Three views of poverty.
May 24, 2016 7:06 PM   Subscribe

The Precaritat was only a brief pause on the way down. Slate Star Codex takes a look at three articles on the economic "recovery" and all those it leaves behind.
posted by bitmage (76 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I haven't read the others yet, but the deBoer piece he links is really dang good
posted by p3on at 7:19 PM on May 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


The exploitation narrative seems fundamentally wrong to me – I’m not saying exploitation doesn’t happen, nor even that it isn’t common, just that isn’t not the major factor causing poverty and social decay.

Scott Alexander should really try reading a book once in a while, rather than just happily reciting his prejudged and inflexible opinions at the flotsam of the opinion Web as it crosses his screen.

Charles Murray. Neither he nor I would dare reduce all class differences to heredity, and he in particular has some very sophisticated theories about class and culture. But he shares my skepticism that the 55 year old Kentucky trucker can be taught to code

Also, Scott Alexander should really just admit to himself and others that he's a neoreactionary, and stop with all the tiresome rationalizing and handwringing about his thoughtfulness and compassion for the poor. The act does not convince.
posted by RogerB at 7:25 PM on May 24, 2016 [43 favorites]


That second piece was linked here a week or two ago.

One point about the low unemployment numbers that nags me is, what about the people who have given up? Are they counted somewhere? Or do they just evaporate, data-wise?
posted by wenestvedt at 7:27 PM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


One point about the low unemployment numbers that nags me is, what about the people who have given up? Are they counted somewhere? Or do they just evaporate, data-wise?

They're counted in the U6 measurement - what's usually referred to as "the unemployment rate" is U3.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:42 PM on May 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


Nox Aeternum, do you have links for the current numbers on those two statistics?
posted by thebotanyofsouls at 7:50 PM on May 24, 2016


Here's the BLS page with all the U measures.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:54 PM on May 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


Thank you, I will look at those.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:58 PM on May 24, 2016


Yeah, those U6 numbers are waaaaay higher.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:59 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, those U6 numbers are waaaaay higher.

By definition, yes. U3 is a subset of U6.
posted by Krom Tatman at 8:00 PM on May 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


Also, Scott Alexander should really just admit to himself and others that he's a neoreactionary, and stop with all the tiresome rationalizing and handwringing about his thoughtfulness and compassion for the poor.

Yeah, no kidding. And it's not just that he's a crypto-conservative, his science is bad. Dude doesn't even know what 'heritable' means. Here's a hint: heritable doesn't mean, "caused by genes", nor does heritability say anything about how amenable a trait is to change through environmental interventions. It's a dubious and widely misused statistical concept that simply doesn't do what his neoreactionary/scientific racist/robot-cultist buddies want it to do.
posted by Wemmick at 8:33 PM on May 24, 2016 [15 favorites]


That second piece, about the "Unnecessariat," rings so true to me, as a resident of a Midwest rustbelt state. I see this stuff daily. You see it in the eyes of almost every minimum-wage worker you meet. That look of fear and tired resignation that this is as good as it will ever be.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:35 PM on May 24, 2016 [10 favorites]


Also, Scott Alexander should really just admit to himself and others that he's a neoreactionary, and stop with all the tiresome rationalizing and handwringing about his thoughtfulness and compassion for the poor. The act does not convince.

do you really think the uncles you fix computers for are all really going to be marching headlong into the information economy? words mean things, and alexander isn't a fucking monarchist
posted by p3on at 8:53 PM on May 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


U3 is the 'nice' number that gets put in the press and official speeches as *the* unemployment rate. they lie.
posted by j_curiouser at 8:59 PM on May 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


While I've had the same thought about Alexander's politics that Wemmick has (he seems like a he's a conservative who doesn't realize it yet) I've found that his science is pretty good, and in particular he's very attuned to subtleties around how social science use words (see e.g. his post on "non-shared environment")

The sources I've skimmed just now seem to agree with Alexander. A look at wikipedia and the relevant citation turns up a statement (from the latter) that "Heritability is a concept that summarizes how much of the variation in a trait is due to variation in genetic factors"; similarly, the The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry says that "Heritability is a measure of genetic influence on variation. If a trait has high heritability, its varying from individual to individual in a population can be explained genetically."

Where else should I be meeting? (I'm uncomfortably aware that IANAsocial scientist.)
posted by golwengaud at 9:00 PM on May 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


(I should have said: the sources I've skimmed agree with Alexander on the definition of "heritability", and "where else should I be reading. Sorry about that.)
posted by golwengaud at 9:05 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Your racist uncles -- the ones who watch NASCAR and listen to Rush Limbaugh and who are only precariously employed in declining industries -- are not going to suddenly become HADOOP architects after a few weeks of training, or even after a few years of training. They are likely incapable of drastic change at this point in their lives, and indeed, every aspect of their culture and politics suggests that they have no desire to change at all. They are voting for Trump because he promises to hurt the people who, in their minds, have caused this situation: liberal elites, immigrants, blacks and Jews"globalists".

Currently, liberal answers to this dilemma fall into vague categories along the lines of "create make-work programs for the masses of underemployed" and "institute Guaranteed Income as a pathway into Full Communism".

Neither of those ideas are politically possible in even the most optimistic scenarios, which means, in essence, that we have no actual ideas.
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 9:06 PM on May 24, 2016 [21 favorites]


Man, Player Piano is a good book. In his first novel, in the middle of the postwar manufacturing boom, Vonnegut just absolutely called it.
posted by officer_fred at 9:15 PM on May 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


Throwing money at them is a pretty subpar solution, but it’s better than leaving everything the way it is and not throwing money at them.

