What’s Next?

January 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Posted in Economics, Off the Wall, Workplace | Leave a comment

As I have written beofre, I am quite interested (and a bit amused) at watching modern industrial countries try to come to grips with their plummeting fertility rates.  Here is an interesting article that I just stumbled across.

One wonders:  If the government is going to go this far, what will come next?  Given the writing on the wall plus envoronmental concerns like this, we could see some interesting social upheavals in the near future.

Appropriate Quote

January 5, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Posted in Economics | 2 Comments

Democracy, an ideal which is simple to excess, was vainly applied to a society which was complex to the point of craziness.

G. K Chesterton, in an essay “On Industrialism”, speaking about American government in the early twentieth century.

Move Your Money

December 30, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Economics, Personal | Leave a comment

There have been all sorts of ideas, most unworkable, about how to get the country’s economy back on its feet.  This is probably the best I’ve seen.  Get your money out of the global economy and invest it locally.

Disclaimer:  I have had my money in my local credit union ever since I was ten years old or so.  I recently closed my BB&T account and strictly work through my local credit union, except for my mortgage.

And, being that I’m a sucker for George Bailey, I ask that you sit back and watch this:

Coming Soon….

December 30, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Posted in Economics, Technology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

There’s so much bad news on the upcoming decade that I can’t even get myself to blog about it.  It seems to me that the US of A is quickly headed towards one of those “Lost Decades” that we smugly assumed could never happen here.  But unless a gamechanger arises quickly to redistribute economic power in the world, there doesn’t seem to be much hope of escaping it.

So, I’m holding onto 3D printing as one of the possible gamechangers.  I really don’t think people appreciate how much DIY manufacturing would affect our pipelined economy.  And to really put a futuristic spin on it, check this out.

[photo of cool 3D medical printer goes here when I can get WordPress to insert it]

Nifty, huh?  Think of the possibilities:  theoretically, any human organ could be manufactured and microsurgically attached with no fear of rejection.  Bones, joints, blood vessels — maybe even entire limbs could one day be replaced!  There’s a gamechanger for you….

And act now, and you can have your own (non-medical) 3D printer for under ten thousand dollars….

At Last!

November 11, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Posted in Economics | Leave a comment

Here is an article in The Atlantic that carefully outlines all the problems in our health care system in words that just about anyone can understand.  At last, I’ve found a resource that analyses the problem from the proper economic viewpoint!

Note that the solution that the author recommends is the exact opposite of the bloated behemoth that was passed by the House the other day….

 

A Country For Old Men

October 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Posted in Economics, Workplace | Leave a comment

As the few long-term readers of this blog know, I continue to be fascinated by the effect of demographics on a nations economy.  I find this topic especially interesting, because, unlike other factors, demographics are a long-term and long-lasting factor in a nation’s development.  It takes nine months just to create a new citizen, plus a decade or two to develop him or her into a truly productive member.  One cannot turn that ship around overnight.  So, a trend in birth rates now must shape the nation decades hence.

One of the biggest effects that are commonly brought to attention is  the “dependency ratio”, or how many citizens the average working-age member must support by his or her labor.  As the population ages, the dependency ratio goes up and becomes more burdensome on the economy, especially for more socialist states with a high level of guaranteed welfare.  But as a recent article points out, the effect of an aging population can be felt even earlier in terms of a nation’s savings rate and trade deficit. 

To summarize, a middle-age population tends to save more than they consume, as they enter their high-wage years and the expense of raising their children comes to an end.   This leads to greater exports (see Germany, China, and Russia).  However, as their wage-earning years tail off, they begin to consume more and save less.  To avoid a crippling trade imbalance, they must find a way to increase their exports.  But without a sizeable younger population to employ, how can they increase production?  Watch invesment capital start to flee China and Russia in the near future as it becomes apparent that they no longer have the workforce to exploit any increase in production capacity….

Read “A Country for Old Men and a Bit of Sambahere.

The Jobless Recovery

September 11, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Economics, Workplace | 1 Comment

 There’s been a lot of talk about the growing suspicion that our economic recovery will not be accompanied by an increase in jobs, and our employment picture will begin to resemble that of FranceClick here for an interesting piece in Time magazine, which I will discuss briefly below.

First, the sardonic quote:

We’re a long way from Hoovervilles, of course. But it’s not hard to imagine, if we’re not careful, a country sprouting listless Obamavilles: idled workers minivanning aimlessly through overleveraged cul-de-sacs with no way to pay their mortgages, no health care, little hope of meaningful work and only the hot comfort of angry politics.

Next, the “get a dictionary” quote:

Hysteresis is a word that you (and the rest of us) should hope we don’t hear too much of in the coming months. It comes from the Greek husteros, which means late. It refers to what happens when something snaps in such a way that it can never be put back together. Bend a plastic ruler too far, drop that lightbulb — that cracking sound you hear is the marker of hysteresis. There’s no way to restore what has just been smashed.

And now, the scary quote:

The funding for job creation in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was based on an assumed 8.9% unemployment rate. Now 15% is a realistic possibility. And yet we’re hearing few interesting ideas about how to enhance America’s already groaning unemployment support system as millions of Americans sit idle. Tangled in the debate over health care — and bleeding political capital — the White House may find itself too weak and distracted to deal with the danger of joblessness.

