Friday, May 26, 2023

Hustling: On the Side, Not on Mondays, Not at All, and Twice Over

Of its meanings, different ones for “hustling” have been most prominent at different times.  First it denoted moving quickly and effectively.  In the 1970s, it meant mostly winning bets by concealing skill.  Soon thereafter, helped by the title of a Gail Sheehy book, it referred to prostitution.  Since then, it has gone back somewhat to its original meaning, but referring to employment in various ways.  Here are three, and how they pertain to today’s work environments.

On December 30th in the Motley Fool’s Ascent, Maurie Backman told us and asked us “82% of People With a Side Hustle Got One Due to Inflation.  Should You Keep Yours if Inflation Cools Off?”  I doubt it was anything like 82% – employed people have been doing other things for money long before they called it “moonlighting,” and most will continue without regard to clearly temporary financial pinches.  As Robert Townsend told us in 1970’s classic Up the Organization, “like sleeping around, it scatters energy… If there’s a lot of it going on, it may be a sign that the system has defeated the people again.  If they can’t release their spare energies toward your goals, they’ll moonlight for somebody who doesn’t have job descriptions and policy manuals.”  Still pertinent, but in different ways – per Backman, “having an extra source of income can help you pad your savings and still have money coming in if you get laid off in a recession” – and even though a recession seems remote, such propositions can be valuable, emotionally as well as financially.

“Should you hide your side hustle from your employer?  Here’s what to consider” (Gili Malinsky,, December 20th) addressed another ancient problem.  The author cited a “side hustle expert,” who recommended researching official company policies, checking with an “employment lawyer,” and disclosing it if all is clear.  I had such a venture, completely unrelated to my work responsibilities, which consumed 20 to 25 hours a week, during most of my corporate career, was careful to, per Malinsky, “not to use company equipment or company time” for it, and never had to discuss it.  It worked – and so did I, well enough to get top performance reviews.

Selective non-hustling was the subject of “Americans take a break from the weekend on ‘bare minimum Mondays’” (Kristen Altus, Fox Business, March 6th).  Unlike moonlighting, this “latest workplace trend receiving more and more support from the U.S. labor force” does not meet with my approval.  How hard to work is a personal employee decision, but cordoning off times in advance when you will not, would fully justify in this case companies giving 10% pay cuts (half pay for Mondays).  People can pace themselves during the week, but feeling “overworked and underpaid” is not reason by itself, and may result in no job at all.  This style means a change in working practices and expectations, and is more than anything else a human resources problem.

How about doing that every day?  Jing Pan, writing in MoneyWise, saw that “US productivity is stalling out and employees are less willing to ‘engage in hustle culture,’ as 1 in 5 Americans admit to doing the ‘bare minimum’ at work” (January 27th).  The author said that “there’s no doubt employees across the country have been pulling back at work.”  Again a worker choice, at least partially from companies unwilling to assess qualitative and quantitative employee differences, and another indicator of structural issues.

And now, the ultimate hustle, about which Alison Green asked, in Slate on February 20th, “What’s Really So Wrong About Secretly Working Two Full-Time Jobs at Once?”  Now called being “overemployed,” this is getting more and more common, made possible by remote work and aided by excessive nonjudgmentalism and temporally undemanding responsibilities.  Here we must make ethical choices, as, barring an explicit policy against it, the “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy above is perfectly moral, but lying about it is not.  Per this piece, those overemployed vary in their approaches and in some ways of negotiating conflicts between the positions, ranging from being upfront to saying anything they think they can get away with.  Two salient comments from Green are  “Managers have an instinctive horror at the thought of someone secretly working a second job during their work hours for the first, but if they can’t point to any problems resulting from it… maybe it’s time to rethink that,” and “employers should ask themselves what would drive someone to lie about having multiple jobs… for years now, employers have been understaffing and expecting employees to do the work of multiple roles for no increase in pay.  Perhaps its inevitable that some of them have decided that if they’re going to be overworked, they’re going to benefit from it.”

