Archive for the ‘incentives’ Category

The Tweaking of the Technos

September 2, 2017

‘T’was about two hundred year ago that the world tilted toward changing at an exponential pace.

The advent of the steam engine had a lot to do with this. Imagine, for instance, what native American tribes, living primitively, must have thought about the first locomotive when they saw a big huffn’puff thing speeding toward them along the steel track.

It was a terrible sight to behold– belching steam and screaming along across the landscape like it owned the place.

Locomotv

And in terms of world history, that wasn’t so very long ago. We humans have definitely picked up the pace of our progress.

We’ve come a long way since those groundbreaking days of the steam locomotives. Back in those early techno times our big deal was extraction. By means of steam-powered locomotion we extracted vast amounts of resources from vast landscapes for a vastly long time and then we transported those extracted elements vast distances, to industrializing cities where they were converted into vast products that were sold and distributed to vast markets of people whose consuming habits were fastly becoming vast.

All this vastness was enabled because our new powering technologies made everything happen on vastly larger scales, and in vastly faster timetables.

Eventually, the trains went the way of the buffalo when our cars and trucks began to roll off mass-production assembly lines and then all across the globe. Before you knew it, everybody and their brother were driving around via internal combustion vehicles of one type or another, spewing carbon emissions and additives and whatnot all around the globe.

Because so many people had jumped onto the industrio-techno bandwagon we found ourselves with vast labor markets which consisted of vast numbers of people cranking out all these vast inventories of consumer goods and services.

That whole industrial revolution thing wrought the humanic world into being a carbon-belching machine. After a century or two it has become an emissions-emitting perpetual motion device. But nowadays our whole vastly spinning automaton of techno progress is being re-evaluated. For the sake of equality-based prosperity, those vast labor markets are being tweaked by office-loads of technocrats who want to do what is best for mankind. But in a world of expending (used to be expanding) resources, it becomes more and more problematical to keep everybody busy in production.

By ‘n by, for management purposes more and more folks have become involved in producing information, so we can be smart about stuff. Information  used to be stored in libraries, but now is stored in digitized files. Our terminology has morphed. As we used to shovel dirt and ore and coal and whatnot we now move vast loads of information. For simplicity sake we now call it info. Furthermore, as our  exponential changes are happening at a vastly stepped-up pace we have  spun into calling it “data.”

We notice that, while the world economy used to run on vast extractions of elements, it now runs on vast iterations of data. And if you believe that, I’ve got some swampland in Houston I’ll sell ya.

But I digress.

In our 21st-century techno-world we have generated vast hordes of data-analyzers, experts, number-crunchers and technocrats, whose mission is to  keep everything cruising along on an even keel.

Their informed consensus is that we need  a steady state, which eventually morphs into a steady State. Old style capitalism is dead, y’all.

The most potent example of this trend is the Fed.

A century ago, we had banks that were fervently financing the great industrial expansion. Now all the banks have become mere bit-players; the real mover and shaker is the Federal Reserve, the financier of last resort, as they are moving vast file-loads of reserve fiat currencies around the world the way JP and John D used to move their earth-shaking  investments.

Now the Fed keeps it all humming along on an even keel, not too fast not too slow. No more boom or bust, no more depressions, but rather one long macro-recession/expansion whereby we perpetually power the world economy at a predictably stable theoretical 2% expansion rate so as to assure that the main characters have assets to pass around  like peace pipes and, along with that, generally everybody has a job to do so we  don’t have too many folks fall into non-productive dependency on the system.

Good luck with that, y’all.

Therefore,  let us henceforth have everybody producing something, but not anything that will aggravate the emissions hockey-stick curve. Let’s keep the proles fat n’ happy—or, excuse me—fit n’ happy, if possible without deepening the carbon footprint, lest we fall into deep sh_t.

A good way to do that is convert everybody to being producers of data instead of them being producers of carbon-spewing autos and such.

In olden days we had vast factories where workers cranked out trains and trucks and autos and washing machines and TVs and then microwaves and computers and now data and data and data and more data.

So now the world runs on data, don’t you know. And if you believe that I’ve got some swamp land in Houston I’ll sell you.

But I digress.

How ‘bout I give you an example of what it means to be living in a blahblah new world where our collective assets are studiously maintained by  tweaking  technocrats.

Check out this data from an analysis of labor/welfare incentives in Europe, posted  last week by Daniel Seikel.

https://www.socialeurope.eu/activation-work-poverty  

“If it were true that employment is the best route out of poverty, including in-work poverty, then, logically, the share of working poor should at least not increase if there is significant employment growth. The combination of employment growth and increasing in-work poverty suggests that activation policies might shift poor jobless persons/households to poor working persons/households. Therefore, it is necessary to analyse the effects of different labour market policies on in-work poverty. In particular, what impact do the different elements of activation policy – conditionality, re-commodification and active labour market policies – have?

