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.

Friday, June 1, 2018

May Was Another Fine Employment Month, Though the AJSN Gained 135,000 – We’re Now Short 15.9 Million Jobs


The strength of several, maybe most, of the past year’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summaries has been debatable.  This morning’s, though, was not.

It started with an official adjusted unemployment rate down again, this time to 3.8%, an 18-year low.  It continued with a drop from 6.3 million to 6.1 million jobless, a 100,000 cut in the number of long-term unemployed (out 27 weeks or longer) to 1.2 million, and a similar decline in those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping less than full-time work while thus far unsuccessfully seeking that, to 4.9 million.  Even the average private nonfarm payroll wage got in the act by gaining 8 cents per hour, more than inflation, to $26.92.  The unadjusted unemployment rate fell once more, to 3.6%.  The only loser was the labor force participation rate, off 0.1% to 62.7%, offset by the employment-population ratio’s same-amount gain to 60.4%. 

It may seem strange, then, that the American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the one-figure measure of latent employment demand, increased, in this case 135,000, as follows:


The reason for the gain, though, is easy to understand.  The count of those claiming no interest in working often falls back during strong employment times, and from April it lost almost a million.  The missing people who did not find jobs moved into statuses with higher latent demand rates, most likely not looking for a year or more and temporarily unavailable to take a position.  Gains in those two categories affected the AJSN more than the reduction in unemployment, which, followed by the 5% share of those not wanting work, subtracted the most from the metric. 

Compared with May 2017, the AJSN is down about 800,000.  Almost all of that is from the official jobless drop, with decreases in the sum of those not looking for a year or more and those in institutions, in the services, and off the grid also contributing improvements of over 100,000.  Only the best estimate of the number of American expatriates, up 700,000 over the May-to-May year, raised the AJSN a comparable amount.

As before, there can be little argument that May was a strong American employment month.  What we need to stay aware of, though, is, that with only 32.5% of the AJSN’s value coming from those officially jobless, the first month since before the Great Recession in which it was less than one-third, the massive majority of people likeliest to start working again are not in that category.  Otherwise, the turtle took a solid step forward. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Artificial Intelligence: Our Choices - I


In some ways, this is an old topic.  At least as far back as the 1960s, many people have been concerned that computers, robots, and other technology manifestations have potential to do more harm than good.  It’s now 50 years since the cutting-edge machine HAL was graphically and effectively portrayed in 2001:  A Space Odyssey, killing a crew member to follow its highest-priority directive of mission success, and 34 since The Terminator reinforced the dangers of what one of its characters accurately called “autonomous goal-seeking programs.”  Since then it has crept into the mainstream, with products such as Amazon Echo Show and Google Home, taking over small household tasks for millions, constituting large jumps in the past year.  Sixty-five-million-people Great Britain has a chance, per Jeremy Kahn in the October 14th Bloomberg.com, to add the equivalent of $837 billion to its economy with it over the next 17 years, and the potential in the United States is far higher. 

Even more than with driverless vehicle technology, artificial intelligence has attracted efforts to regulate and limit it.  As Andrew Burt put it in “Leave A.I. Alone” (The New York Times, January 4th), “December was a big month for advocates of regulating artificial intelligence,” with local and national bills setting the stage for its control.  Yet such governing has not actually happened.  The best sources now on how we should deal with it are the commentators.  Here are two.

The March 31st Economist titled a 12-page “special report” “GrAIt Expectations,” which started with the observation that “artificial intelligence is spreading beyond the technology sector, with big consequences for companies, workers and consumers.”  It touched on data mining, a perfect application for this technology as while it seems intense it is truly only computational, but, in only the second body-text paragraph, jumped the rails by naming a consulting company, Accenture, using it to “pick the best candidates,” something no machine, or human for that matter, can consistently do.  I liked better the section’s supply-chain-progress heading “In algorithms we trust,” which is still what artificial intelligence is all about, even if modern-day computing power can do such things as determine optimal multi-stop routes, for which, with 25 locations to visit, there are 15 septillion possibilities, and replace human customer service representatives with automata in many ways better.  The set of articles touched on a rapidly brewing artificial-intelligence controversy, or what we will do with information such as identifying sexual orientation, detecting unusual opinions, and potentially determining that members of certain groups may be, in general, less suited for specific employment or financial treatment.  It was relatively easy for medical scientists to disregard Nazi-experiment findings, since they were less valuable, but if the latest and most powerful data mining resource were to “determine,” for example, that even when controlling for income, family background, credentials, and every other variable it can find, blacks are less successful at engineering jobs, we would have hard decisions to make.

