Rachel Lipson

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On November 20, 2016, Rachel Lipson commented on Inmate Reform Goes Digital :

Very cool post! I am glad to see attention being paid to what I think is one of the greatest challenges facing our country- the mass incarceration of our citizens.

I definitely applaud these efforts to move towards digital learning in prisons- especially to the extent that this can increase access to courses and skill-building to a larger number of people in prison.

However, I do have some concerns about moving in completely a digital direction in this very unique prison context. I would think that in order for a former inmate to successfully get a job once s/he is out of prison, social interactions, including ability to work in teams and communicate effectively will play a large role in their success in the workplace. I also have read many studies showing how important social capital can be in helping people to actually find jobs. So I worry a little bit that moving too far towards technology-based learning could deprive prisoners of useful social interactions in a live classroom setting that could prove useful once back in the working world. On the social capital side, the people that prisoners meet in classes in prison could actually be very helpful in helping them find jobs afterwards. So, as laudable as the efforts are, I would just advise perhaps a bit of caution in moving towards a fully digital prison education model.

On November 20, 2016, Rachel Lipson commented on Quality Food, Fast – Deliveroo and the On Demand Economy :

Interesting post.

You highlighted some of the big distributional consequences/questions about Deliveroo’s business model that I think are very important.

I’m also interested though in the role that a company like Deliveroo can play in improving food supply chains to deliver FRESH, HEALTHY food not just to wealthy consumers who can afford private delivery… but also, whether the innovations they’ve discovered in the process can be applied to help bring the same kinds of fresh & healthy foods to lower-income populations. One way I thought about was whether there could be bulk drop-off/delivery points in a neighborhood where people would actually come and meet up with Deliveroo drivers. Making use of these kinds of efficiencies could bring down prices for consumers, so that it’s not only wealthy people who are able to benefit from healthy, convenient services like this one.

On November 20, 2016, Rachel Lipson commented on With automatic trains, why are train strikes in New Jersey still a thing? :

Really interesting topic! As a past frequent user of NJ Transit, this post really resonated with me, especially in the context of the latest accident in Hoboken about a month ago (that’s actually my home line). I recall reading an article that claimed that investments in more modern safety technology have the potential to have prevented that crash too.

I’m not sure the funding/capital investment question is as simple as presented in the post. I actually see the availability of financing as the primary obstacle to implementation, not the union. The way that the US funds its public transportation is very localized (and unfortunately, therefore inefficient in my humble opinion). If more federal funds were available to fund these improvements (which ultimately,as you note, will improve safety and save lives!) I think we would see much faster adoption and implementation of automated trains.

Super interesting and relevant post!

A good friend of mine is actually working at a start up in SF that is developing and democratizing online curriculum content in exactly the way that you describe… aka Pearson’s competition. One of the things her company has emphasized (based off the developers’ own experiences as teachers) is that it is much more efficient and helpful for students to receive immediate feedback when they are making their way through traditional “textbook” exercises, rather than having to wait for someone to grade the problems.

One area of opportunity I see for Pearson is to develop its own set of “tutorials” or lessons plans that can be triggered automatically when a student gets a question wrong. This way, the students’ misunderstanding of a concept is addressed right away, rather than building up and accelerating into other problems over time.

Another thing I thought about while reading this was whether Pearson is at all worried about the threat from pirating/theft of its intellectual property because of digitization.

Finally, I was wondering how Pearson’s assessment of the relative likeliness/unlikeliness of common core adoption affects its operating model and decisions.

On November 20, 2016, Rachel Lipson commented on Three lessons from building the digital city :

Hey Peter,

Very cool post! I was especially interested to read about the unique and unanticipated challenges that Intersection has faced in implementation.

Would be useful to know a little bit more about Intersection’s revenue model — does the city contract these services out? Is it a one-time fee or subscription basis? What do their margins look like?

I would also love to hear from your perspective how the city thinks about the cost-benefit analysis for these kinds of investments. As you mentioned, we live in a world with finite public resources, so it seems to me like a tough decision to know when to spend on these kinds of technological advances in a context when budgets for basic service provision around the world are often getting hit. Can Intersection directly attribute cost savings in other government spending categories linked to its services?

