jm + austerity   3

Austerity is an Algorithm
Fucking hell, things sound grim Down Under:
Things changed in December 2016, when the government announced that the system had undergone full automation. Humans would no longer investigate anomalies in earnings. Instead, debt notices would be automatically generated when inconsistencies were detected. The government’s rationale for automating the process was telling. “Our aim is to ensure that people get what they are entitled to—no more and no less,” read the press release. “And to crack down hard when people deliberately defraud the system.”

The result was a disaster. I’ve had friends who’ve received an innocuous email urging them to check their MyGov account—an online portal available to Australian citizens with an internet connection to access a variety of government services—only to log in and find they’re hundreds or thousands of dollars in arrears, supposedly because they didn’t accurately report their income. Some received threats from private debt collectors, who told them their wages would be seized if they didn’t submit to a payment plan.

Those who wanted to contest their debts had to lodge a formal complaint, and were subjected to hours of Mozart’s Divertimento in F Major before they could talk to a case worker. Others tried taking their concerns directly to the Centrelink agency on Twitter, where they were directed to calling Lifeline, a 24-hour hotline for crisis support and suicide prevention.

At the end of 2015, my friend Chloe received a notice claiming she owed $20,000 to the government. She was told that she had reported her income incorrectly while on Youth Allowance, which provides financial assistance to certain categories of young people.

The figure was shocking and, like others in her position, she grew suspicious. She decided to contest the debt: she contacted all of her previous employers so she could gather pay slips, and scanned them into the MyGov app. “I gave them all of my information to prove that there was no way I owed them $20,000,” she says.

The bean counters were unmoved. They maintained that Chloe had reported her after-tax income instead of her before-tax income. As a result, they increased the amount she owed to $30,000. She agreed to a payment plan, which will see her pay off the debt in fortnightly installments of $50 over the course of two decades. “I even looked into bankruptcy because I was so stressed by it,” she says. “All I could think about was the Centrelink debt, and once they upped it to 30k, I was so ashamed and sad and miserable,” she says.
austerity  algorithms  automation  dystopia  australia  government  debt-collectors  robo-debt  dole  benefit  grim-meathook-future 
april 2018 by jm
The Excel Depression - NYTimes.com
Krugman on the Reinhart-Rogoff Excel-bug fiasco.
What the Reinhart-Rogoff affair shows is the extent to which austerity has been sold on false pretenses. For three years, the turn to austerity has been presented not as a choice but as a necessity. Economic research, austerity advocates insisted, showed that terrible things happen once debt exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P. But “economic research” showed no such thing; a couple of economists made that assertion, while many others disagreed. Policy makers abandoned the unemployed and turned to austerity because they wanted to, not because they had to. So will toppling Reinhart-Rogoff from its pedestal change anything? I’d like to think so. But I predict that the usual suspects will just find another dubious piece of economic analysis to canonize, and the depression will go on and on.
paul-krugman  economics  excel  coding  bugs  software  austerity  debt 
april 2013 by jm
Austerity policies founded on Excel typo
You've probably heard that countries with a high debt:GDP ratio suffer from slow economic growth. The specific number 90 percent has been invoked frequently. That's all thanks to a study conducted by Carmen Reinhardt and Kenneth Rogoff for their book This Time It's Different. But the results have been difficult for other researchers to replicate. Now three scholars at the University of Massachusetts have done so in "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff" and they find that the Reinhart/Rogoff result is based on opportunistic exclusion of Commonwealth data in the late-1940s, a debatable premise about how to weight the data, and most of all a sloppy Excel coding error.

Read Mike Konczal for the whole rundown, but I'll just focus on the spreadsheet part. At one point they set cell L51 equal to AVERAGE(L30:L44) when the correct procuedure was AVERAGE(L30:L49). By typing wrong, they accidentally left Denmark, Canada, Belgium, Austria, and Australia out of the average. When you run the math correctly "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent."
austerity  politics  excel  coding  errors  bugs  spreadsheets  economics  economy 
april 2013 by jm

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