Automating Inequality: using algorithms to create a modern "digital poor-house"

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Weeks before the publication of Virginia Eubanks’s new book Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, knowledgeable friends were already urging me to read it, which was a no-brainer, having followed Eubanks’s work for years.


Take in to account the size of the 1% and its collective wealth and you have to assume then that the rest of the 99% of humans on this planet are poor. Algorithm that…


I wonder who decided that a picture of an old video control room compromised mostly of coax patch bays should stand in for high tech tools.


I’m working my way through “regulating the poor”(Piven, Cloward), a book about welfare and labor, and the regulations governing them. We appear to be entering a new age in terms of HOW we keep labor costs low and welfare tough to get, but the motivations are the same. The motivations are now baked into the algorithms, adding a layer of obfuscation to decisions. Us

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It’s (metaphorically) not high-tech if it winds up reinforcing old biases.

using math to decide who the “deserving” poor are makes it easier to turn away from everyone else whom the system has deemed undeserving.

For a certain segment of the electorate, of course, “undeserving” is also coded language used by the politicians for whom they vote and the pundits to whom they listen – all of them heirs to Lee Atwater.


Awesome review, interesting thoughts!

One observation/correction: I don’t think that movements that fight for the rights of the poor should aim for the sympathy of wealthier people. They should aim for the abolition of the privileges of wealthier people along with the reinstatement of their own rights, so their sympathies don’t matter.

Said in the spirit of Oscar Wilde’s “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”:

“Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good; and at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the problem and know the life – educated men who live in the East End – coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are perfectly right.
We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it. As for being discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such surroundings and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute. Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less. For a town or country labourer to practise thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He should decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg. No: a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented, and rebellious, is probably a real personality, and has much in him.”

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