Sunday, September 28, 2014

In favor of a sustainable living wage

Right now we're living through a time of massive imbalance in the global labor market. The number of people who are available for work outsourced from around the globe has exploded and continues to grow larger. This is happening because poor economic policies are in retreat in the developing world and pro-globalization policy adoption remains high, continually feeding more and more people from India, China, and smaller developing nations into the global labor market as they walk down the path of converting their farmer/peasant heavy populations to first world levels. This massive imbalance has created a market signal reducing salaries below living wage levels at the bottom end of the labor market. Until that signal resolves in increased demand for labor, it leaves more people stuck in dead-end rural situations, urban workforces constantly in emergency mode, trying to scrape by, and lower standards of living for virtually everybody who is a worker all over the world.

There is a way to create a living wage consistent with free market principles. I call it the sustainable living wage. It's based on the idea that increasing the demand for labor and reducing the supply of labor both cause a natural rise in wages that need not be artificially mandated by legislation, and is not subject to evasion by paying people a lower wage "under the table". In a sustainable living wage environment, workers have better things to do than play black market games with skinflint employers. Down the road, somebody else is paying better.

A living wage based on forcing, by law, employers to raise wages beyond the market clearing price will, over time, always lead to substituting capital for labor and other methods of getting around the law such as falsely reporting working time and hiring "under the table". It also promotes acceptance of inflation in the employing class as that erodes the economic penalty of minimum wages. Inflation is probably the worst economic blow that an otherwise normal government can strike against the poor while calculating that it won't get called out for it.

A sustainable living wage, in order to be sustainable, must not create these perverse labor substitution incentives for employers which is what too often happens with traditional efforts to raise a minimum wage to a living wage. In the real world either the rise is so small as to be ineffective at its stated goals or it prompts employers to take a look at substituting capital for labor. When this substitution effect happens, a minimum wage practically acts as an indirect legal subsidy for machinery manufacturers, throwing more work their way and tossing lower end workers out of a job. These indirect subsidies are social injustice writ large.

The other side of the coin is reducing the supply of labor. This is about increasing the supply of people who make some or all their money as capitalists. It also implies moving from a small number of very wealthy investors to a large number of relatively well off people as the capital source for businesses. It means taking some money and succeeding in actively investing it for a profit to the point where it can substitute for some of your labor income, allowing you to shift from full time membership in the laboring class to being a part time capitalist, part time worker and eventually full time capitalist.

Necessarily, this also means reducing labor force participation in a good way. Economic prognosticators are going to need a better metric to not only capture whether labor force participation is changing but why it is changing. The person that reduces their hours from full to part time because they're making up the difference and more in loan interest they're lending out to others right now looks the same as the person that has their hours reduced by their employer because they want to avoid costly benefit obligations. That's a very small chunk of the labor force right now in the upper middle class. It will grow in the future.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Flipping the party

Republicans are used to unfair hit pieces that blow mistakes up into evidence of conscious evil. New York's Mayor de Blasio is likely less accustomed. Apparently he's part of a line of lefty animal killers:

Yet another defenseless creature was slaughtered by a left-wing politician, the New York Post revealed on Thursday. Adorable groundhog Staten Island Chuck was “chucked” to his death during an appearance with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a raging liberal, back in February. Officials sought to cover up the creature’s demise, so as not to fuel public outrage over the disturbing trend of liberal politicians murdering cute animals. They even lied about the true identity of the victim.
 We're still in the field of good clean fun mocking the phenomenon. The number of low information voters fooled into taking this seriously as evidence in a left-wing war on animals is likely to be very low. We are, however edging towards it not being a joke and having the right join the left in the type of unfair assaults that have been predominantly running from the left to the right for as long as I've been alive. It'll be a shame when it happens but not much of a surprise.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Militia Software - I

It seems pretty likely that a number of foreign governments are running cell phone interceptor towers in DC. Were our government on the ball, I would expect these towers to be taken down quickly and consequences issued either in diplomatic expulsions, EMP shenanigans, or some other nasty deterrent that would ensure the safety of our government's communications from prying foreign governments. This apparently has not happened, with the towers being discovered by a private company touting an expensive anti-interception phone technology who reported it to the FCC and let the rest of us know via press release.

An individual firm or even the spy chasers have a limited number of people to run around and seek out these interceptor towers. But making a phone app that identifies local towers and alarms on the appearance of new ones shouldn't be that hard or expensive. Widely release that app and you have a way to pick up the spies no matter where they are. Applications like Llama provide a functional model for finding signal and AntennaSearch provides a database to filter out existing towers.

