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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Why No Job Is Safe

Pretty much all commentators are agreed: automation is going to eat a lot of jobs in the coming two decades. Between 38% and 50% of all jobs in the US will be automated by 2050. Mark Cuban  insists that social and creative jobs are safe. He's wrong.

By the very definition of IQ, the average is 100. 68% of the population fall within the gray area above. The simplest jobs are the easiest to automate. The simplest jobs are also held by the people with the lowest IQ.

If 38% of the jobs get automated, most of the automated jobs will be stripped from the population to the left of the center line. The jobs to the right of the center line are held by more intelligent people, those jobs are more complicated. Finding people to do complicated jobs is hard, which is why jobs to the right of the center line generally pay more. But some of the jobs to the right of the line will also be automated. For instance, anesthesiology is generally considered a pretty hard job, rather complicated, definitely a high-IQ position, but it also turns out that we have computers which are able to do that job very, very well.

So, the people to the left of the center line will lose their jobs first. The ones to the extreme left will be rendered unemployable. Even if we can train them for a job that is a little more complicated than the one they currently hold, nearly all the jobs on the left will be taken by robots. That is, we would only be able to retrain them for a slightly more complicated job that has ALSO been automated. They can't be moved far enough up the curve to get any of the non-automated jobs.

But, as we move to the right on the curve, the job situation changes. The closer we get to the center-line, the less likely it is that the next higher job will be automated. Worse, the closer we get to the center-line, the larger is the population that could, theoretically, be retrained for the slightly more complicated jobs that remain non-automated. And, keep in mind that many of the jobs on the right, even jobs on the extreme right, can be automated.

You can immediately see the problem. Everyone who has even a small shot at getting a non-automated job will be forced up the conga line to that next available job. Positions that the marginally qualified would, in the past, have ignored as not worth the extra effort will now become the only game they have left in town.

Every remaining job position will be sought after. This will drive wages down across the board. The wages associated with even non-automated positions will be driven into the dirt as everyone re-trains to try to snag one of the remaining places left in the job market.

This has already begun. I have already heard anecdotal stories of 2016 companies re-posting job descriptions that were originally written in 1996, complete with the original 1996 salary. And they fill those positions with that 20-year old salary cap because there is nothing else for job-seekers to do.

People, like Mark Cuban, assert that some industries will weather the automation storm better than others. That is literally impossible. Automation will batter and destroy EVERY nook and cranny of the job market. It will drive EVERYONE'S wages into the dirt. Even if the job is impossible to automate, the wage will drop to pennies on the current dollar, if only because everyone will be retraining and competing to get it.

On the bright side, automation will make superior products, and it will make them much more cheaply. On the down side, fewer and fewer people will have work wages to buy the products. They will have to get their incomes from something else.

Arguing that people will be able to pursue their dreams doesn't help. They may be able to do so, but it won't pay them when they do. Art, creativity, it won't matter what it is, nothing a human being can produce will be worth as much, if only because EVERY human being will be forced to at least attempt to engage in the non-automated activities that remain. The "nearly-good-enough" will drive down the value of the awe-inspiring perfect work of art, if only because there will be so many more "nearly-good-enough" pieces to choose from, and so much less money flowing in from wages, making the "perfect" unaffordable for nearly everyone at current prices.

Human beings have dealt with the problem of scarcity for our entire history. We are good at it, we have a system (capitalism) that is about to whip the scarcity problem permanently.

We have virtually no experience with the problem of perpetual surplus. That is where we are headed, and we have no system for dealing with it. Like the dog that chases the car, we have been chasing perpetual surplus for our entire existence. What happens when the dog catches the car? We don't know.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How the Rich Murder the Poor

When mobs rioted in Ferguson, MO and burned down their own neighborhoods, commentators were aghast. They wondered how anyone could engage in such self-destructive behaviour.