Leaving aside the awful tendency to lump all members of lower SES groups into a monolithic "them"--why is "throwing money" at people a subpar solution? Money lets you get food, and medicine, and childcare, and maybe even see a movie or get some booze or something now and then. Maybe he's right and the "good" jobs are never coming back, but money could at least give people with less chance of working again some level of comfort, which sounds pretty legit to me.

I get the impression that Alexander really wants a future where everyone's forced to learn coding and sees anything with no strings attached as a lapse in his impeccable logic. God forbid poor people have money that could be used to buy things solely for pleasure.

This is why I can’t entirely sympathize with any of the essays I read on poverty, eloquent though they are.

Really dude? And you're a psychiatrist? I hope you're not doing this detached unsympathetic Mr. Logic thing for your patients in crisis.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:24 PM on May 24, 2016 [24 favorites]


I read the Unnecessariat article too, and boy oh boy, does it resonate with me. That's me. I haven't had a decent job since 1998. I haven't had a job at all since 2010.

I keep thinking about an anime trope, the one where the privileged few live in some walled-off hi-tech fortress city, while everyone else picks over the garbage the city dumps out (while dodging the city's deadly robot drones ), desperately trying to scavenge together a way to stay alive. When I was in my twenties, that was an entertaining fantasy. On the downslope of my forties, it feels like an inevitability.

Trump's not going to help me. Clinton isn't either. I'm nothing to either one of them, or anyone else with the power to do something, it seems. Universal Basic Income is not going to happen, not in this culture, not in my lifetime.

Horror is knowing that you're screwed, and that you can't do anything about it.
posted by KHAAAN! at 9:34 PM on May 24, 2016 [41 favorites]


as a resident of a Midwest rustbelt state. I see this stuff daily. You see it in the eyes of almost every minimum-wage worker you meet. That look of fear and tired resignation that this is as good as it will ever be.

Do you talk to these people, ever? I don't think they would appreciate you making up stories on the Internet about their having a "look of fear" which I've never seen outside of actual frightening situations like a convenience-store robbery. Minimum-wage workers are at their jobs for a lot of different reasons, and they are a pretty diverse group, emotionally and psychologically (and otherwise.)
posted by michaelh at 9:54 PM on May 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


If a trait has high heritability, its varying from individual to individual in a population can be explained genetically.

The word "explained" here is used in the statistical sense, which unfortunately leads to a lot of misconceptions. Heritability "explains" individual variation the same way that widely shared chart showing the correlation between the number of pirates and global temperature "explains" global warming. Heritability is a measure of how genetic variation covaries with variation in the selected trait in a specific population, without necessitating a causal link. As a brief example, accents are highly "heritable" in a statistical sense, but there's no genetic link. Meanwhile, genes do determine the standard number of fingers for a human, but because most deviations from ten fingers comes from accidents, digit count has a very low heritability. Unfortunately, I'm still looking for an article that explains the whole issue in a straightforward way, but Lewontin's work is a decent place to start, especially his paper, “The analysis of variance and the analysis of causes” and Cosma Shalizi's discussions of heritability and IQ (which has rather racist and scientifically dubious origins anyway) are also better than nothing.

(aside: I'm not even getting into the question whether heritability estimates in humans are accurate. Twin studies especially, rest on a number of rather questionable assumptions, cf. the work of Jay Joseph)
posted by Wemmick at 9:55 PM on May 24, 2016 [10 favorites]


I get the impression that Alexander really wants a future where everyone's forced to learn coding and sees anything with no strings attached as a lapse in his impeccable logic. God forbid poor people have money that could be used to buy things solely for pleasure.

I don't think that impression is right. See this for example.
posted by officer_fred at 9:59 PM on May 24, 2016


So if I'm understanding you right, Wemmick, "heritability" needs an analogue to the "correlation does not imply causation" slogan we all have burned into our brains, and furthermore will have in its blind spot anything shared universally in the population under study.

(If you do find a straightforward article, please let me know, but in the mean time thanks for the links. I tend to like Cosma Shalizi, on the rare occasions when I have the energy to go through one of his posts; it's good to have a couple in particular pointed out as worth reading.)
posted by golwengaud at 10:13 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Further caveat on heritability:

Heritability is a measure of how genetic variation covaries with variation in the selected trait in a specific population

... in the environment the heritability was measured in.

Honestly, heritability should NEVER be used outside of academic papers. So much wrong every damn time.
posted by congen at 10:15 PM on May 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


Eventhat entry about burdens that officer_fred links ends like this:

After that, we will have to predicate our self-worth on something other than being able to “contribute” in the classical sense of the term. Don’t get me wrong, I think contributing something is a valuable goal, and one it’s important to enforce to prevent free-loaders...

