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  • Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on April 22nd, 2020 (All posts by )

    Waiting for Good Dough.  Excerpts of some thoughts on central banking and monetary policy, from a newsletter issued by Paul Singer’s hedge fund, Elliott Management.  Best post/article title I’ve seen in a long time.

    Remote work in industry during the pandemic and maybe afterwards…some thoughts from the CEO of GE Digital.

    Skills development in industry.  Career progression doesn’t always have to involve college education.

    Grim excerpts and critiques an Atlantic article which is a rather hysterical attack on a class of people who are very different from the author.

    Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen (he was coauthor of the first widely-used web browser and cofounder of Netscape) writes about the need for America to focus on building things. Surely most of us here will agree with that spirit, but a lot of his specifics seem dubious to say the least. Stuart Schneiderman offers some thoughts; worthwhile comment thread.

    A cat and a dog offer differing views about the merits of the work from home approach.

     

    11 Responses to “Worthwhile Reading”

    1. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      The need for America (and Europe) to wake up and start building things again —

      When the Agricultural Revolution meant that fewer people were required on the land to produce more food, the “liberated” workers were (after some generations of pain & struggle) able to find more productive work in factories due to the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, the overall productivity of the combined agricultural/industrial workforce went up, and (after a period of time) everyone lived better lives.

      When automation meant that fewer people were required in factories to produce more goods, and the Transportation Revolution made it more feasible to import cheaper goods from elsewhere, many of the “liberated” workers went into non-productive work in government service writing & enforcing regulations — or into the crony government succubus of Big Law, extracting value by tearing it from the hands of others. This in turn accelerated the push for offshoring, and sucked even more former productive workers into the maw of governmental overhead.

      History tells us that the unbearable overhead of current excessive regulation, over-complicated taxes, and the evil of Big Law will inevitably come to an end. History also tells us that the mechanism for ending the unsustainable overhead usually involves a massive amount of pain, with or without the intervention of Attila the Hun. Will we be one of the first civilizations in history to find a smoother way to reverse the damage of excessive overhead? Sadly, I know which way to bet.

    2. Grurray Says:

      The Fed is buying corporate junk bonds through asset management firms. They are basically doing what Michael Milken was thrown in jail for back in the 80s. It’s not just the dollar they are playing with this time, but the entire economy. Soon there will be no way to determine what anything is worth.

    3. PenGun Says:

      “The Fed is buying corporate junk bonds through asset management firms. They are basically doing what Michael Milken was thrown in jail for back in the 80s. It’s not just the dollar they are playing with this time, but the entire economy. Soon there will be no way to determine what anything is worth.”

      Indeed. This is why I have a little cash, and quite a bit of both Silver and Gold metal. It was obvious any faltering in the market, would have the Fed dilute the American dollar as much as it saw fit. As they are just stupid, I hope to benefit. ;)

    4. Mike K Says:

      If things get too bad, PenGun can always go back to his garbage truck job.

    5. David Foster Says:

      From Marc Andreessen’s piece:

      “Where are the supersonic aircraft? Where are the millions of delivery drones? Where are the high speed trains, the soaring monorails, the hyperloops, and yes, the flying cars?”

      and

      “The problem is desire. We need to *want* these things. The problem is inertia. We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things. The problem is regulatory capture. We need to want new companies to build these things, even if incumbents don’t like it, even if only to force the incumbents to build these things. And the problem is will. We need to build these things.”

      Soaring monorails? (I have to admit, I immediately thought of the monorail salesman in The Simpsons) There are reasons why monorail technology never took off in a big way.

      https://ggwash.org/view/67201/why-cities-rarely-build-monorails-explained

      High speed trains? The problem is not regulatory capture–freight railroads don’t care what you do with them, as long as it’s not on their tracks–the problem is regulatory *approvals*, especially endless environmental analyses. Or, alternatively, how about higher speed passenger trains on freight rails…there are legitimate concerns by the freight RRs about traffic capacity on many routes, probably fine on some routes but there have been regulatory problems based on claimed safety issues.

      Supersonic aircraft? Can’t operate over the US continent at supersonic speeds if you’re creating a sonic boom; this is a reasonable regulatory requirement. Work is now going on to possibly eliminate the sonic boom; this is required for general use of supersonic planes. Still limited market because of fuel consumption and hence cost.

      Flying cars? Think of the air traffic control problems involved with hundreds of thousands of vehicles in a very dense area such as New York City. I don’t think the lack of flying cars has anything to do with regulatory capture either by auto manufacturers or airplane manufacturers.

      Some of

    6. PenGun Says:

      “If things get too bad, PenGun can always go back to his garbage truck job.” Not really, I’m 73 and although I will walk up my mountain today, I am not going back to work. ;)

      As a Canadian pensioner I get $1600 a month, which easily supports me. My small inheritance, I invested in Gold and Silver and its doing very well. Did you have a stock market position? Not so smart. ;)

    7. MCS Says:

      I did some simple calculations a few years ago about hyperloops. The unavoidable problem is ANY change in direction.

      They are often portrayed as running along divided highway medians. The usual minimum radius for a roadway designed for 70 MPH is 1300 feet. At 70 MPH this generates an acceleration of 0.25g. At 700 MPH the acceleration is 25g, this will not only spill your coffee, it will kill pretty much anything less robust than a cock roach if continued for more than a short time.

      Vertical alignment is even more of a problem since any negative g’s are guaranteed to cause motion sickness in very many people.

      Any above ground installation would require huge cuts and fills as well as huge turn radii. Underground would have the same constraints but if deep enough would avoid most obstacles. The tubes would have to be mounted on some sort of active system to keep them perfectly straight as even small shifts in the ground would easily plaster everyone on the ceiling.

      I really have trouble believing that any engineer would waste any more time on it. It’s a fantasy that exists only in the infantile credulousness of an innumerate and generally ignorant media. The same media that we are depending on to tell us how to navigate the present difficulties.

    8. David Foster Says:

      There is almost certainly going to be some kind of ‘infrastructure’ funding bill; it would be worthwhile thinking about what kinds of investments (if one can call them that) would be truly worthwhile?

      –rural broadband?

      –waterways improvements?

      –hardening the power-transmission infrastructure against EMP and sabotage?

      –water and sewage-treatment facility improvements?

      –airport and ATC improvements?

      –the old standard, road-building and pothole-fixing?

      …and is it possible to do these things in a way that doesn’t further move us into the environment of crony capitalism?

    9. David Foster Says:

      Ezra Klein also has some comments…mostly not very impressive comments, IMO…about the Andreessen essay.

      https://www.vox.com/2020/4/22/21228469/marc-andreessen-build-government-coronavirus

    10. Jonathan Says:

      Klein, as is typical for him, is so naive that his prescriptions are worthless. His solution to a bureaucracy that blocks reasonable decisionmaking is not to reduce the bureaucracy’s authority but rather to change the bureaucracy in ways that make it more responsive to his preferred decisions.

    11. MCS Says:

      I sincerely hope David is wrong.

      How many people make their living installing fiber. Probably a few thousand and they’re pretty busy already. Any program would be an open invitation for every scam artist and gypsy black topper/roofer to get into the fiber business just like the solar business. In the end, a lot of money wasted and probably about zero fiber installed.

      Any sort of infrastructure work requires skilled people and heavy equipment. We don’t build roads by handing out shovels and wheelbarrows to a gang of random laborers. Not any more.

      I would pay money to watch as your average unemployed journalist or web designer was handed a shovel and pointed to a big pile of spoil that needed to be loaded.

      The people that can actually do the work are already busy.