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Game behind gamed: your narrative programming for the day
September 25, 2013 3:11 PM   Subscribe

How The Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio[1] actually makes a case against austerity[2] and for redistribution, but also for money printing (and, arguably, for bailouts), while stressing the need to keep making productivity-improving public and private investments. However, it could be equally entitled: How The Industrial Age Political-Economy Doesn't Work Anymore, viz. Surviving Progress (2011)...
David Suzuki: The economists say if you clear-cut the forest, take the money and put it in the bank, you could make 6 or 7 percent. If you clear-cut the forest and put it into Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, you can make 30 or 40 percent. So who cares whether you keep the forest, cut it down, put the money somewhere else. When those forests are gone, put it in fish. When the fish are gone put it in computers. Money doesn't stand for anything and money now grows faster than the real world. Conventional economics is a form of brain damage. [...]

Vaclav Smil: People have been conditioned that things have to always get, go better, and immediately, if you say, limit something, people think this is not getting better, but it would be. This is a non-starter. People saying you should eat less, you should eat less meat, right. That's even -- that's a non-starter, right [...] There's so many things which we could do, you know, not to surrender our standard of living, not to kind of live in a gutter, right, but we don't need one and a half tank car to go from red light to red light in a city. People are not willing to go back on these things, most of them simply are not, because they've been totally hijacked by this material culture. Let's not underestimate the, you know, the, the, the persuasion, the power of this material culture is immense, it's just immense.
cf. Jeremy Grantham: 'We're trying to buy time for the world to wake up' (Why is this problem so hard for us to deal with? You've railed against short-termism.)

also btw... and speaking of austerity... Anyway, if the economy is an abstraction layer that keeps on crashing, then it behooves us to learn and understand the (nonlinear) programming it would take to run on 'bare metal', that is the physical resource constraints and first principals that underlie the carrying capacity of our shared world. So on that note...

Can the Internet of Everything bring back the High-Growth Economy? (pdf)
The Internet of Everything is about building up a new infrastructure that combines ubiquitous sensors and wireless connectivity in order to greatly expand the data collected about physical and economic activities; expanding 'big data' processing capabilities to make sense of all that new data; providing better ways for people to access that data in real-time; and creating new frameworks for real-time collaboration both within and across organizations... we estimate that the Internet of Everything could raise the level of U.S. gross domestic product by 2%-5% by 2025. This gain from the IoE, if realized, would boost the annual U.S. GDP growth rate by 0.2-0.4 percentage points over this period, bringing growth closer to 3% per year. This would go a long way toward regaining the output—and jobs—lost in the Great Recession.
What's more, an IoE could help supplement GDP and redefine national accounting: or as Jeremy Rifkin describes in Saying goodbye to Adam Smith at the Dawn of the Third Industrial Revolution
While there is a fractious debate going on around the world about our debt-ridden culture and the need to live within our means, there is little serious attention directed to the ultimate debt we have incurred over the course of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions as a result of our profligate consumption patterns—our debt to the earth's biosphere. Climate change is the entropy bill—the planetary debt—for two centuries of burning fossil fuels to propel the First and Second Industrial Revolutions. What we thought was a growing store of accumulated societal wealth was really only the momentary enjoyment of goods and services made possible by the burning of vast amounts of fossil fuels and the release of carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere. Learning to live within the earth's budgetary restraints by not consuming nature's endowment faster than the biosphere can recycle the waste and replenish the stock is the ultimate test of our species' ability to live within the planet's carrying capacity. This is what sustainable economic development is really all about.
The easy lever the Federal Reserve could always pull to lower interest rates, boost credit/housing and raise aggregate demand no longer works, which raises the question, what does? If it's not going to be a repeating cycle of endless money printing and asset bubbles (and stagnant growth at the end of the day)[3], what will the growth driver's of the 21st century be and what role do financial markets, government and other institutions have in finding them?[4] For example, think about how DARPA, universities, corporations, state law and standards bodies are collaborating to bring autonomous vehicles closer to reality.[5]

