Economists write a lot about the mystery of why productivity is not increasing, with pieces such as this. There’s even a section on it in Wikipedia.
My own theory is that limited wage increases is also limiting the benefits of productivity aids. How I think this works is so:
- Employers wont raise wages for employees.
- Employers deploy technology that should result in productivity gains.
- Employees take the technology deployed and use them to decrease their efforts.
- The employer sees some productivity gains and assumes that is the limit for the technology deployed.
Look at this chart:
In much of the world economy, all the job growth is in the services sector (green line), not the manufacturing sector (red line). Achieving productivity gains in the manufacturing sector is more straightforward: replace people with robots and you are done. It’s not as straightforward as that in the services sector. In some services sector jobs, it is not possible to decrease effort without it being visible. But in many services sector jobs, it is. If employees cannot improve their lives by making more money, they may decide to do so by working less and working right up to the point where they don’t lose their job.
If you look at employment as a game, then we currently have a Nash equilibrium where the employees know that they won’t get paid more working for the same company, because that is the best strategy for the company. Therefore the best strategy for the employee is to minimize their effort without getting fired and while showing little if any productivity gains.
That’s to me is key reason why I think we have the productivity paradox.
I would add that the reason this is a paradox is because no one wants to admit that this is happening. It seems like a failure on both the employers and the employees side. The employee wants to be seen as a good worker and the employer doesn’t want to admit it could be paying more. Instead technology is brought in to solve an organizational problem, which is something technology cannot do.
(Chart from Business Insider).
It is striking to see what percentage of American capital attributed to slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries (the striped section in the chart above). In the late 18th century only agricultural land counted for more, and there slavery contributed to that too.
The American Civil War and the emancipation of those bound in slavery destroyed all that capital, and that was great and necessary. While it is wrong to consider slavery only in terms of money, it is impossible to talk about slavery in the United States without considering its relationship to the economy and capital. The capital that derived from slavery was massive.
In the U.K. the abolition of slavery resulted in the government providing capital back to the slave owners. It was a terrible omission that neither the U.K. nor the U.S. provided capital to the freed slaves. There are those, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, who argue that such capital in the form of reparation is due. Based on the chart above, a case could be made that it would be a tremendous amount of money.
(Chart above taken from “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty)
There have been many articles written on UBI. (If you don’t know what it is, it’s universal basic income: a cash payment made to every individual in the country).
Two of the more interesting ones I’ve read are here: The UBI already exists for the 1% – Medium, and this one here (on how India is looking to do it).
UBI is coming. It may take some time though.
Is the FED (Federal Reserve System) broken? If not broken then certainly being strongly tested, as this piece shows to me: The Fed Is Searching for a New Framework. New Minutes Show It Doesn’t Have One Yet. – The New York Times.
Since the start of the Great Recession, the target interest rate has gone from just over 5% to just over 0% and has more or less stayed that way for over half a decade. (See the chart). After a very long pause, the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve has begun the process of raising interest rates, a process that her predecessors have engaged in over recent decades as they put their own distinctive stamp on the economy. (See A History of Fed Leaders and Interest Rates – The New York Times). Some of them, like Paul Volcker, have been hugely successful in shaping the economy. Others, like Alan Greenspan, also have shaped the economy hugely, but I would add, unsuccessfully. So what should the FED do?
Paul Krugman has his take, here. Perhaps an extreme inflation target is the answer, just like Volcker’s extreme interest rates were the answer for their time. However, I don’t think they are symmetrical, and the goals of a higher inflation target would be dampened down by other forces. Furthermore, the FED and most other central banks seem only capable dealing with tamping down inflation and not so capable when dealing with unemployment.
The Chairwoman is signalling she will be raising rates soon. We should see what the effect is, and how the economy and President Trump and Congress responds. If the economy goes into a recession, that would say to me the FED is broken. If the economy does not go into a recession, I would say this means the FED still has a limited role in managing the economy. Let’s see.
Should you become an entrepreneur if you are older? If you are an entrepreneur, should you hire older workers despite worrying they won’t be a good fit? This piece, Don’t Let Your ‘Senior Citizen’ Status Kill Your Entrepreneurial Spirit, makes the case that the answer to both questions is yes. Well worth reading if you have been asking yourself these questions.
And why is Colonel Sanders shown here? The article will explain.
(Image linked to is on Wikimedia)
In this piece, Are we killing Yonge Street? from NOW Toronto Magazine, there is a good discussion on what is happening to development on Yonge Street in Toronto. NOW reports that for a lot of development happening on Yonge Street, the facades of the existing building are kept and much of the development is happening behind it. The article argues that this is a bad thing, and they raise some good points.
What I think they don’t touch on are some of the alternatives. Toronto is fortunate in that there is development ongoing. For poor cities, the alternative is boarded up or demolished buildings and vacant neighborhoods. Instead, we have neighborhoods and buildings being improved. That’s good.
Another alternative is the old buildings being torn down and replaced with new storefronts and new buidlings. I think some of that is good, but I also think preservation of old buildings is also good.
When it comes to preservation and improvements of old buildings, I also think that some of them should be preserved outright. However, Toronto is a growing city, and in some cases, we need larger buildings. In that case, facadism is a good compromise.
Now whether or not facadism is effective or not depends on at least two things. The first is how well the new architecture uses the existing architecture. Done well, the marriage of the old and new building results in something that enhances the area and preserves the city while allowing it to grow. The second thing that determines if facadism is effective is how the new building affects the neighborhood. Here, I think, is the root of the problem. It’s not so much facadism as it is gentrification. Old buildings get preserved, but old stores do not. New developments can cause rents to rise, driving out the stores and organizations that made the neighborhood great. You get bank branches and big chain stores replacing old bookshops and cafes.
I hope the next phase of development tries to understand how to preserve not just the existing architecture, but the neighborhood as well. I realize that is a difficult task, but it is one worth trying to accomplish.
Then you want to read these two really good pieces on why it is brutally tough to get tickets to an event without paying a fortune:
What it comes down to is a very limited supply and a very high demand. But that’s obvious. Read the pieces to see just how it really plays out.