Friday, October 5, 2018

September Employment Report: Latent Demand for Jobs, Per the American Job Shortage Number (AJSN), Dropped, As Did Unemployment – We’re Now Only (?) 15.6 Million Jobs Short


This morning’s was another one-of-a-kind Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary.

I didn’t see a projected number for net new nonfarm payroll positions, and it didn’t matter much, as they took a breather, up 134,000 or essentially the same as our growing population absorbed.  Other results, though, were surprising.  The marquee adjusted unemployment rate found another 0.2% to decline for 3.7%, and is its smallest since December 1969.  The adjusted rate, now lower as September is an above-average working month, fell 0.3% to 3.6%.  We are now at an adjusted total of 6.0 million jobless, down 200,000, and average private nonfarm payroll wages again exceeded inflation with an 8 cent per hour gain to $27.24.  While the labor force participation rate stayed at 62.7%, the other indicator of how common it is for Americans to be on the job, the employment-population ratio, improved 0.1% to 60.4%.

There was a downside, though.  Although unemployment was off, those officially jobless for 12 months or longer now count 1.4 million, up 100,000.  The set of those working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to shorter-hour opportunities while looking thus far unsuccessfully for full-time ones, gained back the 200,000 it lost in August and is again at 4.6 million. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the measure of how many additional positions could be filled if everyone knew they were truly easy to get, plunged 943,000, maybe half of that seasonal (the AJSN is not adjusted), as follows:



The large drop was from the one-two punch of latent demand from those officially unemployed, down 544,000, and that from the greatly reduced count of those wanting work but not looking for it for 12 months or longer, off 445,000.  Changes in the other components were relatively small, with the largest other loss from those discouraged and the highest gain, once again, from people claiming no interest in working.  The share of latent demand coming from the unemployed is now 33.2%, which is, along with the AJSN itself, another post-Great-Recession low. 

Once again, the metric is down over one million from a year ago.  In September 2017 there were 800,000 fewer unemployed and 364,000 fewer wanting work but not searching for at least a year.  Other six-digit year-over-year AJSN changes came from those non-civilian, institutionalized, or off the grid, 1.2 million higher then, and the 2.1 million gain in people saying they do not want a job. 

What to make of this month?  I think it’s OK that net new jobs only matched national growth this time – that has been very strong for years, and cannot be expected to always exceed population gain.  It is healthy that fewer who want jobs aren’t looking, though that number has been oscillating more than improving.  I am concerned about two things.  Two groups which seem to slip through the cracks of prosperity analyses, the long-term unemployed and those working part-time for economic reasons, are within another month like this one of being disturbingly large given the floor-low jobless rates.  And second, the steady growth of those on the shelf, or saying they do not want to work, means that we are in long-term danger of employment being less usual.  Overall, though, the good things dominated – the turtle took another step in the right direction.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Four Possible Pieces of Government Action: Are They Worthwhile Now?


While we all know that private companies create the vast bulk of jobs, public policy can influence how many there are.  Over the past year, people have proposed four changes which may, or may not, help us have more of them.  Would they be effective?

Ann Tergesen and Richard Ruben, in the October 21 MarketWatch, told us that “There’s talk of capping 401(k) contributions at $2,400 per year.”  A bad idea.  Saving is good, and we should be using tax policy to promote positive things, not discourage them.  As well, $2,400 is a tiny amount.  An annual limit of, say, $10,000, could be reasonable if members of the House Ways and Means Committee truly wanted to “generate revenue to support broad reductions in individual tax rates,” but not less.

There were times when the headline “US employers desperately need workers.  Let’s help millions of adults stuck on food stamps move into jobs” (Sam Adolphsen, FoxNews.com, January 3rd) would have been appropriate, but now is not, on multiple counts.  First, we are over 16 million jobs short, and if companies were more willing to raise pay and provide training, they would have all the workers they need.  Second, given that, enough jobs aren’t out there for people wanting to be paid market rates to “move into.”  Third, not providing enough to eat for citizens of this agriculturally bountiful country is not the way to “help” them.  True, there are some who would just like to survive with minimum effort, but when surveys consistently show how many would prefer to fully support themselves, they are clearly a small minority.  This is 2018, not 1950.

The August 11th Economist discussed a better proposition, land-value taxes, in “On firmer ground.”  What the unbilled authors called “an enticing prospect to those harmed by high land values today” would be especially effective, as while “typically, taxing a good lowers supply and raises prices,” that could cut back land development but not its physical quantity.  A chart with the article showed remarkably little correlation between house replacement costs and their values, with average dwellings in Pittsburgh and Houston worth little more than their rebuilding amounts, but those in San Francisco and San Jose, while half again the replacement cost, worth, due to their land, three and four times that amount.  The idea of owning land itself is only a societal invention, the authors point out, not allowed in the high seas and not the same as having possession of things people have created or bought from those who did.  Land-value taxes are, indeed, worthy of consideration.

With income an increasingly unrepresentative source of government revenue, we need to consider others.  That is the thesis of “Stuck in the past,” also in the August 11th Economist.  This piece also mentioned “expensive housing, often the result of a shortage of land,” which “has yielded windfall gains to homeowners in big, global cities,” and called for, “to stop companies shifting profits,” governments to “switch their focus from firms to investors,” with corporate taxes only as “a backstop, to ensure that investors who do not pay taxes themselves, such as foreigners and universities, still make some contribution.”  We do need to look at an overall tax-system makeover, and implement others, such as on financial transactions, as existing revenue sources, such as income taxes, shrink.  The World War II of implementing that, though, would make partisan Supreme Court nomination battles look like skirmishes.  Likely?  No.  Impossible?  Not quite.  Necessary, within the next 20 years?  Yes. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Six Points Against a Higher Minimum Wage: How Do They Stand Up Almost Five Years Later?


On December 13, 2013 I published a post with the first half of the title above.  It has been read over 2,000 times and has drawn various comments.  Much has changed in the economy and the world since then.  How have these arguments held up?

The first point was that “not every low-paying job is with a large and very profitable company,” and in fact most such positions were and are with small, often struggling local concerns with little in common with the likes of McDonald’s and Walmart, and run real risks of being closed out if the business’s owners were forced to pay more.  Two comments implied that we could tie minimum pay to profitability, which sounds unwieldy but would indeed solve the Burger King-vs.-Joe’s-Bar-and-Grill problem here.  Another stated, correctly, that more money in circulation would help such businesses survive – it would, but in the great majority of cases would not approach being enough.

