Morning Ed: Work {2017.01.18.W}

Oops.

If stuff is going to be built mostly by machines, doesn’t it make more sense for American companies to build it in Nevada than China?

Lawrence Harvey looks at the growth and discomfort of automation.

Josh Barrie at the Spectator is worried about self-pour taps in British pubs. I hear him, though I’d sure like something like that at music shows at bars where you can spent 20 minutes of an 80 minute show waiting in line.

It never occurred to me that it has to be someone’s job to do this.

The labor market is getting tight… in fast food?

Amazon is going on a hiring spree.

According to Cate, when working from home, the most important thing is figuring out the work part of it.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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100 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Work {2017.01.18.W}

  1. It’s important to remember, because reading things like that fast food story might cause people to think otherwise, that if it weren’t for the minimum wage, most people would be making three dollars a day.

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  2. Melinda Byerley: Somehow I doubt Melinda will bear the condemnation of her peers and SF society. Most of them probably have the same opinion.

    Remote work: Maybe since I don’t work remotely full time this never comes up. I know what I gotta get done that day, baring any crisis. I have a space to work in, I work the same general time periods-I’ll just start and hour earlier since I don’t have to drive in. The only real problem is keeping the cat off the keyboard and the ever distraction of my home pc and the video games on it…..

    Must resist playing DOOOM

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  3. Lawrence Harvey is too optimistic about automation. I’m not saying he is wrong but there was a big lag time in the creation of jobs during the first part of the Industrial Revolution and a lot of pain, misery, and suffering in-between. There is also some historical doubt about whether the rural dwellers willingly abandoned their farms for life as industrial workers and miners or whether they were forced off by a combination of deliberate policy and pressure.

    I think automation is coming and there is really nothing we can do to stop that. I am not sure if 5 million jobs will turn into 6 or 7 million jobs. I definitely know that there are things that can be done to alleviate the stress caused by automation that will not be done. The wealthy and the political right seem posed to wage war against the welfare state and some sort of reasonable wealth distribution across the world because of greed and ideology. Marx’s statement about history repeating itself as a farce might turn out right.

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    • There is also some historical doubt about whether the rural dwellers willingly abandoned their farms for life as industrial workers and miners or whether they were forced off by a combination of deliberate policy and pressure.

      There is? Not among my history professors. English agrarian policy was, from at least the movement toward enclosures in the 16th century, quite specifically designed to benefit the rich landowners. I’m not suggesting that screwing the rural poor was the point, but neither was not screwing the rural poor. Or the urban poor, for that matter. See the Corn Laws of 1815-1846.

      There is an argument to be made that enclosures were ultimately beneficial, leading (or at least being a necessary precondition) for the British agricultural revolution of the late 17th century, leading to greatly increased production. Actually, there is a very good argument to be made for this. The problem at the time was that, having thrown massive numbers of the rural poor out of work, the response from the respectable classes was to condemn said rural poor for being “sturdy beggars.”

      The question for today is, now that automation is doing the same thing, will the respectable classes have the same response? History does not give us cause for optimism.

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  4. The self-pour taps in British pubs reminds me a lot of the nostalgia for mom & pop stores. There are also sorts of business careers that are theoretically still viable but really make little economic sense today. Owning your own store, pub, or restaurant as a sole owner or in a partnership is going to be more of a source of stress than financial stability and modest prosperity for most people because of the structure of the economy. Corporations and chains are simply going to be more efficient in the modern industrial world. There is still room for the small business person but at niches of high end or remote locations rather than the medium end.

    The Microsoft story. I wonder if this job is strictly legal. I am unaware of an exception the law for monitoring the web to keep it safe. If I was offered that job, I’d definitely negotiate for Microsoft to pay for psychiatric help because it will be necessary.

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    • The Microsoft story. I wonder if this job is strictly legal. I am unaware of an exception the law for monitoring the web to keep it safe. If I was offered that job, I’d definitely negotiate for Microsoft to pay for psychiatric help because it will be necessary.

      This was the plot of a crime procedural sometime last year. A traumatized violence porn censor in a YouTube like company becomes a serial killer reenacting the videos he watched (and censored).

      BTW, there was also an NPR segment about this kind of “job” a couple of years ago.