The second piece is Tad Friend’s May 8th New Yorker “How Frightened Should We Be of A.I.?”.  In this remarkably stunning and comprehensive piece, Friend started with the difference between “artificial narrow intelligence,” which harmlessly powers everything from Roombas to refrigerators, and “artificial general intelligence,” the potential 2001 or Terminator-style version, with prospects alarming even to the likes of Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Alan Turing.  The strictly algorithmic nature of artificial narrow intelligence, limited or not, has shown that intuition, long believed to be necessary for success in Go, is at least sometimes computational and therefore within the range of computers, including the one that beat a major champion at that game two years ago. 

That intuition finding puts one thing into doubt.  That is the expectation that many tasks will always require live people.  Friend cited computer scientist Larry Tesler as saying that “human intelligence “is whatever machines haven’t done yet.””  As an atheist might say that religion as commonly practiced fills in only current gaps, that with today’s knowledge people no longer think that God moves planets, it could be that only our failure to understand how to reduce all human abilities to if-A-then-B thinking is stopping us from seeing that artificial intelligence can someday handle anything.  Indeed, computers are already, per Friend’s citations and examples, passing the Turing test by writing in the style of petulant 13-year-olds and otherwise pretending to vary from the linear sequences we expect of them.

Three classic philosophic issues come forth as well in Friend’s article.  The presence or absence of free will, or people choosing their actions themselves, may be solved by further artificial intelligence achievements.  The same is true of the differences between feelings and logical thoughts.  The question of whether we would want to make our planet “into a highly enriched zoo environment that’s really fun for humans to live in” may thus force itself on us.  There is much more here, and I recommend anyone with interest in these topics to read it – it is at  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/05/14/how-frightened-should-we-be-of-ai .

After a one-week break for the latest employment situation, I will continue this topic on June 8th with artificial-intelligence-related observations for employers, employees, and the rest of us. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Robots and Guaranteed Income – Two Halves of a Puzzle?


Here are two strongly jobs-related topics on which I have written over 10,000 words.  We know by now that robots and other mechanical systems are continuing, irregularly, to replace human employees across a wide spectrum.  We also know that universal basic income, if we consider the issues of incentive to work (which I think is both illusory and not a problem anyway) and how to pay for it (much but hardly all would come from ending existing social programs such as food stamps) to be nonfatal, is one of the few conceivable solutions to the long-term jobs crisis.  As we will see, these areas are connected. 

Although it is silly to maintain that robots will create more jobs than they cost, there are some real opportunities.  Per Mike Duffy, Keystone Automation founder and CEO, as quoted in Dave Gardner’s “Trends in Technology: Robotics” in the July 2017 Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal, implementation of automata is more important in many business areas than its development, requires more skill than most of the positions it will replace, and now there is a shortage in industrial automation graduates.  Most of the time I consider highly specialized bachelor’s degrees too risky, as they leave their holders poorly placed if they cannot find employment in their tiny fields, but robotics is guaranteed to be strong for many decades to come.  Despite a steady flow of career recommendations for software development, I rate physical automation opportunities more long-lasting, as they must be implemented and maintained locally.  If this is not now one of the hottest four-year and two-year majors, it should be.

Something I like less, though, Pedro Nicolaci da Costa advocated in the July 15th Business Insider “A solution to job-stealing robots is staring us right in the face.”  Getting retrained is a good move for many individuals, but it’s not an overall solution, as it only tends to change who gets hired and who does not.  Another positive view turned up in “Can robots help the U.S. get its economic mojo back?” in TechCrunch on September 4th, as Steve Cousins correctly stated that automata help overall prosperity but oversold it by crediting China’s world-leading robot spending for its unsurpassed national affluence rise, which came first. 

The next month, though, we began to see the direct connection between the two subjects.  In Fast Company’s October 10th “Robot Taxes Are A Good Idea As Long As The End Goal Is Basic Income,” Ben Schiller considered using the first, actually advocated by Bill Gates, to pay for the second.  Schiller wrote that two economists were advocating “taxing the purchase of equipment that replaces routine work” so governments could “transfer “a certain amount to all the agents in the economy, regardless of their occupation or income.”” 

