Monday, June 19, 2017

Everything Changes; wonder what's next?

The end of the automobile industry and the global oil industry predicted by economic and industry modeling.  This fellow (Tony Seba) describes the progression of technology, industry, and consumption according to what we've seen so far, and he's perhaps right about what's ahead.  We've been surprised before.

  • “I do not believe the introduction of motor-cars will ever affect the riding of horses.” Scott-Montague, 1903 
  • In 1900 NYC was filled with horses and buggies, they were essential.  It took about a decade and a half to replace 95% of them with automobiles.
  • “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olson, 1977   😀 We know how that turned out.
  • Landline telephones were in every home when the first clunky mobile phone was marketed in the 80's.  AT&T's 15-year prediction said there would be perhaps 900,000 customers for mobile phones.  There were 109 million.  They missed the actual number by 120x.  In 2014, the number of mobile devices exceeded world population, 7+ billion.
  • Mixing computer things with telephone things would never be popular according to most industry participants.  Then came smartphones ...
  • And ... Apple's $600 smart phone would never be popular according to business analysts.
  • Electric vehicles are 5x-10x more energy efficient than their fossil fuel competitors, they have fewer moving parts and are more reliable, maintainable, and cost effective.  What happens when Uber moves to autonomous (self-driving) electric vehicles?  What happens when an integrated EV can power your home for a day or two?
Such changes in the consumer culture are not trends, they're disruptions.  Changes over time are often portrayed as linear, straight-line changes that advance predictably, a little each year.  Reality is otherwise, and there's a driving factor -- population.

Population growth continues as does urbanization. Consider the changes that might trigger in the marketplace.

Our centralized power grid is costly and inefficient.  I wonder what will change.
Our healthcare industry is clumsy and expensive.  Our transportation industry is inordinately complex and costly.  Our mega-super-store model is inefficient, and so are our shopping malls.  Our banking industry is crooked as a dog's hind leg.  Our international trade mechanisms are proven to be deadly.  I wonder what will change.

It's worth noting that everything changes, often rapidly.  Except truth; that doesn't change.  What's right and fair doesn't change, but literally everything else does.

Had a recent Skype call with a young African friend.  When we first met just a few years ago, he and his family were unreachable without mail or phone service.  Now he and many of the rest are on Facebook.  😎  What do these changes mean to our rapidly evolving cultures?

If politicians are smart, they'll perhaps get out of the way and take credit for the improvements.  🤣

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What's hard about life?

This young fellow came to the teacher and asked what he needed to do to finish well.  He was told to love God and obey the rules.  The guy said he'd done all of that, and the teacher told him to prove it, but he couldn't or perhaps wouldn't.  His wealth and position, it seems, had tainted everything in his thinking, his view of himself, his comfort and luxury and future, and he couldn't imagine changing course to a better purpose.

It's hard, the teacher said, for a rich person to finish well. Really hard. Later, the teacher's friends were struggling to understand.  "If that rich fellow can't do it, how can we or anyone?"   There is a way, but it's perhaps not obvious once wealth and class intrude.


Now if it turns out we're supposed to choose something more, something above self and wealth, what is it?

Just to put things in context, the rich young ruler was at the top of the food chain.  He had position and influence, income and security, pretty much everything he would need for a good long life.  Only a few folks were well off like him and his family.  Apparently, that can be an impediment.

Regular folks have no wealth.  They count on a little business, a successful crop, a healthy herd for getting by day to day.  Kind of like subsistence farmers, perhaps, or the village fisherman of developing countries.  When they pray, "give us this day, bread ...," it's probably for real.

Okay, so we're encouraged to help the poor, the hungry ...  but there's that larger part, we're supposed to follow the teacher.  That's the goal.

It can be extraordinarily difficult to fit the framework of traditional religion on today's world.
"We’re the physical evidence, the tangible proof on this planet that God is good. There’s no higher calling, and there’s no greater truth." -Graham Cooke

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ed vs Ad

If we spent as much effort on education as we do on advertising, imagine how well informed we might be.

Education consists of information and context, objectivity and principles considered.  Tedious but necessary for an honest life.

Advertising consists of presentation for quick persuasion, exclusion of alternatives, and hiding the real cost.  It's a business strategy to control our choices and product loyalty whether it's fast food or fast news.

There is little education available via the mainstream media.  Objective reporting has been generally removed from modern journalism, and not for the first time in history.