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  5. If stuff is going to be built mostly by machines, doesn’t it make more sense for American companies to build it in Nevada than China?

    Yes it does, and there’s plenty of manufacturing moving back to the USA (or Europe) to save inventory and transportation costs (see, for instance http://fortune.com/2016/12/22/us-china-manufacturing-costs-investment/ (*))

    However, don’t forget a significant change in the world economy in the last 20 years. A couple of billions of people, mostly in Asia, have joined the middle classes and need, not just food and clothing, but washing machines, cars, and iPads. It’s easier to serve those markets from China than from the USA.

    How China, Vietnam, and others, deal with the automation revolution will be interesting to watch.

    (*) Also, note the comment in the article about the higher corporate taxes in China, which flies against a series of posts we had in OT some months ago that argued (wrongly in my opinion) that manufacturing left the USA attracted by the low tax regimes of countries like China or Mexico (both of which having higher corporate taxes than the USA), and that we needed to cut corporate taxes if we wanted to bring back jobs.

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    • If this is in reference to my comments, I made none regarding China. What I said was that after NAFTA Caterpillar moved its engine block manufacturing plant across the Rio Grande; finished blocks were trucked to Illinois and tested, with (IIRC) over 90% failing and being sent back. When the failure rate was eventually cut in half, the Illinois operations were relocated to Texas. This process was described to my dad by a retired accountant for CAT who said that this arrangement does not make sense unless you understand the tax implications from the multi-jurisdictional production.

      This isn’t about relative tax rates, this is about bordering countries in which one primarily relies on taxation of income and the other taxation of consumption (a VAT w/ tax credits for exports). Large companies will seek to maximize the best tax outcomes; I don’t have any idea why that would be controversial.

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      • No, it wasn’t your comment I was referring to, which sounds perfectly rational to me, and that fdocus on a specific case, as opposed to a complete theory about taxes and industrial relocation

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  6. If it’s all robots up and down the supply chain, getting something from Shanghai to LA is more energy efficient (though slower) than getting something from Las Vegas to LA.

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    • getting something from Shanghai to LA is more energy efficient (though slower) than getting something from Las Vegas to LA.

      Why do you say so? The energy balance doesn’t seem right to me.

      And don’t forget the inventory costs advantage. If I get my supplies by truck daily from Las Vegas, I only need one day of inventory. If I get them once a month from Shanghai, I need to carry 30 days inventory. This might add to a lot.

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      • You’re either going over the Cajon pass (I15 & BNSF railroad) at 3700 feet, or the lower but more out of the way San Gorgonio pass (I10 & UP railroad) at 2600ft. Either way you’re still doing another round trip of at least a thousand feet or more between the mountain passes and Vegas (at about 2000 ft)

        But you know, I may be mixing up the LA – LV factoid with the LA-Denver factoid, where the difference in elevation is more extreme, both point to point and enroute.

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        • The model railroad company my son works for brings in a couple of 40-foot containers of product from China each year. He tells me the price for moving a container from China to Long Beach is quite a bit less than the price for moving it from Long Beach to Longmont, CO. And that both of them are pretty insignificant compared to the other costs of running the business.

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  7. Re: Automation story.

    Economics seems divided between two camps: perpetual optimists and perpetual pessimists. The perpetual optimists seem to be the most ultra-free market and anti-regulation and government intervention with a belief that unrestrained free market capitalism will lead to utopia.

    The optimists are like the author of this piece and think that automation will lead to a super-great future for everyone and more jobs will be created. Or we will finally achieve a Star Trek utopia where everyone pursues their own intellectual interests in endless leisure time. I’ve yet to see them cite a specific example of where automation leads to more jobs being created than not. We certainly aren’t near a Star Trek utopia.

    As I see it automation is probably going to kill a lot more jobs than it creates and do so at all levels of education though mainly at lower levels. Politicians don’t want to deal with automation because it is a tricky subject especially in places like the US where a significant part of the country is opposed to the welfare state by tooth and nail. I suspect that automation will lead to Great Depression levels of unemployment in the way that Hemmingway described bankruptcy. It will happen slowly and then all at once. Then we will deal with the political issues of automation and job loss.

