Labor Creates All Wealth

As Democrats contemplate the possibility of losing the Senate, there are many ways we can handle it.  We could all sit in the back and throw stuff, much as the Republicans did for the last few years.  We could turn on each other and rip our own guts out in a festival of shame and blame.  Or, if we’re intent on really standing up to our principles, we can use this time away from being the responsible ones and understand what it is that we, as a party really stand for.

We have a lot to offer if we can only get it together for once.  But I, for one, think it’s going to take a much deeper understanding of our core values and what is really happening around us before we can make it happen.

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A Can’t Lose War He Can’t Fight

Russian troops have invaded Ukraine, this is not in question. Whether or not they have the official sanction of Russia itself or are merely “on vacation” fighting for a good cause is up to the reader to decide. The main contention so far is what exactly Putin is doing by playing a very silly game by trying to invade without invading, telling the world a fairly transparent fairy tale that no one believes

I think that the key question has to lie in Putin’s head, which is to say how he is responding to the forces on him. That requires a lot of speculation in the absence of any good information. Good reporters (and bloggers) don’t go deep into speculation, so if you don’t want to read this I’ll understand. But it seems that Putin is eyeballs deep into a war he can’t lose but also can’t fight.

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Player Piano

Kurt Vonnegut’s 1952 novel “Player Piano” was more than his first. It was arguably the first “dystopian utopia” novel of a world carefully described and proscribed for everyone involved. Those with technical degrees were the masters of the carefully planned world, and the rest either joined the army or worked for the “Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps” building infrastructure. Government took care of everyone, but not all were happy. Rebellion steeped under the calm surface in both the working class and the unchallenged rulers.

It’s hard to not think of such a world when reading “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs” from the Pew Research Center and Elon University. A survey of 1,896 experts in technical areas were asked what they thought the future world of employment might look like – how much automation might displace workers and how many jobs it might create. The results read something like Vonnegut imagined – enough so that a little anxiety about the next economy is justified.

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Labor in a (Jackson) Hole

The Federal Reserve of Kansas City puts on the big event every year – and why not throw a big party when your territory includes Jackson Hole, Wyoming? This year’s production concluded after presentations and official pronouncements from all the top central bankers of the world – Mario Drahgi of the European Central Bank (ECB), Haruhiko Kuroda of the Bank of Japan (BOJ), and our own Janet Yellen. It’s a must-see event if you want a front row seat for the big show of policy changes among the most powerful people in the world.

This year, the theme was “Re-Evaluating Labor Market Dynamics”, and the power players from around the world made it clear that nothing is going to change in the near future. If that sounds like the biggest let-down for a big show ever, you’re right. The Fed never intended for this to be a huge theatrical spectacular. It’s a place for central bankers to get together and agree on things. And what they agreed on, more than anything, is that in the developed world there is nothing more important than figuring out just how much “slack” there is in labor markets and how to take it up.

But it’s more exciting than it seems if you want to predict what will happen in the next year.

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When Great Force Becomes Easy

The still summer evening was suddenly ripped apart by the heavy THWUP!-THWUP!-THWUP! of helicopters. In this part of St Paul copters are common enough as small emergencies across the state hurry themselves to nearby United Hospital. But this sound was different. It was heavy, immediate, and amplified by three of them flying low enough to sneak up on the otherwise placid city.

Then there was the shape. Medivac copters are small and light, but these were large and olive drab. Several low passes later they were joined by another sound, a gentle whoosh that might have been less disturbing had I not had the knowledge that this is what a Blackhawk sounds like.

Last Tuesday St Paul was the host to an unannounced training mission in urban warfare that included Navy Seals. Why? No one has been told why they did it here. Before, after, and during we all know essentially nothing. Our cities are being militarized and shown tremendous force behind a cloak of secrecy that is inappropriate – and naturally falls on the most vulnerable citizens of our community. But Ferguson, Missouri is hardly alone.

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Six (more) Things Schools Should Teach

In Junior High I had a class on typing. We meandered to a windowless room full of the clickety-crunch churn of IBM Selectric typewriters, set out in rows on tables. Each had the solid ca-CHUNK keys that let you know that you hit one, even when you became proficient and fast on the things.

It seems like it was the era of the dinosaurs describing it to kids today. They’ve never even seen such a device.

But as antique as it seems, the training was important. I was ready to pick up a computer keyboard and move ahead when they became standard. Like the use of cc: to mean “carbon copy” on an email, the old system trained me well for what was to come next. Old ways often form a bedrock for learning in a world that is redefining itself all the time.

Here is a short list of items I think that we should continue to teach in schools, antique as they may seem. Many simply became lost in the desire to goose standardized test scores, which is pathetic.  These are not only still relevant, they may become moreso in surprising ways in the years ahead. And that may point to new ways to teach them, too.

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The Opportunity Cost

You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.  It’s a silly old saying with a huge dollop of folk wisdom hidden in the middle of it.  But money spent is sometimes more than just money gone – in an integrated world it’s a choice to make one connection when another one might have been a better choice.

Rather than just measure how much money is going in and out, it might be better to understand what we could buy with the same money.  The technical term for this is “Opportunity Cost”, or what we give up by making the choices we do.

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