&D.  Today the companies that follow have a chance to leap at the front of the game and those ahead might stay behind if their business model is not flexible at its core.

1)     Transition from push production to demand pull and modular production

We have seen this change in an innumerable amount of industries but Dell is the first name to come in mind when talking about modular production.  The automotive industry has been taking in at a late stage technological advances that arise in other industries.   In this way production transitioned to offer products with attributes selected by the client, sometimes ordered through internet and delivered within 15 days; for instance, Toyota’s upstart Scion.

2)    Changes in sales experience

Car dealers as sale points are being swept out as in the case of BMW and Tesla.  BMW chooses to change the buying experience by introducing the ‘BMW product genius’ who will educate the customer on all the lines of products.  The motivation of ‘BMW product genius’ is not to sell (they do not earn commissions per sale) but to build customer loyalty.  It certainly takes after the service offered in Apple Stores.  As to Tesla S1 electric car sold directly to customers is more aggressive and is reprimanded by car dealers.  Not because they are direct competitors (Tesla’s sales represent 0.1% of US auto market) but because out of fear that other brands might follow.

Technology has disrupted the way people make their buying decisions; today people use platforms to determine who to trust and what to buy.  Above that, consumers today value innovation in automobiles.  They want to buy from the companies they perceive as brining new technology first to the market.

3)    Product Innovation and R&D: Sustainable cars, Electric cars, Autonomous cars

In the ‘2016 EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard[1]’ 6 automakers are among the top 30 and the number of patent filings in the automotive industry also reflect an increase.  Volkswagen was the company with the highest investment in R&D worldwide, until it stated struggling after falsifying environmental testing protocols.  Innovation has become a top priority for automotive companies.  Today there are at least 50 hybrid models in the market whereas in 2001 there were only 2.

Focusing only on downsizing internal combustion engines and fuel efficiency may mean leading companies may fall behind innovative companies in the future.  Changes in their products must be timed as to gain acceptance and not lose their loyal customers.  

The main product changes from mechanical to hybrid to electric to partly automated which shifted the sales motto of ‘faster, stronger’ to ‘sustainable, innovative’.

4)    Shared ownership

Going a step further the ‘Car2Go’ by Daimler and ‘DriveNow’ by BMW services suggest no ownership.  Another different example is ‘Autolib’ where the service is run by the government, a key partner, and the company providing the cars is unknown to the public.

Altogether there is more to technology innovation than changes to the product itself.  It enables new business models and relationships between stakeholders.  The emerging model is still to come but it is certain it will be driven by technology.  The chain value and business model will be shifting as new stakeholders enter the industry with the advances in electronics, communications, alternative fuels and materials.

 

REFERENCES:

[1] https://www.iriweb.org/sites/default/files/2016GlobalR%26DFundingForecast_2.pdf

SOURCES:

Ø  www.forbes.com

Ø  www.bcgperspectives.com

Ø  www.bain.com

Ø  www.bloomberg.com

Ø  www.economist.com

Ø  www.kpmg.com

Ø  www.ibm.com

Ø  https://www.iriweb.org/sites/default/files/2016GlobalR%26DFundingForecast_2.pdf

 

 

The technological revolution: freedom or servitude?

We live today a period of acceleration of time and complexity of the space. The moment when a new type of society is born. This is reflected in the constant transformations, both from the macro point of view, at the state level and the global order as well as in the micro level: attitudes or way of doing things in everyday life.

The application of technological advancement holds many advantages but also many challenges. Within the first thing we can list advances that have been simplified, improved and even prolonged human life. On the other hand the risks of this fourth revolution are not only challenging but also dangerous.

The application of the technological revolution to the labor market represents a serious challenge to the quality of life of millions of workers. It is a global risk the concentration of wealth in hands of a global minority. Today we live in a structurally unequal world, where a group of hundred people concentrate the same percentage of wealth that half of humanity, 3.5 billion people.

