Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Perception Problem of Large Felines, and Other Species

In the Big Cat Republic, deep in the wild jungle, two different types of animals live together.  The lions and leopards generally get along well, often sharing dens and living happily ever after, and the laws call for them to have equal rights. 

For generations immemorial, though, that had not been the case.  Leopards had generally been considered inferiors, even by those in their own species.  The Big Cat legal system reflected that, and lions enjoyed much more freedom.  In particular, leopards were prevented, formally or strongly informally, from pursuing many ways of getting food, which the lions could do to the limits of their abilities and ambitions.  Lions often convinced leopards that they were incapable of doing the things they themselves did, and, through tradition along with the strong inertia characterizing interspecies change, that remained the way for untold ages.

Relatively recently, though, they had had a revolution.  When today’s elders had just finished their cubhoods, many leopards and a remarkable share of lions began publicly questioning the interspecies status quo.  Leopards should be equal, they said.  In a remarkably fast turnaround, laws were put into place, and, in far less than half of a normal leopard or lion lifespan, leopards were guaranteed the same privileges and opportunities as lions.  In the Big Cat Republic, it became the law of the land that leopards could hunt or gather edibles in all ways allowed to lions.

Of course, after untold generations of tradition, not all lions or leopards internalized the changes.  Many lions still tried to stop leopards from getting the food they wanted.  When their actions were overt, they were found in violation of the law and penalized.  Large numbers of leopards, themselves, had been reared in a different world, and continued acting as if they were limited, while others avidly pursued the food acquisition techniques denied to their female ancestors.  In the meantime, lions were not only free, but were still expected, far more than for leopards, to get as much food as they could. 

As the interspecies revolution became solidified, lions and leopards wanted to know how they, compared to each other, were faring in general.  Overall statistics showed that leopards, who were getting an average of two-thirds as much food as lions soon after the laws were changed, were still only at four-fifths half of a lifetime later. 

Was this a problem, and if so, what was causing it?  Lions and leopards disagreed within and between themselves, but predominant communication said that it must be because leopards were still being discriminated against.  Other statistics, though, told a different story.  More leopards than lions, the numbers said, made life choices to seek food in ways that were easier, safer, less stressful, more personally fulfilling, and gave them more time to do other things.  Perhaps more than any other factor, many leopards sharing dens with lions continued to let them gather most of the food.  As a result, leopards, again on general average, lived almost 10% longer than lions, something treated as a fact of life by both and never, even by lions, publicly cited as evidence of unfair treatment. 

As the evidence became clear, and more and more lions and leopards with modern attitudes replaced those with others, did the Big Cat Republic animals make their peace with the issue and recognize the disadvantages and advantages accrued by leopards as mainly a matter of valid personal choices?  Unfortunately not.  Leopards with the rearing and preferences to point them toward being equal hunters with lions showed no understanding of why others were not the same – it seemed incomprehensible to them that many of their fellow country-leopards preferred to raise cubs, feed in less life-dominating ways, and depend more on lions.  As a result, they continued publicizing the food gap and maintaining, despite the laws being firm and penalties severe, they as a species were still being heavily discriminated against.  They were either unaware or not admitting that when equally prepared for and focused on getting large amounts of food, there was no statistical gap between them and similar lions.  And many lions and leopards following this issue, as susceptible to logical fallacies as were certain tall simian bipeds, believed that, despite small and ever-shrinking amounts of true inequity against leopards (and not all Big Cat interspecies discrimination went in that direction), that was obviously the cause. 

Will the good felines of the Big Cat Republic end this worry?  I hope so.  And if they do, maybe there is hope for Americans to properly understand earnings differences between the sexes.

Friday, January 4, 2019

December Jobs Data: Another Strange but Good Month – Per AJSN, We’re Now 15.8 Million Jobs Short

The headline number in this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary was indeed an eye-grabber.  With economic and governmental turmoil and a sharply dropping stock market, I thought the projection of 177,000 net new nonfarm positions was high.  Not only was it not, it was more than 100,000 short, as that came in at a huge 312,000. 

