Monday, August 29, 2016

ISDS: The Trade Dispute Arbitration System Whereby Money Flaunts Laws as Suits it

The lead off article in Buzzfeed on the ISDS system is a must read. It seems that trade laws that allows Big Money to move investment, and thus jobs, wherever it pleases, aren't bad enough now. The arbitration system to settle disputes between business' and nations has been so coopted, over the decades of its creation, that it is little more than a rubber stamp on what best suits the players in Big Money.

As I have said before, Big Money always finds a way; either at the front end of reform, or at the back end, via the long game. And a majority of the main players in both parties continue to support the trade deals that allow this to continue.

The Secret Justice System That Lets Executives Escape their Crimes

Using the Process to Simply Sell More of Himself

As this article makes clear, the odds are that Trump has never really intended to be President. Why would a brand boy risk same by taking on an office that is almost guaranteed to leave that brand tarnished beyond all measure. And it only takes a moment to see why.

Even a candidate who starts out as very popular is likely to accomplish very little. The acrimonious partisan split now leaves us with a situation where neither side feels much incentive to help the other side's candidate be successful after all (with the nation's interests be damned). If you then have a candidate enter the office as unpopular as Trump is to even his own, supposed, party, how much is he going to accomplish legislatively? How much of all of the blather he's been feeding his chump brigades is actually going to happen?

Nothing he does, certainly is going to endear him to people who already dislike him, but if he disappoints that relatively big (in a marketing sense) group he now has at his beck and call, what then? Does that make for "what comes after" anything lucrative at all?

You've got to wonder if he's trying to walk a very careful line between being just legitimate enough to still be considered a viable candidate, but not too legitimate to actually win. If he isn't then he's a bigger ego maniac than any of us have considered so far; trying to win something simply to satisfy a sense of personal gratification at the expense of what has always allowed him to earn what millions he has so far.

What you really have to ask yourself is this: Even if his ego is as big, or bigger, than his desire to earn more money (and the prestige that goes with that), how could he resist the chance to have a failed campaign launch him into a bigger media career? The whole thing is so self supporting after all. He has the automatic out of claiming he didn't lose from any fault of his own; what with all the haters, and everything rigged against him, as he is so fond of suggesting. And not having to actually deliver any of the B.S. he promised will guarantee him he market he needs to launch a subscription web channel that will likely be a gold mine for both his ego and his fiscal bottom line.

So, just stay tuned has he continues to sort of follow along on the "teleprompter" standard of a normal campaign, and the careful sprinkling of the usual bombast that will keep his base happily engaged. The former to keep it looking like an actual campaign, and the latter will ensure enough outrage to keep him from actually winning.

The only real wild card here is the Clinton Campaign. Will she self destruct enough to offset Trump's calculated balancing act? And can you imagine Trump's horror at trying to figure out just how much more bombast he has to add to counteract it?

Donald Trump Could Win Big Even If He Loses Election

See Also:

Introducing the Trump News Channel—Coming in 2017?

If Trump loses, his consolation prize may be a whole new right wing media juggernaut.

Trump Recommits to Mass Deportation in Fiery Immigration Speech

Trump 'Misled' Us on Immigration Plan: Key Latino Backer

by and 

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Different Narratives We Have in Our Heads, And the Hardships that have Shaped Them

Mother Jones has recently run a piece by Arlie Russell Hochschild, a professor emeritus of Sociology at University of California-Berkeley, that gives a sense of what life feels like for a region of bedrock Republicans in Louisiana. It is a wonderful piece of investigative journalism that I urge all of you to read. I say that because it puts a very human face to folks whose views, and values, we might not fully appreciate when we disagree with how they express them politically.

In particular in this piece is featured a single mom who has made her way, successfully for the most part, despite some significant hardships. Doing it in a state not only economically depressed, educationally disadvantaged, but one who seems to have been one of our nation's primary chemical toilets for a good number of decades now. And when you read about this woman you can't help but have a great deal of respect for her. She's made her way by dint of grit and determination that you can see in her eyes has cost her no small amount.

I can't help but contrast this with my own story. Different region. Different development history. Abundant hydro power attracting aerospace, and other technical industries, but still having its own difficulties in funding schooling, as well a mental health, or counseling in general for folks in need. In that I had to deal with a severely mentally ill mother, and self medicating alcoholic. A father who was hardly ever home enough to be involved in my growing up because he had to work so much as a salesman to make ends meet for a family of five kids.