But, to be fair to the impoverished people of Ferguson, they were merely imitating the rich and politically powerful as best they could. A new study shows that those who work to help the poor by raising the minimum wage have, in fact, been burning down poorer neighborhoods and destroying the businesses. Instead of using gasoline and a match, they use the law, but the effect is the same.
"Local minimum wage hikes cause restaurants to leave or shut down and deter new ones from entering, according to a new Harvard Business School study of the San Francisco Bay Area restaurant industry that contradicts the orthodox liberal view that steeply raising the cost of unskilled labor will not affect jobs or hiring.
More interesting, though, are the study’s findings about which restaurants are forced to leave by the higher wage floors. The authors compared rates of departure of restaurants across different Yelp ratings, and found that the policy hit low and mid-quality restaurants much harder than top-tier restaurants. “Our point estimates suggest that a $1 increase in the minimum wage leads to an approximate 14 percent increase in the likelihood of exit for the median 3.5-star restaurant but the impact falls to zero for five-star restaurants.” 
While a restaurant’s Yelp rating doesn’t correlate directly with its price range, this differential effect suggests that it’s easier for rich people to ignore the deleterious effects of minimum wage hikes. Virtually all of the most expensive restaurants in San Francisco have four or more stars; the city’s business and professional elite are unlikely to see many of their favorite high-end destinations pushed out of the city. Poor or middle-income workers are less likely to have the luxury of only frequenting top-rated establishments, not to mention that they are more likely to work at the restaurants that the hikes put out of business.
Similarly, the tax burden on the poor is far too high. Now, you may say, "Wait a minute! You always say the bottom 50% pay essentially nothing in taxes!"

That's true. The bottom 50% do pay almost nothing in taxes. But it isn't quite nothing. Study the chart below. Even a glance shows the bottom 20% of the nation pays 0.6% of the taxes. But, when you consider how much wealth the bottom 20% own, that 0.6% is way, way more than they can afford.

The top 40% pay over 88% of the taxes. And when you consider how much of the nation's wealth that top 40% owns, they still don't pay enough of the taxes.

Notice something about the graph. Even though the top 20% pay 85% of the taxes, the percentage of taxes paid as a ratio of wealth owned flips for everyone below the top 20%. The top one percent of wage earners pay 24% of the nation's taxes, but they own 34.6% of the nation's wealth. That's not a bad deal. Similarly, the top 20% pay nearly 68% of the nation's taxes, but they own 85% of the nation's wealth - they're still doing fine.

But then it flips. Everybody below the top 20% of wage earners actually pay a larger percentage in taxes than the percentage of national wealth they have access to. The second tier pays, in percentage terms, twice as much in taxes as they have in wealth. The third quintile is slightly worse: they pay, in percentage terms, more than double in taxes as they have in wealth. The fourth quintile only pays 2.5% of the taxes, but that's about a thousand times higher than they should be paying, when their wealth portion is considered.

And for the poorest of America's poor, the bottom 20%, Lord have mercy. They may only pay 0.6% of the nation's taxes, but they own absolutely none of the nation's wealth. That is, the bottom 20%, are actually suffering under an essentially INFINITE tax burden once you consider the fact that they own zero percent of the nation's wealth. The table below shows the problem. The bottom 20% has a divide by zero error.


% Taxes Paid % National Wealth Owned Ratio of Taxes Paid to Wealth
Top 1% 24 34.6 69%
Top 20% 68.7 85.1 81%
2nd 20% 19.3 10.9 177%
3rd 20% 8.9 4 223%
4th 20% 2.5 0.2 1250%
Bottom 20% 0.6 0



"But, wait! Don't the poor get a lot of money from the government?" Well, that depends on what you mean by "a lot". They bottom 40% get between 50% and 100% of their total income from government transfers, but even so, they actually get less government money than the rich do. As I did with the graph above, the graph below is simply a visual representation of the 2011 CBO data that I presented a year ago.



The rich and powerful control the commentary, so we hear a lot about how much the rich pay. And they do pay a lot - there's no question of that. But the poor aren't making out like bandits. They're barely making by at all.

Friday, March 24, 2017

On Irish Slavery

So, the New York Times now tells us that the story of the Irish being enslaved by the English is just a myth. The linked story has these two illiuminating paragraphs:
"Not all of them entered servitude willingly. Some were political prisoners. Some were children...."
Get that? The experts in the article acknowledge the Irish did not enter service willingly. Many were essentially prisoners in a political war between Ireland and England. And the English willingly traded in children who were, by definition, incapable of giving consent.

But, we shouldn't read what the NYT admits, and then conclude that the Irish were enslaved, for in the very next paragraph, the experts are enlisted:
“An indenture implies two people have entered into a contract with each other but slavery is not a contract,” said Leslie Harris, a professor of African-American history at Northwestern University. “It is often about being a prisoner of war or being bought or sold bodily as part of a trade. That is a critical distinction.”
OK - so, the first paragraph admit the Irish did not enter into a free contract, some were political (war) prisoners, some were children (thus incapable of consent).