Technological developments and their profits concentrated in few hands will only lead to the end of society as we know since such conditions can not sustained in the medium and long term. Technology has increased the gap substantively. It has left many out of the benefits from the technological revolution and  it has concentrated the fruits in a few hands.

The concentration of wealth and high levels of inequality are contrary to liberal democratic state. But this is not the only thing that affects the state as we know

The real challenge of this new revolution is considering the human being in the heart of it. Scientific progress and technology development is meaningless if it is not serving humanity.

It is therefore essential the role of governance, both local and international, to guide the changes in benefits of all and thus enable sustainable development in the medium and long term. It depends on this a successful and fair transformation of our world.

Finally doing an analysis of our current situation, we are not very encouraging in the short term as global structures and effectiveness of state for allocating resources does not work properly. Perhaps the complexity of today’s world and the resurgence of anti-establishment and extremist elements can be understood from a model that does not answer to the needs of the human being.

In the policies adopted at regional and global levels we will see if the challenges become or not a opportunity to live in not only a more efficient but also more fair world. The fruits of innovation belong to humanity.

MERCOSUR is dead

With more than 1 million square kilometers, with a GDP of more than 4 trillion dollars and with a population of approximately 275 million inhabitants, MERCOSUR is characterized by a history of impulses and stagnation. After being born as a process that was disruptive for the time, and especially, to mark the end of the confrontation thesis between the two biggest countries of South America, MERCOSUR has been losing its impulse.

During the month of March 2016, MERCOSUR had its 25th anniversary, an event that was little promoted, which happened almost unnoticed for civil society and to which governments did not give much importance. The media, although they did not refer to this anniversary as an event of transcendence, recalled it in their publications with titles that reflect a pessimistic perspective: “25 years of MERCOSUR and very little to celebrate” (La Nación, Argentina https://goo.gl/s2ju3R), “A sad regional birthday” (El Observador, Uruguay https://goo.gl/ENlIOL), “MERCOSUR will celebrate 25 years of creation and will be without pain or glory” (ABC , Paraguay https://goo.gl/VxSKNE) or even Globo (Brazil https://goo.gl/YrL3E7) detailed that: “… the anniversary comes amid the political crisis in Brazil and the wear and tear of the bloc”. However, there were two optimistic headlines: “MERCOSUR, 25 years of success” (La Razón https://goo.gl/3oomlE) in Bolivia, which is currently in the process of joining, and Telesur (https://goo.gl/fNrXXI): “MERCOSUR celebrates 25 years betting on economic integration” highlighting the progress in social and cultural issues.

However, the current situation shows that there is a crisis and an opportunity for the process of integration. There are two possible ways, self-criticism and call to action, or resignation. The international system up to 2016 demonstrated the importance of every State to belong to broad integration processes and to large trade blocs, since it increases the possibilities of commercial transactions, with enormous political and economic opportunities. But last year was a turning point in the history of integration. The Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency who withdrew the country from the brand new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) shows an uncertainty in the economic, geopolitical and also social area, especially after a time when diplomacy and international negotiations had created a conducive environment for the trade blocs, from the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself to the Pacific Alliance, in an attempt to focus the world economy on Asia-Pacific, which is interpreted as the engine of the international economy in the next years.

According to many analysts, nowadays MERCOSUR is the moment of the ‘Black Swan’. This theory develops the possibility that unexpected situations lead to a rebirth of the bloc after a long hibernation in an unpredictable and uncertain international political and economic context. Among other things, this new impulse is brought about the emergence in Latin America of a new integration process, the Pacific Alliance, which calls itself as an innovative process which follows the patterns of the new international system focus on the new center of geopolitics and world economy. In contrast to MERCOSUR that was born in 1991 inspired by neoliberal ideas, after the change of political climate there were only advances in the social, cultural and, in some cases, political areas.