In my value system the concept of any person being a "free loader," even a person with severe disabilities, is morally repugnant, and I'm gonna have some deep fundamental disagreements with anyone who can toss off those words so easily.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:19 PM on May 24, 2016 [12 favorites]


The class of folks the economy created but that the economy does not need-- what Alexander and More Crows refers to as the Unnecessariat-- was first described by Marx as the Lumpenproletariat:
"Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars—in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème."
Anthropologists like Philippe Bourgois and Nancy Scheper-Hughes have written extensively on the modern manifestation of the lumpen class. The More Crows blog post echoes their writing, linking the current overdose epidemic to the economic desolation experienced by these folks. If the proletariat feels alienated working on an assembly line, imagine how the lumpenproletariat feels when the factory moves overseas.
posted by The White Hat at 10:36 PM on May 24, 2016 [13 favorites]


"heritability" needs an analogue to the "correlation does not imply causation"

Yeah, that's roughly my thinking on the matter. I'm still wrapping my head around the details myself, but the common understanding of heritability as a causal measure is simply incorrect. Congen is right that it really isn't appropriate outside academic discussion. As I understand it, heritability only makes sense in the context of population genetics or the selective breeding of organisms in a fixed environment. Anything else — especially lay discussions of the variation of complex traits in humans — is likely a misleading and inappropriate use of heritability.

Another criticism, this sentence is completely ignorant:
We can spend the collective energy of our society beating our head against a problem for decades and make no headway. (link goes to Freddie de Boer on our failure to eliminate racial disparities)
I mean, come on. You can't say we've "spent the collective energy of our society" trying to achieve racial equality when we've spent our collective efforts over the last decades demonizing and imprisoning Black people with the War on Drugs. Our historical failure to achieve parity isn't a reason to throw up our hands and say, "well, what can you do", it's a sign that a) it's a difficult problem politically, but b) this country hasn't tried anywhere near hard enough, and c) many of the things we did do were horrible and contrary to progress.
posted by Wemmick at 10:49 PM on May 24, 2016 [11 favorites]


Articles like these (of which this is a rather mutton-headed example) are more proof, IMO, that whatever you might think of Marxist politics, Marxist analysis is a far more accurate method of describing economies than the modernist fantasies of Friedman et al. There are no rational actors, no enlightened self-interest: capital is by its very nature exploitative. The further along the road we've gone towards "Full Capitalism" (I hope that irritates someone as much as the idiot phrase "Full Communism" irritates me...) the more we are seeing these kind of 'hollowed-out' societies.
posted by prismatic7 at 11:46 PM on May 24, 2016 [27 favorites]


do you really think the uncles you fix computers for are all really going to be marching headlong into the information economy?

If the 55-year-old truck driver DID teach himself to code (or sysadmin, or design game levels, or to be a Scrummaster) who would hire him? You notice a bunch of tech firms in your town eager to hire late middle-aged entry level staff?
posted by thelonius at 1:22 AM on May 25, 2016 [37 favorites]


That Deboer piece might just be one of the best things he's ever written. I'm often frustrated with his writing: it can be unfocused and go off on weird structural tangents, which is odd, considering he's a composition teacher. But that piece really nails a lot of tendencies I've noticed in liberal online spaces lately. The implicit desire to separate economic justice from social justice (as if that were even possible); the obsession with pop culture minutiae to the practical exclusion of all else; the way representational and symbolic politics have eclipsed egalitarianism and equality in the left-liberal imagination; the bad faith, ad hominem smear tactics with which socialists are minimized and excluded by those committed to symbolic politics ("Gamergate!" "It's all about claaaasss!!" "Berniebros!"); the ossification of social justice language into a mere diversity of the Boardroom or elite-college classroom, leaving existing economic and social hierarchies intact if not actually augmented—it's all there. Just a great piece.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:56 AM on May 25, 2016 [10 favorites]


"By taking on the superficial mantle of center-leftism, elites sublimate the revolutionary impulse into a competition for social virtue points which ends up reinforcing and legitimizing existing power structures... genuine economic anger becomes more likely to be funneled into the right wing, where the elites can dismiss it as probably-racist (often with justification) and ignore it. “I cannot stress enough to you how vulnerable the case for economic justice is in this country right now. Elites agitate against it constantly…this is a movement, coordinated from above, and its intent is to solidify the already-vast control of economic elites over our political system"

OMFG!! I am so quoting this the next time people on here tell me how awesome the EU is for all us poor people, how much it benefits us as opposed to the rich and powerful who want us to stay a part of it.
posted by marienbad at 3:07 AM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


If the 55-year-old truck driver DID teach himself to code (or sysadmin, or design game levels, or to be a Scrummaster) who would hire him? You notice a bunch of tech firms in your town eager to hire late middle-aged entry level staff?

I know someone who got a PhD mid-career, in a field in demand, and still couldn't find a job - she feared it was her age (late 40s/early 50s). She just happily took a three month temp contract.
posted by jb at 3:34 AM on May 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


If the 55-year-old truck driver DID teach himself to code

why would he, unless he was not allowed to drive anymore? there's an actual shortage of truck drivers
posted by pyramid termite at 4:22 AM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's a shortage of truck drivers because it's a shitty job in a lot of ways, so that would be a reason.

"Learn to code" is, I think, an ideological stance, rather than a realistic suggestion. It's the idea that you should be bootstrapping it, and if you can't, it's because you're deficient. I don't think the "learn to code" people are seriously considering the market for people with coding skills or the chances that low-level coding jobs will themselves be outsourced to lower-cost labor markets in the next couple of years. I am learning to code, and it's super fun as a hobby, intellectual pursuit, etc. but I don't see a lot of career opportunity in it, unless I could figure out a way to combine it with other skills and experience that I already have.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:03 AM on May 25, 2016 [28 favorites]


And at any rate it runs into the same issue that the similarly inane "everybody will just get high-paid skilled jobs so it's okay that manufacturing doesn't pay workers anymore" nonsense from the 90's- even if anybody could get such a job it doesn't follow that everybody can.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:19 AM on May 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


why would he, unless he was not allowed to drive anymore? there's an actual shortage of truck drivers

Because as noted wages are low, drivers are being locked into long term lease agreements that compress their wages further, and the working conditions are terrible.

