TED Talks Special Interest Group – exploring Fake News, CEO Compensation and Covid-19 Debt

The TED Talks Special Interest Group (SIG), has been very active, researching and discussing a number of topics in recent months.  The discussion are summarized below, along with references in case you would like to dig deeper.

New SIG members are always welcome! For information, please contact Margaret Stevens at 250-821-9678 or at mstevens847@gmail.com.
For the rest of the year, meetings will continue to be held via Zoom. Each talk is researched by a “subject matter expert,” who chooses the focus of the topic and finds a background video or article to familiarize the group with the issue. For the actual discussion of the issues, a moderator gives a brief introduction and then ensures that each participant has adequate time to articulate a position or express an opinion. The topics for the remainder of the year are:

  • Police Reform  –  Al MacDonald, October 13, 2020
  • Burden of plastics in the ocean –  Sharon Brocklesby, November 10, 2020
  • Climate Change –  Norm Kilarsky, December 8, 2020

June 2020 Report – Fake News in the Media

Sinan Aral

Carole Cadwalladr

The June session via Zoom (a little over an hour in length) explored the ramifications of mis-information in the media. Beforehand the group watched two videos. The first,1 about why fake news is prevalent today. It clearly highlighted strategies for societies to combat mis-information. It gave a chilling reminder that it is disturbingly easy to disseminate altered stories using simple editing techniques. The second2 described excellently how fake news affected the way voters in a small Welsh town voted regarding Brexit.

Our Probus members’ discussion was wide-ranging, expressing concerns not just about social media, but also about conventional television, print sources, and corporate and government sources. The most blatant examples of not just exaggerated and skewed perspectives, and actual lies; were from U.S. President Donald Trump.

Although the group recognized the numerous and varied examples of fake media content and how rapidly malicious novel content can be disseminated, we also discussed positive trends regarding our level of sophistication when evaluating news stories. Examples of our heightened awareness and skepticism were in the form of recognizing opinion pieces versus facts, everyday use of “fact-checking,” collecting information from many sources and many perspectives,

We did not solve the problem of mis-information in the media, but we have a heightened awareness and hopefully we will all think before forwarding a story that hasn’t been vetted by fact-checking first!

References:

  1. Sinan Aral, author of “The Hype Machine,” about how social media is disrupting our democracies, our economies, and our public – to be published in fall of 2020.
  2. Carole Cadwalladr, news person for The Guardian (a British newspaper). Carole was a TED Talk presenter who discussed social media’s role in the Brexit vote in a small Welsh town.

 

July 2020 Report – Is Compensation for CEO’s and Professional Athletes Reasonable?

Steve Paikin hosts The Agenda on TVO

Our July Ted Talk explored the question of whether or not compensation for CEO’s and professional athletes is reasonable. The topic was researched and presented by Al MacDonald. A highly interactive discussion ensued, mainly focusing on executive pay and how to create a more equal reimbursement structure for corporations, as well as a more diverse make-up on corporate boards. Interestingly, despite staggeringly high compensation for elite athletes, the consensus was that athletes were in a different category. They corresponded more appropriately with the entertainment sector, allowing market forces to determine their pay structure. CEO’s, on the other hand, have a direct role in determining their compensation package. It is difficult to know ahead of time which CEO’s will excel and which will be insipid. For example, a CEO who simply buys back stock provides a short term boost to a company’s stock value, but adds nothing to the company’s productivity, leading to long term decline.

Various solutions to the problem of “male, pale, and stale” corporate boards and to excessive pay for debateable CEO performance were presented. Ideas included: establishing an executive-to-worker pay ratio, regulation, taxation, transparency-rules, and prioritizing long term corporate productivity (as opposed to short term profit).

In summary, the widening gap between executive and worker compensation is real. The gap is widest in the USA, least in the EU, leaving Canada in the middle. The challenge of reining-in our increasing Geni-Index* is profoundly complex. Corporate board diversity (including worker’s representatives), a focus on long term productivity (versus short term profits), and activist institutional investors may maintain the gap at a reasonable level.

*Geni-Index (or Geni co-efficient) is a measure representing the level of inequality in a country.

References:

  1. “Canadian CEO Pay is 159 times that the Average Worker’s Salary”. Published in Business Magazine, Dec 16, 2016.
  2. “U.S. CEOs Earned 303 Times the Pay of Average Worker”. Published in Business Magazine, June 23, 2016.
  3. “Canada’s top 100 CEOs have already earned more than the average Canadian will all year”. Business Magazine, Jan 02, 2020.
  4. “These are Canada’s top 100 highest-paid CEOs for 2018”. MacLean’s, Jan 2, 2018.
  5. “A 300% Surge Makes POT CEO No.2 in Pay Ranking After Leon Musk”. Published by Bloomberg, May 17, 2019. Authors: Anders Melin, Jenn Zhao, Jason Perry and Cedric Sam.
  6. Video: https://www.tvo.org/video/executive-pay-in-canada

 

September 2020 Report – Covid-19 Debt

Kristalina Georgieva

Chrystia Freeland

Our September Ted Talk explored the Covid-19 debt issue (researched and presented by Terry Kelly). Using an interview featuring Kristalina Georgieva, the new Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Terry set the stage for our discussion of how the world and how Canada will manage the debt load resulting from Covid-19. Briefly, the IMF’s high-level view is that economies with strong fundamentals will survive, and are most likely to thrive. The important thing to do now is to provide the necessary stimulus to see us through the crisis. The IMF’s long term recommendation is to think of the crisis as an opportunity to grow towards greater digital technology/communication and towards greener energy, lowering the world’s carbon footprint. Economies which rely on remittances, tourism, and commodities are doing poorly and will suffer.

In addition to Kristalina Georgieva, we had access to a short video filmed in 2013 in which Chrystia Freeland (our new Finance Minister) provided her perspectives on macro economic trends and social disruption (akin to the onset of the industrial age) related to rapid growth in the technology industry (specifically, digital technology).

Al MacDonald provided the backbone of our subsequent discussion with the following succinct 5 point plan:

  1. Undertake “quantitative easing,” so as to keep interest rates low on borrowing, but let them rise to the range of 2% to 3 % (versus the current 1% or less) to discourage irresponsible borrowing.
  2. Let inflation rates rise to a target of 4% (acceptable range of 3% to 5%) for the foreseeable future.
  3. In third world countries, continue to encourage manufacture of basic items (i.e., running shoes and clothing) while progressing toward more advanced products to reinforce their efforts to climb out of poverty.
  4. Undertake to achieve significant positive progress in gender and racial equality around the world.
  5. Encourage a culture of consistency in dealing with pandemics around the world.

We learned that national debt is very different from personal debt and that the debt-to-GDP ratio is more important to consider than the debt-alone. Encouragingly, interest rates are low and investments in forward-looking technologies will serve us well.

Reference materials were extensive due to the complex nature of the subject. Only the primary references are listed below.

References:

https://www.ted.com/talks/kristalina_georgieva_how_to_rebuild_the_global_economy (IMF, May 18, 2020)
https://www.ted.com/talks/nicola_sturgeon_why_governments should_prioritize_well_being#t-6515 (July, 2019)
https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_metcalfe_a_provocative_way_to_finance_the_fight_against_climate_change (November, 2015)
https://www.ted.com/talks/chrystia_freeland_the_rise_of_the_new_global_super_rich?language=ha#t-33900

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