It was only one day later that www.resilience.org published a paper titled “How to Fund a Universal Basic Income Without Increasing Taxes or Inflation.”  The piece cited an Oxford study projecting that “there was a 50 percent chance of (artificial intelligence) outperforming humans in all tasks within 45 years,” and that “all human jobs were expected to be automated in 120 years.”  Further research cited here suggested that guaranteed income of $1,000 per month to each American adult, the exact proposal I made in 2012’s Work’s New Age, “would add $2.5 trillion to the US economy in eight years,” and that a true universal basic income would not “encourage laziness,” a point also in that book.  With so much money pooling up I can’t agree that its movement will help prosperity as much as in times past, but we may indeed be closer to covering payments to everyone than we had thought. 

While I agree that “The Universal Basic Income Is An Idea Whose Time Has Not Come,” (J. David Patterson, The Federalist, October 20), we need to be exploring and testing it.  And indeed we are doing some of that.  Per Frances Coppola in Forbes on October 15th, “The IMF Gives a Cautious Welcome to Universal Basic Income,” a decision influenced by reduced money movement as above and countries’ differences in “transfer systems” or safety nets.  As Coppola perceptively pointed out, such programs could be especially effective in “oil-exporting developing countries,” and whether you consider, for example, Qatar to be developed or developing, there are several like it that could probably pay for such a scheme right now.

Three places have made the news with what they called pilot guaranteed income efforts, but two weren’t.  The city of Hamilton, Ontario, the subject of “Canada tests ‘basic income’ effect on poverty amid lost jobs” (Fox News, November 29th), is now giving the equivalent of $13,000 to single people and $19,000 for married couples with incomes below $26,000, with amounts reduced for work earnings.  That may or may not be a valid unemployment and welfare arrangement, but it is not universal basic income.  Peter Goodman told us on April 24th in The New York Times that “Finland Has Second Thoughts about Giving Free Money to Jobless People,” and is ending its program, which was not, as Goodman put it, an “experiment with so-called universal basic income,” but the same sort of “free money” Americans in any state get if and only if they lose their jobs.  The real McCoy, in Stockton, was the one Chris Weller described in the October 18th Business Insider’s “A California city is launching the first US experiment in basic income – and residents will get $6,000 a year.”  It’s not nearly enough for them to live on alone, but the program will benefit “a select group of residents” for three years.  We’ll watch this one.

We bring automata back with a story about exactly the sort of quixotic 2020 presidential candidate we need to hear from.  In The New York Times on February 11th, Kevin Roose told us about businessman Andrew Yang, in “His 2020 Slogan:  Beware of Robots.”  Yang expected serious social unrest from both robots and driverless cars, and proposed as a solution what he called a “Freedom Dividend,” or “a monthly check for $1,000 that would be sent to every American from age 18 to 64, regardless of income or employment status.”  In other words, a true guaranteed income.  Look for Yang to influence other candidates, as neither of these issues will go away soon. 

Next week, I will be a long way away and not posting.  I will return on May 25th with commentary and a recap on another issue that won't go away soon - artificial intelligence.  

Friday, May 4, 2018

April: Another Good Jobs-Data Month, as AJSN Drops Another Half-Million to Show We’re Now 15,800,000 Jobs Short


Once again, the American employment situation improved, though not in the ways we expected.

Again we didn’t make the projected increase in net new nonfarm payroll positions.  It was 204,000, and we missed that by 40,000.  But, once more, the other numbers more than compensated.

The big news was the headline seasonally adjusted unemployment rate ending its six-month stay at 4.1% in the good direction.  Its current 3.9% is the lowest it has been since December 2000, and came with a 300,000 cut in the number of officially jobless people, to 6.3 million.  The unadjusted rate also reached a long-term low at 3.7%, the difference showing that April is an above average month for jobs.