---
[1] one of the world's most 'successful' hedge fund managers (apparently he's not having the 'economic machine' work so well for him this year tho)
[2] Sanjay Basu: The Deadly Side of Austerity - "As a physician watching this economic recession unfold I am beholden to one law, which is first do no harm, and I would argue that in the context of this recession if we apply that rule to our economic and social policy we might find a better way to not undergo such dramatic experiments with people but actually try to find ways to buffer our health and develop a more resilient community."
[3] population trends without productivity growth suggest a pretty dismal future - "we feel that the world's overall fertility rate will fall to replacement rate by 2025. In other words, reproductively speaking, our species will no longer be expanding – a major turning point in history..."
[4] remember the role of central banking in establishing a naval trading empire that defined an age - "In England the argument for some kind of bank to gather [sic] momentum after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when William of Orange and Queen Mary jointly ascended the throne of England..."
[5] These 5 things need to happen before electric cars really go mainstream (Six Myths About Renewable Energy)
posted by kliuless (28 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
Post of the Year!
posted by sfts2 at 3:39 PM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I really appreciate the effort you've put into assembling this post, hats off to you.

But you've jumbled up three or more big economic ideas and debates that aren't really all that closely related (except of course everything is connected, maan), being:
1. austerity versus Keynsian responses to the current credit squeeze
2. the future of work as computers and automation take over more and more of the economy, and
3. sustainable economics.

I mean, your last paragraph is really a big bundle of WTF? Monetary policy really doesn't have much to do with autonomous vehicles, unless you're stoned.
posted by wilful at 3:59 PM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


That's a good argument for getting stoned.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:13 PM on September 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Actually, it does - collaborating on bringing new technology to life has a lot to do with trying to stimulate the growth.
posted by bazzle at 4:24 PM on September 25, 2013


yea, i think it's one of the reasons why monetary policy is _ineffective_ (or has been) -- see the 'private investments' link in the FPP -- as cash piles up, uninvested, on corporate balance sheets and ends up as excess reserves with the fed; that's why there's no 'multiplier' or 'velocity' as deposit growth outstrips lending... tesla and amazon, for example, are the rare companies that seem to have a vision of the future and are willing to invest in it, so like if autonomous vehicles gain traction (hehe) say along with 'smart grids' and distributed solar, which brings about productivity gains and better standards of living (hey grandma can 'drive' to the store without me having to worry about her; oh but wait, gov't will have to sort out the insurance/liability issues before that happens) then, i'd submit, monetary policy would become much more effective -- maybe i'm stoned?
posted by kliuless at 4:26 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


For those of you watching the first two links, the 90 minutes can go by quite a bit faster if you enable the YouTube HTML5 trial. With that, you can change the playback rate to 1.5x or even 2x, and the videos are still quite intelligible.
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:33 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


David Suzuki: The economists say [forests]

Which economist said that?

Vaclav Smil: People have been conditioned that things have to always get, go better, and immediately

No they don't. In fact statistical surveys of population sentiment suggest they think things are getting worse. They expect things to be worse for the next generation

This post is nothing more than strawmen and babel formatted in an academic style.
posted by humanfont at 4:39 PM on September 25, 2013


2nding Post of the Year! It's gonna take me a year to digest even a fraction of all this.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 4:42 PM on September 25, 2013


humanfont: The context of both of those requires a little more thought that just jumping on a message you don't like.

And yes, classic Chicago economics theory views commodities and recourse extraction as a value neutral proposition, and does not account for the lack of sustainability. You clear cut a forest (instead of selective or sustainable logging practices), and the forest is gone. It doesn't come back. You make money selling that resource, and then take your money and put it in another commodity or resource (and you don't care about how that resource is managed, because you don't care, all you care about is whether investing your money in those industries makes you a profit in the short term, and if there is another resource sector you can jump to once you have drained your existing revenues out of the resource sector). This is EXACTLY how resource extraction was historically handled, and caused a considerable amount of collateral economic damage to those resource extraction industries (see logging in the Pacific North West or over fishing of estuaries in many coastal waters). These are historical facts, which are where the original quotes are referencing.