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    • The thing is, you can’t know where the march of progress will necessarily take us. When machine driven looms started replacing weavers, I’m sure people were wondering what jobs would be there for the displaced workers. The jobs did come, eventually, because new things needed to be made.

      While it is certainly possible that we will hit some magic point where human effort is barely required to satisfy the needs of society, we haven’t hit that yet. The real issue is how to manage the inevitable lag between the advent of automation in an area and the new work that needs people. How do you support those workers, and can you retrain them?

      I suspect moving forward, the biggest challenge we will face is how do we educate new generations to have robust and flexible skill sets so losses to automation are not so crippling. The reason we are having trouble now is because we have large populations with very limited marketable skill sets that are rapidly becoming obsolete.

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        • We survived the crash of the whale oil industry, I suspect we’ll survive the petro crash.

          Although, honestly, petro won’t crash fast. It’ll die nice and slow. Too many cars and planes and trains all running on fuel that can’t be easily replaced and engines that can’t be easily modified to accept something else*.

          *Well, diesels can run on veggie oil if it’s clean and there is a pre-heater in cold climes. Gas turbines can run on damn near anything, although I suspect aircraft turbines will need some cooperation from the FAA before they can run on something else. Then it’s just a question of producing enough bio-diesel to meet the needs.

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          • Oscar,
            Twenty years ago, it cost one dollar to make 30 back in oil. Now we’re at 1 dollar in to 5 dollars out. Prices have not risen to compensate, so Venezuela, Russia, Iran are in trouble. Petrocrash is already here, we just haven’t quite realized it yet.

            What’s the numbers on biodiesel again? (10% more than current prices on diesel).

            Plenty of places run on cheap food, cheap transportation… we need the oil.

            As civilization collapses, the jobs will come back to America. [yes, I know someone with skin in the game on this.]

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            • Twenty years ago, it cost one dollar to make 30 back in oil. Now we’re at 1 dollar in to 5 dollars out.

              There’s something very weird about these numbers and what’s being defined in “cost.” What are those metrics actually claiming to measure? Clearly not overall costs to overall returns, so something meaningful is being excluded.

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              • tf,
                Money in, to money out, for the producers (some forms of oil cost a lot more to get out of the ground). Now, after you have the six times more expensive crude, you need to find buyers. There we see a price shift — crude has not gone up by six times the value in the past 20 years. This price shift is caused by there being a lot of crude on the market, and everyone wanting to be able to keep the lifestyles they’ve been accustomed to. Put simply: there’s a glut on the market, and that’s a problem because it means Russia and Iran are going broke. It’s not possible to keep these sorts of dramatic price shenanigans up forever.

                https://insideclimatenews.org/news/23022016/tar-sands-becoming-worthless-production-rises-even-prices-plummet

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                • Money in, to money out, for the producers (some forms of oil cost a lot more to get out of the ground).

                  There is zero chance that for every dollar Exxon spent, it made $30 in revenue from oil, ever. Or $5, even. The ratio of expenses to revenue just don’t look like that. Whatever the 5:1 or 30:1 ratio is, it’s not what you’re describing. It’s some weird metric that probably isn’t especially meaningful.

                  Just looking at the financial statements, Exxon had $259.5B in revenue with $246B in operating expenses, which seems pretty reasonable. If you section off some subset of the expenses and divide it out, you can get 5:1, but I’m not sure what subset they’re talking about.

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                  • tf,
                    You pulling the latest numbers and comparing them to 20years ago?
                    Exxon got out of the whole gas station business in the meantime — and now they’re renting their name to small timers.

                    Don’t make the mistake of thinking a huge company only has one business. GM got in on the ban on short-selling because of GMAC.

                    (That’s raw numbers on “how much to get out of the ground” I’m pretty sure, not transportation, not refining past crude).

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                    • I don’t understand the analysis you’re doing at all. There’s no data here. You’re just mentioning a lot of different things.

                      (That’s raw numbers on “how much to get out of the ground” I’m pretty sure, not transportation, not refining past crude).