The worst of this morning’s readings were in the labor force participation rate and employment-population ratio.  These measures of how common it is for Americans to be working went down, falling 0.1% apiece to 62.8% and 60.3% respectively.  Although both greatly improved earlier this year, these have now given back about half of that gain, a seemingly unusual result given unemployment’s drop.  The count of the long-term jobless, those without work for 27 weeks or longer, stayed the same at 1.3 million, as did the number of people working part-time for economic reasons, or holding on to short-hours propositions while unsuccessfully seeking full-length ones, still at 5.0 million. 
The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, which shows in one figure how many new positions could be filled if all new that getting one were as easy as ordering a pizza, also improved more than the season would indicate (the AJSN is unadjusted), down 492,000 from March as follows:






The nature of the drop, though, tells us why the two percentage indicators of working-likelihood worsened.  While latent demand from officially jobless people fell 665,000, over a quarter of that was offset by a 238,000 rise in the number wanting employment but not looking for it for a year or more.  There were also increases in the counts of those currently and temporarily unavailable and those claiming no interest in jobs, though the discouraged category fell more than 10%. 

Compared with a year before, the AJSN is down just over 800,000, with over two-thirds of that difference coming from reduced official unemployment and the rest more or less from an annual cut, despite this month’s worsening, in those wishing to work but not trying for 12 months or longer. 

The monthly AJSN decrease, and more so the annual one, is another outcome in support of the interpretation, accurate I believe, that our employment situation is still improving.  Jobs growth is only sitting around the 130,000-140,000 needed to cover our population increase, but with other numbers tending to improve, even with their advances in the past few years, that is good enough.  Once again, the turtle took a small but significant step forward.    

Friday, April 27, 2018

Driverless Cars – A Wider Windshield – II


Autonomous vehicle progress, which was cruising along at highway speeds, hit a bump on March 18th, when a self-driving Uber hit and killed a Tempe, Arizona pedestrian.  Although media and public reactions were swift and severe, the mishap was not routine – per “Arizona Tragedy Will Not Slow Autonomous Vehicles” (Jon Markman, Forbes, April 24th), a police investigation “showed no fault by Uber,” and that the victim “emerged abruptly from shadows behind a dimly lit center median” and then “pushed a bicycle laden with plastic bags into oncoming traffic.”  It was, though, as Daisuke Wakabayashi fairly put it in “Self-Driving Uber Car Kills Pedestrian in Arizona, Where Robots Roam” in the March 19th New York Times, “the first pedestrian death associated with self-driving technology” and “was a reminder that self-driving technology is still in the experimental stage.” 

Along with overreactions, stories such as “Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Were Struggling Before Arizona Crash” (also Wakabayashi in the Times, March 23rd) implied that the tragedy was not a general driverless problem but more likely inherent to that company, which over the past two years has shown irresponsibility in a variety of other areas and in the autonomous realm was having its drivers “being asked to do more” such as, unlike those working for others, “going on solo runs.”  Uber was also averaging 13 miles “before the driver had to take control from the computer to steer it out of trouble,” compared with Waymo’s “nearly 5,600.”  As well, according to “Uber Clarifies Autonomous Vehicles’ Biggest Problem” (The Motley Fool in Fox Business, March 23rd), “consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog” stated that “Uber simply cannot be trusted to use public roads as private laboratories without meaningful safety standards and regulations.” The headline of Alan Ohnsman’s March 24th Forbes “Waymo CEO On Uber Crash:  Our Self-Driving Car Would Have Avoided Pedestrian” gave one intra-industry reaction, which I am inclined to believe.  We may never know all the circumstances, but the company in charge seems uncoincidental. 

Even without the Uber connection, the state of the field was well summarized by Andrew Krok in CNET’s Road Show, as described by the story’s headline, “Fatal Uber crash in Arizona is autonomy’s Apollo 1 moment,” and its ending of “how the developers of autonomous vehicles act from here on out will make or break the idea of this happening anytime remotely soon.  Let’s make sure we still get to the moon.”  Kevin Roose, in “The Self-Driving Car Industry’s Biggest Turning Point Yet” in the March 30th New York Times, said that his driverless rides had varied from “calm and boring” to “terrifying white-knuckle,” that they are now heterogeneous in safety, and that “as Uber’s autonomous driving program stalls out,” Waymo’s “is shifting into overdrive.”