My sisters and I grew up having to be not only co-mothers, but significant care givers to our severely handicapped younger brother (cerebral palsy). In this, the only way to get much time with my father was to start working for him at the age of 14, driving fork lift, and keeping his ever growing stash of aerospace surplus organized. And with the difficulty with my mom, I was out on my own at the age of 16. From that point on, I've gone through a significant list of shit jobs (fast food burger boy, restaurant dishwasher, brick stacker in a brick manufacturer, and restaurant cleaner).

I went to school nights to get my first two years of college (at one junior state junior college), and then benefited, later on, via the CETA program, in getting an associates of science degree in data processing at another state junior college (which, I hasten to add, only cost the government for barely one year of schooling because I already had transferable credits from my first two years of school). This then allowed me to eventually secure a living as a successful IT professional, that I then spent 20+ years at. All along the way here, other than the CETA program, a brief receipt of food stamps my first wife and needed to get when my son was born, and then a brief receipt of unemployment when, after the the "Great Depression," getting further IT work became more difficult (both because of the economic downturn, and my age in the early sixties), I have never taken any other handouts.

I mention all of this because it is just so striking to me just how different my life narrative has been compared to the woman described in the Mother Jones article. And by narrative I mean the way I would describe my social view of how life works. And to understand this better you first need to hear the narrative from the folks in Louisiana:
"You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you're being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He's on their side. In fact, isn't he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It's not your government anymore; it's theirs."
My view of life is more along these lines:
Economic life is setup to separate and isolate all of us from each other. It does this not only because we have to specialize, and thus work within an industry group that mandates its own set of things that are important, but also because, even when industry groups in different regions are the same, they are likely in competition with each other. This economic life is also set up to create an environment that saturates us with want, 24-7. Want that is seldom healthy, or self improving. This is absolutely mandatory because it is the only way consumption, which is the only thing that makes a job possible, can keep up with an ever increasing ability to produce. And because markets, as well as competitive advantage, are both always fluctuating, job stability, and security, is questionable at best. As such, the stability of any family can become equally questionable. Without stability, the ability to pass on values of any kind, let alone a disciplined attitude towards delayed gratification, also becomes questionable. And so, generation after generation, we have more and more folks unable to make good choices.
One of the other things about my region, of course, that sets it apart is that it has had a significant history of anti Capitalist fervor. You add that to a school system that, whatever other shortcomings it may have had, did manage to pass on one very important thing: the ability, as well as the desire, to not only read, but to understand and integrate the things you've read into logically consistent sets of ideas. And for that I will always be very greatful. That being said, however, it is also a formula primed to produce people who are going to question things in general, as well as how power works in particular.

You might think from all of this that I would still tend to think quite critically of folks like the woman in the Mother Jones article, but that really isn't the case. I certainly don't agree with all of their view of life, but I do understand it. If I had grown up living there, dealing with the poison dumped on them, the lack of economic stability, and the near absolute lack of viable social infrastructure (good schools, decent health care, etc) I am pretty sure I'd feel the same way. The thing is, though, despite the differences in how we see things, I still think there is room to find common ground here.

What I would hope that we have to realize here is that it is not the various other players in economic life that are our opponents; despite what may seem like advantages or disadvantages, or fair and not fair receipt of same. As Clint Eastwood said in the "Unforgiven" a few years back, "deserving's got nothing to do with it." This is so because the game itself, that we all find ourselves forced to play in, is not only rigged, it is fundamentally flawed. It is rigged because the powerful can flaunt the rules pretty much any time it suits then. And it is seriously flawed because technology has rendered its basic assumptions meaningless; as in, for instance, that human skill is still a viable commodity.

I would further hope that, even as we keep to the values we feel are the bedrock of who we are, we can still see our way holding on to this common ground, even if some of those values seem to differ between us. After all, we don't have to like each other to cooperate. We just have to see the common self interest involved so that we can both prosper as we see fit. Must that really be such a hard thing to do?


How Donald Trump took a narrative of unfairness and twisted it to his advantage.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Reciprocal Altruism and the Fundamental Assumptions of Market Based Thinking

Another interesting article from Bloomberg has come out that deserves a read. It's from Megan McArdle and it delves into the dichotomy of having no problem with ordinary commodities, or services, being provided to us via a market system (with the usual provider rewards --profit-- understood to be a logical component), but then getting upset when socially important ones (subjectively determined of course) are made to submit to the same market forces. And she certainly has a point. If you play within a market system, trying to isolate singular sectors within it to which completely different rules should apply is going to cause problems.

