Tag Archives: unemployment

How Robots & Algorithms Are Taking Over

Summary: Today we have another essay about the 3rd industrial revolution now under way (aka the robot revolution), reviewing another new book preparing us for what is to come. We’ve had 50 years of warnings, all ignored. We’ll have to move soon to avoid severe social turmoil. Let’s not repeat our ugly 19th C history. {1st of 2 posts today.}

“We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come — namely, technological
unemployment. This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the useof labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour. ”

— John Maynard Keynes, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren“, The Nation and Athenœum, 11 and 18 October 1930.

Cover of <i>Galaxie</i>, 1959

Cover of Galaxie, 1959. CCI/Art Archive.

Excerpt from
How Robots & Algorithms
Are Taking Over

By Sue Halpern.
London Review of Books, 5 March 2015

Halpern reviews:

Here is what that future — which is to say now — looks like: banking, logistics, surgery, and medical recordkeeping are just a few of the occupations that have already been given over to machines. Manufacturing, which has long been hospitable to mechanization and automation, is becoming more so as the cost of industrial robots drops, especially in relation to the cost of human labor.

… Meanwhile, algorithms are writing most corporate reports, analyzing intelligence data for the NSA and CIA, reading mammograms, grading tests, and sniffing out plagiarism. Computers fly planes — Nicholas Carr points out that the average airline pilot is now at the helm of an airplane for about 3 minutes per flight — and they compose music and pick which pop songs should be recorded based on which chord progressions and riffs were hits in the past. Computers pursue drug development — a robot in the UK named Eve may have just found a new compound to treat malaria — and fill pharmacy vials.

Xerox uses computers — not people — to select which applicants to hire for its call centers. The retail giant Amazon “employs” 15,000 warehouse robots to pull items off the shelf and pack boxes. The self-driving car is being road-tested. A number of hotels are staffed by robotic desk clerks and cleaned by robotic chambermaids. Airports are instituting robotic valet parking. Cynthia Breazeal, the director of MIT’s personal robots group … $25 million in venture capital funding, to bring Jibo, “the world’s first social robot,” to market.

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The robots are coming, bringing hope of a better future.

Summary:  Slowly the outlines of the 3rd industrial revolution becomes clear, and with it the only path to a better future for humanity. Today we have an excerpt from a brilliant article about this by British journalist and novelist John Lanchester.

That means the role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors. The general theoretical proposition that the worker who loses his job in one industry will necessarily be able to find employment, possibly after appropriate retraining, in some other industry is as invalid as would be the assertion that horses who lost their jobs in transportation and agriculture could necessarily have been put to another economically productive use.

— Wassily Leontief ( Nobel laureate in economics), The Future Impact of Automation on Workers (1986).

A woman in the robot office

Excerpt from “The Robots Are Coming

John Lanchester
London Review of Books, 5 March 2015

Lanchester reviews these books:

We are, Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue, on the verge of a new industrial revolution, one which will have as much impact on the world as the first one. Whole categories of work will be transformed by the power of computing, and in particular by the impact of robots.

… We are used to the thought that the kind of work done by assembly-line workers in a factory will be automated. We’re less used to the thought that the kinds of work done by clerks, or lawyers, or financial analysts, or journalists, or librarians, can be automated. The fact is that it can be, and will be, and in many cases already is. Tyler Cowen’s Average Is Over points towards a future in which all the rewards are likely to be captured by people at the top of the income distribution, especially those who become most adept at working with smart machines.

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Highlights of the jobs report, the good news & the bad.

Summary:  Yesterday we looked at leading indicators for the US economy. Today we look at one of the best coincident indicators: jobs. Today we’ll do it differently, seeking answers to the hot questions in the blizzard of numbers provided by the BLS. We’ll examine the good news, and the bad.  Also see the additional info in the comments. {1st of 2 posts today.}

Economy

Contents

  1. About the collapse of the oil industry.
  2. Has Obama’s recovery helped the middle class?
  3. The bottom line.
  4. Bad news about wage growth.
  5. Making sense of this numbers blizzard.
  6. About ZH’s accusations of fraud.
  7. For More Information.

(1) About the collapse of the oil industry.

The resource sector lost 9,000 jobs, a dot among America’s 148 million workers (one thousand of those were in oil & gas extraction; 7 thousand were in “support activities”). Weekly wages of their non-supervisory workers continue to slowly drop, down 3% to $1,230.

YoY the number of unemployed in the sector dropped 1.4 million, taking the sector’s unemployment rate from 7.0 to 5.7.  The oil bust is too small to have more than a regional impact.  See the BLS Highlights for more info about the growth in jobs by sector.

Feburary jobs by sector

(2) Has Obama’s recovery helped the middle class?

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Status report on the US economy: darkening sky, rough waves ahead.

Summary: Time for a status report on the US economy, reviewing the economic data. Since the crash we’ve been playing out The Perils of Pauline, with repeated rescues from a recession that we’re in poor shape to experience. As usual, the picture is cloudy — despite the steady drone from the stuck clocks of the doomsters and perma-bulls. We don’t provide spuriously confident forecasts. I expect another year of slow growth, but recommend preparing for a recession while hoping for a boom.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

GDPnow forecast for Q1

Manufacturers’ New Orders: ugly, and falling

Many key economic indicators use components of this. New orders for core capital goods goes into GDP. New orders for consumer goods is a leading indicator, and leading down quite rapidly (the weakness is in nondurable goods). The report gives no details on the nondurable goods number. It includes fuel, but the decline seems too large for that alone to explain it.