As for the conditioning, this is historically pre-millineum, before the huge dotcom crash, but after the Cold War. It is the overiding ethos of the current free-market capitalist, to believe that every market that has a lot of activity in it will always go up (see the mortgage and housing markets prior to 2007, or the Internet Bubble prior to 2000). But we know this is not reality, however when they speak of "conditioned", they mean that there is a lot of noise by people trying to sell things (i.e. marketers, and market makers), who need anyone with money to believe that giving them their money and investing in their stocks or companies or hedge funds, will always have a positive return. You will never receive a portfolio package from an investment group that shows any downward trends in their stock offers. They will couch everything they say to you with little caveats like "past performance does not predict future earnings." I learned that phrase from horse racing and handicapping. You can have all the information about every horse in the field, but just because your formulas say that the number 4 horse should win, doesn't mean he won't decide to break late out of the gate, or stumble in the back of the pack and never regain his stride.


Statistical surveys since 2008 have all been doom and gloom and stock up on water and ammunition, but that is precisely because of the irrational blowback of being told over the course of years that the economy is great and growth will always go up and you will be rich if you give your money to investment houses. So yes, TODAY, we think everything is shit, because we're starting to see that the people who lied to us have all the money, and none of the pain. And we're seeing the effects of how their actions and plans have destroyed a lot of economic potential and squandered real, sustainable growth for short term gains.
posted by daq at 5:01 PM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


A simple counter-example to prove my point: Australia successfully embarked on a major Keynsian expansion of the money supply in response to the GFC of 2007/8. We avoided all recession, and our unemployment rate remained near historic lows.

Yet we are as challenged as any country by the need to decouple economic growth from physical throughputs.

So it's clear by this example that we have two distinct issues, they're not related.

For more reading about sustainable economics, I suggest you read under terms like "ecological economics" (there's an international society), or start with E F Schumacher, or Weiszacker, or Amory Lovins or many other authors.

For the future of work, Tyler Cowen has just written a very interesting book.
posted by wilful at 5:04 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


humanfont, your views are strictly US-centric. I don't believe any surveys of Australians suggest we are all doom and gloom. Which of course merely reflects our recent economic successes, as well as our relatively less unequal society, where all deciles have seen real increases in income in the past few decades.
posted by wilful at 5:08 PM on September 25, 2013


It's now called the Internet of Everything, not the Internet of Things? Did Cisco rebrand or something? (previously)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:45 PM on September 25, 2013


humanfont, your views are strictly US-centric. I don't believe any surveys of Australians suggest we are all doom and gloom.

The OP suggested that people have been conditioned to expect things to get better immediately. My point was that this is not correct. All people certainly do not hold this view. Consumer sentiment is not fixed, nor is it as overwhelmingly positive as the OP suggested.

And yes, classic Chicago economics theory views commodities and recourse extraction as a value neutral proposition, and does not account for the lack of sustainability.

The Chicago School is a minority position in the field of economics. It does not impose a specific view of forestry management. If I recall correctly, Milton Friedman was the one who developed the idea of a market for trading pollution credits. He didn't seem to reject that that businesses be forced to consider the full costs and impacts of their operations as part of a well designed market.
posted by humanfont at 5:57 PM on September 25, 2013


Well yes I concede that point. A general view towards utopia is not part of the cultural bedrock of western society. Nevertheless, a general expectation of long-term improvements in the common weal is still held in Australia, based on what has happened in the apst three decades.

More broadly though, and not directed at you specifically, the US' current economic travails, brought on by a bunch of reasons but particularly ideology and a dysfunctional political system, are not the world's issues. Most of us are still thinking that there is some hope for the future.

Decoupling economic growth from physical throughputs is a massive challenge, and we're still not nearly committed enough to tackling climate change, but most of us believe that our children will be materially better off than our parents, and in terms of happiness, well that's been pretty stable for generations, there's no psychic crisis but there may be an increasing realisation that wealth for wealth's sake is a bit pointless.
posted by wilful at 6:37 PM on September 25, 2013


Well now I'm really confused. I read the post as saying (in part) that people (society) expect/want things (products) to get better and I would agree with that (by "better", I believe Vaclav Smil means bigger and more wasteful). I don't see where kliuless is saying that sentiment is overwhelmingly positive. I think the post flows well, is very topical and is totally in line with a lot of things I've been reading lately.

