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.

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….

Forty Years Later

July 20, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Posted in Personal, Science, Technology, Workplace | Leave a comment

My dad sent me an email message reminding me how I, as a ten-week-old baby, was propped up in front of the kit-built Heathkit to see the historic landing on the Moon.  This reminded me of a scene from a great movie, The Dish, and I found myself tracking down exactly what a 1201 error in the LEM guidance code was, anyway.

That led to this little gem.

Apparently, not much has changed in the world of third level tech support….

No Mom, I’m Preparing for the Future … Really!

May 19, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Posted in Off the Wall, Technology, Workplace | 1 Comment

Here is an interesting quote from none other than Rob Carter, CIO of Fed Ex:

Rob Carter, chief information officer at FedEx, thinks the best training for anyone who wants to succeed in 10 years is the online game World of Warcraft. Carter says WoW, as its 10 million devotees worldwide call it, offers a peek into the workplace of the future. Each team faces a fast-paced, complicated series of obstacles called quests, and each player, via his online avatar, must contribute to resolving them or else lose his place on the team. The player who contributes most gets to lead the team — until someone else contributes more. The game, which many Gen Yers learned as teens, is intensely collaborative, constantly demanding and often surprising. “It takes exactly the same skill set people will need more of in the future to collaborate on work projects,” says Carter. “The kids are already doing it.”

Hmm.  I wonder if they are hiring?  Then again, our CIO might be planning the same thing….

Where Do I Sign Up?

February 13, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Economics, Workplace | Leave a comment

The US Congress has just approved a $787 Billion dollar “economic stimulus plan”.  The plan is purported to create up to 3.5 million jobs

Let’s see:  $787,000,000,000 divided by 3,500,000 equals …

… a little less than $225,000 per job.

Where do I sign up?

Can Someone Help Me Out?

September 8, 2008 at 12:39 pm | Posted in Arts, Off the Wall, Technology, Workplace | 6 Comments

I’ve been using Microsoft products for a long time.  In college, I used PCs instead of Macs.  My first computer (after my beloved Amiga 2000) ran Windows.  The project I have spent the past decade working on relies entirely on a number of versions of Visual Studio and SQL Server.  People even call me on the phone to help fix their computers.

But I still can’t make head nor tails of this.

Can someone help me out?  Please?

Continue Reading Can Someone Help Me Out?…

So Crazy, It Just Might Work

July 17, 2008 at 3:33 pm | Posted in Workplace | 1 Comment

Apparently, corporate-level workers for Best Buy are no longer expected to show up for work.  Their management has adopted a new culture of ROWE — Results Only Work Environment, where people are expected to get their assignments done however they want.  Show up to work or not.  Work sixty hours a week or not.  Nobody cares, as long as the work gets done.

Strange.  This is exactly how I survived four years of college.  Nobody cared where I was or how long I was there, as long as I got my assignments turned in on time.  But then, I was the one paying for that experience.  When it became someone else’s nickel, they wanted a complete accounting of how I spent the eight hours a day they were buying off of me.

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