• Activity
  • Votes
  • Comments
  • New
  • All activity
  • Showing only topics with the tag "economics". Back to normal view
    1. How are things in your country right now?

      It's a very broad question, but seeing the latest extremely worrying news from where I am made me wonder: how's everyone else getting on? Now that we're moving past the lockdowns and furloughs, do...

      It's a very broad question, but seeing the latest extremely worrying news from where I am made me wonder: how's everyone else getting on? Now that we're moving past the lockdowns and furloughs, do things look hopeful where you are?

      Things in the UK are pretty bad right now - huge inflation, energy prices hitting points that will seriously harm people's financial stability just to stay warm in winter, unending political scandal, increasing pollution, and little real sign of a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm fortunate enough to be able to handle it at least for now, but I'm genuinely worried for those around me and for the country as a whole.

      The pandemic hit us all hard, but it's difficult to gauge how hard. Obviously Brexit is an extra anchor around the UK's neck, but then the US has the legacy of Trump and mainland Europe has a war on the doorstep, so we're far from the only ones with problems. Are we in a uniquely bad position, or is this how everyone's feeling right now?

      21 votes
    2. Abortion bans are going to hit us worse than we think

      One thing about the bans on abortion that no one is talking about but is going to affect absolutely everyone is the current labor shortage we're experiencing in this country. From logistics to...

      One thing about the bans on abortion that no one is talking about but is going to affect absolutely everyone is the current labor shortage we're experiencing in this country. From logistics to food service to retail and beyond, women are part of the workforce in the United States. Once women start being forced to carry to term and give birth in numbers not seen in half a century, those women will be removed from the labor pool. That means less people in every work field in a time when we're already seeing a shortage of workers. That's only going to get worse. Add to that the reduction in salaries and rise in expenses for basic necessities (baby food, diapers, baby clothes) and that's money taken out of most sectors of the economy.

      We are headed for a massive labor shortage and a massive hit to an economy already weakened by a major pandemic. With this one ruling, the economic backbone of the American infrastructure may be dramatically weakened, and the number of jobs being filled are going to plummet.

      This is all on their heads, and it isn't going to be pretty.

      20 votes
    3. Thinking about the societal problem "stack"

      This past year and a half I've been in a strange sort of depression over the dysfunction of human society, especially in how nations around the world have collectively dealt (or failed to deal)...

      This past year and a half I've been in a strange sort of depression over the dysfunction of human society, especially in how nations around the world have collectively dealt (or failed to deal) with the coronavirus.

      I'm trying to get myself out of this funk. I'm normally a doer, not a sit-on-my-butt-er. I'm trying to think about the nature of human problems, see the problem space along different dimensions, and find high-leverage points for solutions. Trying to outline the problem "stack" so to speak.

      This is a lot of paper napkin thinking from me. There are going to be a lot of naive thoughts here. But I'd like to have an open conversation, so we can stumble on some new interesting insights, rediscover what others already have, and not get too bogged down in "well, ackchyually..." nitty-gritty details.


      The pandemic is a relatively 'easy' problem — at least if you compare it to the threat of an incoming extinction-level asteroid, a wandering black hole, or a dying sun, which would require technical solutions impossibly beyond our current capabilities. In those scenarios, we can only pray and party. But for the pandemic, we had the political tools: Taiwan showed us how a combined approach of strict border controls with hotel quarantining (no kindly asking people to maybe please quarantine — travelers will quarantine), wearing masks everywhere, extensive contact tracing, and cross-governmental data-sharing, can successful contain the virus. Now we have technological tools: a myriad of vaccines.

      Yet...

      • It's been nearly a year and a half. A concerted global effort could have ended the crisis within a month or two early on, right? Granted, this would entail giving up our human rights for a short while — but that seems way better than dragging it for so long. Instead we watched as we tried to carry on as normal as possible and the virus spread like wildfire.
      • A third of U.S. adults are unvaccinated despite being eligible and there being plenty of vaccines to go around (in the US at least).
      • Significant numbers of people believe wacky stuff: COVID isn't real, masks don't do anything, and so on.

      From what I observe: nearly all human problems are policy problems. The human race has sufficient material and technological resources to solve most problems. Underlying those policy problems are coordination problems — coordinating people on the facts, solutions, and implementations.