Which brings us to the quandary of health care as a nexus of services and products. This one is particularly unique in that it is wrapped quite tightly within a host of extremely specialized skill sets.

All choices are a combination of tradeoffs though, right? To some degree we are willing to accept new difficulties if taking a certain choice provides some countervailing benefit. And however you might define what "socially important" might be, we have, over time, agreed that there can be things that fall into that, sometime ambiguous, category. That being said, though, doesn't change the fact that there are still limits to how much you can bend underlying market rules no matter how well intentioned you motives might be.

The thing is, however, technological change has this amazing tendency to make former assumptions quite questionable. Foremost, in this case, being the idea that all skill lies within the sole purview of human practitioners.

In the past this was quite understandable. It could take years of training, and apprenticeship, to acquire a particular skill set, There was also the fact that geographic location might not have developed it at all, or not to the same degree as another; so it was also natural that different regions would gravitate to doing particular sets of things other regions either couldn't do, or simply couldn't to the same degree of quality.

The advent of repeatable print technology eased this situation to some degree as the mobility of books began to make knowledge more universally available. But then came electricity, which could not only transmit knowledge wider, and faster, but which could store the full complexity of conditionalized process, with all of the contingency branching any process might require, and then express the material manifestation of the desired output. Whereupon that store, or what we now know as software, can be placed, at the click of an icon, anywhere in the world where the machines to use it have already been delivered (which, with modern transportation, is also a much more easily accomplished task).

It is in this new environment where one has to ask themselves why skill as a commodity makes any sense at all any more. To ask whether we ought to be considering that a new organizational model is not only possible, but quite likely essential.

Not everything has been rendered to "software" yet, but that is not to say it won't be. Then again, not everything should be rendered to "software." The same thing goes for specialization. I don't think it is likely we could ever get rid of it, but why would we even want to? People specialize for the same reason that human taste is so variable. Saying that, though, doesn't mean we can't de emphasize it within the context of how we organize ourselves. If we were to take direct responsibility for both our community's productive infrastructure, as well as the productive decisions of same, we could work a balance between automation and specialization. We could eliminate monetary exchange for the inducement of skill reproduction and switch to cooperative production, and maintenance, for the creation of materia basics, and then make whatever end use items desired ourselves, and we would be able to because we would have an equity share of the basics.

This is possible. It wouldn't be easy, by any means, to implement, but it is possible. And given the extremes of where Capitalism is taking us now, it is absolutely mandatory that we try.

Health Care Is a Business, Not a Right

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

For Profit Education and the Gutting of Public Responsibility

When viewed from the lens of not only for profit colleges, but charter schools for K-12 education, letting the the insatiable thirst for profit insinuate itself into something that is an essential public good, is just one of the more ugly aspects of Capitalism at work. And of course, we see the spillover of this sort of thing in for profit prisons, fire departments, and policing. It shouldn't surprise us then that the real bottom line for this abdication of public responsibility is the usual corner cutting, rule flaunting, and deliver the best minimum you can get away with, with the least expense, mentality that usually benefits the service provider a great deal more than the customer.

That Hillary Clinton would make this one of her campaign talking points (only in the sense of addressing how students might more easily pay for questionable educational services), while she and her husband have been reaping in amazing sums from a major education service provider, is hypocrisy writ large. Kind of like the post I did awhile back on her claiming that she would take money out of politics. 

In all of this do we see ample expression that the Clintons are the poster children for the Democratic party as "Republican Light;" which, now that the Republicans have moved so far to the right, is really not sparing the Dems much in the way of criticism any more. And so we are reminded of just how distasteful even contemplating voting for her is. That being said, however, the fact remains that voting for the other guy is still far more worse. A fact that, in my mind, ought to really bring home to everyone just how fucked up American politics has become (however inconceivable nobody noticing that may be at this point).

It will come as no surprise to you that, for me, the majority share of the responsibility for this lays directly at the feet of an economic operating system whose demand for profit has become a cancer all its own. A cancer that eats into every aspect of our lives, killing more and more of the connective social tissue that a society needs in order to be a working, healthy whole.