This is a militia activity that is in response to a real threat actually being deployed against the US. You don't have to run around in camo or make any large sacrifice, just run an app occasionally on the smartphone you already own. It will make it hazardous for foreign enemies to deploy the technology against us. It will also catch domestic enemies deploying the technology in violation of the law. Legitimate use by law enforcement will have paperwork filed and the reports of this software will file will hit that paperwork and not raise alarms.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11 is not for muslim whining

A 9/11 muslim whine fest offended me today. It seems that Islam has an image problem in the US. Boo hoo. Today was not the day to publish that. It's tone deaf and likely to make american opinion of muslims worse. It's sort of a japanese journalist like picking December 7th to discuss anti-japanese sentiment, a problem that's only ever potentially there because the japanese are generally not dumb enough to do such a thing. 

In any case, if you want to measure hate over time, you're best bet isn't surveys but crime reports. Anti-religious hate crimes have been broken out and reported for years and we have good data for 1996-2012. Here are the trend lines for all the sub-groups. 



Hate is up for catholic, atheist, and multi-religious categories. Everybody else is flat to down. As always, anti-jewish hate crimes predominate the numbers but they've got the best trend line of the bunch so maybe in a few decades the jews won't be number one anymore. I'm sure they're looking forward to it. 

The muslim trend line is generally flat except for a 9/11 related, one year bump (481 incidents). Most of that went away but the baseline moved up from around 30 incidents a year to perhaps 140 give or take with arguably a slight down trend between 2002 and 2012. This is not the picture of growing anti-muslim persecution the article hints at with its talk of a recent bias crime spike. 

9/11 is not the time for a story hook of anti-muslim bias that isn't even accurate. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Political science with scientific rigor? Hah!

Fred Schwarz writes in NRO's The Corner that The American Political Science Association (APSA) is pretending that what it is doing is "science applied to politics". This sort of thing always ruffles my feathers because it's clearly just going through the scientific motions without actually bothering to establish the required base of knowledge that any scientific examination would require.  Here's the comment I left there. 
Statistical rigor? These are pretensions. We are missing some of the very basic prerequisites to achieve any sort of scientific examination of the american political scene. 
Try to find:
1. A comprehensive list of all governments in the US (according to the contradictory definitions of our collective 51 sovereign entities that can, and do, define them).
2. The jurisdictional bounds of all governments
3. A list of what each government does
4. A comprehensive list of the officeholders for all governments
You cannot write, scientifically, about who is doing government, much less politics, what they are doing, and where they are doing it with any sort of numerical precision without these prerequisites, and a number of other basics besides. For instance any comprehensive scientific fiscal analysis would require a meta chart of accounts so you could do apples to apples fiscal comparisons across governments. We can't do that either. 
There are practical consequences for this lack of scientific rigor prerequisites. People get arrested for accidentally driving into a gun hostile jurisdiction. There's no app for that but with items 1, 2, and some simple survey work, one could be made. A police militarization app could be similarly constructed. The list of practical improvements possible is rather long. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Nanotube capacitors starting to enter the market

In 2006, MIT wrote up the invention of carbon nanotube improved capacitors, saying that if all goes well, the technology should enter the market within five to ten years time. I love reading about potentially disruptive technologies in materials and low level, common components. They really are the hope for us to get enough breathing room to fix the massive financial mess we're all busy digging ourselves into across the first world. But there's a long distance between technology in the lab and technology for sale in real products that make a difference so I filed it in my "check every couple of years" mental category and moved on. I should have checked more often.

The technology is starting to enter the market now, shipping first products in spring of 2013 and it's a major game changer for the economy, one that most people haven't mapped out the implications of yet. The technology was spun out of MIT into FastCAP Systems and they are now offering product to, of all things, the oil and gas drilling field, allowing for the elimination of batteries entirely in the advanced technology of measuring while drilling (MWD) and logging while drilling (LWD) or a doubling of system lifetime when used in conjunction with batteries. These "extreme environment ultracapacitors" are safer than their competition, lithium batteries, as they simply don't explode. Their shipping technology operating temperatures are rated to 150C, which is quite impressive.

But conventional oil and gas drilling is a means to an end for FastCAP as their aim is to reduce drilling expenses and increase drill capacity to viably tap geothermal energy as their technology has been recently validated at Sandia National Labs in use at 200C and the company seems to be going for 250C as a next step. This translates out to MWD/LWD operations out to 8km depths and the ability to extend modern techniques of horizontal drilling to greater depths than before.

All of a sudden, widespread geothermal energy doesn't look as impractical as it did yesterday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ni Hao Y'All

I've been remarking for a couple of years that the flow of jobs will reverse and poor areas in the US will start to see work moving from China. What I had in mind was returning US companies. But there seems to be an unexpected bonus. The Chinese are coming.

I should have seen it from the first. If it's cheaper for a US company to build something in the US, it's going to be just as advantageous for China's private businesses to do the same. So why not expand abroad and reduce their political risk while improving their profitability?