So, what will “hustling” mean in 2035?  If it pertains to jobs and the economy, expect me, if I’m still here, to cover it. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Five Big Ideas on Jobs, the Economy, and the Nation

As staggering as the beginning of artificial intelligence’s ascent has been, it is not the only area where technology or public policy could greatly transform our country.  Here is a group of them.

First and oldest is “Do Brain Implants Change Your Identity?” (Christine Kenneally, The New Yorker, April 19, 2021).  Known in science fiction as alloplastic devices, or body modifications as old as eyeglasses, things being put in brains are neither new nor truly rare – per this article, 200,000 people internationally have “a neural implant of some kind.”  A case study Kenneally used was of a 49-year-old lifelong-epileptic woman who had an experimental device installed that would tell her 15 minutes before she was to have a seizure.  It was successful, both technically and personally – she was sad when the provider’s funding ran out and she needed to have the device removed – and her personality was different before, during, and after its presence, the latter incorporating insights and confidence she had gained.  Clearly, we now have the possibility of people using such devices for general life improvement alone.

Next, a practice now over 50 years old went under the microscope in “Affirmative Action and America’s ‘Cosmetically Diverse’ College Campuses,” a conversation between Jane Coaston, Jay Caspian Kang, Natasha Warikoo, and Ian Rowe in the New York Times on February 9th, 2022.  Affirmative action, an outgrowth of the 1960s civil rights movement, was only preferential college admission for blacks, intended to alleviate some combination of historical wrongs and generally worse financial and economic outcomes.  The latter, though, has not consistently materialized for several reasons discussed in the piece:  the tendency of accepted blacks to be wealthy; the de facto admission set-asides for experience with upper-class pursuits such as oboes, fencing, and overseas volunteering; what is almost transparent discrimination against other minorities such as Asians; and serious acclimation problems leading to weak success rates.  Another problem with affirmative action as originally, and generally still, implemented is that choosing people only for their race is distasteful, and yet high school success, along with standardized test scores, varies greatly between racial groups.  It will be up to universities to decide if more blacks is what they want, or would prefer richer students who rate to donate more, or would actually want to provide more help for those with lower family incomes.  The outcome will shape the country more than we may know.

Could it be that “the Internet Is Having Its Midlife Crisis” (Nikki Usher,, December 5th)?  This article was published soon before the current AI boom – that, along with “ChatGPT” and “chatbot,” do not appear in the text.  Instead, the author considers that “many of us who have grown up along with the web are now reaching middle age, and we have enough experience with the internet to know what it does well and does poorly,” and that “many of us have long argued that Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms are public utilities – they provide an essential service to the public by enabling the flow of communication that supports communities, commerce, and access to critical information.”  Usher thought that was the right view, and that such sites should be either fully government-owned or by a “public-private partnership.”  I have advocated wide-scope, even nationwide, Internet access, but the platforms themselves are hardly guaranteed to stay the same, and competition, as weak as it is, would be snuffed out by a one-owner, one-product-per-type mandate.  That alone makes this idea undesirable.

Around the middle of the last decade, there were books on the subject of “Why the Age of American Progress Ended” (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, January 2023).  This effort printed out to 26 pages.  Thompson spent the first half telling how, over 10,000 years, smallpox appeared and, though a series of events leading to the first vaccine and its proliferation, was cured.  Next, he tried to make the case that such is too rare in our country now, as “the American government has focused overwhelmingly on discovery rather than deployment,” and many initiatives become hamstrung by legal restrictions and lack of private funding interest.  Examples he cited were high-speed rail, nuclear power plants, and even solar and wind farms, the latter “held back by environmental regulations that ironically constrict (their) construction.”  He contrasted those with the success of Covid-19 vaccines, which called for not only “technological breakthroughs,” but, perhaps more importantly, “a policy miracle – a feat of bureaucratic ingenuity that would make, distribute, and administer novel vaccines with record-breaking efficiency.”  Yet, still, the virus failed for many people who refused to use it.  Conservative thinking, though, is hardly the only one to blame for lack of advancement, as “cities and states run by Democrats have erected so many barriers to construction” that “the five states with the highest rates of homelessness are New York, Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington.”  A lot to improve, but the problems here are real.