                      This is what I’m looking for. Even then, that number is extraordinarily vague. It’s pretty clear what a barrel of oil coming out means, but what happens on the cost side? Let’s say we’re excluding the office furnature at corporate headquarters. There are still a lot of variables. Is that marginal cost or average total cost? Are we just talking about paying workers to run the drilligng equipment? Wear and tear on the equipment? The amortized cost of the buildings they build around drilling complexes?

                      Depending on what is being measured, that ratio could mean it’s getting a lot harder to drill for oil or it could mean that the types of costs companies incur to drill for oil have changed when it’s actually getting a lot easier to drill for oil. On its own, it’s meaningless.

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                      • Numbers cited there are probably average total cost. Marginal cost is higher, but it’s always higher.
                        I think we’re talking about workers+wearandtear+buildings… but we know exactly how energetically feasible it is to get tarsands oil, versus pulling from Saudi Arabia. I just didn’t link that page. You’re welcome to google.

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            • True, although that leads me to ask, how much oil is converted to polymer feedstock instead of fuel? How many polymers in wide use today are utterly dependant upon petrochemical feedstocks, as opposed to other sources. We already have a stable of polymers sourced from plant matter.

              Still, plastics is just another reason petrochemical industries won’t crash hard. The real question, which Kim does kind of allude to, is how will prices change?

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      • Lee pointed out the time lapse above and the dominant ideology of the time was to let people suffer while things were working out and this led to the revolutions of 1848 and the development of Communism.

        I agree with what you wrote but we also seem to have no desire to figure out your solution because it would require a massive retooling of the educational system and that would cost a lot of money. Lee has previously pointed out that it seems to take a WWII type of event to get the rich to feel they should pay more in taxes for such things. The other issue I worry about is the willingness to let people suffer as the transitions are working out.

        This still does not address the issue of a certain kind of economists/libertarian being a perpetual optimist about all new developments.

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        • The optimist is taking the wide & long view. In the long term, across the wide spectrum of humanity, it’ll all work out.

          Things don’t get grim & pessimistic until you shorten your time horizon to about a generation and narrow your view to the displaced demographic, then things suck.

          As usually, everyone will kick the can down the road as much as possible, so yeah, no substantial reforms until things are starting to burn, because there is no immediate cost to those who like to kick the can.

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          • Things might all work out in the generation but that still means that millions or more people get to suffer the negative effects of automation with full force while others who are already at the top get even wealthier and suffer nothing.

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                  • Life isn’t inherently fair but humans have agency to make it more fair and easier than it naturally is. The natural unfairness of life can be exasperated or it can be blunted through different means from simple law and justice to the welfare state. Saying that life is unfair is nihilistic.

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                    • Saying that life is unfair is nihilistic.

                      No, acknowledging that life is unfair is simply a recognition of reality. Maybe not doing anything about that inherent unfairness is nihilistic. I don’t know.

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                      • On fairness:

                        Hypo 1: The ACA is undone and your insurer once again imposes limitations on covering pre-existing conditions. You (a generic you, not notme in particular) develop a treatable cancer and are cured, but in the following year your insurer advises your employer that the policy would be a lot cheaper if you were not a member of the pool. What is the appropriate result?

                        Hypo 2: Your child hits adulthood while fighting a serious disease. You are advised that (a) he cannot remain on your policy and (b) he cannot obtain any insurance whatsoever. You are faced with paying all of his medical bills out of pocket. To the extent that you cannot pay, he simply will not get the medically indicated care. Correct result?

                        Now, based on ongoing conversations here, I’m sure that there are some brave soldiers willing to be fired and see their child die rather than petition our government for redress. But do you really think that message will sell to a majority of the population?

                        After all, the real complaint about the ACA is that the deductibles are already too high.

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                        • A quibble: the complaints about the ACA have overwhelmingly been about premiums, not deductibles, since if anything the ACA had the effect of reducing deductibles by declaring that bare-bones high deductible plans didn’t meet the minimum standards to comply with the individual mandate.

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                            • Raw deductibles aren’t the only variable in plans. The ACA cracked down on faux insurance, among other things. (Out of pocket maxes, coverage requirements, network size, whether your insurer liked to play rescission games, etc)

                              A lot of people’s “My cheap plan is gone!” plans were ones whose issuers either didn’t cover quite a bit, or tended to kick people off the plan when they started getting expensive.