Second was that the country, then 19 million jobs short, was poorly placed to lose more to higher mandated wages.  Per the AJSN, that number is now 16.6 million, but that is not even a 15% reduction and still shows our surplus of people who would work if given the opportunity.  One commenter mentioned the increased money movement above – again positive, but far insufficient – and suggested that we could help that jobs deficiency with government infrastructure programs.  I heartily agree, as I have in the past – we will need to build, repair, and upgrade numerous bridges, roads, dams, airports, cellular towers, and much more sooner or later, and it may as well be sooner. 

My third point was that higher minimum wages would make employers pay more than they need to, that when they do not get the workers they require, or want to improve their quality and tendency to stay, they can and should raise their offers on their own.  That has been borne out by Walmart and other companies establishing internal minimums higher than the government requirement.  One observer said that the additional competition would be good for customers, which it could be, unless there is plenty as it is.  He also mentioned the problem of “a full time paycheque being less than your rent,” which would only apply to a small share of low-paid workers, as well over half are with parents, sharing living spaces, or have additional household income.

Fourth, I called “the largest inequality” the one between those working and unable to find jobs.  That is less true now than in 2013, but millions of those 16,600,000 would tell you that is how they see it.  No, this is not “fake news” – it isn’t real news or news at all, only my viewpoint – and is necessarily subjective anyway.  In business theory, income is known as a “hygiene factor,” which means that its appeal as it increases does not go up as a straight line but almost levels out.  Sure, $4.5 million or whatever per hour is farther from $15 than $15 is from $0, but a remarkable number of Americans would consider themselves halfway to being rich if they, indeed, earned $30,000 per year – and most people earning $1 million a year would see less change in their lives if their income increased 100-fold than if it went to zero.

Fifth was the limited ability of a higher minimum wage to lift people out of poverty.  That would only work for people experiencing that now who would not once their pay increased, even with no gain in the number of hours they are working.  Vastly more would need additional money or are not poor now, the latter most common among the 45% of minimum-wage workers who are under age 30.  “Increased consumerism” from people being paid more will not solve this problem by itself either. 

Last, our country contains vast variation in costs of living, and getting $7.25 per hour is not the same in Hawaii as in southern Texas.  Over the past five years, many states and cities, most with above-average living costs, have responded by raising the lowest pay themselves, a valid solution not inflicting prohibitively high minimums on others.  I add to that that there are huge individual variations in money wants and needs as well, and it would be an unmitigated loss if those able and willing to work for less than the minimum were legally forced to be unemployed instead. 

I finished with suggestions that, instead of penalizing businesses who need workers, we increase food stamps and unemployment compensation.  Our economy is better, and keeping them the same might be adequate now, but with that 16.6 million there is still no excuse for cutting them. 

One other thing has happened since I first posted here.  Guaranteed income, or universal basic income, has received a lot of attention and a few, usually fatally flawed, trials.  If it comes to pass, and I think it will before 2050, there will be no need for a minimum wage.  That would allow more interesting, fulfilling, and fun work opportunities to pay less, while, fittingly, having little effect on the dirtiest ones.  If everyone were assured of financial survival, I think we as a country could agree, after we had a guaranteed income in place, to abolish minimum wages completely.  Then, and only then, would everyone wanting to work be able to do that.  In the meantime, the ideas above are still valid – we need to let people earn. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Seven Articles on Modern Employment, Three Clear Conclusions


What has been the underside of the decades-low official jobless rate and the recent 49-year low in unemployment claims?  A septet of widely varying pieces over the past 21 months tells us.

In “Struggling in NJ – 52 percent of all workers earn less than $20 an hour,” published in New Jersey 101.5 on January 16th, 2017, Dino Flammia introduced us to people he called ALICE, or “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” or, to use an older and pithier expression, the working poor.  The real person he described, someone who, despite working full-time, seemingly got a car repossessed, “has begun putting several bills on credit cards,” and is “at risk of losing her home,” is hardly the worst off, and is one of millions. 

Next, we get to “Is freelancing the future of employment?” (The Conversation, August 15th, 2017), which discussed both sides of irregular work, not only the gig-economy Uber drivers and TaskRabbit short-propositioners but professionals working without being on regular payrolls.  For the latter, “freelancing is increasingly a choice that people make to escape the 9-to-5 workday,” and are closer to considering it “liberating, empowering, and even glamorous” than ordinary gig workers.  The share of American “freelancers” saying they made that choice from necessity came down from 47% in 2014 to 37% in 2017 and may be “a key visible indicator of the future of work,” though “full-time, company-based work is still the standard for employment in most Western countries.”  Small labor propositions, as I have described before, are still economically inferior goods, but opportunities for the likes of physicians to opt for less continuous employment are not.

We next saw a view, “Global Economy’s Stubborn Reality:  Plenty of Work, Not Enough Pay” (Peter S. Goodman and Jonathan Soble, The New York Times, October 7th), once again expressing surprise that, despite showy unemployment rates, wages are lagging.  When we are over 16 million jobs short due to latent demand, almost two-thirds of which comes from people not officially jobless, pay will stagnate.  As the article correctly points out, the ever-increasing ability of those in other countries, along with rising use of non-company employees as in the previous piece, are factors.  Weaker unions, though, are not a cause but a result, and there is no reason for same-job pay to increase more than inflation.  That also covers most of the subject matter of “The economy is hot, yet many U.S. workers feel left behind.  A new report sheds some light” (Andrew Van Dam, Washington Post, July 5th) – the rest is the insights that “even when Americans do find another job, their earnings don’t recover,” and “U.S. employment benefits provide less support in the first year of unemployment than those in any other country in the study.” 

On we go to a relatively ignored current work problem, that “Employers will do almost anything to find workers to fill jobs – except pay them more” (Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, July 10th).  Well, they will do something else – they will cry about a “skills gap,” and, per the article, complain that “labor is being paid first again” as, consequently, “shareholders get leftovers.”  Why business owners seem to think that paying market prices for workers is an undue hardship remains mysterious to me.

Much of the material here was put into a book, Temp, written by Cornell labor historian Louis Hyman and released last month, and reviewed by Jennifer Szalai in the August 22nd New York Times “How the ‘Temp’ Economy Became the New Normal.”  As well, Hyman, through Szalai, stunned us with “94 percent of American jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were for “alternative work,” and blamed “Manpower, the temporary staffing agency, and McKinsey, the management consulting company,” which “acted like a vise, with one supplying the labor and the other supplying the ideology.”

The seventh piece came out this week.  Matthew Desmond’s September 11th New York Times “Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty.  They’re Not” spent most of its printed-out 19 pages telling us something we should know already with a sprawling anecdotal account of a woman trying to support herself and three children on a combination of 20 to 30 hours per week as a $10-$14 per hour home health aide and various off-and-on public assistance programs, contrasted with how “these days, we’re told that the American economy is strong.”  Desmond gave us plenty of erroneous reinforcement, such as the implication that wages should match productivity and that $7.25 per hour is a “poverty wage,” but more reasonably showed how this woman’s life is harder than, in a civilized society, it should be.