Last, we would like to know “How to Make the Labor Market Work for More Americans” (The New York Times, January 28th).  This Editorial Board piece lauded Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro for removing probably unnecessary bachelor’s-degree requirement for “the vast majority of jobs in the state government.”  With many employers looking in vain for workers, there should be a general falling-away of requirements, of certification as well as education, put into place as ways of thinning out the number of qualified applicants.  This was a fine move indeed.  As for the others above, some would be and some would not be – it is up to us to more strongly support the worthiest big ideas.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Artificial Intelligence, After the Bomb Dropped

As rushed as it may seem, the coming of ChatGP4, and the idea of how many things AI can now do and disrupt, are now over, and it is time for us to mop up and figure out where we are and where we should go.  Here are some eminent views from the past five weeks.

A Goldman Sachs April 7th briefing took a shot at “What AI means for the economy.”  It included an interview with Emad Mostaque, the CEO and founder of Stability AI, who said “the entire cost structure of media creation, video game creation, and others” will “change dramatically,” that “AI-powered instruction” will be so effective that dyslexia, for one, would soon be “solved,” and, overall, that AI would be “a much bigger disruption than the pandemic.”  Goldman Sachs representatives determined that the technology itself could be responsible for a 7% or $7 trillion global GDP rise through 2033 and predicted relatively few layoffs.  But job consolidation was not mentioned, and, perhaps oddly, ten days later Fox Business came out with Eric Revell’s “Two-thirds of US jobs could be exposed to AI-driven automation:  Goldman Sachs,” citing one of that company’s studies, possibly also the basis of the previous article, which concluded that, of the 2/3, “a quarter to one-half of their workload could be replaced by AI.”  Doing the arithmetic gets us one-quarter of our country’s workload replaceable, yet this piece also reported that “increased automation wouldn’t necessarily lead to layoffs,” as positions would be “more likely to be complemented rather than substituted.”  I find it hard to understand why managements would not seek to use the technology to cut costs when that is possible.

What is “The Surprising Thing A.I. Engineers Will Tell You if You Let Them” (Ezra Klein, The New York Times, April 16th)?  In the field, “person after person” has told the author “that they are desperate to be regulated, even if it slows them down.  In fact, especially if it slows them down.”  Proposals have quickly been put forth by the White House, the European Commission, and China’s government.  Klein named five things he thought should be high priority:  “the question of interpretability,” or transparency; “security,” or preventing intellectual property theft; “evaluations and audits” of “everything from bias to the ability to scam people to the tendency to replicate themselves across the internet”; “liability,” or who if anyone is responsible for AI’s misdeeds; and “humanness” which he called “a design decision, not an emergent property of machine-learning code.”  Not easy, and I do not know how regulating bodies can keep up.

Author Jaron Lanier offered an April 20th New Yorker piece, which printed out to 13 pages and was ponderously titled “There Is No A.I.”  He called it “a tool, not a creature,” though acknowledging that we were “at the beginning of a new technological era.”  For Lanier, the likes of GPT-4 “mash up work done by human minds,” but need controls, among which he advocated automatic labeling of “deepfakes – false but real-seeming images, videos, and so on,” “communications coming from artificial people,” and “automated interactions that are designed to manipulate the thinking or actions of a human being.”  He maintained that “the black-box nature of our current A.I. tools must end,” by showing sources, leading to their being credited or paid under what he called “data dignity.”  A radical but conceivable idea, and the labeling may prove to be difficult but necessary.

While to my way of thinking there wasn’t much new in “These jobs are safe from the AI revolution – for now” (Eric Revell, Fox Business, April 21st), it’s good to see this sort of material in print.  The fields the author cited “tend to involve manual and outdoor work,” specifically, “cleaning; installation, maintenance and repair; construction and extraction; production; and transportation moving.”  This was mostly a recap of the rundown of robot-resistance positions I did in 2012’s Choosing a Lasting Career.


