Posts Tagged ‘industrial revolution’

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 

Mr. Anderson’s Idea

October 13, 2012

In the USA, our biggest hurdle that obstructs a path toward innovative prosperity is this: we don’t manufacture nearly as many “things” as we once did. Everyone knows that in the globalized economy, any widget or value-added “thing” that can be made less expensively in a developing nation will be bought by distributors and sold on the world market before our American-made stuff is bought. This is because we yankees are comparatively rich and affluent and well-paid, and by the time our manufactured products roll off the end of the line, they are too costly to compete in world markets.

Beginning a hundred and fifty or so years ago, we were cranking up a highly energized production economy that was unprecedented in the history of the world. The British, who had actually invented the industrial revolution, were a few steps ahead of us. But they did not have the benefit of a vast, undeveloped continent, and so we passed them in volume and productivity.

So, for a solid hundred and twenty years or, we Americans were going like gangbusters supplying the world with fancy new mechanized goods. We were setting the standards and benchmarks for new industrial development on such a massive scale that we thought the rest of the world would never catch up.

Well guess what. The rest of the world has now caught up. And furthermore, their newfound economies of scale, and their lean and hungry looks, have enabled the developing nations to surpass us in efficiency and in sales.

Therefore the great American industrial machine is no longer cranking out goods, widgets and whoopfizz things to supply the whole world. The world is supplying itself according to the old dictates of supply, demand, and efficiency. And we are just one bully on that manufacturing hill instead of being, as we once were, the king of the hill.

So what do we do now?

Chris Anderson has spotlighted for us an innovative technological strategy by which we may find a new path of development. Furthermore, it is squarely in the tradition innovative entrepreneurship that made this country great. And he has written a book about it:

http://www.amazon.com/Makers-The-New-Industrial-Revolution/dp/0307720950

Because I have been wondering about this problem for a few years now, I was astounded this morning at the timely profundity of his first chapter. It just seems to me that he has hit on exactly what needs to happen next in our quest for a strategy to revitalize  diminishing American manufacture capacities. So here are, without further ado, several quotes:

“America and most of the rest of the West is in the midst of a job crisis… …manufacturing, the big employer of the twentieth century(and the path to the middle class for entire generations), is no longer creating net new jobs in the West. Although factory output is still rising in such countries as the United States and Germany, factory jobs as a percentage of the overall workforce are at all-time lows. This is due partly to automation and partly to global competition driving out smaller factories.”

 

But guess what. There is hope for “smaller factories,” and small companies, because of the democratizing effects of the internet web. The developing internet infrastructure  of our age is functionally the same as the railroads web that our great-great grandparents built from coast to coast. Their double-tracked steel web ultimately enabled our unprecedented, expansive prosperity, the end of which we now observe in languid perplexity.

My thought is that we’ve got to find a profitably productive way out of this deadend track, and it won’t be accomplished in selling MBSs and CDOs and CDSs in HFT to each other while trying to buy the dips and sell the peaks. No, it ill not. And I think Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine is onto something, a light at the end of the tunnel, as it were, a beam of light shining through the dark clouds of post-industrial obsolescence and capitalist decadence.

Continuing quotes from Mr. Anderson’s Makers: The New Industrial Revolution:

“Automation is here to stay–it’s the only way large-scale manufacturing can work in rich countries…But what can change is the role of the smaller companies. Just as startups are the driver of innovation in the technology world, and the underground is the driver of new culture, so, too, can the energy and creativity of entrepreneurs and individual innovators reinvent manufacturing, and create jobs along the way.”

Now just how, exactly, will this magic bullet of creative entrepreneuship be shot forth?

Are you skeptical of Mr. Anderson’s fresh optimism? I was too, as I have generally been for a few years now, ever since about September of ’08, until I started reading about his idea. And, as we say in the publishing business, you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is! Ha

But hey, I’ll give you a hint of what the new approach to design/manufacturing on a massive micro-scale is all about. It has to do with design, and 3-D printing, and the electronic transportability thereof.

3-D printing, at your fingertips, no less! You may laugh. I daresay there were a few laughing at the likes of Edison and Bell and Ford, back in, oh, 1880 or so. And there were a few, no doubt, who laughed at Jobs and Gates and Bezos long about 1980.

Nevertheless, all skeptics aside, there will be some among us who laugh all the way to the bank. Will you be one of them?

Glass half-Full