These articles offer three things we can take away.  First, due to a variety of national and worldwide economic factors, many jobs are low-paying.  Second, accordingly, we should not be cutting back the safety net, that, for example, food stamps and unemployment benefits should be consistently and easily available and, if anything, greater than they are now.  Third, though, we cannot require that all positions meet anyone’s “living wage” diktat, which in real life varies immensely from person to person, place to place, and situation to situation.  Personal choices still matter – if you doubt that, look over the Desmond article and tick off the bad ones the protagonist has made and still makes which affect her prosperity.  We are in Work’s New Age – we can no longer expect everything material our parents and even grandparents had – but we still need to govern ourselves as well as we can. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Another Strong Jobs Month – AJSN Down 200,000 with Latent Demand for 16.6 Million More Available Positions


In this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly Employment Situation Summary, one thing surprised me.  I had just commented that the projected number of net new nonfarm positions was usually too high, so wondered if, at 163,000, the official report would show we failed to cover our population increase. 

We did, though, easily.  The result was 201,000, about a third more than we need to sustain our growing number of adult residents.  The writeup was positive in other ways as well.  The count of those officially jobless was off 100,000 to 6.2 million, those out 27 weeks or longer fell the same amount to 1.3 million, and the total of people working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to short hours while thus far unsuccessfully seeking full-time ones, dropped another 200,000 even after the previous month’s 100,000 loss, to 4.4 million.  Average private nonfarm payroll wages again increased more than inflation, up 10 cents per hour to $27.16. 

The headline adjusted unemployment rate did not improve, though, staying at 3.9%.  The unadjusted figure was the same, off 0.2% from July and showing August is a neutral seasonal month.  The two disappointing results were in the two figures indicating best how common it is for Americans to be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, each down 0.2% to reach 62.7% and 60.3% respectively.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, which gives in one number how many additional, not-currently-available positions could be filled if all knew that getting one were as easy as getting a pizza, improved 217,000, as follows:



Outside the 324,000 improvement from those officially unemployed, 70,000 from those discouraged, and 33,000 from those pleading family responsibilities, though, the components got larger.  Most noteworthy was the 2 million gain in those claiming no interest in working, a huge jump for one month, adding 100,000 to the AJSN.  Other significant worseners were the number of people in school or training and those also wanting to work but not looking for it for the past year.  The changing outcomes in these three categories show that fewer people not technically counted as jobless tested the waters in August than in July, adding up to a real labor force shrinkage.

Compared with a year before, though, the AJSN is looking great.  The August 2017 figure was 17.6 million, over one million higher, mostly due to the difference in official unemployment.  The only significant gainer since then was those not wanting a job, with cuts in those in the armed forces, institutions, and off the grid and those not looking for the previous year helping the AJSN by about 100,000 apiece.  About 34.5% of the AJSN now comes from those unemployed, down from last month’s 36.1% and continuing a general long-term trend of more and more positions being filled by others.

So how good a month was it?  Although I’m concerned about the fallen participation percentages, and the corresponding increase in people staying on the shelf, it was positive.  There is nothing small about, month after month, our employment gains exceeding the needs of our additional population, or about the key and unheralded figures of long-term jobless and working part-time for economic reasons seeming to fall almost every month.  It is, relatively speaking, a fine economic time, and we’re still improving.  Accordingly, once again, the turtle took a small but clear step forward.  

Friday, August 31, 2018

Resorts World Catskills – A Casino in Trouble? – II


Last week I posted on reports that Sullivan County, New York’s Resorts World Catskills (RWC), though an unqualified success at bringing jobs to its area, was falling way short of financial projections, and was also getting subpar TripAdvisor reviews.  How did it look?  What concerns deserve management attention?  Overall, are these problems as bad as they seem? 

I visited it a week ago Saturday night.  The sign on New York Route 17, an expressway through its area, was clear, but once taking the proper exit not so much.  After one more sign pointing me to a right turn leading into a roundabout, I had to guess the correct way out.  I did, and a stoplight at Resorts World Drive, along with an arrow pointing me left, said I was on the right way.  After two miles through the countryside, isolating RWC from the rest of the county, I was there. 

Thousands of well-lit parking spaces surrounded the impressive and obviously new 18-story hotel and below casino.  I easily walked through and got in. 

My first mission was to join the Player’s Club.  That is the well-established way of getting both communications and complimentary food, beverages, lodging, cash back, and prizes for gambling there, and before even engaging a slot machine anyone should join that or the equivalent.  The line at the desk was about 15 people long, but, with four people working, moved quickly.  I wanted to see if their process was as fast as those in Las Vegas casinos, and it was – they put my driver’s license in a reader and, questions on my email and phone number and about two minutes later, I had my card, preprinted with my name and including $10 worth of free slot play. 

To redeem the latter, I wanted a $5 machine.  Not easy to find – they, with $1 machines, were in the “high limit” area, which, with two sets of directions, sent me through the gorgeously new gaming expanse, which I wandered through more after losing my two attempts.  It was fully up to modern standards – the “slots” (in quotes since you can’t play them with coins, only bills) all with video screens, the table games mostly filled with players including some betting hundreds per play, the restaurants with concentrations at $8 to $20 per meal, people everywhere, well-marked restrooms, and good directional signs.  I also went to the poker room.  No longer can the casual once-a-week-with-friends players expect to survive at casino poker – the modern version is no-limit, with the players’ skills often honed by hundreds or thousands of hours of compressed-time online experience, but, judging by the 15 tables in play, there were plenty of those even in this low-population area.  The room, though comfortable, didn’t have much special to offer its players, with comps set at a minimal $1 per hour with no higher promotional times, but attendance didn’t seem lacking.

Though the RWC facility looked vibrant and beautiful, I found a few other causes for concern.  Room rates, for now seemingly $200 per night and up, were sky-high by casino-hotel standards.  They did not have headline-name entertainment, and, overall, the non-gambling options seemed weak.  The 24-hour diner, while a real and necessary asset, charged the likes of $16 for nachos.  These may not stop those from traveling to visit once but will impede critical repeat business. 

There are still many things about RWC’s viability we don’t know.  Beyond what I saw, here are some questions for their management and ownership. 

First, what has happened with the effort to bring in high-rolling Asian customers?  They themselves could put you in the black.  Are you doing all you can there?

Second, are you marketing RWC aggressively to New York City?  There are hundreds of thousands of people, many quite wealthy now, with memories of childhood Catskills trips.  Are you considering offering them the likes of free hotel stays? 

Third, what can you do to step up your entertainment options?  Last decade, that shortage killed a billion-dollar Las Vegas casino with a storied history, the Aladdin.  I live 20 miles away, get all four local newspapers, and see stories and advertising about oodles of small local concerts elsewhere, but nothing about anything you offer. 