On November 7, 2016, Rachel Lipson commented on McDonald’s France, environmental urgency and operational excellence :

I would be interested to know if McDonald’s actions on climate change have been very different in France than in other countries in the world… Can we attribute this fully to as you say “popular pressure” and perception of the issue as a major public problem in France? Or if McDonald’s response is indeed stronger in France, are there other factors that could be affecting their actions and explaining why they’ve taken a more aggressive stance (i.e. regulation, management, cost structure)? In this vein, I would also be interested to know if some of the measures that McDF would be transferable to other markets. One thing that strikes me is that their supply chain innovations on delivery might not be as effective in a less dense/more sprawling environment.

On November 7, 2016, Rachel Lipson commented on Is it all a Hoax? The GOP and Climate Change :

Glad you chose this topic! It’s been interesting to see how the GOP has actually regressed on this issue over the last 8 years, moving against the current, rather than moving towards accepting the scientific consensus as it has strengthened. As you mentioned, ironically enough, in 2008, John McCain actually ran on a pretty aggressive climate change platform. One thing that’s been interesting re: your point about manipulating semantics is that I think there are major voices in the party who privately acknowledge the existence of the warming planet, yet think that we are too late or that any solutions we have are futile, so instead, we should focus on other issues that affect all our lives in the here and the now. It is kind of a truth avoidance kind of mechanism- and given all the tax cutting, it’s convenient to decide that we don’t have to do any spending on this area! Ross Douthat wrote an interesting point justifying this kind of viewpoint among conservatives a few years back: http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/reform-conservatism-and-climate-change/?_r=0

I also think we should consider the position of the party on the issue within the context of its broader, and extreme anti-regulatory rhetoric over the past decade. I think there are many leaders in the party who know the problem is there, and yet, think that a government regulator is not going to be the actor to solve it (and may instead make it worse?). I wholly disagree with this view (to me, it is obvious that there is market failure here/negative externalities that the government must step in to address) but it is a least perhaps a more intellectually consistent explanation.


On November 7, 2016, Rachel Lipson commented on Flying Somewhere? Boston Airport’s Plan for Climate Change :

Relevant topic that affects all of us!

I completely agree with you re: the need to prioritize and increase the budget for resilience. The question I have is where the money will come from to make those investments. For those who have been living in Boston for some time, we’ve seen the T face similar problems with maintenance, and the state has also struggled to adequately fund rehabilitation of critical infrastructure like bridges (https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/05/28/progress-made-but-many-massachusetts-bridges-remain-structurally-deficient/YxmG7eC4pj1xNK3oHyMcdM/story.html). In a world with competing public priorities, it can be hard to make the case for the urgency of this investment over others (terminal expansions, transport links etc.) I would be interested to know if there were any federal sources that MassPort could tap that would help with this challenge.

On November 7, 2016, Rachel Lipson commented on Whole Foods Not Wholly Prepared for Climate Change :

Love the title!

One element that I thought about as I read this post is how climate change might affect Whole Foods prices (which, as you mentioned briefly, are already exorbitantly high). Given that most of the US population is already basically priced out of buying organic food from Whole Foods… I’m wondering if they’ve given any thought to how they might maintain current (already high) prices to reach a larger market when overall supply of many of their specialty items is going to be on the decline. In general, I think this is going to be an important question for society to tackle, as many of the effects of climate change are going to be unequally distributed across income strata.

On November 7, 2016, Rachel Lipson commented on How to help farmers in Uganda adapt to climate change? :

Hi Ina! Cool post – I’ve been a casual follower of One Acre Fund’s work and am very impressed by their model!
Just a quick thought on your last suggestion re: local governments. I am a bit skeptical that local governments will have 1) the mandate to legislate policies like carbon taxes and 2) the capacity to actual implement the changes. My sense is that collaboration on these kinds of issues (carbon taxes, cap and trade) would most likely have to be at a national or maybe sub-national level. That said, I think there is good potential for the organization to partner with local governments on more micro-level issues like resilience, and tactics to ameliorate some of the most intense impacts of climate change. I wonder also if One Acre Fund can use its voice to serve as more of a convening power on these issues, for instance, bringing together the farmers in its network to advocate to national governments about the urgency of climate-friendly policies for their future well-being.