Oh, and the first place we will see autonomous vehicles being used will be to replace truck drivers.

The title of this Atlantic article gives a sense of how trucking has changed: "Truck Stop: How One of America’s Steadiest Jobs Turned Into One of Its Most Grueling."
posted by Dip Flash at 5:42 AM on May 25, 2016 [13 favorites]


Oh, and the first place we will see autonomous vehicles being used will be to replace truck drivers.

And for those of you who are self-driving vehicle skeptics, bear in mind that computerized vehicles don't have to replace all drivers. We're already successfully convoying automated trucks across Europe with a single human-piloted truck to guide them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:48 AM on May 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


even if anybody could get such a job it doesn't follow that everybody can.

part of the current difficulty we're hitting now is the boomer demographic is age 52 ~ 70 -- just edging into retirement age, while their echo progeny is age 16 ~ 34, almost fully into the workforce.

People knock the 70s, but we saw 20 million jobs added that decade:

https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/PAYEMS

I'll add in a line for the "full" (actually 3/4) employment we briefly hit in the late 90s:

https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=4ytr

We've got 144 million jobs now, but "full" employment is 10 million more.

One thing the Fed demonstrated 2009-2013 to me was that financial capital was not necessarily the scarce commodity that the wealthy had monopoly on.

The Fed pushed another $3.6T into this monopoly game we call an economy.

I'm not a big MMT fan -- heaven forbid the GOP braintrust discovers this approach -- but one thing I do see is that we as a society are not investing enough in our capital stock -- creating both the "hard" wealth of infrastructure etc. -- roads, parks, solar, the material stock of quality housing, white goods, public transportation.

As a simple example we should double the stock of our bus systems so the busses run twice as often.

It's not the lack of money preventing this -- after all the Fed can summon up $3.6T with a single button press.

It's that we don't have the political will nor the present manufacturing capacity to supply this.

We could fix this, but there's simply too much bullshit believed by so many. "Trickle down" "Crowding out"
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:13 AM on May 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


The pessimism of modern leftists is not supported by economic, political or social data:

* The poverty rate (after taxes, including benefits) is lower than it ever has been -- population is larger, so absolute numbers are higher, but rate is lower.
* Poverty rate in the rust belt is high, but the population there is a fraction of what it was -- population is much smaller, because most people acted rationally and moved to Texas or wherever.
* Unemployment is low and confidence is high: that seems like good news, but obviously, caveats will surely flood in.

DeBoer's communism is central to his identity, but his real strength is when he talks about race: we should be taking money from rich people and giving it to poor black people. That's where the real, systemic problem exists. Neoliberalism is CORRECT that globalization has made the world (and definitely the US) a better place. But we've explicitly ignored the social rot at the core.
posted by mikewebkist at 6:21 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Universal Basic Income is not going to happen, not in this culture, not in my lifetime.

I think the framing of UBI is currently wrong, and that it will happen. Because, UBI is basically an insurance program that the rich will pay for to ensure that the unnecessariat do not get out the pitchforks and torches. UBI and single-payer health care is cheaper and safer than imprisoning and murdering the superfluous subset of our population.

It's horrific and gross, but eventually (and I expect sooner than you think) the poor will effectively become pets for the rich.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 6:28 AM on May 25, 2016


UBI and single-payer health care is cheaper and safer than imprisoning and murdering the superfluous subset of our population.

It’s also the ethically preferable option, not that this is always the deciding factor in such things.
posted by pharm at 6:52 AM on May 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


Currently, liberal answers to this dilemma fall into vague categories along the lines of "create make-work programs for the masses of underemployed" and "institute Guaranteed Income as a pathway into Full Communism".

Neither of those ideas are politically possible in even the most optimistic scenarios, which means, in essence, that we have no actual ideas.

Universal Basic Income is not going to happen, not in this culture, not in my lifetime.


just to connect some threads (but not to cross the streams ;) since the unnecessariat was invoked and to maybe combat the strategic cynicism the capitol (or silo 1 as the case may be!) likes to deploy to keep the plebes in line wrt the 'politically possible' :P

i'd note that financialization is essentially a make work program for the masses many (politically connected) white men -- look at the demographics and 'culture' -- in what has been described as socially useless, if not actively harmful activities, speaking of throwing money at people...

why is "throwing money" at people a subpar solution? Money lets you get food, and medicine, and childcare, and maybe even see a movie or get some booze or something now and then. Maybe he's right and the "good" jobs are never coming back, but money could at least give people with less chance of working again some level of comfort

which is exactly what the fed has been doing for the banking 'industry' for decades, particularly since it was 'deregulated'; now well, doesn't wall street control washington? after all, no bankers were ever jailed, right? nothing's ever criminal if you're your lobbyists are writing the laws, so throw your hands up, give up, look into VR and opioids, etc.

or again, look at the military industrial complex (or just military contracting), the prison system, the 'security' state, or the health care 'industry' for that matter, so much of which is unnecessary (and overpriced) make work that exists to keep (certain and always 'well qualified') people employed as adjudicated by the 'market' (and congress).

so if things are actually working as intended (by the powers that be) what could possibly change it? to make the system work more (and better) for the powerless? well if the whole thing looked like, threatened, was about to* come crashing down, whether thru gross inequality or climate change to name a couple catalysts; put another way, there's a reason why interest rates are going negative...

anyway, so you have someone like larry summers -- posterchild and architect of neoliberal ascendancy (after bob rubin anyway) -- actively worrying and saying stuff like: How should we respond to the next recession? ('Creeping fascism as an issue dwarfs macroeconomic policy!')
"Helicopter money" is basically a form of fiscal policy, as I shall argue in a subsequent post, and cannot be carried out autonomously by the central bank.