Fourth, are dollar slot machines, common as far back as the 1970s, really “high limit” in 2018?  Is it possible that more of them, even with the modern trend toward playing many multiples of the minimum, would help that strange per-machine shortfall?  If not, with your state-of-the-art machines getting such good reviews, just what is the slot-machine-revenue problem?

Fifth, where is your community involvement?  I expected that you would have the likes of buses to canoeing and fishing providers, not to mention partnerships with community institutions such as WJFF Radio, whose management has heard nothing from you.  You can’t go it alone here, especially when so many locals didn’t want your facility built.

Sixth, how much do you project that legalized sports betting, your Monster golf course, and your $33 million entertainment complex will help your business?  Do you seriously expect a big boost from the Kartrite indoor water park, which is well into Pennsylvania and has its own hotel?  Is it possible you need rooms to compete with Las Vegas’s $50-per-night offerings and nearby Monticello’s $60 ones?

Seventh, can you quantify how much our bad winter and early spring weather hurt your bottom line?

Eighth, is there or is there not a gap between the previous six months’ results and what you expected?

Ninth, is it just my perception, or has your communication, in general, been lacking?  With my blog and WJFF program I qualify as a journalist, and doubt I was the only one whose multiple information requests you did not respond to.

And tenth, the big question.  With casinos now in 44 states, we know they are not automatically travel destinations.  With those in the Silent Generation much larger per-capita gamblers than Boomers, and the Millennials lowest of all, is it possible that the model of people going to gamble, to the exclusion of almost everything else, for a week or weekend is becoming obsolete?  If so, how are you going to deal with that?

Overall, I don’t know how successful Resorts World Catskills will be in five or ten years.  I am inclined to be optimistic.  But it’s nothing that will be given to it.  “If you build it, they will come” may work for cornfield baseball diamonds in the movies, but it’s nothing casino resorts can expect in real life. 


Friday, August 24, 2018

Resorts World Catskills – A Casino in Trouble? – I


Five years ago this fall, New York State had a referendum on the legalization of several new casinos.  I supported it, as did many, and the measure passed.  One result was Empire Resorts’ Resorts World Catskill (RWC) in Sullivan County, near Monticello.  It partially opened February 8th this year, with a large gambling area, a hotel, restaurants, and more promised to follow.  Its first day became a media event, with a lobby-full of customers ready at opening, and all seemed fine. 

For the five months after that, RWC was seldom in the news.  The July 11th Times Herald-Record, though, had a report that those of us here didn’t want to see.  Daniel Axelrod’s “Sullivan casino owner reports $37M loss,” documented that gross earnings were “far below the level needed to cover the business’s expenses,” with a second-quarter deficit of $22.4 million in operations paired with $15 million in interest expense on its half-billion-dollar “debt and other long-term liabilities.”  Not all of that was from the new resort, though, as the parent company also owns the Monticello Casino and Raceway trotters-and-slot-machines racino, which “has been a major money-loser over the past decade.”
 
The more-detailed figures the company provided, though few, gave further insight into the shortfall.  According to unnamed “gaming experts” Axelrod cited, casinos should avoid their “viability” being “questionable” by having gross revenue of $200 per slot machine per day, and $1,200 per table game.  RWC’s $1,192 for each of the latter was close enough, but the former’s $111 was not. 

Four days later the Record published another Axelrod piece, its cover story, behind the colorful headline “Oh, Craps!”  In “Resorts World Catskills failing to live up to first-year projections,” the author added coverage of an interview with Empire Resorts president and CEO Ryan Eller, in which the executive said that financial worries, given the feather-soft opening during “a brutal winter,” were premature.  A “midmarket hotel, with 15,000 square feet of retail, food, and beverage space” is scheduled for a December opening, and next year will see a new large indoor water park in the Poconos and reopening of a once legendary golf course at the resort itself.  The latter will help them, as Boston College management professor Father Richard McGowan said they need, “to greatly increase the non-gaming revenue.” 

One area in which the resort has not missed expectations, per the New York State Gaming Commission’s spokesman, is in “economic stimulus measures.”  It has added 1,500 jobs to its county of less than 70,000 people, and has made a noticeable dent in local unemployment, once worse than neighboring and larger Orange’s, but now consistently lower.

Six months is long enough for many RWC reviews to appear online.  One major source, TripAdvisor, this week had 201, with an average score a tepid 3.0 out of 5.  Some were completely positive, but most were not.  The quality of the rooms came out highest.  Common complaints were slow restaurant service despite little crowding, a lot of small logistical gaffes such as elevators not working properly, early closing times for some places by casino standards, a lack of combination deals with outside activities, and apathy toward heavily gambling customers.  Oddly, the slot machines, for their newness and variety, got almost all thumbs-up comments.  An RWC public relations manager responded to these remarks and pledged action on the negative ones.  In all, it is noteworthy that these problems were not all due to how new RWC is, and 3.0, with casino-hotels generally 3.5 or higher, does not qualify as a good rating score. 

What did the place look like in person?  I will post what I found during my visit last weekend, along with a list of concerns and questions about Resort World Catskill’s prospects, next week.

Friday, August 17, 2018

For Free Thinkers Only: America’s Sexual Shortcoming – III


Spearheaded but hardly originated by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s May 2nd issue, we have had more intelligent, if highly controversial, discussion on a real deficiency of the 1960s-and-beyond sexual revolution, the failure of it to extend to most people, than ever.  In Part I, I introduced this problem and showed it to be real.  Part II named nine points on this situation, explaining not only how it fits, or doesn’t, with other needs and giving it a broader base.  This week I recommend the following courses of action.

First, legalize and regulate prostitution nationwide.  That is certain to happen eventually anyway, would bring its prices down, would make it safe, and would be the most important legal change we could have.

Second, allow incest between consenting adults, and between consenting children of similar ages.  After hundreds of years of consideration, we still have no reason why, between people with reasonably equal power in the relationship, it should be banned.  And as with so many forms of sexual activity, teaching people that what they have done is wrong, not the action itself, is what causes most of the problems we have with it. 

Third, nationally permit sexual relationships between those with less than two-year age differences, even if one or both are under 18. 

Fourth, consider legalizing term marriages with full spousal privileges and protections.  They would facilitate sex, and would be consistent with the reality that most, as it is now, end in divorce.

Fifth, promote and subsidize monogamy, especially marriage.  Above all, remove all financial penalties for being married, such as those built into Social Security payments.  That lifestyle provides the most sex and is constructive for a variety of other societal purposes as well.