Hillary Blasts For-Profit Colleges, but Bill Took Millions From One

See Also:

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Another Aspect in What Should be Considered When Putting so Much Into "Worker" Productivity

This article from Bloomberg about the variability of hours worked by those who have had to accept lower paying jobs is instructive not only for the skepticism we should give to the assumed benefit rising employment statistics, but also to the human factor in what affects "productivity." In the cold view of traditional economics if productivity doesn't rise with real wage rate increases then that is bad (feather bedding employees!). Something in the system has to be punished; whether by rising interest rates, or pressure to lower wages, or both. And it may well be that it's not just workers who get the brunt end of the stick, but you can bet that the major holders of capital don't mind so much. They like to charge more for lending their counters, or to have better returns on big deposits.

Just more to keep in mind when you hear about singular economic statistics.

Worker Hours Are More Unpredictable Than Ever

After the recession, hourly workers have a harder time.

Boycott Companies that Won't Accept Cash

It would be far better, from my perspective, to get rid of a money economy altogether, of course, but short of that just be warned. If you allow the masters of money to get rid of cash you are setting up a seamless means for those in power to not only monitor ever more closely what you do, but to also intimidate you should you happen to piss them off. Not to mention the fact that it also closes the circle on increasing the probability of their ability to charge you for every transaction you make. After all, once you have no other option other than some card, or app, or other abstract mechanism, what could you do about increased fee charges, or whatever other sort of abuse they might decide to place upon you?

In fact, how long might it take for them to decide that having an authorization chip, somewhere on or in, your person, might be predicated on more than what they might call "good credit?" What euphemism might they come up for other undesirable traits (in their view of course)? "Disruptive?" "Subversive?" ...I think you get the idea. And though you might think it a bit excessive, or conspiratorial, now, consider how possible you would have thought recent drug price increases (a vastly more singularly controlled market now) would have been a decade or two ago (three or four hundred percent? Seriously?)

Banks, governments, credit card companies and fintech evangelists all want us to believe a cashless future is inevitable and good. But this isn't a frictionless utopia says Brett Scott, and it's time to fight back

19th August 2016
Illustrations by Scott Garrett

Monday, August 22, 2016

Convection, Evaporation, Condensation and Pressure Change

I've said it before and I'll say it again. More heat means greater transfer effect in the process of mitigating differentials. And as long as we have cold from the poles, and oceans and air and surfaces to absorb and radiate, this will continue. The question then becomes which will go away first, at least in practical terms for us?

Cruel Summer:
Floods, fires and heat

by Andrew Freedman

See Also:


By the end of the century, the number of 100-degree days across the United States will skyrocket.

The Speculative Mortgage Mess of the Great Depression Has Only Been Partially Fixed

Surprize surprize. Even though a great deal has been done to ensure that the Great Depression won't happen again (with new rules and mandated capital reserves), one aspect of the fix for that fiasco still remains. The mortgage bonds business that now aggregates most home loans is in the guaranteed hands of the United States Government. That is to say that virtually all of these bonds are now backed by the U.S. taxpayer; a service that is provided without fees being charged or, more importantly, without any reserve capitalization to have on hand to cushion possible failure events. Congress, it seems, in setting us up as the fail safe stop gap against failure, at the height of the 2008 panic, hasn't gotten around to putting things back to a true, competitive, normal.

To say that this is not good is like saying Congress may tend to gridlock in the years to come. But that is representational government now in the age of electrically mutated Capitalism. The next failure to get them to actually do something about it might make 2008 look like a walk in the park; if for no other reason than the pressures massing in other social/economic fault lines would be triggered in a cascade event.

Housing in America

Nightmare on Main Street

America’s housing system was at the centre of the last crisis. It has still not been properly reformed

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Setting the Stage for the Commercial Wars of the Future

As this Popular Mechanics article suggests, space mining of asteroids is going to happen. As it stands now, however, the United States government is ready to virtually ignore a space treaty signed by in 1967 that tried to address the "property" legalities involved in such enterprise.

On the one hand it is part of our settler DNA that prospecting, and settling, sort of go hand in hand with "who get's there first owns it" thinking. Things get trickier in outer space when you go to a, say, small city sized piece of rock and claim the whole thing once you bring it back to a more useful celestial position for processing. This is so because, so far, the assumptions in the 1967 treaty are a kind of extension of law of the seas precidents.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that good (in a purely legal context) arguments can be made for both sides of keeping, or not keeping, with the spirit of the 67 treaty.  This should not, however, be the sole criteria by which we decide these issues. Another should be giving serious consideration to whether allowing another "gold rush" kind of mentality to take over at all is really such a good idea at all; especially as it relates the underlying commercial dynamic driving it all. If we continue with the usual "it's a matter of economic power" thinking we will be shackling ourselves to further generations of zero sum gaming between nations. And I, personally, cannot think of anything more stupid or shortsighted.