Louis Hyman put a positive-of-sorts spin on possible AI job replacements in April 22nd’s “It’s Not the End of Work.  It’s the End of Boring Work,” in the New York Times.  It’s clear that “the huge productivity gains of the industrial age didn’t happen just because someone invented a new technology; they happened because people also figured out how best to reorganize work around that technology” – indeed, the first steam engine was invented in the second century A.D., and 3D printing has been used far less than its ability, let alone potential.  Per Hyman, the most “tedious” tasks are those AI can be given.  I don’t agree that ending tiresome income sources is what we want, even if that is all that happens.

Finally, a high-level view drove “The Age of Pseudocognition,” a thoughtful four-page piece in the April 22nd Economist.  Its thesis was that “looking at the impacts of the computer browser, the printing press and psychoanalysis could help prepare the world for AI.”  Web browsers “changed the ways in which computers are used, the way in which the computer industry works and the way information is organised,” allowing “first files and then applications” to be “accessed wherever they might be located.”  As well, “printed books made it possible for scholars to roam larger fields of knowledge than had ever been possible,” and Sigmund Freud’s work meant that “the idea that there are reasons why people do things of which they are not conscious is part of the world’s mental furniture,” meaning in turn that “the sense that there might be something below the AI surface which needs understanding may prove powerful.”  Yes, our understanding of consciousness is in its infancy, and AI rates to be a massive invention.

Over the next several months, despite futile attempts to slow down AI research and progress, many things will happen in this field.  As for several years out, it’s anyone’s guess what front-line artificial intelligence technology will be doing.  Expect more from me, as more critical points emerge and more events take place.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Another Big Jobs Report – New Positions Up, Unemployment Down, AJSN Shows Latent Demand Down To 15.4 Million

One more critical Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary.  One more set of data exceeding expectations and refusing to indicate any movement toward recession.  One more recent-record-breaking American Job Shortage Number (AJSN).  One more time when the peripheral data followed.

We gained 253,000 net new nonfarm payroll positions, almost half again the two 180,000 published estimates.  The seasonally adjusted and unadjusted unemployment rates both fell, the latter by 0.5%, to reach 3.4% and 3.1%.  The numbers of officially jobless people did the same, and are now at 5.7 million (adjusted and roughly rounded) and 5.146 million (unadjusted).  The count of employed added 434,000 to get to 161,075,000.  The number of those working part-time for economic reasons, or maintaining part-time employment while looking for full-time opportunities, shed 200,000 to 3.9 million.  Average private nonfarm payroll wages even got in on the act, rising 16 cents per hour, comfortably above current inflation, to $33.36.  On the non-gaining side, the two indicators showing how common it is for people to be working or close to it, the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate, stayed the same, not improving but holding the previous month’s gains, still 60.4% and 62.6%.  The only statistic I track in this series that got worse was the count of long-term unemployed, which added 100,000 to 1.2 million.

The AJSN, the Royal Flush Press metric showing how many positions in addition to those advertised could fast be filled if all knew they would be easy to get, lost almost half a million as follows:


Compared with a year before, the AJSN was729,000 lower, with real shrinkages in not only the number unemployed but the number of those wanting work but not looking for it over at least the past 12 months.  The counts of those claiming discouragement and temporarily unavailable also fell significantly.  Noteworthy also was a reduction of almost one million, or over 13%, of those in the military, in institutions, or off the grid.  The share of the AJSN from those officially jobless reached a long-time low at 30.0%, off from 34.3%, and this was the first month in at least eight years where more latent demand came from those uninterested in working, even at its 5% contribution, than from those unemployed.

What else can we say about this morning’s report?  In American employment, these are among the best times we have ever had.  More and more people are finding work, and those officially jobless continue shrinking in number.  If full employment is 4%, something I once heard, what are these levels?  How much more favorable can the other numbers get?  We don’t know, but their improvement pace is still brisk.  Between March and April, our population increased less than 69,000 – we added more than three times as many new jobs.  Wages even gained.  Covid now appears to be fading, and hasn’t been a widespread employment impeder for a year.  We’re setting records now.  The turtle, once again, stretched heartily and moved in the right direction.