Finally, the insightful quote:

The painful fact is that the 1930s option, to have the government directly employ millions of people in labor fronts, is not an option today. “There’s no way to create real jobs using this approach,” says Harvard professor Roberto Mangabeira Unger. In the 1930s, you could throw 10,000 people with shovels at dam or road projects. Today the work of 10,000 shovels is done by a few machines — and it was a lot easier to persuade farmers to switch to ditchdigging than it would be to get laid-off hedge-fund traders to switch to sewer repair, appealing as such an idea might be.

In essence, the much vaunted productivity gains that have boosted the American worker over his foreign rivals are now coming back to bite him.  It’s not enough that the productivity multipliers (computers, robots, machines, and processes) can now be exported around the world, but that in a recession, it’s cheaper to squeeze more productivity out of the remaining workforce than to hire new workers.  Adding additional labor increases capacity by so much now that employers can meet increased demand by only marginal increases in headcount.  So, the virtuous cycle of increased demand -> more hiring -> more consumer spending -> increased demand is short-circuited — increased demand leads to minimal hiring which leads to little incremental demand, and the cycle fizzles.

I suppose that, taking things to rediculous extremes, given infinite productivity one guy could meet all the needs of everyone in the entire country.  Would this one guy get to pocket all the GNP, leaving everyone else to starve?  Or would he be forced to do all the work for everybody … and then why would he bother?  Yes, it’s an extreme example, but it does send conventional labor theory for a loop.  How do we adjust our economy for these huge productivity gains?  Who gets to reap the benefits, without removing incentive from the system?  Interesting questions….

The Two-Child Policy?

August 26, 2009 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Economics, Science | Leave a comment

 I spotted this article a ways back, which naturally I found quite fascinating.  I wonder if the Chinese government had taken a good look at this:

Population Pyramid: Year 2000

Population Pyramid: Year 2050

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, this is the current projection — in forty years, the largest demographic segment of Chinese society will be women over eighty years old.  Their society and economy just isn’t set up to handle this.  And believe it or not, the situation is even worse in the urban areas — the above projections are based on a fertility rate of 1.77 children per woman (a stable population is about 2.1 children per women).  Shanghai has a fertility rate of 0.8 children per woman … and dropping.  No wonder they are scrambling!

A Greenie Gets It … Almost

July 24, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Posted in Economics, Technology | Leave a comment

Here is an interesting article from The Huffington Post.  In it, the author addresses “the elephant in the room“: nuclear power is the only “carbon-free” energy source that stands a snowball’s chance of meeting the world’s needs in the forseeable future.  Biofuel has finally been discredited.  Wind and solar sound good and look cool in your backyard, but the energy density just isn’t there.  Factor in the the high cost of installation per kilowatt, the cost of maintenance, and degredation over time, and they are just not practical.  Maybe someday, someone will come up with a more efficient alternative energy source, but in today’s technological toolbox, nuclear fission is the only game in town.

But here is the funny part:

My plan would provide huge economic benefits to the United States. We’d create jobs, improve our trade deficit, and get a nice on-going monthly cash flow from the plants we finance. So whether you believe in global warming or not, this plan works.

Um, yeah.  Thirty years ago, maybe.  That’s when construction began on the last nuclear power plant built in the United States.  The US of A has gained zero experience from designing and building  new commercial-scale plants in for over three decades.  Zip.  So, where are we going to get all these highly specialized American engineers and construction workers from, anyway?

That’s easy — from the countries that still invest in nuclear power: France and Japan.

But what about the great American firms?  We have companies with nuclear experience, don’t we?  Well, yes … and no.  The great Westinghouse, builder of America’s nuclear power empire, was bought by Toshiba back in 2005.  General Electric‘s nuclear division merged with Hitachi in 2006.  Meanwhile, France’s EDF group has been buying up American nuclear firms left and right.  Trade deficit?  Yeah — all the profits are going overseas.

There may be “green jobs” to be found in the nuclear industry, but they are not American.

The Next Big Thing, revisited

June 9, 2009 at 11:35 am | Posted in Economics, Technology | 1 Comment

On the heels of a previous posting, the good folks at Dimension sent me a free sample “print” — a salt shaker of an unusual shape.  Here are the pics I took with my brand-new Samsung Alias 2 (excuse the focus problems — I’m still learning the ins and outs):

3D printed salt shaker with screw-off top

3D printed salt shaker with screw-off top

 

Inside the shaker

Inside the shaker

As you can see, the shaker has a unique twisty shape.  Anyone who has worked with plastic molds will tell you that shapes like these make for very complicated (read expensive) molding operations.  But, apparently the uPrinter can handle complex shapes like these with aplomb.  The possibilities seem to be limited only by the imagination of the designer….
It’s hard to see in the picture, but the shaker has a very fine ridged texture on all surfaces due to the manufacturing process.  The ridges could probably be polished off, or it may be that consumers will accept this in exchange for the benefits of creating their own plastic implements.  The ABS plastic itself, however, is solid and durable, and I maintain my statement that stereolithography someday will become a major disruption in the worldwide consumer economy.
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