15 February 2015

Time Loves a Hero, Part the Second

Nick Carr's (got it right today) latest missive deals with machines, trains at the outset, and fits in with a nag I've had for years. Which nag got prodded recently over the Greece thing, the Japan thing, and QE discussions generally.

The nag: macros, especially, have a penchant for equating time saved by some device or method with some monetary gain by practitioners. This has often been the justification for multi-lane highways and public rail transport. "Workers lose two hours a day in commuting, which means $X billions in lost productivity!!" BULLSHIT. Always has been.

In an economy where everyone, and I mean Banksters too, earns only on the basis of piece work with hours spent on the rack of their own choice, would such a leap of faith even begin to make sense. For the commuter, those two hours would have been devoted to Angry Birds or snorting coke or drilling some significant other. Or, in the worst case, cleaning up after mewling juveniles. How many of you, gentle readers, have used the excuse "gotta get to work!", in order to avoid further "interfacing" with your nasty spawn? Hmmm? Of course you have. How many of you, gentle readers, always manage to work late, or at least arrive home late, in order to avoid having to prepare sup for the mewling brood? Hmmm?

Ford's assembly line was a productivity raiser for labor (and if Smith's marginal product dream were true, would have made them very rich; which it didn't), and its value was easy to calculate. The value of a GUI wordprocessor over a character version? Having been through it, the stunning panoply of styling options is what users cleave to. Before there was Angry Birds to distract the office worker, there was Word's sizzle of bling obliterating the steak of content. Pretty fonts never made an author more cogent.

So, in these days of fancy financial manipulations everywhere to be seen, and silliness of WhatsApp getting $19 billion (sort of, may be) for its freedom, demand some solid numbers when a tout is telling you that the next "innovation" in compute will save the world billions or trillions of dollars and make us all so much better off. Back in the 1950s, "Popular Science" and "Popular Mechanics" droned on about how automation would give us all teeny, tiny work schedules and leisure time as far as the eye could see. The "Jetsons" came from somewhere, you know: "George Jetson's workweek is typical of his era: an hour a day, two days a week.". Said leisure time used to make the world a still better place to live in. Hasn't turned out that way? Of course not. Capitalists are Rands, and won't be satisified until the 1% kill off the mooching 99%, who never seem to work. Where did all those middle class paying jobs go anyway?

The Wall Street Journal (huh??) collected a bunch, and it's pretty close.

This one, in particular:
1982: "By 2000, most Americans will be experiencing a new prosperity. The problems of shrinking energy supplies and spiraling energy costs will be offset by developments in computers, genetic engineering, and service industries that will bring about lifestyle changes that will in turn boost the economy."

--Omni Future Almanac
Given that this was written within memory of the OPEC oil embargo, not so much.

I wonder, other than the communists and rabid socialists, who predicted that the 1% would hold so much more of the national wealth now than they did in 1950? Or, more importantly, how this wealth transfer has distorted all the data we use to make predictions? If all of business adopts the Apple mode (produce for the top X% and ignore the rest), how long can the global economy remain stable? See here, the first graph.

Source: http://www.infinitejeff.com/permalink/tag/income-distribution/

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