Response to: We Need a Second Party

This article by Thomas Friedman makes a relatively new, but familiar-feeling argument. The Republican party needs to change. It's outmoded. It's conflicted. It's woefully inequiped to deal with today's realities. His criticisms couldn't be more correct. In our song A Graveyard of Elephants we offer some of the exact same arguments. He's correct as far as it goes.

Where his analysis begins to fall down is where he begins to argue that today's incarnations of Conservatisms can be salvaged. By and large, this is completely wrong. In today's America, which version of Conservatism is worth saving? Which one resonates? Which one are Americans moving toward? As Alan Wolfe so eloquently states "In this entrepreneurial, mobile, innovative, and individualistic country, conservatism was constantly on the defensive, aiming to preserve things--deference, reverence, and diffidence, to name three--that most Americans were anxious to shed." This is more true than ever.

Religious or "traditional family structure" conservatism? Religion is on the wane (recent controversies notwithstanding - study after study backs this one up.) America is becoming more secular and more accepting of LGBT rights. Birth control is used regularly. Abortion, though a perennial topic, still has broad support, and will eventually be made obsolete by better methods of birth control (permanent and side-effect free.) More people are living alone or co-habiting than ever before. Single parenthood is hardly the shocking subject it once was. Staying single for life, open marriage, non-hetero marriage, polyamory, being childfree, and various other non-traditional family/non-family structures have entered the mainstream lexicon and, while not necessarily popular, are gaining acceptance.

Market Fundamentalism, a kind of "Conservatism" *(with built in contradictions), but in its current incarnation allows massive wealth concentration and poverty? Being rejected across the board - even large percentages of Republicans have rejected our current levels of wealth inequality. From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, there's a rejection of this doctrine, even if some of the members of those movements don't always know it.

Other, lesser known Conservatisms will likely never be popular. Take Bioconservatism, for example. Cosmetic surgery is commonplace. We're replacing (and now growing!) limbs and organs and putting them on and inside people. How far are we from enhanced contact lenses (permanent, with AR overlays)? Implants which help us learn faster and remember more are likely to be as eagerly embraced as "smart drugs" are becoming in many circles.

So what's left for Conservatism? Only one thing really looks promising to defend: "Economic nationalism", which will mean putting America's economic growth and innovation first. This will of course mean shedding other kinds of Conservatism. Free Markets has money go wherever it's most likely to make a profit in the short term. If we're going to try to move to the next level, we'll need to take some of that "State Capitalist" medicine that China has been popping for a while. Technology investment, items with longer-term payoffs (or that may not turn a profit), 21st-century infrastructure/transportation development, initiatives for further city densification and all its attendant benefits (idea mixing, serendipity creation, etc.)

Friedman argues these things, but implies that we can do it by reinventing the Republican party - which may be true. Doing so, however, will mean jettisoning all of those Conservatisms in the process. It's Conservatism(s) against the world, and Conservatism which will need to be sacrificed.

We need big moves, big ideas, and an international, rather than domestic-focused competitive spirit. An ideology that puts American innovation at the forefront, and all the policies necessary to make that happen. That's the only kind of Conservatism left worth defending.

Job automation roundup

October 29, 2011 · Posted in Business, Economics, Government, Policy, Politics · Comment 

 Many articles about technology replacing labor, the future of the human workforce, and the potential for mass unemployment (and what that means for the welfare state) have been making the rounds lately. I'm listing some of the best here (some are older, but still very important) so there's a single place for them - and because it is one of the most important issues in the world, and will only continue to get more important:

Why workers are losing the war against the machines

Will robots steal your job?

The jobless future

Krugman and Delong on automation

Structural problems in the US labor market

American workers race against the machine

A post of  my own on the subject:

The future of work, part 2

October 5, 2011 · Posted in Business, Culture, Government, Politics, Sociology · Comment 

Very interesting and important video. It starts getting especially interesting around 1:00:00 when Cowen and Ford start talking. A few things:

- The idea of "personal shoppers" being a growth area seems dubious. With recommendation and predictive desire systems getting better all the time, I think this is probably a no-go.

- Nannies might be a growth area for a few decades, but decent AI will likely obviate the need for these as well. I'd give this one 50-50 odds over the next 4-6 decades.

- Basically everyone on that panel endorsed the guaranteed income. The fact that people from so many different perspectives had their policy prescription converge to that is really striking.

- This also brings us back to the "how do we occupy the unemployed masses?" question yet again. Arts and leisure activities will likely not need much support from society, as they will just happen. Sports might (stadiums, etc.) Other things we'll probably be looking at will be extremely powerful, long-lasting, side-effect-free (or tolerable side effect having) drugs. That road of course leads to wireheading, but I think that denying that as a possibility now is extremely naive.

