Industry 4.0

Call it the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” or the more hip “Industry 4.0” if you like. What matters most is that industry, or the process of making things, is changing in ways that seem fundamental and permanent. The world is moving on to a new era which, difficult as times like this can be to understand, appears to be rather well defined and describable.

If you do a deep dive into Industry 4.0, however, there is still something missing. It’s the “why” of the process which seems to be at least assumed, if not elusive. Not just why it is happening, but why it is being driven now and why it is expected to cast aside Industry 3.0.

What’s missing in the increasing chatter of Industry 4.0 appears to be the fundamental force behind it, which is the decline of what we might call “capitalism” in favor of a purely market centered, low overhead “marketism” approach.

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Inflation is Hip

Inflation is certainly surging, it remains to be seen how much of a problem that is. What we do know is that some regions of the nation, particularly cities where businesses have embraced technology, are surging ahead quickly. Some a bit too quickly.

In a nation already divided, the success of some cities is only accelerating the divide. If they become too successful their high cost may ultimately slow growth. But for now, the benefits of the recovery are heavily centered on a few places.

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Other People’s Money

The stock market is high. What gets a market feelin’ good and oblivious to everything around it is a powerful drug, one that has the ability to cloud judgement like nothing else. The opium of markets is OPM, or Other People’s Money.

Where the stock market should be feeling blue and dealing with the realities of a world unraveling with trade wars and debt, it’s taken another course. It’s decided to just get high the best way it can. In that state of euphoria none of that other stuff matters, and everything is good. We have plenty of OPM to go around.

Right now, the stock market has a serious OPM crisis that very few people are talking about.

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Risk and Reward

The basis of any capitalist or free market system is risk analysis. Every investment, whether in time or capital or short-term inventory is made based on the potential reward for success and the potential risk of failure. Because these events happen in the future, confidence or anxiety often play a large role in the process.

Generally speaking, it’s all about the availability of the critical resource being invested. People with nothing left to lose often put their time into a project because their time is all they have. Capital markets flush with cash are often looking for places that will give them a big return. Yet in all of these cases, emotions eventually become important.

Lately, nerves are raw. Investment? You gotta be kidding.

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Redefining Work

A busy day calls for a repeat. This piece from two years ago demands a revisit in light of the potential for inflation now that we are approaching full employment and wages are indeed rising.

Is technology a net creator or destroyer of jobs? The question is as old as the Industrial Revolution, when workers in mills found themselves put out of work by large industrial looms. In France, they threw their shoes (sabots) into the weaving machines to destroy them – the origin of the term “sabotage”. The protests didn’t stop the machines, however, and the workers had to find something else to do in an ever-changing economy where machines did more and more work.

Today, the pace of technological change is faster than ever, with new gadgets coming into our lives constantly. Automation is also transforming our lives, with new robots and artificial intelligence replacing workers constantly. Are today’s productivity gains tomorrow’s unemployment? Increasingly those who study technology in our lives and the popular media are coming to the conclusion that yes, workers are net losers in the race against tech. And this is not a partisan issue.

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Global System to the Test

It’s become popular in the politics of many nations to re-think free trade and globalism. Many people believe that something has gone terribly wrong and, for many reasons, politicians typically point to foreigners or a faceless “global order” as the problem.

This belief is not limited to the US by any means. It ranges from a sense of discomfort to a belief in “fair trade, not free trade” to outright sneering at “globalists”. Is there something wrong in the global order?

The short answer is yes, but the long answer is incredibly long and, interestingly enough, green on the back.

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The Storms Behind, The Storms Ahead

How many disasters can we take at once? The short answer is that while the US is continuing to rebound nicely as the economy restructures, it’s still a very delicate process. Unemployment is low in much of the nation, or at least a lot lower than we have seen for a long time. But the process is uneven, bypassing rural areas and older workers unable or unwilling to essentially start over with entirely new careers.

Upsets like major storms are enough to put the whole process in jeopardy, especially when there are two right in a row. This should be the year when everything changes, but it hasn’t been working very well. A lack of leadership and a general sense of drift isn’t helping us take off. The storms? Big enough for a solid recession, without a doubt.

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