Did the other numbers follow?  Not like that, and in many cases not at all.  Both seasonally adjusted and unadjusted unemployment were up 0.2%, at 3.9% and 3.7% respectively, with the adjusted number of jobless up almost 300,000 to 6.3 million.  While the labor force participation rate gained 0.2% to 63.1%, the employment-population ratio sat at 60.6%, meaning the outcomes were split for the two statistics showing how common it is for Americans to be on labor’s front lines.  The count of people officially jobless for 27 weeks or longer held at 1.3 million, but those working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to part-time opportunities while looking unsuccessfully so far for full-time ones, fluctuated to 4.7 million, down 100,000 after going up twice that last month.  The second most striking change, though, was also positive, as private nonfarm payroll wages were up 11 cents per hour, or about double the inflation rate, to reach $27.48.

The American Job Shortage Number, the measure showing latent demand for work, was hurt by rises in both the numbers of unemployed and those wanting opportunities but not looking for them for a year or more, and increased 328,000, as follows:

Smaller but substantial offsets to the AJSN’s upsurge were changes in the count of those discouraged, off 78,000, and a crash in the number of those in the armed forces, in institutions, or off the grid, over 1 million lower.  Compared with a year before, the AJSN is down 446,000, helped most by about 250,000 fewer unemployed, 100,000 fewer discouraged, and 2.6 million out of the miscellaneous category above. 

Was December a good month?  With that stunning gain in jobs, certainly.  Was it a great month?  No, not really.  The rises in the unemployment rates, which seem caused by the common good-times effect of more people joining the labor force than can get work, do not bother me.  My cause for concern is, despite clear-cut overall prosperity, visible in several of the fringe numbers, specifically long-term unemployed, working part-time for economic reasons, not wanting a job, and, more than anything else, the over 3 million claiming interest in working but not seeing fit to look for it for a year or more.  The lack of progress in these areas say that our continued employment growth is leaving too many people behind.  It does no good for those past the half-year mark of collecting unemployment benefits (or seeing them end), proving themselves at short-hours positions while getting nowhere at working as much as they want, or keeping themselves on the shelf despite harboring hopes of finding something suitable which never seems to materialize, to read about opportunities elsewhere, in other industries, or at other levels.  What is happening with these people needs more attention.  In the meantime, though, the turtle, once again, took a step forward.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Herman Kahn’s Great Transition: 42 Years Later It’s Coming True, Quaternary Economy and All

In 1976, the Hudson Institute, now a multicity conservative think tank, released The Next 200 Years, a look at major trends in population, work activities, and general prosperity around the world.  Often described as intended to refute Malthusian projections such as Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb and The Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth, it took the opposite view that physical resources, such as mineral wealth and food-producing ability, would greatly increase, and that the number of people in the world, then extrapolated to reach 25 billion or more within two centuries, was in fact having an anomalous surge that would fully return to long-term historical levels by 2176.  Per Institute founder and primary author Herman Kahn, the spiking number of people in 1976 was only part of “The Great Transition,” which would also include a per-capita Gross World Product, similar to GDP, rising from $1,300 to $20,000.

Although we are still 158 years short of that point, it is clear that Kahn’s predictions were outstandingly accurate.  We have gone from “the population explosion” being a worldwide worry to most highly developed countries actually losing people and others with vastly reduced birth rates.  The prices of commodities, from oil to copper to wheat, are either about the same in constant dollars or lower, helped by not only improved extraction processes but by discoveries of almost unimaginably large amounts of accessible minerals.  Starvation is much rarer, with the number of people living on $1.90 or less per day below half of that in 1987. 

On overall economic activities, this book has also been prescient.  Human beings have gone through a progression, starting with extraction (farming, fishing, mining, or taking other resources) and moving on to manufacturing (making other things from these resources) and then services (doing things for each other).  In total employment, extraction peaked around 1900 and manufacturing in 1943.  The number of people working in services is still growing, but may soon not be in the most developed places.

All of that leads to one question:  what will come next?  Following the nomenclature often used with services as tertiary business activity, following extraction as primary and manufacturing as secondary, the following phase would be “quaternary.”  If you look that up online now, you see a common view that it refers to research, consulting, and high-level planning.  That is reasonable, but such activities have one flaw preventing them from deserving that title – unlike the previous three, they cannot possibly provide jobs for most working people.