A cultural shift will be required, as several people in the video make clear. Having one's self worth (and respect of one's peers/society) be defined by a traditional support-one's-livelihood "job" is going to have to disappear. Demonization of those "lazy, ne'er do wells" is just not going to work in a future where much human labor is not needed.

Another thing this brings to mind is the effect on the labor market that does continue to function: a great deal less unemployment, at least for a long while. For those skills that are essentially not able to be automated any time soon (let's stay over, the next 50-100 years) those that stay in the labor market will not be doing much competing for open positions. It may in fact be an employee's market in those cases where someone is not simply their own business.

Are we moving towards sideband/loss leader economies?

February 15, 2011 · Posted in Business · Comment 

With the upheavals in the music and news industries over the past few years has come a litany of complaints from many quarters about the inability to make a living off art or journalism. Then there are the counter-claims that things are being reshaped and that people need to find a new moneymaking model in these industries. Both of those arguments are true, IMO. It is harder to make money because the playing fields are flatter (the "music industry", outside of the very top where firms have a great deal of money to throw at lobbyists and DRM is as close to a Free Market that actually works the way its supposed to as could currently be envisioned - barriers to entry and exit are low, prices are near-zero, choice is mind-boggling, and there are no negative externalities to speak of) so there's huge amounts of competition and price drops. At the same time, those that do figure out working models stand to make a decent living. 

Now, I'd like to add a third argument into the mix: music, art, writing, (including journalism) and many other endeavors, etc. have become loss leaders of sort. You release music, write articles, take photos, report news and such to market yourself, and actually make money off something else. Bands sell T-shirts. Photographers teach classes. Writers act as cable TV pundits or do seminars. The idea of loss leaders is old, but the fact that it's becoming more common at the individual, rather than company level is new. It's understandable why this would bother some people; if you study, train, practice for something particular thing but it doesn't directly make you money, you may feel like you've wasted your time, been cheated, or just confused and angry that economies no longer work the way you thought they did (this may be particularly acute if you spend years listening to people who lived through the post WWII boom-times and actually believe that career advancement, seniority, etc. still works/exists the way it did back then.)

So we enter a world where many more people are "sideband" career people, and it's an understandably frustrating - it requires you to spend more time thinking about your career itself, about networking, about marketing oneself - skills that have very little to do with the skills you learned for your main endeavor. Regardless, it does seem to be the kind of world many people are in now.

Copyright in a networked world: where to from here?

November 26, 2010 · Posted in Business, Policy · Comment 

From "Copyright in a networked world":

First, we should look at what the Networked World demands, not just for copyright but for all forms of commerce and communication. And one thing that is clear is that the Networked World demands speed and it demands scale. People now expect transactions to take place immediately, if not sooner, and likewise they expect access to information to help those transactions just as quickly.

And they expect the same speed and scale for copyright transactions, especially since the content itself can be digitized and transmitted immediately too. We see some of that in action today in the ease with which one can (legitimately) download a song, stream a movie or buy a digital book. But the needs of the system don’t end there. A blogger who wants to use a photograph expects that she should be able to find it and pay for its use in a matter of minutes. A web site creator who wants to register the copyright in her site expects the process to be completed online and very quickly.

This is from Tim Rubin, Chief Counsel for Intellectual Property Strategy, Microsoft. A surprisingly forward-thinking speech from an organization not traditionally known for its openness, particularly on Intellectual Property matters. This seems to imply that tide has really shifted. 

What might the system look like, and what would it do? A central repository where anyone could register or obtain the rights to use copyrighted material pretty much instantly, and could search for material (like you can on Getty Images/ image search) by music or art style, sound or visual similarity, textual content, etc. The terms of use are spelled out, you pay, done. You now have permission to use the material. It should also have completely unencumbered works, which would help move us towards a world where we have a notion of "international public domain", which anyone could use without obtaining permission or paying.

This system would help solve the "orphan" problem mentioned in the speech, and would also help solve things like cross-country Intellectual Property law conflicts, and also allow people to use work that they otherwise wouldn't have because they were unable to find its owner. Of course, a system like this wouldn't be perfect (particularly regarding the question of "Who Administers?"), but seems like it could be a step in the right direction, and a net positive for culture.

A history of NYC entrepreneurship

November 15, 2010 · Posted in Business, History, Policy · Comment 

Though I don’t agree with each of his particular policy proposals for improving the business climate for small businesses in NYC (though I do strongly agree that improving the business climate for startups, particularly in NYC, is a very good idea and should be done), it’s a very good article overall: A history of NYC entrepreneurship – full article