      1. Human problems
      2. ... are policy problems
      3. ... are coordination problems

      So the human race has a bunch of solutions, institutions, and tools to help with the coordination problem:

      • the UN and other intergovernmental bodies like the WHO to coordinate at the international level
      • National institutions to coordinate
      • Newspapers to spread information and generate consensus

      But as we well know, these coordination solutions have problems. Now I'm thinking what are the coordination sub-problems.

      • Incentive problems / The Game: Broadly in game theory speak, some players are incentivized to not cooperate, even if at the detriment of everyone. This seems to me to be the crux of the coordination problem.
      • Culture problems: This is a whole nest of problems.
        • Cultural norms around equity. I think that this is a big one. It's been shown that different societies have different norms and ideas about what's fair and equal. The norms often develop around economic realities. Forager societies favor egalitarian distribution over meritocratic distribution as high cooperation is required between members: unequal distribution threatens relationships and cooperation. Perhaps our merit-based norms may need to shift from a pre-industrial era where people more or less produced what they consumed — to a new era of automation and robotics, where a relative few produce most everything.
        • Cultural norms around consumption and transmission of information. This stems from our education culture. Media consumption in our societies — western and non-western alike — is passive. Socratic seminars are rare in schools: pupils receive lessons passively from their teachers. Most people aren't educated or trained on how to have open discussions or on how to avoid rhetorical fallacies.
      • Education problems: there is only so much information can do if people don't know how to process information.
        • Mentioned above cultural norms around how we consume and transmit information.
        • Statistical thinking. The abuse and misuse of stats in popular discourse.

      Among others.

      7 votes
    4. Why don't we just ban the buying, selling, and merging of companies?

      With the ever-growing stream of acquisitions and mergers, it got me thinking: Why do we permit companies to do this? What would the harm be in banning this practice? If a company is becomes...

      With the ever-growing stream of acquisitions and mergers, it got me thinking: Why do we permit companies to do this?

      What would the harm be in banning this practice? If a company is becomes insolvent, release all of it's IP to the public domain, dissolve all patents/trademarks, and sell off physical assets to pay debtors (first of which should be former employees IMO, but that's a separate discussion).

      Edit: I think my original intention of the post to kick off some interesting discussion has worked. Thank you to all current and future posters!

      16 votes
    5. For the people who want capitalism to be replaced by some form of socialism, why?

      (Yes, I know "socialism" and "capitalism" are vague terms, hence why you should probably very much clarify what type of "socialist" system you want, since "socialism" can be anything from market...

      (Yes, I know "socialism" and "capitalism" are vague terms, hence why you should probably very much clarify what type of "socialist" system you want, since "socialism" can be anything from market socialism, Marxism-Leninism, Syndicalism, democratic socialism, Trotskyism, anarcho-socialism, anarcho-communism, Luxemburgism, etc. Also, I'm a far cry from informed in this, so please correct me when needed.)

      So anyway, if you call yourself a socialist or at least want to abolish capitalism, why?

      So for the best reasons I have seen are:

      • Capitalism is inherently hierarchical and incompatible with democracy, which is egalitarian.

      Obviously not all types of socialism (I.E, most types of socialism that have been tried for more than a few years because they weren't overthrown or voted out) are egalitarian however and many of these systems are completely centralized.

      • Big companies will naturally use the state to their own advantage, as capitalism is driven by self interest instead of any vague marker of "competition".

      The main argument against this is that you definitely regulate capitalism to be more competitive with stuff like antitrust without abolishing the whole thing.

      18 votes
    6. What is something cheap to create but expensive to purchase?

      I was having a conversation with a friend today about the economics of art and the potential cost of purchasing an idea. It got me thinking, what are some other things relatively cheap to create...

      I was having a conversation with a friend today about the economics of art and the potential cost of purchasing an idea. It got me thinking, what are some other things relatively cheap to create but expensive to purchase?

      19 votes
    7. What are the primary pressures leading us towards collapse?

      I’m trying to organize a series of statements which reflect the primary pressures pushing civilization towards collapse. Ideally, I could be as concise as possible and provide additional resources...

      I’m trying to organize a series of statements which reflect the primary pressures pushing civilization towards collapse. Ideally, I could be as concise as possible and provide additional resources for understanding and sources in defense of each. Any feedback would be helpful, as I would like to incorporate them into a general guide for better understanding collapse.

      We are overwhelmingly dependent on finite resources.