Sixth, be truthful about the effects of sexually transmitted diseases.  If the likes of gonorrhea can be cured by a routine prescription, say so.  AIDS has not often been in the news, but many still believe that it can be spread as readily through genital-to-genital intercourse as through anal sex and needle sharing.  That is not the case in this country.

Seventh, sponsor more research to further disconnect sex from reproduction.  For one, we can badly use effective chemical means to indefinitely but not permanently block male fertility. 

Eighth, encourage behavior changes among people.  Remove words such as “slut” and “c*nt” from our vocabularies.  Stop instilling shame and guilt about sex.  Give college-age adults, especially women, more privacy from their parents.  Drop the view that sex is zero-sum, and that if it helps one party it must hurt the other.  Tell sexually unsuccessfully people, especially men, truths about how they can be more likely to have such relationships.  Stop jealousy from causing us to be overly harsh or to lie outright.  Encourage younger men and older women to pair up.  Do not disapprove of older adults having such relationships, or try to stop them.  Avoid what might be called “middle-class” thinking, that everyone is entitled to involvement with someone of above average general desirability.  And above all, treat sex as the natural, uplifting, positive activity it should be for everyone.

Up until about fifty years ago, our dominant sexual ethic was “for reproduction and married couples.”  With the advent of the female birth control pill and other changes, we moved on to “for its own sake.”  The next phase will be “someone for everyone,” which promises not only far greater American happiness but other huge gains from the stability it will foster, such as improved health, longer life expectancy, and lower crime rates.  We can get there without coercion – if we think freely.

Friday, August 10, 2018

For Free Thinkers Only: America’s Sexual Shortcoming – II


Two weeks ago, I started a series based on Ross Douthat’s May 2nd New York Times “Redistribution of Sex.”  It considered whether the peak romantic activity should be more universally available, and how, and whether, the right for people to have it might be achieved.  I, as Douthat, considered it both a real problem, unsolved by any sexual revolution so far, and worthy of assessment.  
Accordingly, how does it fit in?

First, while sex may be immensely valuable and a major part of life, it is not truly a need, and cannot be equated with the likes of food, water, or air.  Therefore, it does not need to be government-assured.

Second, this issue is not political – if you disagree, would you consider it conservative or liberal, and why?  Some opinions are bipartisan, and this is one of them.

Third, the world would be a better place if there were more truly consensual sex. 

Fourth, we have no chance of returning to the pre-1965 sexual atmosphere.  It has added too much to life quality, for those having it, to be rolled back.  And, for example, we can no longer give, as Douthat put it, “special respect” to those choosing not to have it, especially when the best-known group of them, Catholic priests, are now known to make that choice from being gay (and, sadly, from being attracted to boys) instead of from being noble. 

Fifth, there has been in recent years great hostility from many toward the male sex drive.  That is not an appropriate feminist attitude, let alone a worthwhile mainstream one, and is not only sexist but destructive.

Sixth, there are several reasons for what Douthat called the “social and political chasms opening between” males and females.  We are at a historical juncture between women and girls being specially protected (the past), having full equal rights (the present in the law), and drawing expectations consistent with those of boys and men (the future), with different people advocating only one, one and parts of the others, and, even, all three.  Automation has hit men’s jobs, long necessary for sexual success as well as financial survival and prosperity, far harder than women’s.  We steadily get reports on how, over all careers and personal choices, women’s averaging lower pay is indication of discrimination.  There is, overall, a mixture of the past, the present, and the future, causing problems with what males and females expect from each other and, ultimately, with everything else between them.

Seventh, largely because of electronics and overattentive parents, sex between people under 18 is indeed falling.

Eighth, adding up the above, contrary to Douthat, we are hardly consistently “Hefnerian.”  Though guilt is only a tiny fraction of what it was over 50 years ago, too many people’s lives are way out of synch with what was once called “free love.” 

Ninth, pornography, sex robots, and other erotic machines have thus far caused no fundamental change.  Could developing technologies help here?  And what should we do about this overall situation?  See Part III next week.

Friday, August 3, 2018

July Employment Data: AJSN Down 100,000-Plus to 16.8 Million Latent Demand as Jobs Situation Improves Slightly


Not much happened with this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary, and not much was supposed to.

We gained 157,000 net new nonfarm payroll positions, less than one 190,000 estimate but still in the more-than-population-growth-can-absorb-but-undistinguished category.  The headline unemployment rate, also seasonally adjusted, dropped 0.1% to 3.9%, and other numbers mostly improved.  Total joblessness fell 300,000 to 6.3 million, the count of those working part-time for economic reasons or wanting full-time hours without finding them shed 100,000 to 1.4 million, and hourly nonfarm payroll earnings came in at a tad above inflation, gaining 7 cents per hour to reach $27.05.  Unadjusted unemployment also improved 0.1%, to 4.1%.  The two metrics best showing how common it is for Americans to have jobs, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, broke even at 62.9% and gained 0.1% to 60.5% respectively. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the Royal Flush Press statistic showing in one figure how many more positions could be absorbed if all new that getting one would be easy, lost 131,000 from June, as follows:



About half of the AJSN’s monthly improvement was from the number of officially unemployed, down 82,000.  The rest came from lower counts of those not looking for a year or more and those in school or training, offset mostly by more people reporting as discouraged.  Latent demand from those officially jobless now accounts for 36.1% of the total, down 0.1% from last month.

Compared with a year before, the AJSN looks much better, down 845,000 from July 2017.  Three-fourths of that was from lower official unemployment, with a surprising 139,000 from fewer people in the armed services, in institutions, or off the grid.  Word of more work opportunities does reach these segments.

So how good was July’s data?  I give it a thumbs up.  It’s not a massive gainer, but with so many numbers improving, more net new positions than our growing populace itself needs, and continued strong year-over-year AJSN improvements, it was on the right side.  The turtle is still a turtle, but he did take another small step forward.   

Friday, July 27, 2018

For Free Thinkers Only: America’s Sexual Shortcoming – I


Almost three months ago, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat came out with “The Redistribution of Sex,” in which he, oddly one of the few social conservatives writing for a generally liberal source, considered some recently published offbeat ideas, catalyzed, also strangely, by the Toronto terrorist group calling themselves “incels” or “involuntary celibates.”  Douthat suggested that radical thoughts, as put forward by “brilliant weirdo” and George Mason economics professor Robin Hanson and Oxford philosophy professor Amia Srinivasan, could point us to improvements on what has been a largely undiscussed failing of the 1960s sexual revolution – that its bounty has been distributed excessively unequally. 