Of course I haven't read all the links yet, as it will take me a few hours. Off to do that now! Great post!
posted by triggerfinger at 6:46 PM on September 25, 2013


as cash piles up, uninvested, on corporate balance sheets and ends up as excess reserves with the fed; that's why there's no 'multiplier' or 'velocity' as deposit growth outstrips lending... tesla and amazon, for example, are the rare companies that seem to have a vision of the future and are willing to invest in it, so like if autonomous vehicles gain traction (hehe) say along with 'smart grids' and distributed solar, which brings about productivity gains and better standards of living (hey grandma can 'drive' to the store without me having to worry about her; oh but wait, gov't will have to sort out the insurance/liability issues before that happens) then, i'd submit, monetary policy would become much more effective -- maybe i'm stoned?

There's been a lot of interesting things written about the breakdown of the money multiplier in recent years. Here are a few good ones:

Whatever Became of the Money Multiplier?

Money, Reserves, and the Transmission of Monetary Policy: Does the Money Multiplier Exist?

Whether monetary policy has been effective has been hotly debated and depends on what factors you're looking at. But looking at in terms of the cash on corporate balance sheet and excess reserves at the Fed - that's not something the Fed has much control over. Banks have a lot of excess cash because of there is not enough demand for loans from creditworthy borrowers and companies can't be forced to use their excess cash for hiring and investment, that's something that's dependent on how cautious the company feels about the general state of the economy. The only things that the Fed has direct control over are the discount rate and the amount of required reserves that banks need to hold.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:28 PM on September 25, 2013


I would like to know more about who is building the IoE...
posted by joecacti at 7:41 PM on September 25, 2013


the "economic machine" in the first linked video seems to be essentially propagandizing Minsky's "Financial Instability Hypothesis" which is interesting coming from Ray Dalio, who is the 'dear leader' of the Bridgewater hedge fund/cult.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:52 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


We should just let the government print money to cover its own labor costs (for labor costs only, not for capital development projects or third-party transactions).

We've always needed and had mechanisms for increasing the amount of cash in circulation. We've generally leveraged the banking system to do it, but overtime that ends up creating a kind of elite among the financial service industries who are closer to the spigots that new money flows from.

The classic argument against money printing by fiat is that it devalues the currency by creating currency where no new economic value has been created in return. Printing more money without creating economic value in direct proportion to the new money you print gives you runaway inflation.

Well, if you do a job for the government, unless you're really bad at your job or your job is some pointless political position, odds are you're creating something of economic value. Value to the general public--shared value--rather than private value. For example, if you work for the FDA and help inspect food production facilities, you are providing production quality oversight to the meat markets, a valuable service that the private sector also offers on a for-fee-basis.

So if we just print the money to pay people who work for the government, we could take those costs out of general revenue. We'd just need to strictly limit money-printing to that--covering the actual value of labor for public services--then I don't think you'd necessarily see runaway inflation. Especially not if you put additional policies in place to keep the new money from being too easily captured by the already extremely affluent, or new tax policies to recapture much of it, if it somehow does get sucked into one of those walking money vortexes after all.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:01 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


We've been money-printing at record levels for the last several years and have yet to see any kind of significant inflation and it is not a concern on the horizon (at least as a result of QE). The big concern is actually deflation. So the old idea that money printing = inflation does not hold true.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:57 PM on September 25, 2013


We'd just need to strictly limit money-printing to that--covering the actual value of labor for public services--then I don't think you'd necessarily see runaway inflation.

How exactly do you propose that we determine this "actual value" of the labor provided?
posted by humanfont at 9:10 PM on September 25, 2013


How exactly do you propose that we determine this "actual value" of the labor provided?

If republican lawmakers want to defund said labor, it's almost certainly valuable to society? If they want to throw money at it, it's almost certainly without value?
posted by maxwelton at 10:20 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Presumably the actual value would be the direct and indirect costs of that employee.
posted by mittens at 5:23 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Presumably the actual value would be the direct and indirect costs of that employee.