      Fossil fuels account for 87% of the world’s total energy consumption. 1 2 3

      Economic pressures will manifest well before reserves are actually depleted as more energy is required to extract the same amount of resources over time (or as the steepness of the EROEI cliff intensifies). 1 2

      We are transitioning to renewables very slowly.

      Renewables have had an average growth rate of 5.4% over the past decade. 1 2 3 4

      Renewables are not taking off any faster than coal or oil once did and there is no technical or financial reason to believe they will rise any quicker, in part because energy demand is soaring globally, making it hard for natural gas, much less renewables, to just keep up. 1

      Total world energy consumption increased 15% from 2009 to 2016. New renewables powered less than 30% of the growth in demand during that period. 1

      Transitioning to renewables too quickly would disrupt the global economy.

      A rush to build an new global infrastructure based on renewables would require an enormous amount resources and produce massive amounts of pollution. 1 2

      Current renewables are ineffective replacements for fossil fuels.

      Energy can only be substituted by other energy. Conventional economic thinking on most depletable resources considers substitution possibilities as essentially infinite. But not all joules perform equally. There is a large difference between potential and kinetic energy. Energy properties such as: intermittence, variability, energy density, power density, spatial distribution, energy return on energy invested, scalability, transportability, etc. make energy substitution a complex prospect. The ability of a technology to provide ‘joules’ is different than its ability to contribute to ‘work’ for society. All joules do not contribute equally to human economies. 1 2 3

      Best-case energy transition scenarios will still result in severe climate change.

      Even if every renewable energy technology advanced as quickly as imagined and they were all applied globally, atmospheric CO2 levels wouldn’t just remain above 350 ppm; they would continue to rise exponentially due to continued fossil fuel use. So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change, with all its dire consequences: shifting climatic zones, freshwater shortages, eroding coasts, and ocean acidification, among others. Our reckoning showed that reversing the trend would require both radical technological advances in cheap zero-carbon energy, as well as a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering the carbon. 1

      The speed and scale of transitions and of technological change required to limit warming to 1.5°C has been observed in the past within specific sectors and technologies {4.2.2.1}. But the geographical and economic scales at which the required rates of change in the energy, land, urban, infrastructure and industrial systems would need to take place, are larger and have no documented historic precedent. 1

      Global economic growth peaked forty years ago.

      Global economic growth peaked forty years ago and is projected to settle at 3.7% in 2018. 1 2 3

      The increased price of energy, agricultural stress, energy demand, and declining EROEI suggest the energy-surplus economy already peaked in the early 20th century. 1 2

      The size of the global economy is still projected to double within the next 25 years. 1

      Our institutions and financial systems are based on expectations of continued GDP growth perpetually into the future. Current OECD (2015) forecasts are for more than a tripling of the physical size of the world economy by 2050. No serious government or institution entity forecasts the end of growth this century (at least not publicly). 1

      Global energy demand is increasing.

      Global energy demand has increased 0.5-2% per year from 2011-2017, despite increases in efficiency. 1 2 3

      Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use. 1 2 3 4

      World population is increasing.

      World population is growing at a rate of around 1.09% per year (2018, down from 1.12% in 2017 and 1.14% in 2016. The current average population increase is estimated at 83 million people per year. The annual growth rate reached its peak in the late 1960s, when it was at around 2%. The rate of increase has nearly halved since then, and will continue to decline in the coming years. 1 2

      Our supplies of food and water are diminishing.

      Global crop yields are expected to fall by 10% on average over the next 30 years as a result of land degradation and climate change. 1

      An estimated 38% of the world’s cropland has been degraded or reduced water and nutrient availability. 1 2

      Two-thirds of the world (4.0 billion people) lives under conditions of severe water scarcity at least one month per year. 1

      Climate change is rapidly destabilizing our environment.

      An overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree humans are the primary cause of climate change. 1

      A comparison of past IPCC predictions against 22 years of weather data and the latest climate science find the IPCC has consistently underplayed the intensity of climate change in each of its four major reports released since 1990. 1

      15,000 scientists, the most to ever cosign and formally support a published journal article, recently called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.” 1

      Emissions are still rising globally and far from enabling us to stay under two degrees of global average warming. 1 2

      Climate feedback loops could exponentially accelerate climate change.

      In addition to increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, many disrupted systems can trigger various positive or negative feedbacks within the larger system. 1 2 3 4 5

      Biodiversity is falling rapidly.