Douthat’s column, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/opinion/incels-sex-robots-redistribution.html, had a lot to say.  Starting with “one lesson to be drawn from recent Western history might be this:  Sometimes the extremists and radicals and weirdos see the world more clearly than the respectable and moderate and sane” (italics his), he applied that metathought to this issue, showing that it was wrong to think that “the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous.”  As happens with unusual opinions – for example, some years ago I looked at the Nazi and Communist Party websites and found that both groups were against the Iraq war – this one was shared by rather different thinkers, in this case libertarian Hanson and apparent radical feminist Srinivasan.  As he put it, “intellectual eccentrics – like socialists and populists in politics – can surface issues and problems that lurk beneath the surface of more mainstream debates.”  That is exactly what we have here. 

Douthat’s commentary, which did not advocate such redistribution itself but only discussing and considering it, stemmed from his Roman Catholic views and his conviction that such a thing would someday come to pass, as provided by “sex workers and sex robots.”  He called “the idea… entirely responsive to the logic of late-modern sexual life,” and pointed out that “the sexual revolution created new winners and losers” by “privileging the beautiful and rich and socially adept in new ways and relegating others to new forms of loneliness and frustration.”  He tied in, though briefly, related issues such as “the sexes… struggling generally to relate with one another… and not only marriage and family but also sexual activity itself in recent decline.”  He in effect proposed, as an alternative to “the culture’s dominant message about sex” which he described as “still essentially Hefnerian,” the possibility of “reviving or adapting older ideas about the virtues of monogamy and chastity and permanence and the special respect owed to the celibate.”  He foresaw the problem eventually addressed by, as well as workers and robots, “some combination of changed laws, new technologies and evolved mores to fulfill it.”

As expected, Internet reaction was extensive, sharp, and severe, generally showing more than disagreement but hostility.  Often, it is hard for conservatives and liberals to even contemplate something that does not fit their worldview, especially something as controversial as deep societal changes.  The responses revealed a long-standing situation preventing serious discussions in many areas, the failure of otherwise intelligent people to understand that others’ backgrounds, views, and life experiences are completely different.  (I have long considered well-educated East Coast female liberals, with their snobbishness or outright naivete about the likes of Oklahoma waitresses, the worst offenders, but conservatives, who often do not realize that patriotism can take many forms, are hardly exempt.) 

And yes, the problem is real.  Neither millions of drugstores stocked with birth-control pills nor the massively increased amount of sex help those unhappily without sexual relationships, those ranging from what Douthat described as Srinivasan’s “overweight and disabled, minority groups treated as unattractive by the majority” and “trans women unable to find partners” to the oceans of men under 25 and women over 50 who, from some combination of appearance, rejection tolerance, fear, logistical barriers, and inability to implement, are romantically alone.  If, as common knowledge holds, males’ sex drives peak when they are younger and females when they are older, too many of us are doing the equivalent of spending our peak baseball playing years in the minors.

How can we sort out this issue and put it in its proper place?  Expect that in two weeks.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Driverless Vehicles and Driving Jobs: Our Third Annual Forecast


Many factors in the self-driving industry have happened as I anticipated.  Consortia have formed, solidified, and dissolved.  Lawsuits have popped up.  A great bull market for technicians and managers with top knowledge has materialized.  And technical progress, along with investment and business effort, has marched forward.  So, when looking at updating our employment and technology-saturation projections, what less-expected events from the past year need to be incorporated?

First, the crashes, especially the fatal one, received more negative reaction than I would have thought.  They were not that disturbing, given the extreme situation with the pedestrian in the dark and most others owing little or nothing to the vehicle’s driverlessness.  Yet it was worthwhile for companies to see how people would react, as they were certain to occur sometime.

Second, Uber, with its business recklessness, has muddied the autonomous waters.  The Arizona crash was just one example of why it does not seem to have enough due diligence for this field, and it is too easy for people to conflate its mistakes with the work of far more reliable firms. 

Third, it is possible, though it is hard for me to assess from outside the field, that technical progress has been a shade slower than estimated.

Fourth, already have emerged some super-strong players, particularly Waymo and Aptiv.  They could still end up Stanley Steamers to someone else’s Toyotas, but the chances are edging down.

Fifth, remote human control, which two years ago I made a stage of my own set of automation levels, is now getting press mention.  In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Society of Automotive Engineers scheme, which I continue to use as below, it would fit in well as an option for level 4, or high but not full automation, or near the end of level 3, which still requires a driver to be available.

Sixth, publicity, toward understandings of how many kinds of autonomous vehicles and their interiors there will be and on how wide a range of life-changing possibilities they will end up having, has started.  Fall’s New York Times magazine section was especially effective. 

Seventh, it now looks likely that there will be real regional differences in driverless-vehicle acceptance within the United States.  That will be a phase lasting as long as ten years and will for that time cut into overall proliferation acceptances.

Eighth, some other countries, particularly Russia and China, have done their own autonomous research and development, but their closed communication styles and lack of vetted progress make it difficult to consider their efforts world-class.
With all these things considered, here are our new projections:


For definitions of the levels, see the original NHSTA document at http://www.techrepublic.com/article/autonomous-driving-levels-0-to-5-understanding-the-differences/

Stay with the Work’s New Age blog for at least quarterly updates on the progress of driverless vehicles and its effect on jobs.  We will publish our fourth forecast next summer.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Here Comes the Latent Demand for Employment: With June’s Data, AJSN Jumps 980,000 to 16.9 Million


This was quite a Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report this morning.  It wasn’t clearly bad, but in some ways the brakes of ever-better reports slammed on.  

With 213,000 net new nonfarm payroll positions, we exceeded the publicized projections of 180,000 and 200,000.  However, people hoping for a new unemployment-rate low were beyond disappointed, as the marquee seasonally-adjusted figure jumped 0.2% to 4.0% and the unadjusted rate, reflecting more than the considerable usual difference between May and June, soared from 3.6% to 4.2%.  Those officially jobless for 27 weeks or longer went from 1.2 million to 1.5 million, a huge amount for one good-times month, and the two measures best showing how common it is for Americans to be working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, split excellent and neutral outcomes, with the former up 0.2% to 62.9% and the latter holding at 60.4%.  Private nonfarm payroll wages disappointed as well, with a below-inflation 5 cent hourly gain to $26.98.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the metric showing concisely how many more positions could be quickly filled if people consistently knew they were very easy to get, gained almost one million – a great deal, even with employment regularly dropping from the first month to the second – as follows:


Compared with May, essentially the entire difference came from official joblessness’s rise from 5.76 million.  The second largest contributor was from those wanting work but not looking for it for 12 months or longer, which added 188,000 to the AJSN, and nothing else was significant.  Part of these gains in latent demand were offset by another large drop in those claiming no interest in jobs, down 1.3 million, and those temporarily unavailable, which fell 259,000.  The share of the AJSN from unemployment sharply reversed its recent course, from 32.5% in May to 36.2% here.