                              I work for a Fortune 500 company (so as good a group policy as you’ll get) and I pay only some of my premiums (I can’t recall if the company pays half or 70% offhand), but they were close to 200 a month just on my end BEFORE the ACA. (The rate of increase seems to have slowed since passage).

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                              • How many of those folks were happy with their “faux plans” and got what they wanted in terms of price and coverage that now can’t because daddy Obama knows best what they need?

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                                • Most people are happy with their plans until they use them for something serious. Then the satisfaction rate drops precipitously. That indicates that people either incorrectly thought they were getting coverage that they weren’t getting or that they incorrectly thought that they wouldn’t get a disease that they knew they weren’t covered for.

                                  Both of those indicate a failure to properly prepare for the outcome that actually happened, so maybe “people always know what’s best for themselves” doesn’t necessarily apply to a complex insurance market when you compare the average Joe’s knowledge to a team of experts. The median insurance buyer is not very sophisticated.

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                              • has a point.

                                NPR has been doing a series of interviews with people in the run up to the inauguration, and a common refrain I hear is that people had their premiums and deductibles spike, and hard, and they can’t afford them*, but they aren’t eligible for a subsidy, so they are without coverage.

                                Perhaps their plan wasn’t ideal, but you have to convince them that they are getting appropriate value for the cost.

                                *Or they can afford them, if they stop saving.

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                                • Yeah some people got a bad deal with the premiums. There was a hole where middle class people made to much for subsidies but can’t afford HI on their own. The thing is this is the easiest problem to solve. Just increase the subsidies. That is really it. Boom. Problem solved. But of course there wasn’t interest from the R’s in actually solving that problem. And there isn’t’ going to be a solution that is cheaper and covers all the people that have been very much helped and covered by the ACA.

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                                • Lots of people were thrilled with insurance that didn’t really cover them, up until they got sick and tried to use it….then they were…less than thrilled.

                                  Luckily, they often died and if they didn’t they had no legal recourse.

                                  The people who complain that their “not actually insurance” is cheaper than “actually insurance” aside, the problems of subsidy gaps is, you know, a fixable problem. First, you can increase subsidies. Or second, you can increase the penalty for not carrying insurance. Or better yet, both.

                                  It’s not some fatal flaw so much as it is the normal sort of issues with any complex arrangement, especially one that’s market based — a great deal of the end prices involve who is in the insurance pool (the mandate) and the premiums were generally capped at a % of income — but then the tossing out of the expansion kinda screwed some of that too.

                                  Neither of those happened because the GOP’s plan for healthcare remains “Cash up front or die”. But they can’t admit that, that’s not popular.

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                                  • I’m not saying your were wrong, I’m saying that the middle class that got screwed was not convinced by ACA advocates that they were getting improved value for their dollar. As I listened to those interviews, every single one who saw their costs go up said they voted for Trump, and that was a big factor in why.

                                    First, you can increase subsidies. Or second, you can increase the penalty for not carrying insurance. Or better yet, both.

                                    Absolutely! I will not be remotely surprised if, when the GOP finally floats some actual proposals, that the end result will be the ACA with those two changes, plus just enough other stuff that they can slap a Trump/GOP label on it & call it a win.

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                                    • Never gonna happen. They’re ideologically opposed to the ACA now and will kill it root or branch, all while screaming at the Senate Dems “STOP ME BEFORE I SLASH POPULAR PROGRAMS! FOR GOD’S SAKE PLEASE”

                                      Then they’ll go after Medicaid and Social Security.

                                      Because they can’t resist. They’ve made too many promises. Too much momentum.

                                      And because, god help them, they just can’t take the embarrassment of admitting they’ve been a wee bit hyperbolic in exchange for votes.

                                      Anyone thinking they’ll relabel the ACA is drinking the Trump Denial.

                                      Trump’s not gonna save us from the Congressional GOP, and they’re not gonna save us from Trump. (Well, they will eventually. But only after all the damage has been done and there’s no point for anyone).

                                      Because the modern GOP run’s on Cleek’s law and pure, unadulterated spite.

                                      It’s the fault of those smug liberals, calling everyone racist.