Then the next paragraph says the Irish were NOT slaves because slavery involves not entering freely into a contract (check), slavery involves being a prisoner of war (check) and slavery involves being bought/sold as part of a trade (check).

Thus, we are meant to conclude that because the Irish fulfilled all the conditions of slavery, they were clearly not slaves. Sure - that's obvious. No matter how many of their conditions you fulfill, you aren't a slave unless the privileged college elites decide you are.

According to the elites, the Irish aren't good enough to be slavery victims, therefore they aren't. What could be simpler to understand?

Ignore contemporary accounts. Those poor fools aren't as educated as our enlightened elites. Only stupid priests and racists (but I repeat myself) would mis-characterize simple involuntary contracts as slavery:
"in 1699 Father Garganel, S.J., Superior of the island of Martinique, asked for one or two Irish Fathers for that and the neighboring isles which were 'fill of Irish' for every year shiploads of men, boys and girls, partly crimped, partly carried off by main force for the purposes of slave trade, are conveyed by the English from Ireland."

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Luddites Were Right

No one argues against the idea that automation improves our lives. Clearly, automation improves our lives. The very fact that 7 billion people are all living better lives today than ANYONE did when there were only 1 billion people alive (1804), speaks to that. But, similarly, no one can argue against the idea that automation takes jobs. In 1804, when the earth's population was 1 billion, everyone between the ages of roughly 8 years old and dead worked a minimum of 6 days per week, 12 hours per day. There were no 40-hour work-weeks, no retirements, precious little time spent in education, and child labor was the norm. The population is now 7 billion. If everyone were correct about how technology and jobs interact, then all 7 billion of us would still work our 6-day per week, 12-hour per day jobs from the age of eight until death, with essentially no breaks for education or retirement, just like we did in 1804. But, we don't do that. We can now afford to have child labor laws, education that takes 30% of the population out of the workforce for decades on end, retirement, and a 40-hour work week, headed towards a 30-hour work week. In fact, the very fact that this isn't what we do now is precisely why we call machinery "labor-saving." Machinery saves labor. That is, the Luddites were correct. Machinery takes jobs, and doesn't give back as many jobs as it takes. The Luddites were wrong on one point - machinery doesn't hurt us, it helps us. They were right about the other point. The number of jobs relative to the population size do, indeed, go away as a result of machinery.
In fact, computers, in the form of robots and other automation, are taking jobs at an increasing rate, and are making jobs at a decreasing rate. One-half of the population has an IQ below 100. Their jobs are generally simple to automate. So, machinery is eating the low-IQ jobs. The few jobs machinery creates are jobs only high-IQ people can perform. The new, few jobs cannot possibly be done by one-half of the population. Indeed, even many jobs requiring high-IQ are disappearing. For instance, the computer industry does not need nearly as many server admins per server or computer techs per desktop machine as it did 20 years ago. As computer design improves, the need for all those highly intelligent support people disappear. The same future looms for lawyers and doctors. Well, and pretty much everyone else. So, one way or another, at least one-half of the population, possibly more, is being rendered completely unemployable. Unfortunately, these people still need food, clothing, housing and medical care. They also need self-respect. Automated machinery is the new slave labor. It doesn't need food, clothing, housing or medical care. All the profit the machinery produces goes to the person who owns the machines. That person will become very wealthy, everyone else will not. Thus, the income gap will steadily increase. As Hans Rosling has pointed out, increasing income inequality is not necessarily a bad thing, unless there are unemployable people who do not get the food, clothing, housing and medical care they need, or the self-respect every person deserves. If there are such people, then something has to be done to get them the basics they need, including basic self-respect. You may not like the idea of universal basic income. You may be strongly opposed to the idea of taxing robots. You might (correctly) argue that a tax on automation is a tax on efficiency, and efficiency is how we got to be rich. Taxing efficiency does not seem a very bright idea. Strong arguments can be made against both of the above ideas. But, if you dislike these ideas, you have to come up with an alternative way to take care of the people who can no longer be employed. The machines have eaten their jobs. This group will have smart people, stupid people, capable people, deficient people, but they will all have one thing in common - they cannot be retrained to take the jobs that are left, either because they can't be retrained or because there simply aren't enough jobs left. These unemployable people will need help. Either they need help now, or they will within a decade or two. The pool of unemployables will grow every year. The next unemployable person could be you. The next unemployable person could be your child. Or your grandchild. Or your nephew, your niece. So, consider carefully how you want this problem handled.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Pledging Corporate Allegiance

It is a commonplace in Catholic theology that there is no necessary disagreement between being a Catholic and being a patriot. Following the example of Socrates, who chose death rather than disloyalty to the state that had raised and nurtured him, Catholic theologians have long held that we have a Catholic duty to be patriots.