There is an additional case for fiscal policy. The economy as it now stands requires remarkably low interest rates to grow adequately. These rates are an invitation to leverage, to reaching for yield, to financial engineering and to bubbles. Raising rates significantly, as many suggest, without doing anything else risks recession. So the right strategy is to raise demand so as to make financially sustainable growth. This comes back to fiscal policy along with measures such as tax, regulatory and immigration reform to spur private demand...

I suggested a number of areas for expansionary fiscal policy both to make recession less likely and to respond when the next one comes. The decline in U.S. infrastructure investment is indefensible in light of recent declines in interest rates, employment opportunities and materials costs.

Other areas in which fiscal support seems desirable include housing -- where residential investment still lags badly -- and support for social security. I emphasized that social security is good economics when, as at present, the growth rate far exceeds the government borrowing rate. Further it raises demand without enlarging government deficits.

As I expect to discuss in subsequent posts, much of what economists thought they knew about macroeconomic policy needs to be reassessed in light of events. Just as the events of the 1970s and the emergence of stagflation throughout the industrial world led to new policy paradigms, I believe that recent events will force us to develop new approaches to thinking about economic fluctuations and inflation that will drive major changes in thinking about fiscal and monetary policy.
so to be clear, he and other v.influential people are basically looking at various ways of throwing money at the problem, which is to say isn't too far off from a basic income as you might think... and on that last bit check out daron acemoglu: The role of the state in the economy - "Stop crying about the size of government. Start caring about who controls it."

---
*of course if it all collapsed it would be bad for everybody and we can't let that happen, it's just that there's inherent brinkmanship of opinion to varying degrees of thresholds over 'collapse'...
posted by kliuless at 6:54 AM on May 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


The pessimism of modern leftists is not supported by economic, political or social data ...
The problem is when you factor in the environment to those data. There's a whole green (and green-left) aspect to this which is being overlooked here.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:58 AM on May 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh, and the first place we will see autonomous vehicles being used will be to replace truck drivers.

The Man Who Built Google's First Self-Driving Car Is Now a Trucker - "A group of ex-Google engineers have just launched Otto, an autonomous trucking startup..."
posted by kliuless at 7:25 AM on May 25, 2016


Love to cite Charles "Calipers" Murray in my highly reasoned reflections on the problem of poverty and its possible solutions.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:50 AM on May 25, 2016 [12 favorites]


UBI is basically an insurance program that the rich will pay for to ensure that the unnecessariat do not get out the pitchforks and torches.

They already got us to pay for that for them, via the Department of Homeland Security and the heavily militarized local police forces it has helped to create.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:52 AM on May 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


(These are all going to be straw men, but hopefully useful straw men)
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:58 AM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Reductio graph absurdum
posted by Apocryphon at 8:20 AM on May 25, 2016


I'm not a big MMT fan -- heaven forbid the GOP braintrust discovers this approach

Too late
posted by wuwei at 9:58 AM on May 25, 2016


The pessimism of modern leftists

The what again?

DeBoer's communism

His what again?
posted by RogerB at 10:57 AM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Universal Basic Income is not going to happen, not in this culture, not in my lifetime.

I used to believe the same thing about gay marriage.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:58 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


UBI is basically an insurance program that the rich will pay for to ensure that the unnecessariat do not get out the pitchforks and torches.

They already got us to pay for that for them, via the Department of Homeland Security and the heavily militarized local police forces it has helped to create.

the problem being that the protectors not only stop the people with pitchforks and torches, but they inevitably turn on their rich masters, also - often not because of any ideology, but because the people who have the weapons decide they should have the gold, too
posted by pyramid termite at 11:59 AM on May 25, 2016


the chances that low-level coding jobs will themselves be outsourced to lower-cost labor markets in the next couple of years.

Wasn't that supposed to happen a decade ago? (I work for a company that has tried to outsource the same project twice in a year with one total failure and one not-total-failure-but-not-good-enough, in the process wasting hundreds of hours of time of perfectly good in-house programmers by making us act as managers for people in a different time zone.) So yeah. But absolutely the total job market for programmers is limited and a whole bunch of trends is software are about trying to make it *more* limited.
posted by atoxyl at 12:22 PM on May 25, 2016


Can someone explain the Slate Star Codex guy(?) to me? I have been reading the blog for a few months and I would like to better understand this person's ideology which I recognized was quirky but only today registered is like, eugenist and shit.


That link on the unnecessariat (lumpen proletariat) was amazing and so right on. Totally resonates for me as someone on the coast, but who works with homeless, substance dependent people here. Almost all my clients are African Americans who grew up in this formerly semi-industrial city and whose parents were generally home-owners and working class employed people, and who themselves basically have zero economic options now besides homelessness and addiction.
posted by latkes at 3:02 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


So these links hit on a big pet peeve of mine which is the Be Realistic narrative.

