The past 15 years have witnessed a decline in work hours for young men aged 21 to 31 years in the US. A new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper by Princeton University’s Mark Aguiar and co-authors argues that this decline is not because of lower wages; wages for young men have tracked wages for older men in this period. Instead, the researchers attribute the decline to what they term as improvements in “leisure technology", i.e., the rise of new social media platforms and video games which seem to have weaned young men, but not women or older men, away from work. And what they have lost in incomes, they may have gained in happiness, the authors conclude.

Also read: Leisure Luxuries and the Labor Supply of Young Men

Cellophane packaging was instrumental in the emergence of self-service retailing in the US in the early 20th century, according to a new research paper by Harvard University’s Ai Hisano. Cellophane wrapping only allowed for a visual understanding of a food item’s freshness, marking a departure from earlier ways of shopping when a shopper could touch, smell and even taste the produce they were buying. The chemical giant, DuPont, which received the rights to make and sell cellophane in the US, funded research that played up the efficacy of “visual shopping". It also published advertisements targeting women shoppers: the ads emphasised the appearance of food as a key indicator of freshness and quality. By the 1950s, technological developments like refrigerated shelves helped extend self-service retailing to meat products as well. A new version of cellophane that perfected moisture control and oxygen penetration helped retain longer the red appearance of red meat, leading consumers to believe in the freshness of meat products.

Also read: Cellophane, the New Visuality, and the Creation of Self-Service Food Retailing

Caste discrimination in agriculture is leading to lower returns, lower access to resources and lower levels of productivity, according to a new paper in the Economic and Political Weekly by Shankar Rao, a professor at the Council for Social Development, Hyderabad. Using unit-level data from the National Sample Survey Office’s situation assessment survey of farm households in 2013, the author finds that land productivity (physical output multiplied by price), across all sizes of landholdings, was lower for scheduled castes (SCs), scheduled tribes (STs) and other backwards classes (OBCs). The author argues that this could be due to lower castes having lesser access to education, irrigation, formal agricultural training and institutional credit.

Also read: Caste Discrimination and Agricultural Performance in India

Inter-generational income mobility in rural India has grown over the past two decades, but at a slow pace, according to a new working paper by University of Arizona’s Shariq Mohammad. While there is high within-group mobility among India’s deprived social groups such as Dalits, cross-group mobility is disappointingly low, the paper argues. At the current pace of convergence, it will take more than seven generations to bridge the income gap between social groups.

Also read: Estimating intergenerational income mobility in rural India

The EU’s fine on Google has once again brought to light the monopolistic power of internet giants like Google and Facebook. The best way to fight this is to grant users ownership of their data on these platforms, according to an article in the New York Times by economists Luigi Zingales and Guy Rolnik from the University of Chicago. Zingales and Rolnik argue that the power of these platforms stems from network externalities: if a user chooses to be on Facebook, it becomes convenient and useful for his/her friends to also be on the same site. However, if a user had ownership of their digital connections, or “social graph" on Facebook, then the user could transfer these connections to a new platform as well. This would enable new platforms to offer competition, and also give users an option to try new social networks. The authors liken their call for “social graph portability" to the mechanism for mobile number portability, which has made consumers rather than telecom firms the owners of their mobile numbers, encouraging competition in the process.

Also read: A Way to Own Your Social-Media Data

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