MERCOSUR needs to adapt to the new regional and international situation. Since it was born in the 1990s in a neoliberal context, it developed in the 2000s in a political climate framed in the ‘turn to the left‘ and is now in a different regional climate with the so-called ‘turn to the right‘ (1), into an international environment where it seems that the status quo is going to have an unpredictably change. This is precisely one of the weaknesses of the MERCOSUR project; it depends almost exclusively on ideological complementarity, extreme inter-presidentialism and pro-tempore presidencies pendulums. However, it should not be forgotten that this harmony between governments and presidential diplomacy is the success factor of the bloc (2), a bloc that does not fit the models of classical integration, because there is neither a significant institution nor a supranational level. We could say that MERCOSUR follows its own model (3) which is precisely the cause of its progress but also of its obstacles. There is no single model for the integration and cooperation processes, because each one is adjusted to its member’s reality (4). MERCOSUR was born with the deficiency that it followed the priorities and objectives of the governments of turn, reason why before each political change, MERCOSUR is stalled.

If we see the present, it is possible understand that after the first phase of economic complementation the bloc did not have more advances in that field, but it did cross with strength the 2008 crisis that was originated in the developed countries, the congruence of the politics of the ‘Turn to the Left’ made it advance in the social and cultural level, and the leadership of Brazil, on the one hand at regional level, on the second hand as an emergent power (5), gave some dynamics to the process but that could not cross political climate changes.

Nowadays, MERCOSUR is immersed in a crisis, but it is not the only integration process that is on crisis, even the European Union (EU) which is considered the deepest process of integration and the example to follow, is in its greatest crisis (6), or the Trans-Pacific Agreement which few months after seeing the light, goes through its first moment of darkness. However, MERCOSUR is marked by a change of political conjuncture of the ‘turn to the right‘, the strongest partner, Brazil is in a social, political and economic crisis, Argentina is politically divided but in a stable situation, Uruguay is in a cautious mode, Paraguay is expectant of the Bolivian incorporation to be able to increase the commercial flows and thus to leave the mutual geostrategic prison, and the most problematic partner, Venezuela, that after Chávez’s death, the country entered a political-social crisis that divides the country and makes the member be suspended from the bloc, but having the pro tempore presidency, a big deprivation.

That is why MERCOSUR is dead, because the bloc is experiencing a credibility and survival crisis. It was unable to adapt to the new era, to the new international and regional reality, and neither was there political efforts to have an economic deepening. It is necessary that the projects transcend political administrations and be guided by the wishes of the people, which at first are forgotten. Furthermore is needed a common external agenda, because that was built for the majority partners (Brazil and Argentina) for the benefit of their own interests, which sometimes are not complementary and even hurt the smaller partners. A common agenda would give the bloc the tool to go on new international negotiations, deepen current alliances and having a voice in international forums. With Brazil immersed in its internal sphere, it would seem the moment for Argentina to be the leader of the process, but for that to happen it must prioritize the interest of the bloc to the national interest, and generate instances that allow a better complementation after the changes of the administrations.

Between the 20 and the 24 of March, the XXVII Round of the Committee of Bi-regional Negotiations between MERCOSUR and the European Union will be held in Argentina to promote stalled trade negotiations. But the bloc also has several open fronts, negotiations with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and the rapprochement with Korea, China and Japan. In a Multiplex World, all actors have the potential to increase their international insertion, if they maintain a clear strategy (8). It is time to see if MERCOSUR can achieve this strategy.

 

(1) Carné, Jonatán. “¿América Latina da un Giro a la Derecha?”, SABF Blog, 2016, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2016/04/06/america-latina-da-un-giro-a-la-derecha/

(2) Malamud, Andrés. “La diplomacia presidencial y los pilares institucionales del MERCOSUR: un examen empírico”, Revista electrónica “Relaciones Internacionales”, 2010.

(3) Bizzozero, Lincoln. “Los primeros 20 años del Mercosur: del Programa de Liberalización Comercial al Plan Estratégico de Acción Social”, Revista Densidades, 2011.