That brings us back to The Next 200 Years, which uses quaternary to describe unpaid things done for their own sake.  If tertiary activities are done for others, quaternary ones are done for the people doing them.  Per Kahn, they are “often constituting what we now more or less consider leisure activities” and “could include” rituals, “demanding religions,” reading, writing, painting, composing, games, “gourmet cooking and eating,” hunting, boating, discussion, “acquisition and exercise of nonvocational skills,” and, if financially unjustified, “many public works and public projects.”  As services become less and less labor-intensive, which has happened for decades now, quaternary activities will not only keep people active but will be, as paid employment has generally been, a main source of their identities.

The catch, of course, is that these quaternary activities do not provide the means for living.  Whether or not that is implicit in the recent discussion on guaranteed basic income, they go well with it.  Guaranteed income will be necessary someday, and the time people do not spend working or seeking work will be freed for quaternary activities.  How we can persuade the rank and file of Americans to choose more active pursuits than watching television and absorbing entertainment, both of which are held over from the days when work left people physically exhausted, is another problem, but the opportunity will be there.  Kahn called “the transition to a society principally engaged in quaternary activities” “the third great watershed in human history,” and expected it to be nearly complete worldwide by 2176, the same time when the higher population percentage increase will end. 

Will the practice of quaternary activities come to pass?  That is already happening.  The extent that they become people’s main occupations will depend on, among other things, where we go with guaranteed income.  That will be debated more and more over the next twenty years.  With another depression or Great Recession, we will see that jobs are permanently going away, so people, like it or not, will need to find something else to do with their lives.  That is where we are going.  We don’t know much about what life will be like for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, but it’s silly to imagine them working service jobs as if it were the 1980s.  Bet on Herman Kahn’s quaternary activities – it’s the most likely future we have. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Year-End Wrap-up on Today’s Hottest Jobs-Related Topic: Artificial Intelligence

Yes, in amount of recent press, AI has gone past guaranteed income, driverless cars, minimum wages, and even robotics.  It’s sort of an oxymoron, as it still seems to use only algorithms, which forces its developers to assume that what knowledge they want must be linear. 

We’ll start our set of dispatches from the last seven months of 2018 with one from a series called “Dispatches.”  This entry by Henry Kissinger, who, if he penned this himself, is one of the world’s best 95-year-old writers, is titled “How the Enlightenment Ends” and was published in the June 2018 Atlantic.  Kissinger was concerned that our “new, even sweeping technological revolution” has “consequences we have failed to fully reckon with” – a sentiment around since at least George Orwell in the 1940s, even if some of the problems he mentioned, such as “the ability to target micro-groups” causing politicians to be “overwhelmed by niche pressures,” are newer.  He warned of the dangers of “an AI program that is acting outside our framework of expectation,” especially one that learns much quicker than humans and can “surpass the explanatory powers of human language and reason,” and considered the nature of consciousness, which in one of many views comes from computations and is thus present in pocket calculators.  As opposed to the historical Enlightenment, in which the situation was the opposite, Kissinger wrote that we now have “a potentially dominating technology in search of a guiding philosophy.”  Well selected and well refined insights.

In the June 20th New York Times, Steve Lohr asked “Is There a Smarter Path to Artificial Intelligence?  Some Experts Hope So.”  The author first hinted at a rising problem, that “a growing number of A.I. experts are warning that the infatuation with deep learning may well breed myopia and overinvestment now – and disillusionment later,” a view which may be driven as much by concerns about the politically incorrect conclusions the deep learning, or massive data analysis, systems Lohr discussed sometimes reach.  Although they seem to “learn” by identifying commonality, such schemes are ultimately only based on computations, running faster but not making intuitive human-style connections, and indeed, per Lohr, “deep learning comes from the statistical side of A.I.”  That theme was also the point of Melanie Mitchell’s “Artificial Intelligence Hits the Barrier of Meaning,” on November 5th in the same publication, which said that “today’s A.I. systems sorely lack the essence of human intelligence:  understanding the situations we experience, being able to grasp their meaning,” and pointed out how vulnerable such schemes, which may need to learn from the beginning when only small things are changed, are to hackers.      