In the Be Realistic narrative, you should never push for the change you actually want, because that's never going to happen. Sanders is unrealistic. Universal basic income is unrealistic. Taxing the wealthy is unrealistic. Creating new, more sustainable models of income earning that include more people is . The idea that we could have goals for our society that aren't about how to create more money but are about how people can have meaning and beauty in their lives is unrealistic.

You know what else has been unrealistic, before it became reality? Gay marriage. Pot legalization. Curbing tobacco use. Ending the Vietnam war. An end to legally enshrined segregation. Women voting. Hell, Trump was unrealistic a year ago, and right now he is a very real fact that those of us who don't want a fascist system have to confront.

Change is hard. Big change is rare. It often happens slowly, circuitously, and imperfectly. But at this point I've been around long enough to see that shit I never would have dared dream was possible, for bad and for good, does happen. We can't predict it accurately. But we for sure never get anywhere when we give up and compromise our ideals before we even get challenged. If you start from a position of compromise, or realism if you will, then we can only end up even further diluted when we inevitably have clashes and challenges trying to get to our goals.

I think the whole, "X is never going to happen" thing is a sort of sad but understandable self-protective mechanism. We want to be right, and saying something won't happen allows you to be frequently right. But I'd rather be wrong a lot of the time, if that means that sometimes I can be part of making real, meaningful substantial change.

posted by latkes at 3:13 PM on May 25, 2016 [15 favorites]


Learn to code is the wrong answer. Become a prison guard is easier.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 5:27 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Really dude? And you're a psychiatrist? I hope you're not doing this detached unsympathetic Mr. Logic thing for your patients in crisis.

Pretty much my reaction to every single thing "Scott" has ever written.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 7:29 PM on May 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


fwiw...
  • US productivity breaks three decades of rises: Prospect of wage stagnation boosts fear of populist backlash - "Unless the rate of productivity growth increases, advanced economies will struggle to raise living standards and pay for the costs of their ageing populations... Productivity growth lies at the heart of economic progress. Without an improvement in output for every hour worked, economies can grow only if people work harder and longer or more people find jobs." [note: 'output' is measured in dollar transactions]
  • Don't Give Up on Equality of Opportunity - "Redistribution is important. But during the last two centuries, government has been at its most effective when it concentrated on investment and on children. Medicare and Social Security Disability payments have eased the suffering of many poor, elderly and ill people. But schools, roads, electrical grids, public health and research transformed the country. Without those public goods, it's doubtful that the U.S. would be able to afford much of the redistribution that goes toward creating equality of outcomes."
  • The Role of Politicians in an Oligarchy - "Obama's presidency oversaw the rich getting even richer, most of the population getting poorer, and there being less jobs per capita which pay less. These are his economic results, and they are not accidental. The good things you can have in an oligarchical government are the good things of which the oligarchs approve. Oligarchs want workers to be interchangeable."
  • There is a widespread belief that the system is being exploited by disreputable insiders - "The creation of an open and dynamic world economy and broadly co-operative relations among the powers remains a great achievement. Yet the greed, incompetence and irresponsibility of elites has now brought forth great populist rage."
more monetary policy wonkishness if anyone's interested :P
-America's next president should modernise the Federal Reserve system
Hillary Clinton wants to change the rules about who sits on the boards of the 12 powerful regional banks in the Fed system. She is right. The Fed is not broken, but it is anachronistic. The system of regional Feds gives commercial banks influence over their regulators and dishes out public money to their private shareholders...

The system provides sweetheart deals to banks, most of which earn a risk-free 6% annual dividend on their compulsory investments in the regional Feds. This is more than three times what the government currently pays for capital on the ten-year debt market. Although the dividend was recently cut for the 70 largest banks, roughly 1,900 smaller banks in the Fed system, which also own part of the regional Feds’ stock, continue to benefit. Banks holding shares issued before 1942 receive their dividends tax-free.

The most important job of a regional Fed is to oversee the banks in its district. As a result, Glass’s system comes perilously close to letting bankers serve as their own regulators... banks tend to profit from higher interest rates. Regional-Fed presidents tend to be the most hawkish members of the FOMC... The private sector should be kicked out of the Fed entirely, the reserve banks capitalised with public money and the central bank’s profit kept for taxpayers.
-Monetary policy alone will not cure world's ills

speaking of being realistic, like goebbels' Big Lie, i'm pretty sure that's a standard propaganda (or psychological warfare) technique: 'truth' thru repetition and the illusion of (elite) inevitability; see also pierre bourdieu and idealism!
posted by kliuless at 7:57 PM on May 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think the whole, "X is never going to happen" thing is a sort of sad but understandable self- protective mechanism.

Please note I said UBI is not going to happen in this culture in my lifetime.

I am 47 years old, in relative good health. I've never smoked, and I don't drink alcohol with any regularity, but I've lived a working-class life. Damage has been done. I expect to see 65 or so without a problem, but I'm not optimistic about anything much past 75. So, best case, I expect to live maybe 25-30 more years.

Social change can appear to happen quickly, but usually there are decades of unrest and struggle behind it.

Women's sufferage took 30-40 years of non-stop protesting to come to fruition, and even then, it hinged on a mother being able to leverage a son's vote, or so I've read.

From the Stonewall riots to now is 46 years. I imagine gay people fought for rights long before Stonewall, but I use it here to mark a length of time.