(4) Peña, Felix. “Los 25 años del Mercosur y opciones en el camino de su evolución futura”, Newsletter, 2016.

(5) Carné, Jonatán. “¿Qué pasó con las potencias emergentes? El Caso de los BRICS.”, SABF Blog, 2016, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2016/07/06/que-paso-con-las-potencias-emergentes-el-caso-de-los-brics/

(6) Domínguez, Emiliano. “La encrucijada europea: ampliación y Brexit”, SABF Blog, 2017, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2017/01/30/la-encrucijada-europea-ampliacion-y-brexit/

(7) Acharya, Amitav. “From the Unipolar moment to a Multiplex World”, YaleGlobal Univertisty, 2014.

Our Digital Golden Age

By 2030, it is predicted that 2 billion jobs will disappear, approximately 50% of the jobs on the planet. What does that mean for our lives in just 13 years? Will we be ravaged by unemployment and social inequality? Or will we have entered a golden age of development?

The classical period of Greece (4-5th century BCE) was a cultural explosion that saw extensive development in philosophy, science, architecture, art, theatre, literature and the creation of the political system known as democracy. It was a period of intense creative production that arguably shaped the development of the western world as we know it today.

The catalyst that drove the birth of this period was a transition from subsistence agriculture and every man for himself, to the development of coinage, collective abundance and the merchant class. Here we see diversification of social, economic and political models. Above all, we see the development of the concept of leisure time. Naturally, how can a man who needs to work a farm develop time to ponder the ways of the world? He needs someone to work the farm instead. Enter slavery. With the hard work of the day covered, the man has more time to manage his farm and consider other things. The concept of work and leisure arrives and we have the beginnings of a new system of hierarchy: those who have free time and those who do not.

In the absence of a second wave of slavery, what could disrupt our economic and social system in such a significant way, what could free up our labour force to such an extent? Look around and you can start to guess: the development of AI and chatbots, driverless cars, IoT, wearable technology. In our modern world, humans are not required to do the work, we automate. Enter the robots.

It is estimated that by 2030, we will lose 2 billion jobs across the globe. Most of these jobs will be in unskilled labour. More and more jobs will require less human input because a robot can do the work better. Will this be a tragedy for unskilled workers? Or will our new found abundance of leisure time re-organise our world to engage more with abstract and creative thought? Will we move from working because we have to earn money to engage with our current economic model, or will we move to people working because they want to, because they feel passionate about something, because they have a talent?

Gallup has been measuring employee engagement in the USA since 2000 i it notes consistent numbers when it comes to employees who are active, enthusiastic and committed to their work. That number is 32%, with a global average of just 13%. The rest of employees, the other 68-87%, are significantly less productive but still paid alongside their highly engaged and productive colleagues.

Unhappy employees are not only disruptive to workplace flow, they can also put pressure on our health care systems. Ground breaking research in 2012 from the Carnegie Mellon University, was able for the first time to provide evidence that continuous psychological stress significantly contributes to higher rates of illness as the body’s inflammatory response is reduced. What would it look like for our health care systems if we were able to reduce the number of people being treated for stressed related illness?

In preparation for a digitally driven world, Finland has commenced a trial of the universal income where 2,000 selected unemployed citizens are receiving a living wage. They will continue to be paid this wage even if they find employment. At the World Government Summit in Dubai, Elon Musk warned that governments will need to start looking seriously at universal income as more jobs become automated. However, he expressed concern that the greatest challenge would be for people to find meaning in a world where so much of our purpose is derived from our employment.

So, here we are, at a pivotal point of time. Thirteen years away from 2 billion fewer jobs. We are on the cusp of something new, a time that will require changes to our economic, social and political systems. Will we respond fast enough? Will we embrace leisure time and shift our economic and political systems to suit? Will we adjust what we have or are we on the verge of creating something new? If our technology is already developing at an exponential rate, what new innovations will we uncover when we have more time to create?

Perhaps we are on the verge of our next creative cultural explosion. Enter 2030, the dawn of our next golden age.

