Happy Meals: now made with 20% less people!

Summary:  By now everybody sees that a new industrial revolution has begun, but few clearly see its dynamics. This post looks at one example: the debate about wages. Raise wages or lower them, it makes little difference compared to the new technology that does jobs both cheaper and better.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Minimum Wage Meme: False

 

Funny but false, showing a deep misunderstanding of how automation works…

 

Mike Konczal demolishes fantasies about a post-work world in his rebuttal to Derek Thompson’s article in The Atlantic (discussed here yesterday): “The Hard Work of Taking Apart Post-Work Fantasy” at the Roosevelt Institute. However, he believes several false elements of consensus thinking, such as this: “If wages are stagnant or even falling, what incentive is there to build the robots to replace those workers?

Economist Gregory Clark gives an example showing why that’s false in A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (2007)…

There was a type of employee at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution whose job and livelihood largely vanished in the early twentieth century. This was the horse. The population of working horses actually peaked in England long after the Industrial Revolution, in 1901, when 3.25 million were at work. Though they had been replaced by rail for long-distance haulage and by steam engines for driving machinery, they still plowed fields, hauled wagons and carriages short distances, pulled boats on the canals, toiled in the pits, and carried armies into battle.

But the arrival of the internal combustion engine in the late nineteenth century rapidly displaced these workers, so that by 1924 there were fewer than two million. There was always a wage at which all these horses could have remained employed. But that wage was so low that it did not pay for their feed.

Horses then, people now. New technology allows machines to do their jobs cheaper and better. McDonald’s shows how this works as they install kiosks allowing people to enter their own orders. They’re already used at “McDonalds in Switzerland“. In the US they’re being tested where “The McDonald’s of the future lets you customize your burgers“.

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Asteroid Day: reminding us of the threat, pushing us out into space

Summary: Today is asteroid day, an opportunity to see ourselves against the big picture of Earth’s history. As I’ve written before, Apollo was an expensive trip to nowhere, and explained why we have not gone into space, & why we will. Asteroid Day puts in context both this failure (of vision but not boldness) and our future success. It’s one of the worst of the certain to occur shockwave events. All that remains unknown is its timing and the price we pay for our clearer vision. Will we start the long slow process of preparing (reallocating a fraction of what we spend on war), or wait until we’re hit?  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Impact of comet or asteroid

 

Contents

  1. About Asteroid Day.
  2. It happened before. It will happen again.
  3. For More Information.
  4. Films about asteroid impacts.

 

(1)  Asteroid day: let’s protect Earth from asteroid impacts

From the Asteroid Day website

We are creating a global movement for asteroid awareness. From astronauts to scientists to business leaders to entertainers and artists, the list of signatories for the 100x Asteroid Declaration rapidly grew. In addition, multiple museums eagerly signed on as our first Founding Partners. The leaders of these institutions recognized the public service they could provide for asteroid outreach to the general public.

What is beginning as a scientifically-based declaration about the need for rapid discovery of asteroids to ensure the defense of our planet, will hopefully grow to a global movement of awareness regarding this solvable nature-caused problem. Through the technological capabilities of the scientists on our planet, we will collectively rise to the challenge of obtaining the data about our solar system that will allow us to have the knowledge about our near-Earth objects in order to prevent future destruction to our planet.

Sign the 100x asteroid declaration

(2)  It has happened many times before. It will happen again

From Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama (1973)

Sooner or later, it was bound to happen. … In those days, there was nothing that men could do to protect themselves against the last random shots in the cosmic bombardment that had once scarred the face of the Moon. The meteorites of 1908 and 1947 had struck uninhabited wilderness; but by the end of the twenty-first century, there was no region left on Earth that could be safely used for celestial target practice.

The human race had spread from pole to pole. And so, inevitably — At 09.46 GMT on the morning of 11 September, in the exceptionally beautiful summer of the year 2077, most of the inhabitants of Europe saw a dazzling fireball appear in the eastern sky. Within seconds it was brighter than the sun, and as it moved across the heavens – at first in utter silence – it left behind it a churning column of dust and smoke.