One section of artificial intelligence has hit a roadblock, as Julie Creswell reported on June 20th, also in the New York Times, that “Orlando Pulls the Plug on Its Amazon Facial Recognition Program.” That police-department effort, powered by Amazon’s two-year-old Rekognition product, was ended in the wake of protesters rightfully concerned that it could be used to track them “or others whom authorities see as suspicious, rather than being limited to individuals who are committing crimes.”  This won’t, though, be the end of large organizations vacuuming up millions of faces and attaching them to credit reports, medical files, purchasing histories, cell phone records, and so on, and it is unrealistic to think your face will not be with your name in plenty of huge databases within ten years.  There will be good and bad aspects to what is already the means to attach a personal history to a high share of facial photographs, making everyone an even faster and sharper data analyst than Penelope Garcia on CBS’s television show Criminal Minds.  Even if such technology is legally restricted, it will still be used.

Moving on to human resources issues, we have, also in the Times, “A.I. as Talent Scout:  Unorthodox Hires, and Maybe Lower Pay” (Noam Scheiber, December 6th).  That piece showed how companies can use a baseball-style Bill James or Moneyball system to identify winning job candidates lacking conventionally expected credentials, for whom, per a Columbia economist, the organization “doesn’t seem to have to compete… as much.”  A fundamental improvement over the long-time use of automated scanning for key words on resumes, the service Eightfold can look for related but not identical experiences.  One drawback Scheiber named was that people might feel “a sense of unfairness… if a computer were to make hiring, firing and promotion decisions” – that made me laugh, as those verdicts, when made by humans, have been notoriously erratic since long before the first computer was made.  Just as modern technology can put chubby or awkward-throwing but superbly hitting players into major-league careers, it can do the same for those with credentials slightly off balance in cubicle jobs.

We end on a pessimistic note from Timothy Egan, in the December 7th New York Times.  As before, we’ve known about threats from “The Deadly Soul of a New Machine” for a while, but it isn’t the whole story.  Yes, October’s Lion Air flight disaster may have been caused by an excessively dominant, in effect faulty, “advanced electronic brain,” but such things have saved many more lives than that, and saying that one driverless-car pedestrian death means that “there shouldn’t be any rush… to hand over the steering wheel to a driver without a heartbeat,” and that a good summary for artificially intelligent devices is “Our invention.  Our folly,” is out of touch with the reality of what such systems are doing now, let alone how they will perform when bugs that caused both disasters are removed.  We don’t need naivete, but we can also do without looking only at the worst.  Artificial intelligence is still only algorithmic, and will continue to present problems, but it is still overwhelmingly positive.  As for its future, stay tuned. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Autonomous Vehicles: Six Slow Months

I last published on this topic June 28th, wrapping up the previous 12 months, and July 11th, with projections on the shares of vehicles reaching certain technological points in the USA and elsewhere and the number of trucking and cabdriving jobs in relation to today’s.  I have established that forecast as a regular annual feature, but didn’t want to get caught up in the often-daily updates in the field I had seen for the previous year.  So what has happened since then?

One noteworthy thing is the lack of news itself.  Companies have been much quieter about their progress, with the largest stories concerning business instead of technical moves.  The promises have softened, especially, as we will see, those from the formerly loudest participant.

One company reached a real milestone in the summer, as “Lyft’s self-driving vehicles have performed 5,000 passenger rides in Las Vegas” (Cohen Coberly, TechSpot, August 22nd).  Although all were in the limited and almost linear area of the Strip, it’s still an impressive accomplishment, especially with no accidents and a stunning 4.96 out of 5 passenger feedback record with comments calling the trips “amazing” as well as safe. 

On the regulatory front, our federal government showed again that it can be helpful and set guidelines without unreasonable or heavy-handed interference.  In “US Department of Transportation updates autonomous car rules,” from Engadget on October 4th, Natalie Behring showed us changes to voluntary, not mandatory, principles, including allowing automata to legally constitute “drivers” and announcing an intention to drop requirements for devices, such as pedals and steering wheels, such systems don’t need.  That approach has drawn disagreement from the private, consumer-advocating Center of Auto Safety, but is certainly the long-run winner.