Disinformation Era

Imagine the following situation: it’s Tuesday, it’s late, and you’re just arriving home. The day has been dreadfully long, so you choose to browse your favourite social network to unwind for a while. Your feed is full of the same old: funny jokes about the latest mediatic politician, videoclips of some corny pop artist, memes about some Turkish chef, and an avalanche of baby pictures and first wedding anniversary memorabilia. You scroll, scroll, scroll, until you find a video of a cat. Now, that’s relaxing.

This behaviour is hardly surprising. The excess of information creates an overload of our receptors, causing us to shut down our senses. There is so much of it around, that it really is an effort to take it all in. We tend to absorb only the information that’s preprocessed, the easy bits. This could be tightly bound to the fact that laziness is an evolutionary trait in humans[1]. We’re built to save energy in a calorie-restricted environment. Of course, that’s not our current reality, but the evolutionary trait still remains.

Which leads us to the main causes of disinformation: the lack of diversification and the lack of verification of sources.

Let’s start with lack of diversification of sources. Believe it or not, there are people who rely exclusively on social media to keep informed on current events. Facebook, Twitter, even 9gag! One of the main issues with this approach is that the information found on such media is highly biased. The feed is composed by people we choose to follow, people we choose to befriend. With that in mind, the information and points of view we will be presented with are limited.

“Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you what you know”

Not only are we conditioned by our choice of people to follow, or people to be friends with, but also social media will keep feeding us only a subset of the available information. Social networks will determine what to show us in our main feed based on what we have searched, what we have liked, and whose profile we’ve opened in the past[2], thus creating a retro-feeding loop of related content. We’re therefore being presented only with information that an algorithm calculated that we’ll like. The posts we see, the ads, and clickbaits, all relate to our history and encase us in a pattern which in itself provides the algorithm with more detailed information about our perceived preferences.

In addition to that, some social networks give you the option of hiding a certain type of posts, either by author or, more dangerously, by content similarity. In this case, people choose to ignore information. Of course, you might want to block content from someone you dislike (just unfollow/unfriend them, trust me on this one), but an alternative reason for it might be that the information we’re wanting to block makes us uncomfortable. We experiment cognitive dissonance: mental stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously[3], or when being presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs. The ways of solving this discomfort is by either changing our beliefs, which is the most difficult and unlikely solution of all, ignoring the new information that causes our discomfort, or seeking sources that coincide with our beliefs and allow us to deem the new evidence erroneous. This last solution is what is called Confirmation Bias[4].

This ultimately leads us to the second main cause of disinformation: the lack of verification of sources. On one hand, our need to get rid of our cognitive dissonance through confirmation bias will predispose us to believe whatever sides with our beliefs, regardless of the source. We will gladly accept the words of whoever confirms our theories and ideas, even when we might be wrong (there are still people who believe the Earth is flat). It’s quite unlikely for someone to seek alternative sources of truth, trying to find points of view that contradict our truth. On the other hand, our lazy nature will lead us to believing any plausible information presented to us blindly, without going to the extent of cross-reference checking with reliable sources.

Of course, not all the information we find on the Internet is true. The best way of finding reliable information is by consulting reliable sources. A potential sources reliability ranking could be the following (from most to least reliable):

  1. Official documents, laws, and decrees (true by their enunciative nature)
  2. Scientific papers (highly reliable due to the supporting research and scientific evidence, slightly less reliable because each research opens the challenge of disproving it)
  3. Highly renowned newspapers (you would expect serious newspapers to verify their sources and have editors who make a sanitization of the publications)
  4. Less renowned newspapers (articles are less serious and sometimes more oriented at sensationalism)
  5. Social media (absolutely unreliable, where every John and Jane can write whatever they please)

In this schema, information can only be as reliable as the least reliable source that’s been quoted as a reference (i.e. if a major newspaper shares news from a less renowned newspaper, the information will only have reliability of level 4). With this in mind, anything found on social media has to be regarded as highly unreliable information. And yet, some people end up believing even the most ridiculous Alternative Facts[5].