UBI might happen, sure, but most likely it'll be too late to do me any good. It'll be like the landlord who replaces the broken appliances and puts in new carpet, but only after you've moved out of the apartment. It's great for the next guy, but what about me?
posted by KHAAAN! at 9:26 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


All good points. And I apologize for targeting your comment in particular. It's not just in this thread, but in the linked post, and more importantly I guess in the articulated politics of Democratic candidates and many/most left leaning people I know to blow off movements for real change by calling them unrealistic.

I'd also say, lots of radical change I've witness (gay rights is a good example) has had a long prodromal period of rumbling but apparently very marginal outcry with little measurable change and then a seemingly sudden cultural shift when the dam breaks.
posted by latkes at 9:46 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


latkes: Scott is a pyschiatrist in training (currently a resident IIRC) who (again IIRC) is fairly deeply embedded in the rationalist community that grew up around the Less Wrong website & more generally around Eliezer & Brienne Yudkowsky.

He spends his free time writing verbose articles about whatever topic he finds interesting at the time. There are worse hobbies...

(The social justice left generally doesn’t get on with the rationalist crowd *at all* not least because they disagree violently on the whole “people’s lived experience trumping scientific evidence” thing, amongst other issues. You also get the soi-disant “scientific racists” and neoreactionaries hanging around the rationalists trying to convert them to their ways of thinking, which can give the whole crowd something of an unsavory nature. Even without them, you’ll find that the commentators on Scott’s blog are much more politically diverse than here on Metafilter - I recognise a bunch of names from corners of the internet I used to frequent 15 years ago popping up there.)
posted by pharm at 2:20 AM on May 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


"people's lived experience trumping scientific evidence" thing

The amazing thing about "Scott" and the "rationalists" is their preference for their personal attempts at reasoning from first principles over entire disciplines of natural and social science, all while claiming thrmselves to be rational.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:36 AM on May 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


That too :)

That said, science is done by people & people have human fallibilities. Every science (including so called hard sciences like physics) has had periods when the orthodoxy believed in or chased after things that, whilst widely attested at the time, were in fact complete fabrications arising from personal bias, selective publication, dominance of individuals with mistaken views and all the other failings that humans are capable of. Taking a step back and building up things from the bottom again to see if the edifice still stands is definitely something that we ought to be doing on a regular basis as a check on our own human fallibility.
posted by pharm at 4:16 AM on May 26, 2016


Most science is simply empirical and not built from first principles. Yes, it is good to continue to question assumptions, which is what the process of science does. But that has nothing to do with a bunch of computer programmers sitting around ruminating on things that they have no experience with or knowledge of.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:46 AM on May 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yudkowsky-esque "rationalism" is about as useful as every other attempt to understand reality by starting from a first principle and building an edifice of reason on it, like Objectivism and Austrian Economics.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:14 AM on May 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


One point about the low unemployment numbers that nags me is, what about the people who have given up? Are they counted somewhere? Or do they just evaporate, data-wise?
Here is a graph of U-3, U-5, and U-6 over the past few decades.

Note that all 3 measures track each other pretty well, which is one reason people who keep an eye on all the various unemployment measures don't get too excited about which exact one you are tracking. During a recession they will all go up and then all go back down pretty much in tandem.

However . . . if you look at the past points in a recovery where U-3 hit 5% (exactly where we are now) it looks like U-6 is noticeably higher now:
  • Jun 1997: U-6 8.8%
  • Oct 2005: U-6 8.7%
  • Mar 2016: U-6 9.7% (U-3 5% in all three months)
That additional 1% represents a lot of people on aggregate and puts some hard numbers to what a lot of us feel about this particular recovery, and the general long-term trend of the U.S. economy.
posted by flug at 9:36 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Really dude? And you're a psychiatrist? I hope you're not doing this detached unsympathetic Mr. Logic thing for your patients in crisis.

Imagine if they switched docs and ended up under the care of The Last Psychiatrist.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:25 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


That additional 1% represents a lot of people on aggregate and puts some hard numbers to what a lot of us feel about this particular recovery, and the general long-term trend of the U.S. economy.

U6 is now the last refuge of scoundrels:
But you can't just toss this out as a slippery way of making the economy seem like it's in horrible shape. If you're going to tout U6, you have to compare it to what's normal for U6. And what's normal in an expanding economy is about 8.9 percent. This means that even big, bad U6 is within a hair of its full-employment value.
I'm not calling you a scoundrel: that's the entire gig economy, right there, in that extra 1%. But I think if the U6 average before the recession was 8.9%, and it rose to 17.4% during the financial crisis, then 9.7% seems pretty good. Not great: great would be lower, sure. But half the time during the last boom, it was about where it is now. If you want to say we're approximately 1% point worse off than we were in 2005, that seems about right.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:06 AM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


social justice left generally doesn’t get on with the rationalist crowd *at all* not least because they disagree violently on the whole “people’s lived experience trumping scientific evidence” thing

Could you elaborate on where someone was arguing that "lived experiences trump scientific evidence"?
posted by Krom Tatman at 12:47 PM on May 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


The amazing thing about "Scott" and the "rationalists" is their preference for their personal attempts at reasoning from first principles over entire disciplines of natural and social science, all while claiming thrmselves to be rational.

If it was good enough for Aristotle, it's good enough for me!

/hamburger
posted by jb at 5:32 PM on May 26, 2016


Really dude? And you're a psychiatrist? I hope you're not doing this detached unsympathetic Mr. Logic thing for your patients in crisis.