      The current species extinction rate is 1,000 to 10,000 times greater than the natural background rate. 1 2

      World wildlife populations have declined by an average 58% in the past four decades. 1

      The marginal utility of societal complexity is declining.

      Civilization solves problems via increased societal complexity (e.g. specialization, political organization, technology, economic relationships). However, each increase in complexity has a declining marginal utility to overall society, until it eventually becomes negative. At such a point, complexity would decrease and a process of collapse or decline would begin, since it becomes more useful to decrease societal complexity than it would be to increase it. 1 2 3

      25 votes
    8. Moving from advertising-supported media to a sustainable, high-quality, alternative -- some light reading

      This is a complex issue and one that's hard to address succinctly. It gets into the larger matter of media and its role and interaction with society, which is profound. This includes political and...

      This is a complex issue and one that's hard to address succinctly. It gets into the larger matter of media and its role and interaction with society, which is profound. This includes political and social elements going far beyond consumerism and consumption, though those are part of the dynamic.

      For a short answer: advertising is not the only problem, but is a large component of a set of conflicts concerning information and media. It both directly and indirectly promotes disinformation and misinformation, opens avenues to propaganda and manipulation, and fails to promote and support high-quality content. It also has very real costs: globally advertising is a $600 billion/year industry, largely paid out of consumer spending among the world's 1 billion or so wealthy inhabitants of Europe, North America, and Japan. This works out to about $600/year per person in direct expense. On top of the indirect and negative-externality factors. Internet advertising is roughly $100 billion, or $100/yr. per person if you live in the US, Canada, EU, UK, Japan, Australia, or New Zealand. The "free" Internet is not free.

      And the system itself is directly implicated in a tremendous amount of the breakdown of media, politics, and society over the past several years. Jonathan Albright, ex-Googler, now a scholar of media at the Tow Center (and its research director), Columbia University in New York, "Who Hacked the Election? Ad Tech did. Through “Fake News,” Identity Resolution and Hyper-Personalization", and editor of d1g (estT) (on Medium).

      [S]cores of highly sophisticated technology providers — mostly US-based companies that specialize in building advanced solutions for audience “identity resolution,” content tailoring and personalization, cross-platform targeting, and A/B message testing and optimization — are running the data show behind the worst of these “fake news” sites.

      (Emphasis in original.)

      A Media Reader

      By way of a longer response, I'd suggest some reading, of which I've been doing a great deal. Among the starting points I'd suggest the following, in rough order. Further recommendations are very much welcomed.

      Tim Wu

      The Attention Merchants is a contemporary version of the media, attention, distraction, disinformation, manipulation, and power game that's discussed further in the following references. If you're looking for current state-of-the-art, start here. Ryan Holiday and Trust Me, I'm Lying is a 2012 expose of the online media system. For an older view, Vance Packard's 1950s classic (updated), The Hidden Persuaders gives perspective both on what methods are timeless, and what's changed. A 2007 New York Times essay on the book gives a good overview.

      Hamilton Holt

      Commercialism and Journalism (1909) is a brief, easy, and fact-filled account of the American publishing industry, especially of newspapers and magazines, at the dawn of the 20th century. Holt was himself a publisher, of The Independent, and delivered this book as a lecture at the University of California. It gives an account of the previous 50 years or so of development in publishing, including various technologies, but putting the greatest impact on advertising. I'm not aware that this is particularly well-noted, but I find it a wonderfully concise summary of many of the issues, and a view from near the start of the current system. Holt includes this quote from an unnamed New York journalist:

      There is no such thing in America as an independent press. I am paid for keeping honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. If I should allow honest opinions to be printed in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation, like Othello's, would be gone. The business of a New Yourk journalist is to distort the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the foot of Mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. We are the tools or vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. Our time, our talents, our lives, our possibilities, are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.

      (An HN commenter reveals that this was John Swinton.)

      Jerry Mander

      Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. This is a 1970s classic that's held its value. Mander is an ad executive himself, though he took his talents to the Environmental movement, working closely with David Brower of the Sierra Club.

      Adam Curtis

      BBC documentarian, most especially The Century of the Self (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4), and Hypernormalisation. These documentaries, the first a four-part series, the second a self-contained 2h40m single session, focus on media and propaganda. The first especially on Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud (Bernays' uncle), advertising, and propaganda. The second on Vladimir Putin.

      Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

      Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. The title itself comes from Walter Lippmann and his earlier work, Public Opinion, which is something of a guide to its manufacture, and the genesis of "modern" 20th century media. The notion of mass media as having a political economy is a critical element in answering your question. That is: media is inherently political and economic, and advertising and propaganda (or as it was rebranded, "public relations"), all the more so.

      Robert W. McChesney

      McChesney has been continuing the exploration of media from a political-economic perspective and has an extensive bibliography. His Communication Revolution in particular discusses his own path through the field, including extensive references.

      Marshall McLuhan

      Particularly The Gutenberg Galaxy and The Medium is the Message.

      Elisabeth Eisenstein

      Either her book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change or the earlier (and much shorter) article that pressaged it, "Some Conjectures about the Impact of Printing on Western Society and Thought: A Preliminary Report" (more interesting than its title, I promise). Eisenstein draws heavily on, and improves greatly on the rigour of, McLuhan.

      Generally: Other 19th and 20th century media scholars and writers

      H.L. Mencken, I.F. Stone, and perhaps Walter Lippmann and John Dewey. Mencken and Stone are particularly given to shorter essays (see especially The I.F. Stone Weekly Reader, The Best of I.F. Stone and his New York Review of Books articles) which can be readily digested. Mencken's "Bayard vs. Lionheart" whilst not specifically concerning advertising largely describes the crowd-psychology inherent in mediocre or pathological social-political outcomes, and is a short and brilliant read. Mencken has a long list of further writings.

      Edward Bernays

      Especially Propaganda and Public Relations. Bernays created the field of public relations, and largely drove the popular support of "democracy" (a WWI war bonds advertising slogan) in favour of the earlier "liberty". For Stone, I cannot recommend his Day at Night interview (~1974) highly enough. 30 minutes. Bernays' New York Times obituary makes interesting reading.

      Charles-Marie Gustave Le Bon

      The Crowd: A study of the popular mind. "[C]onsidered one of the seminal works of crowd psychology." Wikipedia article.

      Charles Mackay

      Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841). "[O]ften cited as the best book ever written about market psychology." Wikipedia article.

      I have yet to read all of these works, though they're on my list, and I've at least reviewed most of the works and authors and am familiar with major themes. Virtually all of these will lead to other sources -- books, articles, authors, fields of study -- by way of bibliographies (looking backward) and citations (looking forward). Among my favourite and most fruitful research techniques.

      This is also really just a starting point, though I hope it's a good one. Media isn't my field, or rather, I'd thought that, working in technology, it wasn't, but I've come to realise that (1) "information technology" is in very large part "media technology", and (2) the interactions of media systems and society, politics, economics, even culture as a whole, are beyond deep, and highly underappreciated.

      The role of mass media in the spread of early-20th century Fascism is a particularly sobering story. See "Radio and the Rise of The Nazis in Prewar Germany", and recognise that you could include cinema, magnetic audio tape recording, public address systems (it's hard to address three quarters of a million people without amplification). More recently, radio has been studied in conjunction with the 1994 Rwandan genocide. These remain extant issues.

      Bootnote

      Adapted from a StackExchange contribution.

      14 votes
    9. What are your thoughts on a Universal Basic Income?

      With the incredible pace of automation and AI taking place across all sectors of our Global Economy, countries/governments/citizens need to start seriously thinking about how we can continue to...

      With the incredible pace of automation and AI taking place across all sectors of our Global Economy, countries/governments/citizens need to start seriously thinking about how we can continue to survive when there are simply not enough jobs to be had. UBI is one option that countries have attempted to "beta test" with varying results. What is ~'s[sic] opinion on UBI and automation and AI "taking our jerbs"?

      41 votes
    10. Are trade wars good (and for whom)?

      Recent news has made it plain that President Trump intends on going through with his much discussed plan of implementing tariffs on many sources of steel and aluminum imports to the US. This seem...

      Recent news has made it plain that President Trump intends on going through with his much discussed plan of implementing tariffs on many sources of steel and aluminum imports to the US. This seem as good a time as any to ask a question that begs for evidence: Are trade wars good, and who benefits?

      There is good reporting out there that analyzes the likely impact of this particular steel tariff, so feel free to find it and use it in your own argument (there are figures the administration has produced and figures that other studies have produced using the same source material). There are also plenty of other tariffs out there throughout history that have been studied and discussed. Because these sources can sometimes conflict, please be aware that your choice of what sources to use may need to be justified.

      16 votes