Thursday, April 28, 2011

What is left for people to do?

One of the great quandaries of the past few hundred years has been, what should all the people be doing?

First it was obvious. You had to eat after all, and it took most of the people working most of the time to make that happen. Most people worked on farms as they had for centuries. A few were hunter gatherers.

Then we started getting really good at farming. Now all of a sudden we didn't need so many people. So the people moved from farms to factories. Then we invented robots. The decline of manufacturing in America is not how most people portray it. It more closely resembles the decline of farming than, say the decline of the typewriter industry. It isn't that America doesn't make stuff anymore. We just don't need nearly the number of people to make all of that stuff now that CNC machines can do what a really good machinist was once needed for. So all of a sudden people had to find something else to do.

Standing behind a counter and taking people's money, selling things, taking care of kids and construction were good options people had. Now those jobs are slowly going the way of the farming jobs.

The last time I was at a movie theater I payed a machine rather than a person. The last time I got money from the bank it was from a machine rather than a person. The last time I bought a book it was from a machine rather than a person. I could easily have bought my food from the grocery store and the gas in my car from machines if I chose to do so. I don't even think it would be difficult to buy everything you use without ever interacting with a real person. So it seems clear that standing behind a counter to take people's money will not be a common career path in the near future.

Another one of the big career paths in the past was being a housewife. This career path seems to have been dying off as well. Smaller families and better home appliances turned that from a challenging full time profession requiring constant work, into watching television while you wait for the kids to come home from school. I don't envision millions of women returning to this way of life unless there are some very odd shifts in the world.

Now that so many people like me use the internet to research anything we want to buy, then simply buy it at the cheapest place possible sales jobs are becoming less common. While it is less publicized than some of the other careers there really is less and less place for salesmen in our modern society.

Construction is more complicated. It seems to have mostly collapsed because demand maxed out while raw material prices were high. I envision that it will come back as land prices get cheaper. However, once again we are getting really good at construction. More and more work is done in a factory by robots, than quickly assembled into a final product on site. Just like cashiers, factory workers and farmers we won't be needing as high a percentage of our population working on construction projects unless we decide to build a whole lot more ambitious projects than we ever have before.

There are still some professions that have grown. Research, health care and college education come to mind. Still, I have trouble seeing these professions getting much bigger. More likely it will be something completely new.

I don't actually believe that we are yet at a golden age of robot assisted utopia where no one must work. In the short term what seems to be happening is that a few people who are highly talented or just lucky enough to break into the job market are making out like bandits while everyone else plays World of Warcraft. This may very well continue, we have been inventing better and better entertainment devices which may lead to more and more people dropping out of the labor force to enjoy them. There has been a several hundred year history though where old jobs became obsolete and new ones rose in prominence though. I rather expect something more interesting than people just working less and playing video games more, but that really does seem a plausible future.

If we end up that we actually need less people to provide the necessities of life than ever before, than I am less and less concerned about taxes. If only a few million Americans are needed to keep the rest of us supplied with food, clothes, healthcare, housing and other necessities than the best thing to do may simply be to tax the heck out of those people and use to proceeds to employ the rest of the population to do something interesting and useful. Space travel and environmental mitigation sound like two good options. Unfortunately I see it being more likely that these people will be employed to spy on people, imprison people, go to war(another profession robots seem to be dominating), or just generally make more red tape to prevent the few million people actually doing work from being very efficient.

It appears that slate is going to have a series of articles about this very subject. The economist has a good article about America's inability to provide jobs to people without significant education.

Obama's Mother

I have long thought that children from teenage mothers did about as well as they would have done if they had older mothers. When honors students have babies while teenagers the kids do just fine, and when high school dropouts have kids they do no worse than they would have had the same mother had the kid a decade later.

What I didn't realize is that we have a particularly good example of this in America. Obama's mother was 18 when he was born. Was she two months younger and in present day California, Obama's father would have been charged with a felony.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Gary Johnson

I will probably vote for Obama this election. Not so much because I actually have so much agreement with him, although he certainly has done a few bills like the Credit Card one which I strongly supported. The Republicans have been horrible though. Since early in the Bush administration I have had a hard time relating with many of them. They have consistently managed to put money into the parts of the government that I dislike while ignoring parts that I like.

The best chance I have seen yet for the Republicans to change my mind is Gary Johnson. He strikes me as a rational Republican. Someone who actually means it when he says he supports small government, and isn't primarily interested in making parts of government that actually work smaller.

What I am really tired of is Republicans who shout for freedom one minute, than go screaming about how the terrorists will get us if we don't fund the TSA and bomb oil bearing desert countries! the druggies will get us if we don't lock up millions of poor people! Either support this being a free country, or cut the propaganda and admit you only support freedom for people who look and act like you. At least the liberals seem to be pretty honest that they support big government.

Gary Johnson seems to be getting some attention such as this article in The Atlantic, and this article in Slate. Unfortunately they all point out the obvious. Ron Paul will over shadow him and this is a shame. Ron Paul is much kookier and has much less executive experience. The odds of him getting elected are nil. Gary Johnson just might be mainstream enough to take Obama's support from people like me, while still maintaining support from more traditional Republicans.


The typical American family spends two thirds of their income on housing and transportation which really doesn't seem like a good way to lead an interesting life. Most of the cost of housing and transportation both seem to be going for status symbols.

Still, it is remarkable how hard it is to get myself to keep those expenses down. I would estimate that I am at about a third of my income going to these expenses and I have been either living with many people in a house or in a studio apartment.