It is clear to see much of what happened.  The deservedly well-publicized improvement in available work drew in people in categories some might think reflected permanent disinclinations, mostly those saying they did not want a job at all, which has now fallen 2.3 million since April.  That is why so much of American employment demand is latent – when people hold out hope, their interest picks up, and they move to categories with higher likelihoods of working.  That is also one reason why our prosperity is more tenuous than it looks, and why we cannot ignore these almost 17 million.  If we have a recession, which with the trade war now underway has become more likely, the count of those claiming they will not work will go way over 90 million, but their inherent awareness will not vanish.  In the meantime, while it may not be repeated next month, the turtle, thinking of those 213,000 net new positions and labor-force participation increase, did take a rather modest forward step.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Autonomous Vehicles: The Past Three Months


In less than two weeks I will post my current projected numbers of taxi and truck driving jobs, with expected driverless car saturation dates.  To clear the way, here is what has happened since mid-March.

Is it possible to incapacitate an autonomous vehicle with only a bag of flour?  Derrick Rossignol, writing in Nerdist.com (“Trapping a Self-Driving Car is Surprisingly Easy”) on March 21st, shows how it just might be.  Required is a solid white circle made around the car, with a dotted-line circle just outside it.  
That emphasizes possible problems with software inflexibility, and reminds me of the words of one of my mid-1980s technical school teachers: “debugging never stops.”

For anyone who might have doubted it, autonomous mobility does not preclude accidents caused by others, with one well described in “Google self-driving van involved in crash in Arizona, driver injured” (Elizabeth Weise and Adrian Marsh, USA Today, May 4th).  Here “a car being driven by a human swerved to avoid another human-driven car and crashed into it.”  The van’s driverless status contributed zero percent. 

Better, though, you don’t agree with that blame assessment than, per “NASA and Uber are getting serious about flying cars” (Fox News, May 11th), trust the latter company with your safety in a tiny craft up in the air.  However, as Kirsten Korosec put it in the May 22nd Yahoo Finance “Consumer Trust in Self-Driving Car Technology Has Made a Sudden U-Turn,” people may be losing confidence in autonomous technology in general, with research finding that the April share of “U.S. drivers… afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle” was 73%.  That may be up a bit since the deadly March accident, though with its changed wording and framing of the question in the immediate present it should not be discouraging.  We also saw that “Uber ends self-driving program in Arizona after fatal crash” (Michael Liedtke, Fox Business, May 24th), a strange decision even for them – what’s the matter with that state, which otherwise has led the way in embracing this technology, in particular?

So what do driverless cars need to achieve to be generally accepted?  Last week I alluded to one answer, per Risk Analysis research, that “Study:  Self-Driving Vehicles Must Be 4 times as Safe as Human Drivers” (Alexa Lardieri, U.S. News & World Report, May 31st).  Per the article, “autonomous vehicles present their own set of risks, making a “perfectly safe” self-driving vehicle “both technologically and economically infeasible,” but the level named is both reasonable and attainable – not to mention one at which almost 30,000 American lives per year would be saved.  A fine working objective. 

I’m not sure I agree that “Self-Driving Cars Likely Won’t Steal Your Job (Until 2040),” (Aarian Marshall, Wired, June 13th), but that’s what a “new report” from Securing America’s Future Energy pointed to, and it’s in the ballpark.  Points Marshall made were that “robo-cars won’t disappear the jobs all at once,” but that “it’s time to prep for fewer truckers and cab drivers, right now,” and, conservatively it seems to me, “the economists estimate (driverless technology) might reduce crash costs by $118 billion annually by 2050.”  It’s fitting, then, that the long-time most safety-oriented carmaker has become the first to announce, though perforce tentatively, “Volvo’s 2021 autopilot to lets (sic) drivers eat, sleep and work” (Chris Mills, New York Post, June 25th), the first production Level 4, per the Society of Automotive Engineers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions” and in which “the driver may have the option to control the vehicle.”  Will they deliver?

We end with two Motley Fool pieces, “Driverless Tech Will Impact These 5 Industries” (Jeremy Bowman, June 11th) and “3 Top Driverless Car Stocks” (Chris Neiger, June 20th.)  I take seriously this company’s recommendations for investment, especially for general information, since the Watergate logic of following the money, and the effort and true progress behind it, well clarifies situations rife with vaporware and overrepresentations.  As often, both pieces are rich with supporting commentary and information; these two printed out to 15 and 14 pages and do not waste that length.  The business areas Bowman identified – auto manufacturers themselves, auto insurance, ridesharing and taxis, gas stations and convenience stores, and hotels and airlines – hardly form an exhaustive list, but are the largest and most obvious from analysis.  He thought that the first and third will prosper in new ways, and the other three might take a beating.  Neiger’s three stocks were General Motors, Alphabet, and Aptiv – an automaker and two gunrunners.  They also are high-quality choices, though nobody knows if they will even make it, let alone be the best. 

For the July 11th issue, I look at what major things have changed the path of the autonomous-vehicle industry in the past year – along with the estimates above. 


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Simple Answers to Perpetual Questions


Why, despite money supply numbers going well up year after year, is there so little inflation?  Because money, instead of circulating, is pooling up in the largest corporations and many individuals.  That is one result of more and more products being scalable, or one copy costing barely more for a million than for one.  That is the same reason that precious metal, and base metal for that matter, prices are going nowhere – it doesn’t matter how much money is out there if it’s going nowhere.

Why are wages not increasing, despite lower and lower unemployment?  Because latent demand for jobs is still way high – per the American Job Shortage Number (AJSN), we could easily fill 15.9 million new positions, if all knew that getting one was as easy as getting a pizza.  That is also why stories claiming that we are on the verge of a worker shortage, what with all the baby boomers retiring and so on, are wrong – two-thirds of the people who would materialize to fill open positions are not officially jobless.

Why is nationwide productivity falling?  Because disappearing work opportunities are now most likely to be at the high end, with many menial positions resistant to both globalization and automation.  Stock market analysis can be done much better by automata than janitorial tasks. 

Why are driverless car crashes precipitating strong negative reactions while the over 30,000 fatal human-caused ones in this country alone are ignored?  Because people are afraid of change, afraid of the unknown, and afraid of gigantic technology shifts.  Those things attract inordinate fear at best and conspiracy theories at worst.  Not to worry, though, as the level of safety that studies show autonomous vehicles will need for reasonably full acceptance – one-fourth the fatal accident rate of human-driven ones – is well within what will be achieved within the next ten years.

Why are Americans still getting jobs in the information technology field?  Because no courageous large company has led the way with hiring far-cheaper Indians or Russians.  When a Google or Microsoft does that, such positions will quickly disappear from the “Best Jobs of 20xx” lists.

Why do so many people support protectionism?  They don’t, but a few key ones in power seem to feel that way.  We will all pay the price, with many more jobs lost due to higher prices than artificially retained by tariffs, and a lower standard of living nationwide.