In theory, two effects are possible. First, active labour market policies can improve the qualification of job-seekers and enable them to get better paid jobs. This can lift formerly poor households above the poverty threshold (disposable household income below 60 percent of national median income). Second, the demanding elements of activation – strict conditionality and a high degree of re-commodification – can force unemployed individuals to accept job-offers even if the pay-levels are low. In this case, the income of the successfully activated might be too low to lift the household above the poverty threshold – poor unemployed would become working-poor.

That’s true, Daniel, I suppose. I’ll take your word for it. But whatever happens, however all this turns out, I can see we’ve come a long way from

Locomotv

to

TweakTek

In the olden days, the command was:

Move that barge; tote that bale!

The new program is:

Tote that phone; send that file!

This is progress, and this is what progressives have called for. It’s no wonder the outcome is Twitter, in which all the complexity of former times is dumbed down to 140 bits or pieces per event.

Good luck with that, y’all!

Glass Chimera 

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the Ole Firmer’s Almaniac

May 27, 2016

The ole firmer walked around the backside of the barn. His wearied eyes took a moment to focus on the horizon; dark clouds appeared to dominate that distant line; they’d been hanging there for quite a long while now. The immediate vicinity was clear, however, if BLS numbers are to be believed. Mixed signals here there and yon. The times they are a-changin’, thought he, and things ain’t ClasicBldgRuf
what they used to be.

The rules of the game have changed; the old computations are no longer working, with the ole firmer and his firm being blindsided by all the new manipulations, robo-washed sterile by robo-driven arbitragers as if someone behind the sprays and fluff were cleaning the clocks of commerce, wiping away the profits, constantly leveling the playing field and rendering the firmer high but not dry, now eyeless in nasdaq, then dumb in the dow, spooked by the S&P, then suddenly swept up again in a flood of liquidity, floating on Fed flotsam, pummeled by day trade dealers punting buyback fluff up and down the field. The firmer pondered all this while studying the broad side of his barn. Need to fix that roof-– the thought crossed his mind for the umpteenth time.

Then without warning, his step coincides with a pile of BLS. Oh shit, exclaimed he. Up on the rooftop, the ever-vigilant barnyard blackbirds squawked loudly, as if trumpeting their amusement at his misfortune.  Caw! Buyback! Caw! Quoth the raven: Evermore! Now and evermore! So shall your ascending P/E path be: driving under the influence of BLS, monitored by SEC, checked with OMB, hog-tied with Dodd-Frank, frothing high in P/E ratios, fearless Fannie and fawning Freddie sharpening pencils in the background, consuming FOMC reports, leaning on Fed puts, flummoxed at SEC stops, disgusted with IRS farts and bewildered by WTF surprises.

LOL . . . not.

The ole firmer’s labor participation rate was, and had been for awhile, after 89 months of zero-bound interest rates on the downward trajectory–headed south, as some folks say, although he  wasn’t comfortable with the phrase. And out there on what used to be the open prairie of Price discovery–that old crossroads of supply and demand– well, it has become well-nigh impossible to determine where, when, how and why, it seemed to the ole firmer.

This is what it felt like, he surmised, to be on Main Street in a Kmart world, then at Kmart in a Walmart world, now being disoriented in an Amazon jungle, no way out,  with the Fed ham-stringin all the supply lines so’s to simulate demand on a rising level. How this gmo steady-state staid new world of post-capital never-everland came about he’d never understand.

The old firmer would never understand. He felt like the onslaught of old-timers’ disease was gnawing away at his youthful entrepeneural sensibilities.

The obnoxious ravens on the roof calmed down, their screechy cawing now lapsing into a low zirping. Quoth the raven–Nevermore! There’s no real investment any more. No more frontier, no more exceptional expansion, no more manifest destiny, where do we go from here, caught between rocknroll and a hard face.

They say casinos are big now.

Where’s the high-flyin’ high-multiplyin’ authentic productivity? Inventories high, sales low. Slow go. What would Rockefeller do? Where’s JP Morgan when you need him? Carnegie’s steel has all been laid; Edison’s taking a nap  and Bell won’t answer the phone. No Ford nor Chevy on the horizon that I can see, thought he. Watson’s now a programmed response. Fairchild’s been implanted in a solid state econ. Gates is creaky; Jobs is gone– out there somewhere on that musky dark cloud horizon. What’s everybody doing?

Tappin’ on chinky glass, devolving in devices vices, sippin’ Singapore slings,  all sound and futility signifying no-growth, thought he, hobbling along on a programmed 2% inflation path. Old-timers like me can no longer hit the broad side of a barn with our antiquarian projections based on old-school free-market dynamics, rallies and hog bellies, bushels, widgets and gadgets, buy and sell orders ’til the bears come home, might as well lay bricks in mortars with all these start-up farters.

Out on the horizon, big dust-storm coming up. Bulls are at it again, trying to stampede their way out of the Everything’s OK corral, but Uncle Fed and Aunt Fannie shut ’em down every time.