Somewhere above Austria it began to disintegrate, producing a series of concussions so violent that more than a million people had their hearing permanently damaged. They were the lucky ones.

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Three visions of our future after the robot revolution

Summary: During the past 2 years the robot revolution has come into view, and all but Right-wingers living in fantasy-land have begun to realize it might (like the previous ones) produce large-scale social disruption and suffering. But to prepare for these changes we must first image what kind of world they’ll create. Here we look at three visions about what lies ahead for us.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”
— Barack Obama’s speech to Congress, 9 September  2009.

Dark futures

 

Contents

  1. The center-left sees the problem
    ……and offers mild solutions.
  2. Realistic analysis and prescriptions.
  3. Visions of dark futures.
  4. For More Information.

 

(1)  The center-left sees the problem and offers mild solutions

Slowly, people have come to see the coming robot revolution (aka, a new industrial revolution), even economists. The Left has adopted this issue, as they have climate change, as a means to enact long-sought changes in the US economy. Like climate change, their solutions are far too small for the problem described.

(a) A World Without Work” by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, July/Aug 2015 — “For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?” Typical of The Atlantic. Long, meandering, confused mish-mash of issues. Never confronts the core issue of how people will earn money to live. Lots of nonsense about people living by selling crafts to each other.

(b) The Future of Work in the Age of the Machine” by Melissa S. Kearney, Brad Hershbein, and David Boddy at the Hamilton Project, February 2015. See the slides and transcript from the seminar they held for academics and businesspeople. Their prescription is aggressive application of conventional methods…

The Project’s economic strategy reflects a judgment that long-term prosperity is best achieved by fostering economic growth and broad participation in that growth, by enhancing individual economic security, and by embracing a role for effective government in making needed public investments.

(c) The future of work in the second machine age is up to us” by Marshall Steinbaum at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, 23 February 2015 — They show that the robot revolution has not yet appeared in the macroeconomic statistics. But it’s coming. Their conclusions are the standard center-left recipe, like those of the Hamilton Project…

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The good news of history: it’s a story of less violence & better societies

Summary:  Most of the content on the FM website concerns bad news and exhortations to action. Both are anti-clickbait. Today we have good news about humanity, on the largest possible scale. The trend of history shows a large decline in violence from the state of nature to now. Assuming we don’t nuke the world, this seems likely to produce a better world for our descendents.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“…the life of solitary man {is} poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
— Hobbs in Leviathan (1651).

“.. nothing is more gentle than man in his primitive state, as he is placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes, and the fatal ingenuity of civilised man.”
— Jean Jacques Rousseau in A Discourse on Inequality (1755). He was wrong.

To understand events we need perspective on things large and small. We have wonderful tools with which to see the details of the present and past. The news media feeds us a banquet of details daily; we can find more from the effectively unlimited sources available on the internet.

We have fewer tools to see the more important large scale trends that shape the world. Some things we see well, such as near-abolition of slavery and the improved lot of women (somewhat masked by presentism in fictional accounts (putting present-day ideas and behaviors into accounts of the past, as with leading women being feminists).

Other major trends are less know, and people tend to have wrong — backwards — impressions about two of the most important, both awesome good news: falling pollution and falling rates of violence. Later this week we’ll discuss the former; this post examines the latter.

The Civilizing Process

In 1939 German sociologist Norbert Elias published The Civilizing Process, describing how society evolved from 800 AD to 1900 AD in ways to reduce the level of violence (two volumes: The History of Manners and Power & Civility). It was one of the most important works of 20thC sociology, and often described as the first rigorous analysis of civilization’s evolution (so naturally it was ignored for decades).

Steven Pinker (Prof Psychology, Harvard) took this insight, deepened it with extensive research and extended it to full breath of human history in his seminal book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011), one of the rare books that will change your view of humanity.  For an introduction to his work see this video and transcript of his July 2011 Edge lecture. Here are a few excerpts. Click to enlarge the graphs.

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What can we learn from Greece’s crisis?

Summary: Now the final act has probably begun in the long divorce of Greece from the European Monetary Union. Ignore the predictions. They’re just wild guesses. Rather let’s take this moment to contemplate how Greece — and Europe — got here.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.”
— Jean Monnet in his Memoirs (1978). He was one of the architects of the program to unite Europe (see his Wikipedia bio).