But that raises an interesting question. If we owe loyalty to a country because of the laws and benefits it gives us, a la Socrates, then do we owe loyalty to a corporation for all the laws and products it gives us?

For it is certainly the case that corporations give us at least as much in this culture as our country does. Sure, the country lays down basic laws (speed limits, zoning ordinances and the like), but corporations also lay down laws concerning how to handle their products. If we don't change the oil in our cars according to the owner's schedule, the product will wreak it's due punishment on us as surely as the state would for violating a speed limit.

Socrates had the benefit of living in a simple world, wherein no corporate entities existed. Chesterton lived in England, where the international corporation really got established, but his life was not nearly as dominated by international corporations as are our own. Given that most of the original US colonies were founded by corporate business entities, did the British colonists properly owe loyalty to corporation before country? Given that most US laws are put into place through the lobbies of corporate America, do we owe loyalty to business corporations first and foremost, for having conceived and pushed through the great bulk of our laws?

When the international corporation that has paid my mortgage, fed and clothed my family and bought my car requires me via its by-laws or internal policies to do something that is contrary to the laws of the country I happen to currently reside in, which loyalty should hold sway, and why? For, certainly, the business corporation has fed and clothed me at least as much as the state - probably more so. Am I being unpatriotic when I quit my company for a higher-salaried position in another business entity? Am I disloyal when I whistle-blow on my company to the state? Am I a traitor, a treasonous individual, when I choose Walmart vs. Kroger as the patron who feeds and clothes me in exchange for my monetary allegiance?

If I am not a traitor by switching allegiance between corporations, why am I not? Given how intertwined corporation and country are, and apart from the paperwork, how is changing countries different from changing corporations?

At the behest of various corporations, our forefathers gave up allegiance to their home country in order to immigrate to America. Is their decision to switch country allegiance a sin, a moral shortcoming, a lack of virtue? What would be wrong with us switching national allegiance according to how we like different sets of national laws in the same way that we switch allegiance to which cars we drive or which supermarkets we frequent or which house we choose to buy and inhabit?

Why should choosing national allegiance be so much more of a difficult thing than switching allegiance between sports franchises? In such a world, would we look down upon or punish people who wanted to join our team?

Given our current economic and legal situation, in what does patriotism consist?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Trump Lied, America Cried

Notice the nearly complete lack of overlap between the presence of unauthorized immigrants and actual, you know, crime. It's almost like Americans are responsible for most criminal activity, not illegal aliens. The data for the cities with the most illegal immigrants comes from a Drudge link to Pew Research. The numbers on the most dangerous cities comes from this link:


All Roads Lead To Rome

At the beginning of the video, a minute-and-a-half long, the Pope cites the fact that the majority of the earth’s inhabitants profess some sort of religious belief. 
This, he said, “should lead to a dialogue among religions. We should not stop praying for it and collaborating with those who think differently.” 
The video goes on to feature representatives of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, who proclaim their respective beliefs in God, Jesus Christ, Allah and Buddha.
Some people are upset that Pope Francis recently taught yet another truth of the Catholic Faith: all religions ultimately lead to God. Many Catholics mistakenly believe this is an error. It is not.

Keep in mind that Jesus Christ is THE path to God - no one can come to the Father except through Christ. Likewise, the only way to fully know Christ is through the Catholic Church. But the point the Pope wanted to stress was simple: all roads lead to Rome.

Every pursuit of truth, no matter where it starts, if followed deeply enough, leads to Catholic Faith.

When I taught RCIA, I used the example of math to show how this worked.
When we are first learning math, we begin with arithmetic and progress through algebra, geometry, trig, calculus.

So, let us keep that in our hands as we recall some basic truths:
  1. All creation was made for, by and through Christ,
  2. The heavens, in fact, all created things, are telling the glory of God.
  3. Thus, anyone who starts to believe in God as a result of observing the natural world (as pagans do), has come to believe in God through the evidence provided by Jesus Christ.
That conclusion is a point of Catholic Faith. If you accept the first two points, you cannot deny the conclusion. Now, there are three ways to know God:
    1. Nature - the heavens are telling the glory of Christ. 
    2. The prophets - Adam, Abraham, Moses, etc.,
    3. Christ Himself. 
The natural world is not a person, so it doesn't explain much beyond "God exists and He rewards those who love Him." That's why pagan religions tend to have a lot of empty spots.