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                                      • It’s not Cleek’s law, it’s what Kevin Drum hit on a day or two ago: money. If you want to bring down these premiums, you have to spend more money and tax rich people more. There’s no way around it, and that’s what’s unacceptable to the GOP.

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                                      • Yeah, I agree that the GOP Congress is going to do all those things.

                                        I’m just betting that will be the bridge too far for the GOP voters.

                                        I’m picturing a 2018 “White hands” ad running in Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania congressional battles:

                                        Photos of a pair of hands holding a CANCELLATION of COVERAGE notice:
                                        “You worked hard all your life, paid the bills and took care of your family. Then, just when you reached your retirement years, the elite Washington Republicans and corporate lobbyists took away your Medicare, Social Security, and health insurance…”

                                        This is real. Paul Ryan has been fapping about this since forever, and now has a clear road with nothing in his way.

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                                        • Chip,
                                          Nothing in his way other than what stopped Baucus from giving us Medicare for All.

                                          Dollars and cents. 16% of our GDP is wrapped up in health care, and a lot of that’s insurance. Insurance that can’t afford to lose tons of customers.

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                                        • All you have to do is ask yourself: Will these people continuing acting like they have been?

                                          You know what slim reed the ACA rests on?

                                          The random number generator in Trump’s head spitting out the notion that he can “look good” by “standing up to Congress” over “healthcare” because whatever (if they bother at all) “replacement” he’ll decide isn’t good enough.

                                          Not because he actually cares, or even understands. He’ll say it because he’s a “negotiator” and his idea of negotiating will be to demand EVERYTHING while threatening Armageddon in so you’ll move his way and he can rest assured his metaphorical genitals are the biggest and manliest.

                                          Which will last only as long as McConnell’s patience, I admit.

                                          But that’s it. Realism is that Trump is a buffoon who neither wanted the office nor expected to get it, whose agenda is simply to make himself look good so he can get more of the praise he deserves, and to feel powerful by rubbing his position in the face of anyone he finds insufficiently respectful. Past or present.

                                          He’s never been anyone else.

                                          He’ll throw his weight around and pick a fight with Congress, but it’s just as likely to be on, oh, a bland proclamation about President’s Day as it is to be anything substantive.

                                          He doesn’t care about issues or agenda. He just likes to be the big man who won.

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                                          • I’m more than a little vexxed by the number of people who should know better (*cough* political pundits especially *cough*) puzzling over whether Trump will become an entirely new person today.

                                            That’s not how they’re phrasing it, but that’s the root question they can’t seem to get past. Even pro-Trump ones seem to be stuck on “Surely he will change to fit the office! Right? I mean let’s think about all the ways he could change and be a more fitting President and get things done!”

                                            It’s pure, outright denial. I mean I get that on the part of folks like myself — we’re not Trump fans and we don’t want him to be President and we’d really like to dream he’ll change — but what’s up with voting for the guy under the rubric of “Once he takes office, he’ll be someone else entirely!”

                                            Trump is Trump. The last three months? Trump. The next three months? Same thing. The next three years? Same thing.

                                            What you see is what you get. He does not contain multitudes. He is not a performance artist about to whip off the mask.

                                            I hope you like your Presidential policy incoherent, badly implemented, and as likely to screw his own party as anyone else at the whims of a thin-skinned narcissist with extreme ADHD. Because that’s what we’ve got.

                                            Well, until the GOP gets tired of him, ditches him, and tries to play patriotic heroes.

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                                            • I’m sorry I don’t contain multitudes myself, all clapping in awe at this excellent comment!!

                                              Me too, I can’t understand all those that seem to think that either (I) Trump is playing 11- dimensional chess and will turn his superficially looking ramblings into YUUUGELY SUCCESSFUL results for every American, or (ii) He’s an excellent actor playing a schizophrenic populist, but will unveil his real personality of a serious stateman at noon today.

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                                              • I think the logic is “He beat the GOP field and he beat Clinton, so he must be a genius”.

                                                A simpler solution is: “He’s a pretty good salesman who benefited from a hugely split field, and apparently had Russia and the NY FBI pushing him”.

                                                Because in the end, he’s a man with a sub-40 honeymoon approval rating who won the election with three million fewer votes.