The abundance of intrasolar resources will be made to be a joke if corporations, and/or the nations that are made to follow along after them, take control of these resources merely as a means to continue the disastrous farce that Capitalism has become; because with that farce will follow all of the folly that the economics of scarcity has already demonstrated over the course of many centuries of history; wars, disadvantaged populations, and distributions of power that have already made a living hell out of our planet.

If we don't stop now and think carefully about how we are to proceed, as we start stepping out beyond the gravity well of our current home, we will have learned nothing from history, any more than of what confronts us now day to day. We must realize that these steps out and about must be inclusive and devoid of the corrosive effects of money, and "cost" based thinking. The infrastructure to get there, and the benefits derived once access is granted, must be made on an equitable system of distribution for the entire planet.

If we can work out the quite difficult aspects of cooperation this would demand we might just have a chance to survive as a species. And make no mistake, it will be difficult, with all of the mistrust crashing about now, but to not try would not only be stupidity of unbelievable proportions, it would be immorality on a vast new scale.

Think about this. Talk to your friends about it. Take positive action to make it a priority for out government.

The Biggest Barrier to Asteroid Mining Isn't Technical, It's Legal

​It may still sound like science fiction, but we'll be mining outer space much sooner than you think.

Friday, August 19, 2016

How Much More is Going on Here Than We Can Tell So Far in Aetna Merger Threat?

As the linked article below indicates Aetna has been trying to play a game of brinksmanship with the Government on getting its way for a merger deal with Humana; as in give us want we want or we won't participate in the Affordable Care Act any more. And of course they play the "we can't make money here" card because, if we're to believe them, people in the Act's market pool are a lot sicker than they anticipated.

Obviously, there may be at least some truth to that claim, but you have to ask yourself how likely it is that this one point is the whole story. And, as is usually the case, we don't get much in the way of related information in which to make any kind of more comprehensive sense of the situation.

One need only consider what has happened to drug prices in recent months to wonder if other aspects of the health care system are at play here, other than whatever faults the Affordable Care Act might have. Any more than we've been given a deeper view of Aetna's claim of why they are losing money. There were, in fact, reports earlier in the year that other payers (see here, and here), who began at the outset of the Act's creation to prepare for market pool membership, were doing just fine with it. Wouldn't it have been nice to have been given a contrast, given details of what those other payers were doing that Aetna wasn't, to see if it is only a case of the remaining deficiencies in the Affordable Care Act that is at fault here?

Let's be clear here. The Affordable Care Act was a "something is better than nothing" compromise; especially when you consider what a real single payer approach can do (as demonstrated by the advanced nations who are using it now). It undoubtedly still has problems that need to be addressed, but what doesn't within the healthcare system as a whole? Just considering the outrageous profiteering by drug companies, or the lack of pricing transparency with hospitals, is enough to make one sick with despair. And that doesn't even begin to put light on what the payers are doing with their ledger books when it comes to figuring costs, or what reasonable profit margins ought to be.

The bottom line here is this: when you see a news report you have to develope the habit of always asking deeper questions because one fact, whether true or not, without full context doesn't necessarily tell you very much as far as the bigger picture of what our priorities ought to be, or how we should address them.

Image for the news result

Aetna Threatened to Quit Obamacare if U.S. Blocked Humana Merger

See Also:

How the Democrats Are Failing Obamacare

Their signature legislative achievement needs a fix. It’s time for them to stop pretending everything’s fine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Another Indication of How the Efficacy of Investment Matters

In the article linked below we see yet again how there is a social cost to Investment decisions. Just as whether particular Investment paths have greater, or lesser, job creation possibilities, other investment decisions can isolate whole groups of people in self perpetuating disadvantage. And yet the social charge to profit related to investments of poor efficacy bear absolutely no corresponding relationship; where, in fact, especially with real estate investments, there can be unconscionable incentives to continue, or increase, such poor efficacy investments.

The bottom line here is that there are costs to profit that go far beyond the cost of borrowing, or the cost of labor. And yet how little is it paid attention to when considered in comparison to the productivity to labor?