I thought we had more insights into the recent slowdown in “Through All the Hype, Self-Driving Cars Remain Elusive” (Norman Mayersohn, The New York Times, November 27th), but this article, after noting the likes of “self-driving vehicles, despite being the subject of breathless media reports and in automakers’ strategies, remain years from being available to private owners” (which we know, as the first wave of them will be put in fleets instead), and quoting a Stanford transportation lecturer as saying that “few start-ups actually understood the commitment required to create a complete vehicle” (but none in the past year have tried), listed companies not only specializing in different technical areas but taking varying business approaches, from concentrating on easy environmental conditions to planning to deal with all of them, from partnering with one automaker to offering products to all, and starting with taxi service, intracompany runs, or other fixed-route shuttles.  Mayersohn revealed ten of these concerns, some familiar from the literature but several not, which showed how much forceful, widely-varied work is still ongoing.

In the December 5th Arizona Republic, Ryan Randazzo told us about his progress-assessing project, “We followed Waymo’s self-driving cars around Arizona for 170 miles:  Here’s what we saw.”  The latter, though clouded by his uncertainty on whether the vehicles, all of which had safety drivers, were actually in driverless mode, included extreme caution while approaching a major accident site, perhaps excessively slow turning in some intersections, sluggish lane changing causing some missed turns, and what seemed like unusually conservative driving in general.  Randazzo’s findings cast a positive light on Waymo, which has already shown itself to be one of the soberest and most measured autonomous-technology providers – it seems appropriate to err on the side of caution, and problems such as not getting into the proper lane in time will clearly be attacked and solved.  Remembering that all know that such vehicles are not at all being touted as finished or even commonly available should remove any concern about this piece’s discoveries.

That company recently crossed another line, as “Ex-Google driverless car firm Waymo begins charging for self-driving car rides in Arizona” (USA Today, also December 5th).  It is not a general offering, but only for “pre-approved passengers in the Chandler, Arizona area.”  Meanwhile, as I alluded to before, “Uber plans smaller, more cautious self-driving car launch” (Heather Somerville, Reuters, again December 5th).  This is the first sentence I’ve seen with both “Uber” and “cautious,” but seems to be what came off their drawing board after their real but grossly overemphasized fatal March accident.  Their tests will resume at speeds under 25 miles per hour in dry daytimes with not one but two “employees” in front seats, with no plans for passengers and “no firm start date.”  That may be so unadventurous as to make Uber uncompetitive.  However, Somerville’s reporting of this announcement was more positive than what Rachel England wrote in Engadget’s December 6th “Uber puts self-driving cars back on the road in scaled-down test,” including the statement that “current employees have anonymously claimed that Uber is taking shortcuts to hit internal milestones.”  If that were to be documented and to have demonstrably bad consequences, it could finish Uber off, not only in the autonomous-vehicle realm but eventually as a business.  It is now more important than ever that we differentiate between what Uber is doing and the progress and safety of others. 

Four conclusions stem from the events above.  First, the limited rollouts and smaller set of immediate future implementations mean that we are behind schedule, maybe six months back of what my July projections anticipated.  Second, the Waymo model of operating in smallish, well-mapped and defined areas which can expand with time may become established as the way driverless technology reaches the general public.  Third, the wide variety of companies and methods is good for the long run, as some will be successful and most will not, but may mean further delays in the next year or so.  But fourth, if people working in this field maintain or reimplement their 2017 levels of intensity, there can be no doubt that driverless vehicles will, indeed, become the norm.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Neutral Jobs Data? No, November’s Was Good – The AJSN, Now Down 200,000 to Latent Demand of 15.5 Million, Shows Why

My first thought as I went through this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary was that November was a flatline month.  Nonfarm payroll employment gained 155,000, over the level needed to absorb our population gain but not much.  The break-evens included seasonally adjusted unemployment (3.7%), unadjusted unemployment (3.5%), the labor force participation rate (62.9%), and the employment-population ratio (60.6%), arguably the four most important jobs figures the BLS publishes.  Average hourly nonfarm payroll wages didn’t do anything either, gaining 5 cents per hour, or just about the inflation rate, to $27.35.  The two other major data points were mixed, with the count of people working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to short-hours positions while thus far unsuccessfully seeking full-time ones, up 200,000 to 4.8 million, and the number officially jobless for 27 weeks or longer off 100,000 to 1.3 million. 