It seems like my cheap car is starting to pay off though. Perhaps I can keep those expenses low. Since there is nothing better than reading an article I agree with I will pass on: The Joys of a $5000 used car

I really hope I don't crash this car anytime soon. I really would like to try and buy all automobiles with cash. Interest payments just seem like a really bad idea to me.

Already in the green.

I just saw something that surprised me in an article in The Atlantic:

"Anyone who sold their stocks when the crisis climaxed in the fall of 2008 would already be back in the green if they had held on."

I watched so many people sell off right after the crash. On occasion I tried to argue with them. What part of buy low, sell high don't these people understand?

Of course, I was arguing that early 2008 was a good time to be buying stocks. So I probably have been following more of a buy high, buy low, pretend you are going to sell in a few decades and everything will go up strategy. This seems justified to me though, at my age it would have been a good strategy for most of the past hundred years. Still as many people have pointed out to me, there is the chance this next century will be much different than the last. There is no fundamental reason stocks should always go up.

Friday, April 22, 2011

2 days, 2 divers.

Two abalone divers died in separate incidents in the past two days. It really is remarkable how high the death rate for the sport seems to be. I am unsure whether these were good divers facing shallow water blackout or novice divers who probably shouldn't have been outside of a swimming pool but either way it is pretty scary.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

No more money

The first week I was at Cornell, one of the professors told the entire PhD class that, unless they were an international student, they would be lowering their expected lifetime income by getting this degree. He was mostly laughed off by the students.

If this chart in nature is correct, he was on to something though. Six to ten years after getting their highest degree, people with and without PhDs make about the same income. I suspect it varies a lot by field though. Certain degrees like Economics probably do quite well; Humanities and biological sciences don't. In the case of Engineering, the Masters degree is just too well respected a degree. The advantage to a PhD is minor, while you may make more money you don't usually make up for the years of not being in the workforce..

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Another 100 year housing price graph

A blog on The Atlantic has a nice graph of housing prices. I am inclined to agree with their dotted red line for housing prices.

Friday, April 15, 2011

diagnosed as a nerd

It is remarkable to me how hard psychologists have been trying to make being a little dorky into a disease. First we had to constantly hear about Asperger's now apparently we can add schizotypal personality disorder to that list.

Why we are fat

There are a ton of hypotheses as to why Americans suddenly started gaining so much weight in about 1980. Some are obviously silly, our genes haven't changed much since 1980 for example so most of the gain is environmental.

The New York Times had two good articles though on two of the more plausible ideas: We eat too much sugar, we sit too much.

If I was smart, I would put my computer at a desk I can't sit at.

Monday, April 4, 2011

LCD Soundsystem

Every so often there are bands that I know I am supposed to like. I hear from fanatical music people how great they are. LCD Soundsystem is one of these bands. I know many people who seem to think they are a great band, yet I never bothered listening to much of them. Since they(or really he) seems to be winding down, I figured I would listen to some of their music. Not sure he will do anything about the perception that no good music has been produced in the past decade, but he at least tries:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Too many leaves

I don't know that I will make it to the end of the day eating nothing but leaves. This is a shockingly difficult adventure I chose. I am both completely full, and really hungry at the same time. I can't fit anything else in my stomach, but by my best guess I have only eaten 500-800 Calories.

At least I cooked most of them, so I shouldn't die.

More good news

Traffic Fatalities have hit their lowest levels in decades. The number of deaths on the road last year was 34,000. In 1972 it was 54,000. The last time the total number of people killed from cars was this low was 1949!When you account for the fact the average American drives more today and the population is larger; driving is about a quarter as dangerous as it was forty years ago.

Crime rates this year in LA are about 12% lower than they were last year at this time. This is all the more shocking since this comes on the tail of a twenty year drop in crime rates.

These two stories will have more impact on life expectancies than most medical advances. Car accidents and murders are some of the bigger killers of young people.

On the economic front, 216,000 net jobs were created last month. One of the few months where job growth has exceeded population growth since the crash happened in 2008. We still need this number to increase to 400,000 or 500,000 for this to really put a dent in the job losses of the past few years, but we are clearly moving in the right direction.

Dandelion Greens

Dandelion greens are nearly inedible. I tried eating them raw. That failed. So I cooked a few with kale and spinach. I was able to eat the couple of leaves I cooked, but just barely. I may have to give up on eating only leaves, and make the goal only leaves and balsamic vinegar. Wow is it hard to just eat greens.

I feel sick

I woke up this morning and noticed that my pants are once again getting too small for me. The reasons for this are obvious. When I cook for myself, I lose weight. When I eat out, or someone else cooks a lot for me I gain weight. I have had way too much food from restaurants in the past few weeks.

So, I decided that I should try to eat nothing but leaves today. My best guess is that Americans would be a lot lighter if they ate more greens. While getting more sleep, sitting less, and many other hypotheses for the great fattening of America make some sense as well, low calorie density foods have a really good case for them.

So I ate my radish sprouts for breakfast. It is really hard to eat a whole package of radish sprouts. It is almost as hard as when I tried to eat that entire purple korean radish all at once. But I got to the end of it.

Then I went to a grocery store and a farmers market. I bought: two types of Cabbage, two types of Lettice, Parsley, Watercress, Dandelion Greens, Leeks, Kale and Spinach.

I then tried to eat the red cabbage raw for lunch. I ate until I felt sick, and I am still feeling hungry. Sarah's eggs smell really good. We will see if this grand experiment makes it to the end of the day.