New Orders for Consumer Good

Total New Orders are also quite ugly, down during each of the past six months.

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Are government unemployment numbers a “big lie”?

Summary: Today we look at an example of a recurring myth on the Right, that nothing the government does can be trusted. It’s part of their long and highly successful program to delegitimatize our government (and unions too). These are the major institutions through which we can collectively resist the power of the 1%; without them we’re powerless atoms. Now the CEO of Gallup pitches dust in our eyes. {1st of 2 posts today}

Myth busted!

A hot story on the Right about about a sad number: “The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment” by Jim Clifton (CEO of Gallup), 3 February 2015. It’s a disgraceful article for a CEO of a major company — and ironical for the CEO of Gallup. Red emphasis added. Excerpt:

Right now, we’re hearing much celebrating from the media, the White House and Wall Street about how unemployment is “down” to 5.6%. The cheerleading for this number is deafening. The media loves a comeback story, the White House wants to score political points and Wall Street would like you to stay in the market.

None of them will tell you this: If you, a family member or anyone is unemployed and has subsequently given up on finding a job — if you are so hopelessly out of work that you’ve stopped looking over the past four weeks — the Department of Labor doesn’t count you as unemployed. That’s right. While you are as unemployed as one can possibly be, and tragically may never find work again, you are not counted in the figure we see relentlessly in the news — currently 5.6%. Right now, as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed. Trust me, the vast majority of them aren’t throwing parties to toast “falling” unemployment.

There’s another reason why the official rate is misleading. Say you’re an out-of-work engineer or healthcare worker or construction worker or retail manager: If you perform a minimum of one hour of work in a week and are paid at least $20 — maybe someone pays you to mow their lawn — you’re not officially counted as unemployed in the much-reported 5.6%. Few Americans know this.

… There’s no other way to say this. The official unemployment rate, which cruelly overlooks the suffering of the long-term and often permanently unemployed as well as the depressingly underemployed, amounts to a Big Lie.

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The jobs report shows the beating heart of the economy. See the good news, & the bad.

Summary: Today we examine the very beating heart of the US economy, where all the arteries converge — the jobs report. The picture it shows is clear, although most commentary obscures this beneath analysts’ hopes and fears. Also, the data warns that the US economy has changed in an important but ominous way.

“Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain.”
— Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic “Weeping Philosopher” of Ionia

The bottom line

Here’s one version of the bottom line (at the end is a more accurate version) of the numbers in the January employment report: job growth continues at the same rate as during the past ten months. Not slowing, as some feared. No breakout, as some hoped.

Employment-January

The following graphs show the numbers on on a Year-over-Year basis, smoothing the lines but losing resolution of recent change. The numbers are too noisy and too revised to see the pattern otherwise.

Is this rate fast or slow? The monthly numbers don’t say, especially since population growth means that the same number of new jobs represents slower growth over time. Let’s look at job growth as a percent change. We see a slow — very slow — acceleration, perhaps even the start of a break-out: 2.3% YoY  (2.1% YoY using the Household survey data, a second survey confirming the results). That’s fast, the fastest since May 2000 — at the peak of the tech bubble.

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For Japan there is no road but to an economic recovery

Summary: the most contrarian thing you’ll read today.

Japan was a big story in 2014. The hopes for its rise — quickly crushed — created ripples around the world. Today’s post features an article by an expert asking if a new phase in its recovery story will unfold in 2015. A recovery in Japan would give the world economy another locomotive. The data looks provocative and the reasoning seems profound. (This is the 2nd of today’s two posts.)

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
— Herbert Stein’s Law (US economist, 1916-1999)

Japan: setting sun

A setting or rising sun?

Keiki Kaifuku, Kono Michi Shika Nai
“Economic Recovery,
There Is No Road But This”
—  LDP Campaign Slogan, December 2014

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By Peter Karmin of Fort Sheridan Advisors

From the Drobny Global Monitor, 11 December 2014

Posted with the generous permission of the author and Drobny Global Advisors.

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For years – if not decades – Japan’s shrinking demographics have been a primary cause for that country’s lackluster economic growth. However, Japan is now reaching a point in its cycle where the population shortage — combined with a scarcity in natural resources and the effects of “Abenomics” – will cause stagflation rather than deflation. This is a structural rather than cyclical change resulting from a shortage in labor and natural resources. The former is a result of declining population/workforce along with stringent immigration laws and the latter is a result of the closing of nuclear power plants following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

During the past few years, Japan’s unemployment rate has gradually dropped and is now at 3.5% which is the lowest since 1997.

Japan's unemployment rate

Drobny Global Advisors, 11 December 2014

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Additional signs of improvement within the labor sector are seen in other surveys. For example, the “Jobs-To-Applicants Ratio” is now at a level (1.1 job openings/applicants) not seen since June 1992 when 10-year Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs) yielded 5% (we have only had to move the decimal over to the left one place during the past 22 years):

Japan: job to applicants ratio

Drobny Global Advisors, 11 December 2014

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Recent Bank of Japan Tankan Surveys show that both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors are finding a shortage of available workers {DI: diffusion index}:

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