                                                Call it dumb luck, call it money, call it corruption, call it foreign intervention, call it circumstance, call it satanic intervention..

                                                There’s no competence, no 11D chess. He’s a man who lost money on casinos, who prides himself as a businessmen but has had more bankruptcies than trophy wives.

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                • It’s a new day, so time to dig in!

                  I can be optimistic that, in the long term, across the whole of humanity, a problem that is exclusively the creation of human society will be solved by human society. Automation causing humanity to approach post-scarcity is an issue that will need to be dealt with, but it’s a societal issue, and not, say, a large meteor strike, or the eruption of Yellowstone.

                  I can, in the very same breath, be pessimistic that our society & our political system will handle the transition well.

                  So yes, we will come out the other side & be OK, but I’m betting the ride is going to suck for various reasons and the current state of our political system is unlikely going to be effective at preparing or dealing with the changes.

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      • The jobs did come, eventually, because new things needed to be made.

        Thats the theory we hear, which boils down to “increasing consumption will increase overall demand for labor” and it was true in the past.

        However, I’m not sure it is happening now.
        For example, machines have made food and clothing insanely cheap by historical standards.
        So cheap, that we throw away as much food as we eat, donate so much barely used clothing that it swamps the Third World, and yet, machines are still marching through the garment, food, and textile industry, determined to make them yet cheaper.

        I think we are actually reaching a point where we are losing the consumption race, where we literally can’t outconsume the machines.

        Partly because this time it isn’t stupid slow brute labor that is the target. Its AI in conjunction with machines making even skilled labor like machinists, engineers, doctors and lawyers more productive thereby needing fewer of them.

        Aside from poets, I can’t think of a single occupation that is immune to the machine.

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        • Why should the new jobs be any less automated?

          How many new things are going to be made? If we make tractors with, at most, 5% of the workforce — we’d need 20 tractor-sized (in sales) “new things” just to catch up with the tractor losses. Assuming no further improvements in automation at all.

          We’re happily making ourselves obsolete. We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we simply won’t need anything close to full employment to satisfy total demand.

          If 15% of the world population, bolstered by automation, can produce everything we can consume….what’s the other 85% to do? And how will they have enough money to keep that 15% working? (And what happens two years later when it’s 14%….)

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        • Isn’t that why we call it a singularity, because it’s a point that we can’t really see past with any clarity. I mean, Sci-Fi writers love the hell out of it because they can go anywhere, assume anything.

          It’s scary as hell to think about, and exciting.

          ETA: Not being able to have any kind of clarity of vision is what makes it scary, as we won’t know what form the Destroyer will take, so planning for it is a hell of a thing. It’ll happen, and when the dust settles, we’ll have to figure it from there.

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          • So long as the Destroyer is not the Sta-Puft Marshmallow man, we have a couple of options as I see it.

            The big question requires a rethinking of property.

            Right now, the producers of wealth like tractors, machines, and AI software are property, and can be collected and hoarded like gold or land.

            Captain Picard asks for “Earl Gray, hot” and the machine effortlessly provides.
            Assume there is a replicator on every block and every home in the Galaxy doing the same. Assume the entire supply chain from raw natural resources to finished product is automated or nearly so.

            Who owns the replicator hardware, the software? How do people pay for the wealth it produces?

            Its like I’ve said before about inherited wealth. Our ideas of property are mostly Lockean, which assumes a tight nexus between labor and wealth.

            I grow the tea, I dry the leaves, I brew the cup and I demand Picard compensate me for my labor and ingenuity.

            But suppose I am lounging in a pool, and it was my great-great-great grandfather who invented the replicator, and I have never worked a day in my life?

            What moral theory supports my claim to all the wealth it can produce?

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            • You might be right, and how we approach property may be the real crux of the singularity.

              If all production is automated, then the wealth will not be in the products itself, but in the factories, and the supply chains, both in material and energy.

              I also think we will need to find a new approach to education, because if all the scut & grunt work is automated, and even the low intellectual work is automated, then we approach Jaybirds positional economy, where education and intellect become wealth themselves, since they’ll better allow a person to perform original work.

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              • Property wont be a big thing. Subjective value is what is driving demand, and the more something is automated, its subjective value is brought into that context. So what is mostly observed is that people continue to move their subjective values around to things that are not easy or are impossible for automation to deliver.