Why are 3-D printers not making everything in sight?  Because they are too slow for manufacturing, and they are lacking an application most people can use. 
Why have electric cars not become the norm?  Because, even after 50 years of subsidies and development, recharging needs to be done too often and takes too long, and continuous availability, even if most people don’t truly need it, is highly valued.

How long will it be before the next recession?  Good question.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The BLS Study: Is the Gig Economy Stalling Out?


This week’s jobs-related news featured some surprising and controversial Bureau of Labor Statistics research on non-payroll employment.  First though, a few items on how this section of the workforce does not need to be.

The first was from the April 30th New York Times, as Noam Scheiber told us that the “Gig Economy Business Model” was “Dealt a Blow in California Ruling.”  That’s not correct, unless those employers never need to “follow minimum-wage and overtime laws and to pay workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance and payroll taxes,” even if, as “industry executives” said, that “tends to cost 20 to 30 percent more.”  Boo hoo!  The second gaffe, by Christina Caron in the same publication on June 12th, “Cheesecake Factory Is Found Partly Liable in $4.6 Million Janitor Wage Theft Case,” was a well-known company apparently thinking that hiring workers as contractors would allow them to forget about required breaks and hold them, presumably without pay, until “kitchen managers conducted walk-throughs to review their work.”  Those offenses weren’t mitigated much by the vice president of legal services saying “we take matters of this nature very seriously.”  Then we have the old vinegar-turned wine of multilevel marketing now surprising the Atlantic in the April 2018 “Beware of Selling Yoga Pants on Facebook,” which called that old shell game “the social-media gig economy.”  Repeat after me:  Online auspices do NOT constitute new business models!  And nothing in this paragraph is inherent to this way of earning money.

So, back to the BLS paper.  It said, per Ben Casselman’s June 7th New York Times “How the Gig Economy Is Reshaping Work:  Not So Much,” that “roughly 10 percent of American workers in 2017 were employed in some form of what the government calls “alternative work arrangements,” a broad category including Uber drivers, freelance writers and people employed through temporary-help agencies,” and which “represents a slight decline from 2005,” also a good economic year.

Several people responded to how this result came about.  First was in this same article, with Casselman writing that “separate data released by the Federal Reserve this month” replaced the 10% with “nearly a third,” a finding echoed by “private-sector studies.”  The BLS study, also per Casselman, did not include those with regular-job equivalents employed by outside agencies, or those “selling products online or working erratically as a freelancer.”  He also quoted a former BLS commissioner saying that “we’re not asking the right questions,” and noted that “income-generating activities that people might not consider “work,” like renting out a home on Airbnb,” were not included.  In “What gig economy?  Fewer working as freelancers, contractors than believed” (Paul Davidson, USA Today, June 7th), we got a Staffing Industry Analysts report result that 29% of the American labor force “performed contingent work in 2015,” and news that the BLS data did not include people with “side hustles” as well as conventional jobs.  That exact phrase also turned up in the headline of Daniel B. Kline’s June 10th Motley Fool piece; “Side hustles are changing how people plan for retirement” related how these additional propositions were on the rise, as I predicted six years ago, and usually undertaken to pay off debt.  That’s nothing new – in decades past they were called “second jobs” – but are facilitated, not dictated, by opportunities using modern technology.

John Younger’s June 11th Forbes “The Death Of The Freelance Revolution Is Greatly Exaggerated” made a different point.  It acknowledged the inferior-good nature of most gig assignments, but mentioned an opposite proposition, “lawyers, doctors and other highly skilled professionals” who “earn as much, on average, as standard employees,” even if they tend to get less in benefits, and of whom “nearly eight in 10 say they prefer being an independent contractor to being an employee,” some of which was also cited by Casselman.  There are likely more of these than there were 13 years ago. 

What can we conclude from this study and those writing about it?  Clearly it missed two-thirds of the data it was supposedly trying to capture.  Working on the side is becoming more common, and may be closer to the spirit of the gig economy than being employed full-time, temporarily, while seeking a W-2 position.  To conclude that fewer, not more, people are earning money through these modern-setting temporary-help propositions, we need more of a breakdown.  And when, not if, the next recession hits, we will all be able to see the value, for many, the gig economy truly has.  

Friday, June 8, 2018

Artificial Intelligence: Our Choices - II


As described in my May 25th post, the development and implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) is growing, expected to be massive, and is bringing numerous old and new issues to the forefront.  What ten observations, attitudes, and adjustments would serve us best?

First, AI evolution will be a process of discovery about us and the world.  What do human beings really want?  Do we truly make decisions of our own volition?  Do we ultimately want more than our own comfort and enjoyment?  If we discover that all objective knowledge stems from algorithms, what will that eventually mean to us?  These questions and many more may someday be answered by progress in this field.

Second, while autonomous vehicles represent the largest single change we anticipate facing in the 21st century, their technology is only a subset of AI, which is like a massive computer system with driverless cars only one of its applications.

Third, accordingly, AI, itself, presents a multicentury-level challenge.  Its significance is hard to overestimate.

Fourth, because of data mining discoveries, some of our core values and wishes, such as the inherent equality of groups of people, may get the most serious nonideological challenges they ever have, and may even be essentially proven false.  If such happens, after and during a long time of denial, large sections of our belief systems will be overturned.  We need to prepare for that. 

Fifth, AI may seem brilliant, but as with other computer applications it is intrinsically totally stupid.  It has no common sense and no idea of what it is doing.  The ancient data processing law of garbage in, garbage out applies with AI as much as it ever has, with bad assumptions or instructions capable of causing totally false conclusions. 

Sixth, while we can debate the dangers of research into artificial general intelligence, it is wrong to try to suppress progress on the narrow version.  As its scope is limited, it will serve us without threatening to take over.

Seventh, we need to avoid hating or attributing conspiracies to AI simply because it is major change.

Eighth, we must think flexibly about AI, and deal with its problems using logic instead of ideology.  It will leave neither conservative nor liberal philosophies unscathed, so we, as individuals as well as collectively, need to consider the values of both sides when assessing and dealing with it.

Ninth, the potential AI-caused mass employment-opportunity elimination means we need to start discussing possible jobs-crisis solutions.  We’re seeing that now with guaranteed basic income, but need more there, along with more serious debate on assured government employment, payments for online content contribution, shorter working hours, and a more widespread use of ad hoc or “gig” jobs.  True, these are mainly solutions for future problems, but we may need one or more of these as soon as the 2020s.

Tenth, on the nonpolitical issue of dealing with artificial intelligence, we need to remember we are Americans and work with those of other backgrounds and beliefs.  For once.  Yet again, our choice is between living together as brothers and perishing together as fools.