Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Q&A - 17/5

Larry Summers

I think [Bill Gates] went seriously astray in a recent interview when he proposed, without apparent irony, a tax on robots to cushion worker dislocation and limit inequality. The Microsoft co-founder is right about the gravity of the problem and need for action, but he is profoundly misguided in his proposed solution — and in ways that point up problems with the current public debate.


A robot tax is like taxing companies for using Microsoft Word because MS Word potentially displacing jobs of secretaries.. What kind of convoluted logic is this? I think Gates is truly scared ppl will come for his money one day, in the context of a redistributive scheme.


People are seriously deluded if think they can have healthcare without subsidies or individual mandates.


And out of these two choices, subsidization is far better. You can't force people to have insurance. Governments provide insurance, even to f**ing tourists visiting a country briefly (for basic care), lifting the burden from businesses, individuals (who are becoming small businesses themselves), so not only is everyone insured for life, government can now better negotiate with drug / care providers with its immense purchasing power. Even after Obamacare US is still spending an inordinate amount on healthcare. Individual mandates are stupid, countries doing it must drop it ASAP. Follow Canada, Australia. Insurance companies can bitch and moan, but governments are responsible for the welfare of their citizens, not the welfare of insurance companies.

Another reason for SPH is that people's expectations from insurance does not neatly fit into free-market philosophy. Health is not like buying ketchup. This reminds me a This American Life episode: An interviewee said "With pets, I think we're used to the idea that they're going to die at some point. We all have that stop treatment level. And that alone will probably keep spending from getting too out of hand. But if my wife gets in a car accident, or my kids, my stop treatment level? It doesn't exist. I want that insurance company to meet me at the hospital loading dock with a truck full of money. ".

Tim Bray

[On why he doesn't believe in Blockchain technology that powers Bitcoin]  I’m an old guy: I’ve seen wave af­ter wave of landscape-shifting tech­nol­o­gy sweep through the IT space: Per­son­al com­put­er­s, Unix, C, the In­ter­net and We­b, Java, REST, mo­bile, pub­lic cloud. And with­out ex­cep­tion, I ob­served that they were ini­tia­ly load­ed in the back door by geek­s, with­out ask­ing per­mis­sion, be­cause they got shit done and helped peo­ple with their job­s.

That’s not hap­pen­ing with blockchain. Not in the slight­est. Which is why I don’t be­lieve in it.

A welcome if conservative slant

I guess the issue is that what bitcoin and blockchain is trying to do is so huge - that's why IMO the Web comparison is unfair. With the net the geeks could make immediate difference with some "soft" stuff, the infrastructure (the protocols, the backbone, standards) was already there. A better comparison in this area would be between blockchain and the internet itself.

This Bray comment reminded me an earlier comment of his many years ago, on cloud services, when he said (paraphrasing) "that people make a big deal out of creating virtual machines (with no additional software, only simple OS, u have to install more on top) on the Net, but the real action would be cloud companies offering additional software / framework services on top of hardware". What is the difference? With the latter, say, software for generating web pages is decided for you (by Google, Amazon), developer writes his components against this framework, simplifying deployment / scaling of code.

So this was a nice little contrarian / conservative comment at the time, apparently Bray's "schtick". However, fast forward to today, while it is true a lot of ppl use these prepackaged solutions, Amazon, the oldest player in cloud services still makes its mint through the "bare naked machine" service. There is more freedom there that programmers, IT professionals like.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


The Conversation


Work today is gasping for breath: labor force participation by men ages 25–54 has fallen 10 percent from a peak of 98 percent in the 1950s. Official measures of unemployment understate the severity of today’s crisis by not including those who have given up trying to find work. [..] Just look at the example of longshoremen as documented in the new podcast Containers.

Meanwhile a great deal of work valued by our society is poorly paid, such as eldercare, childcare, and teaching. In all, the present state of work in America is a mess. [..]

There are many mistaken ideas of what a basic income might solve. Some people believe it would solve inequality but, all other things being equal, it would barely trim the edges of the wealth gap. Others believe it would solve poverty. If poverty were only a matter of money in the bank, that might be true.

Rogers emphasizes the moral economy of work, saying, “we need a vision of good work.” Put plainly, a basic income might fill our wallets while it fails to fill our days. It will fail to provide for goods that both the public sector and private markets struggle to provide, such as health care, education, and housing. It will fail to balance power.

But what power must we balance? The power of the firm? It is unclear whether, in the future, firms will be more or less powerful on average than today. In fact, while the biggest firms are getting bigger, the average size of firms is falling (as is the rate of new firm formation). It is unclear whether the power of all firms is a problem worth solving—or if it is simply a problem of those firms that are monopolies or otherwise distortive of markets.

The long-term employment relationship between a firm and an employee has carried so much of society’s load: the purpose of a job for an individual, the stability of an income for a family, health benefits, even camaraderie. Whether that relationship is fraying is also unclear. So the need for stronger collective bargaining seems unclear—other than the form of collective bargaining we see now, in our very biggest collective, which is citizen influence on the government.

What is clear is that the typical American no longer has a fair shot at providing for an ordinary life. Many people would like to work more, if only predictable work with fair wages were available, but for the first time on record, the rich now spend more time working than the poor. Many are afraid they will be unable to provide for their loved ones and almost half would be unable to pay an unexpected expense of $400. That fear might be provoking extreme behavior (including tolerance of white nationalism). Our hunger for stability is innate.

The biggest ill a basic income might heal is fear.

With a basic income, a spouse can leave a domestic abuse situation. With a basic income, a writer might write, an actor might act, and our culture might reflect the breadth of our peoples’ lived experiences. With a basic income, an entrepreneur might put a few dollars into opening a family business.

And, with a basic income, yes, some might use more opioids. But for every person who does that, many more will make their families proud.

Going forward, many professions will require a degree of personal motivation much greater than the “show up and do the job” seats many fill today. Work is noble when it is necessary.

So in addition to raising the economic floor with a basic income or an alternative to it, we need to promote the skills and mindset needed for anyone to become (if she or he chooses) a “firm of one.” Self-employment would provide an alternative to employment at a big firm, and as the costs of doing business fall in many industries, the “firm of one” becomes more economically productive. It also seems clear that our society will continue to need many forms of work for which there is no payer willing to provide an ordinary life for the paid.

Many towering questions remain. How do we reconcile a basic income with American values of earning one’s way? Can we create a multicultural, inclusive society that also treats its least well off with generosity? Can we sell all this politically? How should we pay for it? What government benefits might it replace? How should we design it? Is basic income like ice cream, where it will be good in any flavor? Or like mushrooms, where the difference between one variety and another is life and death?

But the conversation is happening now. If we do raise the economic floor in America, it will likely take decades to agree on a new way. In the coming years work will shift. Our families may hold together differently. Our politics might take a ninety-degree turn. We need to honor those who do necessary work for which they are unpaid or underpaid. We struggle to predict the future, so we must prepare for it and address the crisis we already face today.


True. There are some errant culture codes that get in the way of providing relief for society; In US the culture code for work is WHO YOU ARE - work confers (or so it is believed) an identity on people, which is bunk. Cultures are full of such hot air - they need to be cleansed thoroughly before any rational decision can be made. You see a person drive a 4 x 4 off-road SUV, in Manhattan (not Montana, Manhattan New York), there is probably a cultural virus is in play. Or when people associate money with PROOF (of a person's value, status, etc), health with MOVEMENT, or quality being equated with something "just working".

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

En Marche !

Very cool.. Totally psyched for France.