My most recent therapist talked a lot about empathy, and he made his Buddhist practice known in his professional PR (FYI, I am also Buddhist). It didn't take too long to discover his lack of empathy in dealing with my PTSD symptoms, and in the manner he spoke about other people, as in nearly everyone else, whom he held in contempt for the smallest and most human transgressions, such as using imprecise language like "I feel" rather than "I think." I do understand the importance of precise language to a clinician, but I do not understand why he views the mass of humanity with such disregard, nor a patient of his who isn't making progress quickly enough after a few months of weekly sessions. It's almost as if he went into practice to satisfy his control issues.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:13 PM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I mean, from a rational point of view, the fundamental problem with the 'logic over emotion' argument is that human cognition and recollection are not at all rational, and our behavior and thinking are always affected by emotion. Logic is an artifice, and as important as it can be sometimes, it's not the pinnacle of humanity. It's often used as a pseudo-intellectual method to dismiss someone else.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:51 PM on May 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


It's not just in this thread, but in the linked post, and more importantly I guess in the articulated politics of Democratic candidates and many/most left leaning people I know to blow off movements for real change by calling them unrealistic.

Iceland pulled off a miracle economic escape by breaking almost every rule!
"Not to say this isn't cool, but it always irks me when people hold Iceland up as a model for other countries."* :P

U6 is now the last refuge of scoundrels

also worth looking at the employment to population ratio and labor force participation rate! (and comparing with other countries ;) there's also the labor market conditions index fwiw...
posted by kliuless at 1:01 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


There is no natural rate of unemployment. The entire concept is bullshit.
posted by wuwei at 7:42 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


“Economics is Destiny,” Kalle Lasn, Adbusters, 27 May 2016
posted by ob1quixote at 1:08 PM on May 27, 2016


looks like the IMF just got the memo kickitover manifesto :P

Neoliberalism: Oversold? - "Instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion" [1,2,3]

"The increase in inequality engendered by financial openness and austerity might itself undercut growth" -- IMF

"*Now* you tell us?" -- EMs

also btw...
"According to 'Concrete Economics', pure free-marketism is really just pro-finance industrial policy."

Finding Better Ideas to Rebuild America
In DeLong and Cohen’s telling, American economic policy ran off the rails in the 1970s and '80s, when U.S. leaders stopped picking winners and started making policy based on abstract theory -- in this case, free-market fundamentalism. When the U.S. let the market decide what the Next Big Thing would be, they argue, manufacturing faltered and finance and health care rushed in to fill the gap. Like so many others -- at least since 2008 -- DeLong and Cohen see U.S. health care as hopelessly inefficient, and finance as being full of rentiers who extract value from the economy instead of creating it. The void created by the U.S. embrace of unproductive industries, they argue, was filled by Asian economies eager to boost growth through exports, and unafraid of using industrial policy.

[T]he American mind has been far too captured by the beguilingly simple and powerful theory of free-market dogma. That theory was oversold, and we need a corrective. We need history... DeLong and Cohen propose to frame economic policy programs in terms of simple, tangible, objectives. Build railroads across the West. Break up monopolies. Fund Big Science. Only with “concrete” goals like this, they argue, can policy makers muster consistent broad support for needed initiatives.

Thus, this short, almost casually sketched book is really the opening shot in a long campaign. That campaign is the quest to build a New Industrialism -- an approach to economic policy that respects the power of the private sector but isn’t afraid of an activist government. No one quite knows what New Industrialism is going to be yet. “Concrete Economics” is meant to get people thinking about what it ought to be.
but recall...
The Dangerous Rise of Populism - "We are living in a dangerous time of transition: industrial capitalism is breaking down and we don't yet have a viable alternative. Incumbent politicians are still clinging to fixing the existing system while insurgent populists are arguing for big changes. This to a large degree explains the scary rise of populism we are seeing around the world and in the United States."

on that note, more on productivity! "There's been essentially no productivity growth outside of durable goods sector in 40+ years"*

Fed Governor Jerome H. Powell Powell on potential growth, relationship between investment, productivity, and monetary policy: "We need policies that support labor force participation and the development of skills, business hiring and investment, and productivity growth--policies that are, for the most part, outside the remit of the Federal Reserve."

so back to larry summers, who offers one vision: "I'm a progressive, but it seems plausible to wonder if government can build a nation abroad, fight social decay, run schools, mandate the design of cars, run health insurance exchanges, or set proper sexual harassment policies on college campuses, if it can't even fix a 232-foot bridge competently."

...setting expectations at the low-end of what gov't can accomplish vs. say a more 'utopian' (and yet inevitable?) vision or a higher bar at least...

Universal basic income: Money for nothing - "Amid anxiety over technological disruption, is a guaranteed payment from the state the future of welfare?"
A more equal division of the fruits of the technological revolution would revive that demand while providing a broader social good. The aim of all rich societies, Mr Reich said, should be to provide a basic level of subsistence, enabling people to do more of what they wanted and less of what they did not want to do. For all these reasons, he said: “I think that UBI is inevitable.”
---
*again i can't stress enough that productivity as measured by 'output' per hour or per capita or whatever only looks at dollar transactions, which to me (and the economist apparently) increasingly has less to do with actual utility and use value that people attach to their stuff and activities vs. price... so anyway, sure, establish NGDP level targets to guarantee that a high and rising level of dollar transactions take place, but that leaves the quality of such transaction to? and never mind the credibility of that guarantee?
posted by kliuless at 2:02 AM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


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