But then that is just the cold facts relationships of capital that Capitalism forces upon us. And in that incessant emphasis on ledger book thinking, perhaps, is the real immorality of continuing with such a system. The disconnect from real human need, and suffering that such thinking allows, which puts the pain, and debasement, that such isolated groups must endure, to be easily objectified as either the unfortunate consequences of economic growth, or, even more coldly, the poor choices of those who don't do whatever it takes to work their way out of such disadvantage, thus becoming as inhuman as the system itself (stepping on whatever needs to be stepped on, and ignoring whatever needs to be ignored).

The really sad thing in all of this is that we now have a real, and viable, choice in how we go about the process of creating, and distributing, material need, and wellbeing. It need no longer be based on the segmentation and objectification of the factory, with the grinding gears of same greased by the controlled flow of said abstract counters. With the right blend of applied technology, and our own direct participation, we can organize things so that it would be the effort involved to get things done, rather than the counters, and who would provide them, that would be our major consideration.

This is possible. Quite difficult certainly, but still quite possible. We first, however, must recognize that the need for change is absolutely necessary.

It's Not Easy to Borrow While Black in Milwaukee and Other Cities of Unrest

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Collateral Damage of Political Cowardice, As Well as Willful Ignorance

As the article linked below indicates, the question now about Trump falls not to him but to the party that spawned him, and the chumps who still support him: How much uglier, or outright vile, must his actions be before the majority of them open they eyes, see the truth, and act accordingly. Will it indeed be the bloody act of some singular, or collected, individuals? An act that we shouldn't limit to just the killing of one person. He's whipped them up into a hate charge tsunami of irrational need to lash out after all. And given them more than one delusional scapegoat to take it out on. And if that wave comes to manifest itself, how will we deal with the resultant chain reaction of chaos it will create? Will that chaos even allow a hint of a chance to mete out responsibility after the fact? It's almost too scary to even contemplate at all (the Democrats with no candidate only a few weeks before the election? Or mobs going after a few and only creating further mobs in reaction?)

The fact that Clinton, as a candidate, may be no great prize shouldn't dissuade us. Her unbelievable lack of discipline regarding emails within the process of governing deserves criticism. But that being said, she is still a person of responsibility and reasonable judgement whether you agree with her policies or not. She is also a loving mother. To put her into the crosshairs of hate in the manner that Mr. Trump has is as unconscionable as it is immoral. And then to do the same to groups of people he has no clue about, let alone the inclination to better understand, is no more than to start yelling fire in a crowded room for nothing more than personal gain. One has little left then but to wonder if this is indeed the marks of a true psychopath.

If you don't disown this aberration with outright, and unequivocal, condemnation, and work thereafter to remove him from the position you have put him in then, whatever bloody folly that may come, the stains will be indelibly on your hands.

After Donald Trump's 'Second Amendment' Comment, Is There Anything He Can't Say?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Is There a Sustained Trend Line of Falling Productivity Now?

There is confusion of late, in the world of economics, as to whether overall productivity has pushed over into a sustained downward trend. Not surprising at the get go when you consider how many ways you can come at trying to deduce productivity. On the one hand you might use the ratio of total GDP to total hours worked, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses. Or, you might get a bit more granular in considering actual unit labor costs industry to industry and aggregate them in some way.

Lately, as the article linked below indicates, unit labor costs have been rising, but a lot of economists still question whether that is actually decreasing productivity, with a consensus that may be forming that we just aren't getting a good handle on how to measure it properly any more; especially given new complexities with not only the introduction of new technology, but with how labor is applied industry to industry.

You need only consider the IT industry for a minute or two to see how this goes. New tools are constantly being applied to make analysts and developers more productive. Sometimes, though, the pace of change itself makes the potential for productivity improvement quite problematic in the face of never ending learning curves and integrating past and present systems designed by different paradigms, or approaches. And if that were bad enough, you then throw in the whole world of temp workers.

With temp workers you get a very peculiar situation. The up front costs to the company that utilizes them can be higher on an per hour basis as they quite often pay a premium to the agency that plays middle man between hiring company and worker. The overall costs can be lower because the employed won't be adding to the employer's benefits bill (considering both 401K's and healthcare). This might then produce a spike in the unit cost per hour for that employee, that really isn't related to that person's actual productivity.

One has to wonder, when considering this sort of thing, whether the situation should give us cause for hope or not within the context of whether a means to clarity will be found. I, for one, cannot help but be pessimistic in this regard.