Given all that, especially with the last two statistics not an input to it, I expected the American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, which shows latent demand for American work, to have stayed virtually the same.  However, it lost 200,000, improving as follows:

Half of the drop was from lower official unemployment.  The other half came from one of the numbers of marginal labor-force attachment above.  The count of people saying they wanted to work but had not looked for it during the previous year fell 136,000 from October, which meant their group’s latent demand fell about 109,000.  The other smaller factors almost held, with a 45,000 rise in those temporarily in school or training and a 120,000 gain in “other” offset by 53,000 fewer calling themselves discouraged. 

The AJSN’s year-over-year comparison was also strong.  In November 2017, there were 636,000 more unemployed and almost 1.5 million more counted as non-civilian (in the armed forces), institutionalized, and unaccounted for (off the grid), with changes in the other components small and mixed, resulting in a 660,000 drop.  

You may read from other sources that this jobs report was disappointing.  I don’t see that.  More new positions than our rising population needs, even if they were below some estimates, is, as we will find out with the next recession, nothing to take for granted.  The smaller categories above are straightening themselves out, with people settling into a robust employment market but with more realistic views of whether it could help them personally.  Otherwise, we broke even.  As to why November wasn’t better, the answer may be that we are simply running out of room.  We can always use many more jobs, but barring something on the scale of a national infrastructure project, there is no reason for us to get them.  Given that, this is hardly a shabby place to hang out.  And yes, while it was small, the turtle did indeed take another step forward.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Why Indeed? Some Answers to Kate Julian’s Atlantic Question

Four months ago I started a three-part series on a longstanding social problem only then starting to graze national media’s consciousness.  Titled “For Free Thinkers Only:  America’s Sexual Shortcoming” (see the archive under July and August 2018 at this site), it took an independent view on the main failing of the 1960s sexual revolution, that, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat had put it, sex has been unevenly distributed, with its bounty failing to reach many Americans.  In the series I responded to Douthat’s ideas, assessed where we actually are sexually as a nation, and proposed eight changes to minimize the shortfall.  The final installment has been viewed over 800 times, so clearly there is much interest in this topic.

That may also have influenced Atlantic magazine senior editor Kate Julian, as she wrote an article, now featured on the December 2018 cover and long enough to print out to 38 pages, titled “Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?”  It named some stunning facts and developments, such as high-schoolers’ intercourse experience dropping from 54% to 40% in the 26 years ending 2017 contrasted with Teen Vogue running a guide to anal sex, and ran off a list of no fewer than 19 possible causes mentioned by “sex researchers, psychologists, economists, sociologists, therapists, sex educators, and young adults.”  She zeroed in on five reasons or combinations of same that could be most responsible.  After making points I had also, such as the lack of sex not being immediately life-threatening, she found no solid single conclusion, and ended with the statement that “sex seems more fraught now” and a gloomy story about a 28-year-old woman – not even a man – losing a good emerging relationship by admitting she was a virgin.  The closest Julian had to an overall message seemed to be that we will get through this, which, itself, is sad, not to mention insufficient.

If we are going to mitigate this trend, we need to assess its grounds.  Which of the ones Julian discovered, researched, and wrote more on are truly responsible?  The 19 she first mentioned are a mixed bag.  “Hookup culture” I consider illusory, as it has served only to facilitate opportunities for those with plenty already, and is not a cause in itself.  “Crushing economic pressures” is only a source of possible reasons, as we will see.  “Surging anxiety rates” are not responsible for more than a few.  “Psychological frailty” is not an original cause, and neither is “widespread antidepressant use.”  The distracting effects of “streaming TV,” “the news cycle,” “smartphones,” and “information overload,” and the possible impediments of “sleep deprivation” and “obesity” would, if there were no other issue, be easily brushed aside.  “Environmental estrogens” are only a nit, and “dropping testosterone” is clearly, per Julian’s first detailed assessment, not the problem.  “Digital porn” and “the vibrator’s golden age” cannot replace sex by themselves.