Do your own analysis.  Watch for the 'poison pills'.
  • BECAUSE - Commentary including the word 'because' often assigns a motive to someone.
        "He did this because he hoped to ...."
    Attributing a motive allows the commentator to define the character and integrity of an individual without any evidence other than their own preferential interpretation of events.  
    • Motivation cannot be so simply assigned.  Doing so is extraordinarily inaccurate, always.
    • What I think you think is not as useful as we hoped.  
  • RESTATING the alternate interpretation - confident reiteration of false information will often persuade.
      "His testimony completely vindicates our ...," is one side's preferred interpretation.
        "The testimony unveils even deeper collusion between ...," is another side's preferred interpretation of the same event.
    If you follow the news on your favorite media, you'll likely believe the biased version offered without legitimate reason for doing so.

  • EMOTIONAL APPEAL - an emotionally charged presentation of the news (product) attempts to engage us in their favor.  Simple statements about complex issues are easy to bend.
    "He met with the Russians!  He's a traitor!"  "She tried to delete her classified emails!  She's a traitor!"
    The issues are more complex, and the simple, emotionally charged presentation tends to reinforce bias rather than inform.  The technique is designed to engage and satisfy a particular market segment.
  • VISUAL APPEAL - mega-millions spent on advertising and neuromarketing target our children and us to sell us their product.  From a sexy book cover to a cute dog driving a car to a fun clown with fast food, what we're offered by the media is persuasion, not information.

 Teach your children well.  And yourself - if you don't fully understand the position of those who think differently, you're perhaps uneducated and somewhat biased without adequate cause.  We desperately need objectivity and principle in discussions today, and it's a difficult battle, one for which our children must be equipped.  
As my wife would suggest, don't be an idiot.     

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Trillion Dollars

We've spent that much on LBJ's war on poverty, or maybe more.*  When Johnson was president, the national poverty rate was about 23% (Census Bureau figures).   It's about 13.5% now, but more people are in poverty because of our population growth.  We've fluctuated between 10% and 15% for fifty years.

We've spent a lot on the war.  How did we do? Our effort centered around four pieces of legislation:
• The Social Security Amendments of 1965, which created Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits for retirees, widows, and the disabled, financed by an increase in the payroll tax cap and rates.
• The Food Stamp Act of 1964, which made food assistance, at the time only a pilot program, permanent.
• The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which established the Job Corps, the VISTA program, the federal work-study program and a number of other initiatives. It also established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the arm of the White House responsible for implementing the war on poverty and which created the Head Start program.
Household wealth distribution; household income figures are similar.
• The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, signed into law in 1965, which established the Title I program subsidizing school districts with a large share of impoverished students, among other provisions. ESEA has since been reauthorized, most recently in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Actually, it worked, but did it work well?  
Many do find their way out of poverty each year, and many enter.  Common detrimental circumstances are a change in head of household, job loss, unexpected health-care costs, and the decline in value of wages over the years.  
The intent of our war was to help folks rise out of poverty to self-sufficiency.  Was there any downside to our efforts?  Do the programs need to be reviewed and regularly refined.  Yes, certainly.  We're the world's wealthiest nation, yet more than 20% of our children still live in poverty.  

Impediments to progress:  
  • Businesses count on public assistance for their low-paid employees. Walmart, as an example, costs the community around $1 million per year for each super-center because of their labor practices and low wages. Referred to as 'corporate welfare' by many, the company depends on federal assistance for their employees; it's part of a common business model.  
  • According to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the federal minimum wage would be $21.72 per hour if it had kept pace with increases in productivity since 1968. Those increases have raised incomes for the wealthy alone, not for the workforce.
  • Wages for the lower 80% have stagnated or declined.  The minimum wage is worth 20% less than it was fifty years ago.
  • Real college costs are up 800% since 1965 when a summer at minimum wage would pay for it.  At $1.44 trillion, student loans now exceed auto loans and credit card debt.
  • Health-care costs have risen similarly, more in our country than others.  As costs increase without commensurate gains in income, families fall down the ladder.
Imagine the opportunities available to the wealthiest quintile compared to the rest.  Imagine the differences in education and employment available to those same groups.  Our hope is to make it at least fair, to open doors for everyone.
Image may contain: 11 people, people standing
   Everyone needs a hand.  I was particularly impressed by one wealthy fellow. He has spent $11 million so far. Harris Rosen, the Orlando-based founder of Rosen Resorts and Hotels, adopted a Florida neighborhood called Tangelo Park, cut the crime rate in half, and increased the high school graduation rate from 25 per cent to nearly 100 per cent. He did it by helping, by providing needed daycare, and funding scholarships for high school graduates.
A successful businessman, he's done well for his own family and for others. He has funded teachers and preschools, tutoring projects, and much more. Helping others is part of his lifestyle.