While there doesn’t seem to be a way of fixing the disinformation globally, there is a way of solving it on a personal level: inform yourself, look for reliable sources that confirm what you have read or heard, look for alternative points of view, try to avoid the confirmation bias. If you’re too lazy to do it on your account, get a reliable fact checker (like Chequeado.com or Politifact). Do not stay with the apparent truth.

Keep informed.

 

[3]: Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. California: Stanford University Press.

European crossroads: enlargement and Brexit

The process of incorporating a State to the European Union is complex and lengthy. The exit is equally complex although there is no precedent. Admission requires the application of the Copenhagen criteria summarized in stable democratic institutions, rule of law, market economy and acceptance of European law, such requirements do not seem easily met by many of the candidates. As obvious as it may seem the admission of a new state requires that it be European. An example of this is the failed application of the Kingdom of Morocco in 1987 to the European Community.

In the current universe of candidates, to access as members, we must make a difference between the official candidates who are under negotiation or awaiting launch, as is Turkey (which meets few of the requirements of the commitment and that is why his candidature moves at glacial pace since 2005. Given the current political situation we do not see a change in the short or medium term), Montenegro (since 2005), Serbia (since 2012), Macedonia (since 2005) and Albania (from 2003) and potential candidates with or without formal request presented as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The European Union has had a long and complex path, from the European Union of Coal and Steel in the 50s to the Lisbon treaty, creating strict and necessary regulations for its continued expansion. But this should not be the only thing to consider.

We should not miss the funding values of the Union whose bases constitute the real soul of Europe today. The European Union was conceived beyond economic integration from a moral criterion and from the ashes of two world wars that changed history and shaped the world. They are the humanist and democratic principles of Konrad Adenaeur, Jean Monnet, Alcide de Gasperini, Robert Schuman among many others that should guide the future of the Union.

The European Union represents a unique case of integration in world history that has established peace and prosperity in a continent that took the blows of dominance and hegemony over the last 500 years.

Brexit is also a new opportunity to advance towards fuller integration and a more comprehensive concept of Europe. The mission of the Union should not be limited against the criteria of incorporation of members nor diminished in terms of objectives based on the lack of commitment of present or potential members.

The European Union is open to European states entity but it does not have an ecumenical mission in the old continent. Those who can commit to the funding values of the Union and want to run the risk of full integration will be those who enjoy the benefits and virtues that 50 years of integration have harvested.

Europe’s future depends on it. The EU should not be lost before the paradigm of believing that more is better but those who can commit willingly with the European principles and values are those to be called part of the European integration.

What was a utopia today is a reality. Its future depends on the integrity within the principles of its funding spirit, those sown in the ashes of World War II, and present in the minds of all Europeans long before.

A day will come when there will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and bombs are replaced by votes, by universal suffrage, by the venerable arbitration of a great supreme senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, the Diet to Germany, and the Legislative Assembly to France.

A day will come when a cannon will be a museum-piece, as instruments of torture are today. And we will be amazed to think that these things once existed!

A day will come when we shall see those two immense groups, the United States of America and the United States of Europe, facing one another, stretching out their hands across the sea, exchanging their products, their arts, their works of genius, clearing up the globe, making deserts fruitful, ameliorating creation under the eyes of the Creator, and joining together, to reap the well-being of all, these two infinite forces, the fraternity of men and the power of God.”

Victor Hugo. Discours d’ouverture, congrès de la paix, [Opening address, Peace Congress], Paris (21 August 1849)

Democracy in Argentina

2015 is a year of elections. The Argentines vote to choose the destiny of our country and of other forty million people.

These elections are the expression of a democratic system, the election of the governors by the governed, as it happens with many other countries in the occidental world and some other countries outside of it.

 

What is considered as democracy?

 

Is the term that gave its origin equally applicable to the system we know today?