The remaining 4 of the 19 have more causal merit, and are covered in Julian’s “handful of suspects,” discussion of which took up 27 of its 38 pages.  The first was “Sex for One,” or more frequent masturbation enhanced with better pornography and physical devices.  I see two main things wrong with it as a less-sex cause.  One, masturbation is like an economic inferior good, such as margarine, which becomes more popular when the superior alternative is unavailable or too expensive.  Two, therefore, the causality is reversed; masturbating at a frequency that Julian-cited sex therapists would consider excessive is primarily a result of insufficient intercourse opportunities, not a reason for them.

The second “suspect” was the combination of “Hookup Culture and Helicopter Parents,” which also brings in “careerism” and “option paralysis” from the 19.  While “hookup culture” is old under the skin, “option paralysis” can be a result of having so many choices in immediate view, especially for young women, that they settle on nothing, parallel to a Harvard Business Review finding that retailers would sell more cola or chocolate-chip cookies if they had 5 different kinds instead of 30.  As for the other two, we can’t dispute one of Julian’s sources when he said that “it’s hard to work in sex when the baseball team practices at 6:30, school starts at 8:15, drama club meets at 4:15, the soup kitchen starts serving at 6, and, oh yeah, your screenplay needs completion.”  If high school and college students are denied free time, they will not date.  In a truly informed society, such as, per Julian, where the Netherlands might be headed, parents would schedule romance time for their adult and nearly-adult children.

The third major cause Julian called “The Tinder Mirage.”  The problem here is that dating sites which allow men and women to respond freely to each other’s posts will precipitate vastly more contacts from men, most of whom soon find they can never expect responses from women they have right-swiped, Liked, messaged, or the equivalent.  A model such as what eHarmony used in the past decade, where people of both sexes are paired with a more limited set of others, does not have this problem.  However, the real damage done by such apps is, apparently, cutting the viability of trying to pick up people in person, with one of Julian’s respondents considering it now “borderline creepy.”  That, along with such photo-based tools overemphasizing appearance, is reason enough to label modern romance-seeking methods deficient.

Fourth, we get “Bad Sex (Painfully Bad).”  Pornography is unfairly vilified in many ways, but deserves some blame for distorting how it often shows the act, from emphasis on anal sex, which hurts much or most of the time, entering without lubrication or foreplay, to even choking partners to heighten their orgasms.  The real problem here is not with porn but with communication, with good sources for technique buried among bad ones and the near-complete-failure of school sex education, which could have become as much of a foundation and valid information source as has that for driving, and is of course compounded by so many men’s lack of opportunities that would get them experience.

Last, surprisingly to me, was “Inhibition.”  Did you know that “by the mid-1990s, most high schools had stopped requiring students to shower after gym class”?  I did not.  An apparent unintended consequence of the end of that innocuous part of daily life is that many Millennials “want their own changing rooms and bathrooms, even in a couple.”  After literally thousands of grade school through college nude locker-room appearances in front of other males, which precipitated a total of zero sexually improper comments or actions, it seems bizarre to me not to accept sometimes being undressed in front of someone with whom I’m having intimate relations.  A real cause indeed – if for no reason more than, as one of my gym teachers used to say, “getting in that (dirty) uniform is enough to take a shower,” can we bring them back?

There are more explanations than Julian named for our lack of physical intimacy.  The inflection point we are at, where people differ on whether women should be protected, have full equal rights, have equality of income outcomes, or some combination of these, is one.  The probably about 3-to-1 ratio of unattached, romantically-interested high school or college males to the same in females is discouraging.  We are in our infancy in working to understand and solve this problem – what otherwise could I conclude from an article named “We’re All in Sales Now,” written by a woman apparently na├»ve that men in the bottom 60% of romantic desirability have been forced to be there since Ford was president, making a November 2018, not 1978, New York Times Sunday Review first page?  Yet there is much more in Julian’s article, which I heartily recommend.  You can find it at  In the meantime, free thinkers should keep the faith, and everyone else should join us.  Too little sex for too many people may not kill us, but its effect on our collective happiness is devastating and unnecessary.  Let’s fix it.