Imagine how different it might be if every Wall Street player and billionaire CEO understood such things.  And perhaps the rest of us, too.


*Estimates for the war's cost vary, depending on your methods, up to fifteen trillion (Paul Ryan), and more.  Opponents include in the total the outlays of Social Security and Medicare (for which we pay) as though it was the 'government's money' being spent.   Retirees and others receiving Social Security are described as receiving 'welfare benefits'.  Do your own detailed inquiry.

See Apples and Oranges for another look.

Monday, June 5, 2017

What Nature Provides

Suppose we lived on this tiny island with palm trees and beaches, fruit and fishing, and suppose we depended on a rain barrel for fresh water.  
Rainfall accumulation greater than or equal to our water needs means we'll have enough.    RA ≥ WN = OK
Rainfall accumulation less than water needs means some will not.

That's an obviously simplistic introduction to the question of sustainable existence. Nature replenishes what resources it can, but there are limits.  We store what surplus (wealth) we can, but there are limits there as well.

The natural cause-vs-effect is mathematically predictable. In a finite system such as an island or a planet, resources and consumption can be mapped over time.  The system will progress toward equilibrium or toward exhaustion.

Human and nature dynamics: Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies

Safa Motesharrei -- School of Public Policy and Department of Mathematics, University
of Maryland; National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)
Jorge Rivas -- Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota; Institute of
Global Environment and Society (IGES)
Eugenia Kalnay -- Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science; Institute of 
Physical Science and Technology, University of Maryland

The same modeling can be applied to arable land use, water, forestry, fishing, pollution, toxic waste, population density, and inequality between elite and commoners.

Texas Senator Troy Fraser says, “The health and safety of the public overrides both industrial and environmental issues.”  

The senator is speaking about the Colorado River that flows through Austin, the state capital that is almost entirely reliant on the river for water. There is a competition among farmers, tourism, residents, and fishermen for the river's water. Rainfall has become sporadic in recent years, and the river's threshold for sustainability has been passed. For central Texas, now comes the choice of who gets the water.  Much is at stake.  What might the outcome be?

There are limits in every finite system.  Beyond the basics of consumption, the first critical variable is population size. Efficiencies of use will determine how much is wasted. Inequality will amplify risk for the majority.  Climate change introduces an additional variable.

Fortunately, there are solutions to each problem,
but you can't fix what you don't acknowledge.  

We'll perhaps need a more comprehensive discussion than we've managed so far.
The debate continues among scientists and interested observers, of course.  This isn't the first time doomsday criers have filled the air with dire predictions.  It continues to be difficult to extract objectivity from it all.  Meanwhile, things continue to change.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Tipover Point

In a pleasant conversation on sustainability economics, the question came up -- is there a tip-over point we should be watching for?  Good question.  😏
  • Is there a critical threshold ...
    • For population?
    • For arable land use?
    • For fresh water consumption?  
Well, yes. And we've perhaps passed each of those thresholds already.

Humanity’s demand for goods and services exceeds the resources our ecosystems can continue to provide. We first exceeded this limit in 1970 when population was just over half of what it is now.

Our ecological footprint is a measure of the amount of land required to sustain a country’s consumption patterns, including the land required to provide the resources people use (most importantly food and forest products), the area occupied by infrastructure, and the area required to absorb CO2 emissions. The measure also takes imports into account, so that the negative environmental impact of products is considered where these are consumed rather than where they are produced. 

Reasonable estimates suggest that each person can sustainably use 1.8 global hectares for a one-planet life.  Today though, we extract resources faster than they are regenerated. At the current levels of population, consumption, and waste, humankind needs about 1.6 Earth-like planets to sustain everyone's lifestyle.  Any improvements we attempt become progressively more difficult as quality of life issues compete for resources.

High-consumption countries have become examples of wealth out of balance – they do well on life expectancy and well-being, perhaps, but they maintain their lifestyle with an unsustainable ecological footprint, larger per capita than other countries in the world. It would require perhaps five Earth-like planets to sustain this way of life if everyone lived at their high-consumption level.  Lifestyle comes at a cost. 

How soon will this be visibly intrusive in the marketplace, in international relations, in our quality of life?  We're well past that threshold as well.

Did you know that China is buying huge swaths of land in Africa for farming? And in the U.S. and France. Saudi Arabia owns and farms large areas in California and Arizona because it's cheaper to use U.S. water reserves than their own.  Australia recently blocked China from buying a farm the size of Kentucky.  Food is expected to replace oil as the marketplace centerpiece for the 21st century.

As for the developing nations, what room is left for their improvement in quality of life?  Do your own inquiry.  This is one of perhaps several issues our children and grandchildren will view differently than we do today.