Cost = salary, and someone decides what that salary is, so it's politics, not economics.
posted by cthuljew at 7:32 AM on September 26, 2013


Not if the salaries are set based on market surveys and analysis of current fair wages for particular categories of jobs. Most public sector jobs have corresponding private sector counterparts that can be used for reasonable salary comparisons. The labor department probably has the numbers already.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:21 AM on September 26, 2013


There are a limited number of qualified individuals at any point in time. So if the govermemt expands or contracts any category of position it would impact the cost per hour. Furthermore that cost does not reflect value. Suppose the goverent hires a million budget analysts. It doesn't mean that it can fully task those analysts in a way that delivers any value. In fact it is possible to have so many people in any position that productivity declines. It is also possible that individuals and professions can be priced inefficiently because of various regulations. For example legal services, plumbers and electricians. They tend to price towards a common hourly rate for their profession, but some are significantly better than other providers. Furthermore the tasks assigned might be of differing value even though the bill the same hourly rate.
posted by humanfont at 11:57 AM on September 26, 2013


looking at in terms of the cash on corporate balance sheet and excess reserves at the Fed - that's not something the Fed has much control over

right, monetary policy would work better in conjunction with fiscal policy -- the 'what's it all about' link -- but blurred lines...

re: amory lovins, natural capitalism was inspiring to me (and paul hawken is in 'our economic and social policy' ;) as for _the average is over_ i was just reading matthew yglesias' review:
...he doubts the political system will deliver any of these solutions. He notes that none of them are particularly on the partisan agenda of either political party, that the nature of the U.S. political system makes large changes generally unlikely, that an aging population is less likely to embrace radical changes, and that elites have a lot of ways of reenforcing their control over the political process.

That seems like a reasonable forecast to me. But it's a very different forecast from the forecast that automation and the rise of the machines means that "average is over." The actual forecast is that the political system will be under the control of a relatively narrow elite who will stomp on the interests of the median household.

So I would take the message to be something like "politics is really important just as it always has been and people ought to get more fired up about some ideas that aren't at the current forefront of the congressional agenda."
with that in mind...
  • And Now, The Weather: "What those odds actually are in the matter of climate change is still a matter of very great uncertainty. The main event here, in terms of economics, will be the appearance this autumn of The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warmer World, by William Nordhaus, of Yale University, a singularly well-informed expert on the topic – more informed, say, than, the editorial board of the WSJ. We have entered a casino of sorts, Nordhaus warns, and are gambling with the future of the planet, though there is still time to back out by adopting a global system of carbon taxes. Nordhaus is the president-elect of the American Economic Association; you can look forward to hearing plenty more."
  • The Cost of Climate Change: "William Nordhaus of Yale, to cite one estimate, wrote recently that allowing uncontrolled carbon emissions would raise the world's temperature 3.4 degrees Celsius (6.1 degrees Fahrenheit) above that of the preindustrial era by the end of the century and cost the world a fairly modest 2.8 percent of economic output."
  • Environmental Debt: "As former president of the Shell Oil Company, John Hofmeister offered a corporate viewpoint for integrating environmental costs into production. 'If the government doesn't lead on these things and you're looking for cooperative volunteers, you're going to be looking for a long, long time. Money and politics means that your dollars count more than your votes. How did we ever get into a democracy where dollars mean more than your votes? But that's where we are.' He discussed the overall tendency for people to ignore climate change issues. As a resident of Texas, Hofmeister spoke on behalf of the state's residents, claiming they are in an 'unawareness crisis.' " (mp3)
  • Ozone Treaty Offers Quicker Fix for Global Warming: "The idea is to bypass log-jammed United Nations climate treaty talks and hand responsibility for reducing refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons to the Montreal Protocol, an instrument designed to protect the ozone layer... Success in tackling HFCs may provide a route to break the impasse around regulating greenhouse gases."
  • What have we actually learned about global warming in the last 25 years? "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will begin releasing its massive new synthesis of climate science early Friday morning.* The report, six years in the making, is widely considered the best summary of what we know about climate change."
hofmeister really gets going around the 33m mark and his idea about an 'energy fed' is intriguing...

---
* "Here's a good primer on what the IPCC is and what it's releasing tomorrow. Note that only the 'summary for policymakers' is coming out Friday (here), with the big 2,000-page scientific report on climate science released Monday. In the months to follow, the IPCC will also release separate reports on the human impacts of climate change and a look at the world's energy system."
posted by kliuless at 5:32 PM on September 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Very interesting, but oh so much to read!
posted by jeffburdges at 7:35 AM on October 7, 2013


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