Prophets are persons, so they explain Who God is much more thoroughly, but like a matchmaker describing the Bridegroom to the Bride, even the prophets cannot explain all of it.

Ultimately, the Bride can only know the Bridegroom, through meeting Him. Only Christ Himself reveals the fullness of Himself.

Theology is formal science just like math. Since we have now laid out the basic truths, we can marry these truths to the formal science of math and see how all of it ties together:
  1. Pagans only understand the theological equivalent of arithmetic, and nothing beyond it.
  2. Islam is a haphazard conglomeration of Judaism, Christianity and paganism. It can get to theological algebra. It knows that God is All-Merciful, All-Compassionate. It knows that Mary is a sinless virgin mother. It knows Christ is sinless and the Judge on the Last Day. Islam knows that we are to submit ourselves totally to God, become a "slave of Christ" as Paul says, although Muslims would say "Allah" instead of Christ. But beyond these basics, Muslims cannot go. 
  3. The Jews understand geometry, they first gave us the theological measure of the universe. They know God is the Lawgiver, that God does not deceive, that He wants us to choose life, so that we and our descendants might live. Through the Jews, God revealed the importance of liturgy,  even though the Jewish liturgy was just "practice" and has no real effect. They taught us the central truth that is monotheism. 
  4. Non-liturgical Christians, like the Protestants, can do trigonometry. They know God is three Persons in one divine Substance, but they don't get any farther. They have two sacraments,baptism and marriage, but they don't understand very much about either of them. They don't understand liturgy at all. So, we can say they know a lot about triangles, but they don't know much about other geometric shapes or how everything fits together. 
  5. Liturgical Christians, such as the Eastern Orthodox and the Coptics, have access to the full spectrum of liturgical and sacramental life. Through the power of the seven sacraments, they plumb the measure of the infinite Godhead, doing the equivalent of single-variable calculus. That is, they understand how the Son works (to teach us), how the Spirit works (to sanctify us), but they don't fully understand how the Father works (to govern us).
  6. Only Catholics can plumb the divine infinity to its depth, only Catholics have mastered not only calculus but all the other branches of the theological spectrum as well. We understand, as fully as men can, the relations between the Father, Son and Spirit, we understand the full spectrum of how He has always intended to govern us (Father), to teach us (Son) and to sanctify us (Holy Spirit).
Thus, it is not that all the other religious faiths are wrong. Rather, none of the other faith systems can provide the comprehensive knowledge of Christ that only Catholic Faith can.

All religions, pursued deeply enough, lead to Catholic Faith.
The study of truth always leads to Truth.
Every ladder we climb, every road we walk, leads us to Rome.

That's why the Pope wants dialogue among religions. He wants the various peoples to help each other forward on the journey to Rome. We are supposed to help him get that done.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Porn and Rape

A lot of Catholic commentators want to connect porn and rape. I understand their wish, but it ain't happening.

Consider the facts:
On August 6, 1991, Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the World Wide Web project on the alt.hypertext newsgroup, inviting collaborators....By January 1993 there were fifty Web servers across the world; by October 1993 there were over five hundred... The Web was first popularized by Mosaic, a graphical browser launched in 1993 by Marc Andreessen's team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)...

Now, look at this:




Given the explosive growth of the internet and the access to free porn that it makes available (statistics here), can anyone honestly argue that the incidence of rape increases as porn use increases? Seriously?

Two of the greatest doctors of the Church would take issue with the argument many modern Catholics make. As St. Augustine pointed out, and St. Thomas Aquinas agreed:


“If you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust.”

Their opinion was given well before erotic imagery was widely available, yet their point seems to be borne out in today's rape-porn statistics. As porn use increases, rape decreases.


Sorry if you find this offensive, modern Catholics, but that appears to be the reality. Being Catholic is all about being in contact with reality. Stop pretending something is true when we know perfectly well it isn't.


If we, as Catholics, wish to argue against porn, we will have to find a better argument than "It causes rape!" Because it doesn't cause rape. In fact, it arguably reduces rape, as our own theologians predicted it would.