Glass Chimera

The life song of J Alfred Bourgeois

May 11, 2016

We’ve worked hard for what we’ve got;

maybe we’re smart and maybe we’re not.

Thanks to the courage of long-dead soldiers,

we can grow and prosper and manage to get older.

We’ve read about .gov by the people, republics, and democracy;

we try to stay decent, clean, and free from hypocrisy.

And yes, we’ve heard of that Marx guy, and Lenin and whatnot.

but I’m here to say we aint no proletariat.

We don’t wanna change the world;

we like stars and stripes in the breeze unfurled.

Dinner on Sundays, work on Mondays, weekends for fun days;

this is what we like, and cultivate in predictable ways.

Jefferson said let’s do .gov by the peoples.

We say along with that came letting folks raise their steeples.

Marx, on the other hand said we need dictatorship of the proletariat,

but this home-making bourgeois boy giveth not a plug nickel for all that.

We’re happy to be plain ole boojwazee,

with a washer, dryer, car, and a home someday mortgage-free.

There are plenty out their who wanna die for the Cause;

we just like living in freedom under reasonable laws.

Floral

Glass half-Full

Incentives for Development instead of Dependency

December 13, 2015

I’ve been working for the last six years as a maintenance man in an apartment complex that houses 92 households.

You know as well as I do that it is not easy to get up and go to a job five days out of every week that goes by, and to do this week after week, month after month, year after year.

Now for an old guy like me, age 64, while approaching that precipice called “retirement” and considering how/when such an arrangement may take shape, it has been difficult lately.

I’ve been struggling with a few issues, both public and private, pertaining to this job that has occupied 40 hours of my time every week for the last six years.

The apartment complex in which I maintain all this stuff–toilets, faucets, sinks, drains, light fixtures, electrical outlets, water heaters, doors, windows, cabinets, floors, stairways, interiors, exteriors, dumpsters, trash, smoke-filled rooms. . .this apartment community is a public housing arrangement in which rents are subsidized, according to need and income, through funds that have been provided through taxpayer money.

I confess that one problem I have had lately comes from wondering why I have to do all this work, when many tenants don’t seem to have much to occupy their time. I mean, everybody has a TV and that’s okay.

I don’t really want to elude my responsibilities as an employed person. But I do believe that if there is, among the hundred+ residents here, a good person who is willing to take on some responsibility to do some necessary work. . .that person should be allowed to contribute some of their time and effort toward making the community facilities cleaner and more operative.

But I cannot expect this type of help from tenants.

I am, you know, the employee, while they are the tenants. I am the worker; they are the recipients of my services.

And I have, during previous periods of my life, benefited from some college-level training in education. Accordingly, I would like to take opportunities now and then to teach others, especially children, to do for themselves instead of me the Maintenance guy doing all of it.

A year or two ago, a good thing happened in this complex where I work. A helpful tenant who lives here took it upon himself to help me in cleaning one of our two laundry rooms. I was pleased to have his participation, especially since I have a steady stream of vacancies to deal with–vacancies that require painting, cleaning and repairs. There should be more people in the world who are like this good citizen who has volunteered to help make the community in which he lives, in which I work, a better place.

Nevertheless, I was informed that it was not his place to do so. Because he is, after all, the tenant, while I am the employee.

In other instances during my six years, tenants have been compelled to uproot plants–decorative and vegetable– that they had planted in the mulched sterile areas around the buildings. Because it was against the rules. Management is supposed to do all that, and make those decisions, etc. And this place is subsidized by the USDA. The A stands for Agriculture. Fed-approved agriculture of course, not tenant-planted agriculture.

I told a friend of mine recently that if I had a million bucks I’d buy the whole dam place and then let the tenants have their own community garden instead of these useless ornamental shrubs and mulch, and I’d turn my maintenance job over to a tenant committee where they could divvy out the work as it arises, and be compensated accordingly with rent credit or benefits or cash.

Well, my struggle with these issues was punctuated this Sunday morning with some other inputs about this type of situation.

I was listening in on Listening In, which is an online audio program that is provided weekly by World Magazine, of which I am a subscriber.

  http://www.worldmag.com/player.php?podcast/7467

In this recorded discussion, I heard host Warren Smith interviewing guest Jennifer Marshall, who represents the Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity of the Heritage Foundation. They were conducting a fresh discussion about a tired old topic, welfare reform.

Jennifer was explaining the outcome of a recent forum at Heritage, the purpose of which was to help people escape poverty.

She mentioned that the major welfare reform of 1996 had been successful in reducing welfare loads and reducing child poverty. But only one program was dealt with. She further stated what needs to happen is reform of–not just cash welfare program– but food stamps, public housing and other programs. And then she made this statement:

“The incentives right now are structured toward dependence; let’s get them structured toward moving people back to independence, back to flourishing in their communities.”

And I thought, she may have a good point there. But I don’t know what I could do about it.

Life goes on.

In other news, its a beautiful, sunny day here in the Blue Ridge.

Have a nice day, and a satisfyingly productive week.

Glass half-Full