I end with another Motley Fool effort, Chris Neiger’s April 13th “How to Make Money in Self-Driving Cars.”  That now seems easier to assess in this industry headed for, per an Intel estimate, “a new “passenger economy” that will be worth $7 trillion by 2050,” but, in what became a gigantic market the last time around, the likes of Stutz and Hupmobile once looked strong.  Neiger echoed Roose by saying “at this point there’s likely no stopping driverless cars from becoming a major part of our transportation industry in the coming decades,” and recommended Waymo parent company Alphabet and car-computer-maker NVIDIA, with consideration also for General Motors, Ford, and Tesla and overall guidance that “investors who are looking to benefit from the autonomous vehicle market may want to consider hitching a ride now.”  The technology is marching on, and, as has been the case for since at least the beginning of last year, whether we like it or not we must join it, work with it, and make sure our financial assets reflect this reality.  Those choices will serve us best.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Driverless Cars – A Wider Windshield – I


It’s now been a hair under four months since I concluded months of reporting on autonomous vehicles with ten central ideas.  Those points are still valid, but since then there has been plenty of progress and news both good and bad.  Unless you want to grant that to artificial intelligence in general, this field remains at the forefront of technological growth, and will have a massive and progressive effect on employment in America and the world.

There continues to be an outpouring of news – technical progress here and there, regulatory changes, companies appearing and then either staying in the public eye or vanishing from it, lawsuits, sincere or other publicizing of future milestones, and a wide range of speculations and projections.  I could easily fill a post every week with those.  I will, instead, focus instead on the largest events, ideas I haven’t documented before or those worthy of more emphasis, and a broader look at how this transformation will affect us.  Here, then, is what since December 22nd fits.

We have already got used to free online services paid for by advertisers, so how about rides the same way?  The Atlantic explored that possibility, in December’s “Driverless Cars Could Make Transportation Free for Everyone – With a Catch.”  The unbilled authors suggest that people could routinely take self-driving vehicles that also stopped at “thoughtfully targeted” sponsoring places, using information gathered from virtual assistants and other electronic sources, as well as the likes of Starbucks and McDonalds, and might “drive slowly past featured properties for sale.”  Some would be disturbed by the use of personal data, but many others would like the lack of fares more, so such services would get plenty of customers, who would eventually dictate the proper level of privacy invasion through accepting or refusing such rides.  This service seems highly likely to be offered.

January had good driverless news in the form of a successful Consumer Electronics Show.  Although few ideas presented there had not been leaked or publicized, the Las Vegas convention gave attendees a chance to see them in person.  Some highlights, per Will Nicol’s “At CES 2018, autonomous cars took the wheel and drove into the future” (Yahoo News, January 11th), were Toyota’s e-Palette “big and largely empty” concept vehicle usable for anything from deliveries to mini-stores, Nvidia’s dedicated Drive Xavier processor, and, provided by Lyft and Aptiv, actual rides in self-driving vehicles, which the participants called, reassuringly enough, “remarkably ordinary.”  If the CES were open to the public, it would have hundreds of thousands of attendees. 

Finally, for this week, The Economist dedicated much of its March 3rd issue to autonomous technology.  Its front article, “Who is beyond the wheel?,” touched on several things.  For one, “AVs are on the threshold of being able to drive, without human supervision, within limited and carefully mapped areas.”  The piece correctly noted that car ownership would drop mainly in urban areas, and that its effects would probably include reduced traffic, cities changed by greater acceptance of long commutes, retailing when “shops can come to you,” easy entrée to “dynamic road-tolling and congestion charging,” and subsidized travel to chosen destinations.  Most importantly, the article discussed ways in which driverless vehicles documenting their passengers and trips “could also become a powerful means of social control,” in doing and acting on the likes of Uber’s identification of one-night stands and restriction of movement through refusing to go to certain places either in general or with specific riders. 

The remaining Economist stories were in a twelve-page Special Report, “Reinventing wheels.”  The section started with a recap of now-standard observations, such as changes in car ownership, the connection between driverless and electric vehicles, the need to deal with local as well as general driving rules and customs, their accessibility to children and the substance-impaired as well as those in wheelchairs, their broad-based and unexpected effects, and a brief technological wrap-up.  Author Tom Standage projected that they would not be available for private purchase until about 2028, but would be in fleets far before then, and would cause the number of urban vehicles, worldwide, to drop from one billion in 2015 to half that by 2035.  He pointed out that they could be integrated with public transportation by waiting at railway stations to take people home, and could facilitate a 50% reduction in, also, “the area of paved surface.”  In another piece, Standage quoted a Mobileye spokesman as suggesting that American road deaths could be cut from 40,000 per year to 40, and considered some extra consequences, such as fewer organ donations, and, as half of cigarettes are sold at gas stations, a further drop in smoking.  He said, about a situation already in progress, that “if cars are no longer symbols of independence and self-definition for the young,” something yet unidentified will need to replace them.  As our modern meatmobiles did with horse carriages, he noted, the move to driverless will greatly increase prosperity but at the cost of some freedoms.  That is the way modern history has been headed, and will continue to move. 