 

We can start by saying that partly it is not. The Greek democracy, or the government of the people, did not correspond to the current definition of popular government. For example, in ancient Hellas not every inhabitant were considered citizens (with political rights) and most of the population was slave. On the other hand, those who had political rights should assume them as their duty in the agora or in the political arena.

 

Today, according to the theory of the American political scientist Robert Dahl, we  must say that what we call democracy represents an open, inclusive and competitive political system. This system is based on citizen participation and the control of the citizens over the government.

But, beyond the dogmas and without wanting to hurt susceptibilities, we will analyze if the current Argentine system correspond completely or partially to a modern democracy.

 

How democratic is Argentina today?

 

 

 

  • Free, periodic and competitive elections.

 

We can’t doubt that at a national level we live in a country where, since the return to democracy, a system exists in which the officers are elected by vote in clean elections that are carried out regularly and in which coaction is rare and alternatives from the current government can compete freely. It is a different story at a province level in which periodicity is not affected, but competitiveness is partially affected.

 

 

  • Inclusive vote.

 

Practically every adult can periodically participate in the elections. There are no privileges or qualified votes, nor the exclusion of certain groups or sectors.

 

 

  • Right to hold public office.

 

In theory, any Argentine citizen can run for office representing a political party. In practice, it is not as easy for an “outsider” of the traditional political circle to access it, but it is not restricted by any anti-competitive requisite.

 

 

  • Freedom of speech.

 

It may be one of the most controversial characteristics of the Argentina of today.

The citizens have the right to express themselves, without putting themselves in danger of receiving severe punishments, about political issues included criticizing public officers, the government, the regime, the socio-economic system or the prevalent ideology, among others.

There is no doubt that in Argentina we currently live fully the “freedom of speech”. However, this doesn’t omit the attacks from the party currently in government to certain media and journalists, creating and adverse environment but without affecting the democratic principle.

We must take into account that every media responds to particular interests that can crush with those of the government of the time. The serious thing would be that for the communication channel to be silenced. In Argentina, apart from the adverse environment and certain critics there is no evidence of the violation of this principle. In case of any violation by the media, it is the responsibility of justice and not of the government to judge it.

 

 

  • Variety of information sources

 

Citizens have the right to use different sources of information which do not only exist but are also protected by law.

Even though it’s true that the new media law encourages this variety of sources, it doesn’t differentiate between those close to the government or not. Anyway, we must say that in Argentina there is currently a broad variety of sources of information.

 

 

  • Associative autonomy

 

The citizens, to ensure the defense of their rights and interests, can build organizations and associations relatively independent, including political parties and interest groups.

 

Thus, we can say that in Argentina we currently live in a full democratic system. However, this doesn’t mean that certain characteristics, as freedom of speech, are more likely to be damaged than other. But nobody can doubt that from a formal point of view we live as a country under a full democratic system.

Maybe going deeper of the formal content of democracy, we may ask ourselves what have we accomplished as a society and how much is missing.

There is no doubt that to leave in a full and healthy democracy we must heal the social debt. That one that leaves millions of Argentines out of the system and makes us vulnerable regarding the democratic quality and its future.

It’s us, the citizens, the responsibles for strengthening democracy and for including everybody and assuring its benefits for the whole population.

Let’s celebrate democracy, but we know it is not enough. The challenge is the inclusion.

South America, that phenomenon

A common origin, several attempts to constitute, a reality that repeats itself, amidst dichotomies, along the Andes and the marine line. In Latin America, and even more in the South region, the historical and political root is one. The Hispanic colonization, with the subsequent plundering and resources extraction, and the configuration of a power scheme that was kept after the independence and the emancipation, at least political, that the continent went through in the19th century, is a common factor of undoubtable weight in the explanation of the current scenario. On the other hand, the dependence remained in the economical and productive aspect, while the social inequality was accentuated. Today, our continent wants to be a global main player and strives to raise as the actor that could be and wants to be. However, in the 19th century, the prospect was another.