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                  • I suspect it will mean workers will no longer be able to acquire a handful of easy to automate skills and use them to be gainfully employed for a large chunk of adulthood.

                    Unions did create something of a historical anomaly, in that they allowed a handful of generations to have significant portions of the population be successful with low value skills. This is not to say it was a bad thing, as allowing those people to be successful has allowed their children and grandchildren to have the opportunity to acquire higher value education and skills, thus raising the total human potential.

                    But it was/is still an anomaly.

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                    • Seems to me that absolutely everything about a post-work future will be anomalous in historical terms, though, and that allowing massive productivity improvements to cause a reduction in the standard of living for the common person is very much a political choice that we are likely to make, not an inevitability.

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  8. “If stuff is going to be built mostly by machines, doesn’t it make more sense for American companies to build it in Nevada than China?”

    We could be looking at Shale Gas all over again, only with manufacturing; Chinese factories running full speed, three shifts a day, losing money hand over fist in an attempt to keep prices low and kill American industry before it gets established. Instead of protests about fracking, we’d have protests about emissions and hazmat disposal and “atmospheric microbeads”.

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  9. RE: Harvey’s article.

    “[E]ntire industries are appearing that would have been unimaginable to any economist forecasting this decade back in 2009/2010. How would any predictions made then have accounted for Vaping, Netflix, or Uber?”

    Well. Vaping is being regulated out of existence, Uber is racing to develop automation before regulators finally convince judges that it’s actually just a taxi company, and Netflix was around before 2009. So I’m not sure that Harvey even has anything here.

    “Fiat aired their iconic ‘Handbuilt by Robots’ advert as far back as 1979, and yet still today it is the human touch, the hand-made clothing, the recruiter or shop assistant who really gets to know you which makes the difference between a transaction and an experience.”

    This is not an argument against automation, it’s an argument that handcrafting is going to become a luxury good. And producing luxury goods pays well for the producers but doesn’t offer an entire economy’s worth of jobs.

    ” we, humans (Consumers) don’t want human jobs to disappear is the very reason that suppliers will continue to employ humans to serve their customers”

    Dance for me, poor people! Dance for my amusement! Dance! Do your lovely, quaint dance of servitude that I might glory in my wealth! Perhaps, if you bring my nachos with enough feigned enthusiasm, I shall give you a tip.

    “How many more people are employed in the booming craft-beer industry per pint than in cheap-quality ‘Big Lager’? ”

    I have no doubt that this jabroni thinks Goose Island and Shock Top are “craft beer”.

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  10. I’m now reading the piece about Melinda Byerley. It quotes her twice. Neither of those quotes, in and of themselves are offensive to Middle America, though she didn’t capitalize “middle” in one of them.

    There’s a link in one to a picture that’s since been taken down. I presume that’s where whatever it was she apologized about was located.

    So it’s a nothing story, claiming she called “middle america” (and emphasizing that with a [sic], are you really complaining about incorrect capitalization. On Twitter?) stupid.

    I’m sort of prepared to believe that. That’s something people do, and which I am not thrilled about, coming from rural people myself. I think the biggest thing about rural people is that they hate crowds, but people are where the money is. Wealth is created by people who make things or provide services. If you run away from people to be alone, you are also running away from wealth.

    Some in those situations are in them precisely because they don’t want to change (I’m thinking of one cousin in particular. I love her dearly, and I think she sort of understands the tradeoffs she and her recently deceased husband made.) But I digress.

    I’m sort of prepared to believe that. But you have to, you know, show me some evidence if you’re going to write a hit piece.

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  11. Re self-serve beer taps: I read some time ago a description of a visit to what might be the oldest continuously operating village pub in the UK.

    The place didn’t have a bar behind which stood a barkeeper who dispensed drinks. Instead there was a table against one wall with barrels of beer, which patrons would pour for themselves, adding to the tally next to their name on a tally sheet.

    As someone just passing through or who only occasionally went to the pub, you took one of the shared mugs from the table to be yours for the evening. You knew you had ‘arrived’ when you got your own mug, hung from a peg on the wall with your name on it and not to be used by others.

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