Next week, another look at the Arizona pedestrian death, along with what has happened in the driverless world since then. 


Friday, April 13, 2018

Scattered Views, Reactions, Observations, and Discontents


Here is my file of odds and ends, for your consideration, agreement, disagreement, or just plain thought provocation.

One problem with reading too much into the extremely broad statistic that women earn, on overall average, less than what men do is that those who are fully willing to sacrifice their comfort, child-raising and family time, and general work-life balance are unaware of how many of their sex are not.  Simple arithmetic will tell you that if 40% of women are choosing careers which pay half as much as comparably educated mens’, the others averaging the full 100% gets us to our current 80%, with no room at all needed for the effects of real or imagined discrimination.

Economic protectionism is idiocy.  It benefits a few at the expense of everyone else.

Businesses should stop carping about not finding enough good workers and pay more, train more, and remove some of their disqualifying factors, such as off-hours recreational drug use and certain criminal records.  Then, with over 16 million Americans wanting to work but not doing that, they’ll find them.

Drug testing for welfare and food stamp recipients is not only a mean-spirited idea but a stupid one.  The cost of such tests could more than offset any so-called savings, and would we really want to stop our countrypeople from eating or surviving?  Not to mention that marijuana is 10 years, 20 tops, from full national legalization.

Both conservatives and liberals use straw-man arguments, in which they tell us about the most extreme proposals from the other side and imply that all of their political opponents think that way.  The advantage, though, is that we now have good sources for learning about such ideas:  for liberal ones, on Fox News; for conservative ones, on The New York Times and The Washington Post.

There is gun control, there has always been gun control, and some gun control has never had opposition.  If you doubt that, try installing a howitzer on your front yard.  After that, where do you draw the line and why?

True conservatives now have no political party.  Donald Trump is not truly conservative, and Republican encouragement of deficit spending means their legislators aren’t either.  Do they need one?  Will they create one?

The problem with paying teachers more is not the work they do or the value they have – it is simple supply and demand.  Most states have far more certified teachers than jobs for them, and our country has millions more who would be effective without that credential.  Doubling their pay would, at least, quadruple the number of applicants, a disproportionate share of whom would be men – so much for helping women in that way.

There is nothing wrong with Fox News’s material.  There is everything wrong with what they select to report.  Broadcast news, which caters to the tastes of viewers and listeners, remains entertainment first.

I still don’t understand why the great bulk of Americans have slates of opinions, instead of choosing them individually.  For example, I see no objective reason why most people wanting gun rights, which perforce include accepting more violence, are against abortion rights, which do the same.  Is it that people don’t want to make the hard choices of what to stand for, or have they thought little about what they think?

Symbolism is a powerful force in politics today, which may not be anything new.  Say “Jane Fonda” to conservatives, or the erroneous phrase “mass incarceration” to liberals, and you get quick unstudied reactions.  As with slates of opinions, it’s just too easy not to think.

Over the past two years, political hypocrisy has become so common I just ignore it.  I hope I, and we, don’t soon do the same thing with politicians’ lying. 

One reason I left the United States, nine years ago, was that people here too rarely want to learn.  I think that’s still true.  Maybe there’s something about having access to more information on our desktops than the Library of Congress had two generations ago that stops us from wanting to understand.  For that reason, it’s long been a cliché that people don’t want to be confused by the facts, and that’s looking like a permanent situation.

There’s one thing to be grateful about, though.  Our president does not seem competent enough to be an effective dictator.  Otherwise, we as a nation have plenty of problems, so, in all, let’s hope that our decade doesn’t turn out like the last 10’s, about which Bill James said “Lord, it was an awful time, and then the war started.” 

There you go.  I feel better now.