Just as the added speed of change, with the speed of actual operation of systems in, say financial transactions, are making oversight and control ever more difficult, keeping track of the ever more evolving relation of labor to production, and the need for the rapid flow of capital, with assured net gain, is also increasingly difficult to know how to pin down; let alone to know just how problematic the value of one snapshot in time may be in telling you what to expect from the massive mix down the road. One might even be forgiven to think that, within such complexity, in the compression of change, period to period, that the whole exercise has become a fool's erand.  Just remember, this is, overall, an electrically amplified feedback system that is cycling through itself ever more out of the reach of human comprehension. That is the fundamental nature of hyper competition, and the technological change that both feed into each other.

What ought to be irritating, however, is that what you get paid will be affected by this obviously imperfect system. Even more irritating, though, ought to be the question why the productivity of capital is hardly ever questioned, with profits often being applied far outside what might be either practically applied to economic efficacy, or socially applied to real human need.

In Longest Stretch Since 1979, U.S. Productivity Falls Again

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

An Ugly Kind of Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge

Trump's open ended, thinly veiled suggestion that "...By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know..." is the "Brown Shirt," thug version of a sexual innuendo. And it is as plain as that hair of his is ugly.

If this were just a call for his supporters to take political action, and he were a nominally sane person, the thrust of the statement would have been more along the lines of "...we can't allow ourselves to lose hope for our cause simply because a candidate who doesn't share our views might get to pick judges. There are things we can do because that is what is great about American Democracy. We can organize. We can get our message out. We can make our case with the facts to show the American people that her position is just plain wrong..."

Instead what he has done is to inflame a sense of hopelessness, within a dark sense of cataclysmic finality, unless, of course, a certain advocacy group does something about it, which he leaves solely to the imagination of the perceiver. What other conclusion can you make when, on the one hand he starts with "there's nothing you can do," and a moment later suggests "maybe there is, I don't know." How could there be more of a cowardly way to say "maybe you guys can think of something, but I don't even want to know about it."

All I can say about people who continue to support him is shame on you. An amoral, egotistical monster does his song and dance of hate and you turn a blind eye towards it. Simply unfathomable.

Trump 'Second Amendment' Quip Seen as Veiled Threat Against Clinton

Another Republican Flight Through the Fantasy of Supply Side Economics

Tax cuts to bring more investments. Declarations that we need more work to be the least taxed, and the most attractive place to invest in when we are already nearly the former, and actually at the latter. A $12 Trillion plan that is likely to leave federal government $10 Trillion short. A plan that can do nothing but more of making fewer people able to actually afford things that can already be made in vast abundance.

Did you really expect anything different from a selfish, self centered, rich man?

Trump Touts Sweeping, and Costly, Tax-Cut Plan

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Profits Up, Wages Down... And A Shrinking Middle Class

The recent uptick in real wage growth, however long or brief it might be, is most likely spread between the bottom tier and top tier jobs, and even then mostly in the top tier. As a percentage of our total workforce, that area of job creation can hardly be expected to make huge contributions, even assuming it too continues for any length of time.

Meanwhile, that part of the American economy that has almost always represented the backbone of generational advancement is disappearing. Without a middle class, the dreams of parents, and their children, to be able to do better becomes ever more hollow. And as statistics are already showing, not only are fewer of us are able to own a home, but it's likely for most of us to be increasingly unable to take on the debt that would educate us into that upper tier of technical employment.

At some point here we're going to have to face the fact that the problem is the system itself. Having now become electrified, and accelerating an ever upward spiral of competition, the long term trend can hardly be expected to favor a growth in jobs that can pay something even a little bit more than a basic living wage; not when the number of people who need employment keep growing at the same time that the competitive viability of human skill keeps falling. Ever advancing technological capability you see has a form of collateral damage all its own when it comes to the value of skill as a commodity.

What we are faced with here is the fundamental requirement to rethink how the production, and distribution, of material need, and wellbeing, is conducted. The current operating system's model of commercialized labor and consumptive distribution via money is simply no longer viable. The productive machine that technology has created now is able to produce far more than human skill as a commodity can ever hope to pay for. This basic contradiction has ever fewer producers scrambling frantically, mostly with cost reductions, to counter that fact, which only serves to make matters worse in the long run with just another drag on wages. It is simply untenable and unsustainable.

The sooner we face this the sooner we can start working on the alternative.

So Long, Middle Class: Middle-Income Jobs Are Disappearing the Fastest