The political genesis

The flame ignited by the French and the Americans lit the enlightened elites of the continent. Under the pretext of maintaining the autonomy while the Napoleonic Empire took over the European crowns, Latin America rose and fought for independence. Continue reading…

Violence and terrorist acts: what do we do now?

Everybody is talking about the terrorist attack that happened a few days ago in Charlie Hebdo. Whether it is to condemn violence, to condemn Muslims, to defend the non-radical Muslims, to defend freedom of speech, and/or to comment the magazine’s work. Many theories have been developed: that Muslims want to end the Western world, that the radicals were offended by the satirical portraits of Prophet Muhammad, that the radical terrorists were seeking, through the attack, to generate Islamophobia to gain more followers, etc etc etc.

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How neutral should the Internet be?

Allow me to introduce you first to how the internet works under the hood. Your local ISP (Internet Service Provider, like Comcast or Verizon) is just the last provider in a chain of entities that provide the infrastructure for internet. They usually buy their bandwidth and connections to other providers from a larger company (a ISP for ISPs). They are categorized in multiple layers, usually referred to as tier 3, tier 2, and tier 1 providers (roughly “local”, “regional”, and “global” respectively).

net-neutrality

Bandwidth is not as cheap as one may think. You pay for outgoing traffic from your network to another provider, usually one that sits one tier up. The more intermediaries the data has to go through, the more expensive it gets. I estimate that sending data to another computer in the same city is around 100 times cheaper than sending it across the globe, say, from South America to Asia, as that package will be passed around through a set of providers located in Europe or the US first.

It’s quite a complicated process (but it’s fully automated), and you could make an analogy with the international phone operators in the 1950s or 1960s, only that this time computers are the ones switching the lines around. A single company has no control over how the data will be routed. Your Tier-3 ISP doesn’t mind whether the tier 2 ISP will route your package from New York City to India: and it’s probably up to the Tier-1 provider to decide whether to go through Europe and Turkey or through California and China…

Netflix needs a lot of bandwidth. It has a cost effective strategy: placing servers close to your place to get better deals for bandwidth from the same local ISP that you have. This allows Netflix to provide a better service to you (being in the same region is not only cheaper, but faster, which means less waiting time before  stream your movie) and it is also more convenient for your ISP (they save costs in outgoing connections to their Tier-2 provider and instead relay traffic inside their own network).

Net Neutrality

So, what is net neutrality?

Stephanie Creets, blogger at SingleHop, has summed-up the essentials to understanding this controversial issue in a balanced way. This subject is related to what happens when the network is congested. The owner of an ISP gets to choose how to prioritize traffic when the network is overwhelmed. For example, in your company’s network, the network administrator probably decided to give priority to applications like Skype, in order to avoid having those horrible delays in the conversation that we all hate. ISPs come up with similar solutions.

The owner of a network decided then to differentiate between different kinds of packages. It’s analog to enabling a fast lane in a highway: prioritizing one kind of vehicles over others. This means, not all “packets”, not every activity that you need internet for, are equal.

Comcast is not only a Tier-3 provider. They are also a Tier-2 provider. They are the owners of their infrastructure, and they’ve cut a deal to give priority to Netflix connections in case there is a network congestion problem. This sounds good; since it will allow you to see your movies in great quality at 7 PM, the peak hour for network traffic. The bad thing is, giving priority to some kind of traffic means that another type of traffic will be slowed down (like, for example, your Skype calls). Enabling a fast lane means that there’s one less lane for the cars that don’t go into the fast lane.

So it’s as simple as that: differentiating amongst traffic, by enabling fast lanes, goes against “net neutrality”. Is that a good thing? That’s arguable. If you’re a Netflix user, it’s good because you’ll be able to stream your movies faster. If you’re trying to do something else, maybe it’s not so great.

What do you believe? Should law-makers demand a neutral, more equitative, behaviour from ISPs?