EU flag burning on the ground

Unnecessary death of a dream.

After years of confident assurances that all would probably work out for the best, Greece has gone off a cliff. This was long expected by readers of the FM website. In July 2007 they read that the European Monetary Union probably couldn’t survive the next recession in its current form. The cracks opened in 2010; in February 2012 I predicted it would not survive the crisis.

Europe’s lending and monetary stimulus programs to the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) delayed the crack-up until 2010 and extended the slow decline since then, Now the crisis has begun. It will almost certainly bring big changes to Greece. As for the rest of Europe, and to the unification program, who can say? Greece is small, but it might create large precedents for others to follow.

While journalists report the exciting events to come — entertainment for America’s outer party (managers and professionals), because what difference does it make? — we can ponder how this happened and what America can learn from this.

We’ll see many economists explain why this resulted from incompetent politicians. This crisis would have been manageable if tenured economists at majored universities ran the world! Barry Eichengreen (Berkeley) says “Path to Grexit tragedy paved by political incompetence.” I suspect that a tag-team of Solon, Pitt the Younger, and Washington would have found this crisis difficult to handle.

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Kingsman: a mirror too disturbing for critics

Summary:  Today’s Sunday film review looks at Kingsman, a provocative mirror of today’s Anglo-American zeitgeist (and as such hated by critics as too disturbing). It’s worth a look.

“We are past the point of no return, no matter what remedial actions we take.”
— Core belief of the bad guys in Kingsman.

Kingsman Poster

Review of Kingsman: the secret service

If there was justice in the world, Kingsman would have grossed more on its first day than Avengers did in its full run. It has everything. It’s a story about a society riven by inequality, and an organization seeking excellence that breaks tradition to offer an opportunity for social mobility to one of the underclass.

It puts on screen what we suspect we have in real life: treasonous leaders willing to sell us out for personal gain. It features logical villains, rather than the Hollywood staples of Lex Luthers who inexplicable turn to crime (rather than becoming billionaires by the fruit of their genius) and Jokers who just want to see the world burn.

For the Left, it has people who realize that we’re killing the world and commit themselves to saving it. For the Right, it shows the makers of the world “going Galt“. For the rest of us, both of these groups are the villains (perhaps marking an inflection point, as Ghostbusters in 1984 marked peak support for the EPA).

For traditionalists, it shows a brave skilled knight who rescues the world and a princess. Conspiracy nuts get a film about a secret plan of the world’s elites to reshape everything, realistically kept secret. Kingsman spices these themes with what we want: sex, violence, and profanity.

Technically, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in years, with the clearest fight scenes since the Matrix.

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Stratfor: The Islamic State’s Pretense of Strength in Yemen

Summary:  Today Stratfor provides another bulletin the front (one of the many fronts) in our mad global war on groups we don’t like (excerpt when they’re allies, or we accidentally put them into power).   {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Stratfor

The Islamic State’s Pretense of Strength in Yemen

Stratfor, 18 June 2015

The Islamic State launched multiple suicide bombings in Sanaa aimed at Houthi rebels’ political headquarters and two mosques June 17, the eve of Ramadan. According to the Yemeni Health Ministry, the attacks killed at least four people and wounded at least 50 more.

It was the Islamic State’s fourth attack against mosques in Sanaa. The first and most deadly occurred March 20, when suicide bombers killed over 140 people in the bombing of two mosques during midday Friday prayers. Because al Qaeda has eschewed assaults on places of worship, the attack was unexpected and Islamic State suicide bombers were able to easily sneak into the mosques.

In response to the March attacks, authorities increased security at religious buildings, making it more difficult for militants to carry bombs or weapons into places of worship. To evade security, the Islamic State has adjusted its tactics and started planning more complex attacks. On May 22, the group sent a suicide bomber into a mosque with explosives hidden inside his sandals. Once detonated, the bomb resulted in 13 injuries but no deaths because of the small amount of explosives. Security officers at a mosque thwarted another would-be bombing on May 29 when they detained another Islamic State suicide bomber with explosives in his shoes.

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