Tag Archives: vox

Wages, Nash equilibrium, and the productivity paradox: a small theory of my own

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:

  1. Employers wont raise wages for employees.
  2. Employers deploy technology that should result in productivity gains.
  3. Employees take the technology deployed and use them to decrease their efforts.
  4. 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).

 

 

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Foodism and the problem with home-cooked meals

I was prepared to argue with this article in Vox from some time ago: The problem with home-cooked meals , because I am a big proponent of such meals.  However, the closer I read it, I think the main issue I have with it is the title. If it was titled “The difficulties in preparing home-cooked meals”, I would have been more receptive. Read the article. If you are a foodist like myself, it might seem hard to understand at first that people have difficulties with home-cooked meals, but like many things, the difficulties arise from lack of time, knowledge, and resources (money but also access to good food, even if you have money).

I believe that there are a number of ways to address those difficulties. First, I think city governments need to treat access to food the same way they treat access to other things such as transportation, water, parks and even sunlight. If housing doesn’t have access to water or electricity or transportation, then developers shouldn’t be allowed to build it and people should not be expected to move there. Access to good food should be part of that set of restrictions.

Second, we need to better educate people on how to prepare food.  Too much of our education system is spent on academic topics. Kids should be taught a wide range of subjects, and one of those should be how to prepare food no matter how much time or a budget you have. (They should also be taught how to manage finances, how to do basic home repairs, and how to deal with personal difficulties, among other topics.) There is a wealth of information available on food preparation, but often to me it seems aimed at foodists and is aspirational. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to make good food. In addition, though, people should learn how to make straightforward nutritious food, with anything from 2 ingredients on up, with or without a recipe, in 2 minutes or over 2 days.

Third, we need to change our emphasis on a form of eating. There is a belief that some North Americans have that home cooked meals should be prepared and eaten a certain way. Often this certain way involves 30 minutes to an hour of food preparation followed by an equal amount of time eating it. Culturally that may have been the way it was done, but there is nothing that says we must continue to eat that way. You should be able to prepare and eat good meals with the resources you have.  If that means a 5 minute preparation and a 5 minute stand up meal, so be it. Better that than 30 minutes spent eating over processed food in a chain restaurant.

Finally, we need a more expansive and less snobby approach to what constitutes good food. If you are a foodist and you want to cook with homemade stock, fresh herbs, wine and hard to source ingredients, and that works for you, that’s great. For most people, if you have limited access to good food, then you can still make good meals with what you have available, and there is no shame in that.  Besides, the social status of ingredients come and go: eat the best you can with what you have, be that a roasted chicken and a salad or a bowl of chunky vegetable soup.

For many people, food is a means to an end: I’m hungry, I eat food, I’m no longer hungry. For others, their life revolves around food. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, having an open mind about how others eat and being open to alternative ways to dealing with food will benefit everyone, including yourself.

(Image is of a ham, painted by Manet.)

P.S. In case you don’t think it is a word, here is the definition of definition of foodism, from the Oxford English Dictionary:  “A keen or exaggerated interest in food, especially in the minute details of the preparation, presentation, and consumption of food.” Therefore people who have foodism are foodists.

 

 

A great primer on self driving trucks that everyone should read. (Really!)

This piece, 1.8 million American truck drivers could lose their jobs to robots. What then? (Vox) is a great primer on self driving trucks and how they are going to have a major impact sooner than later.

If you are interested in IT, AI or robots, it really shows one of the places where this technology is going to have a significant impact.

If you are interested in economics, politics, or sociology, then the effect of robots replacing all these truck drivers is definitely something you want to be aware of.

If you drive on highways, you definitely want to know about it.

In any case, it’s a good piece by David Roberts. That is his beat and I find he always does a great job of breaking down a topic like this and making it easier to understand and relevant to me. I recommend any of his pieces.

The rich stay richer and the poor stay poorer (now with data to back this up)

I was impressed by this study of economic mobility over many generations in Florence: What’s your (sur)name? Intergenerational mobility over six centuries | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal. They make a good case that the richer families stay richer and the poorer families stay poorer regardless of the many other changes that occur in an area.To add to this, VOX reviews it and also references a study done in Sweden that finds something similar (Today’s rich families in Florence, Italy, were rich 700 years ago – Vox).

It’s depressing, but not surprising to me. I suspect that while individuals may rise and fall in terms of economic mobility, specific families work to insure that the wealth acquired is maintained through marriage and inheritance. Worse, conditions for poorer families are such that they can never acquire enough wealth to move them from the lower percentile to a higher one.

Are you in terrible shape? Not so terrible but bad enough shape? Do you need help? Here you go

Like most people — for instance, me — , you may need to get in better shape. In doing some research on it, I came across the following links that I found interesting, inspiring, and useful. I hope you do too:

Why you should not buy insurance for rental cars, toys or video games

Sales people asking you if you want insurance at a counter leans on your anxiety and often leads you to end up buying it. Should you? Well, if it is rental car insurance, Vox says no and does so persuasively, here: Why rental car insurance is usually a rip-off – Vox.

Two other places I see people wasting money on insurance is toys and video games. Toys R Us used to push insurance on me all the time. Before you buy it, consider how your child plays with a toy. Chances are, the insurance doesn’t buy you anything. If it is the only toy you are going to buy your child and the only one they will play with for a long time, then sure. But most children will play intently with a toy for awhile and then the interest drops.

Likewise with video games. Perhaps your child will play with it for a year and it will be their favorite game. Most times, I’ll bet they play intently for awhile, and then the interest drops.  During that time, the chance of damage is very slight.

The insurance for toys and video games is low, but it buys you next to nothing. If the store said: do you mind if we charge you an extra 5-10% on this item, you would laugh and say “no!”. Yet that is what they are doing with insurance.

Skip it and use the few bucks to treat your child to a sweet or yourself to a coffee or give it to someone in need.

Here’s what Vox and others miss when it comes to multitasking

Over at Vox is your typical article critiquing multitasking: Multitasking is inefficient. Here are 6 tips for a more productive workday. – Vox.

If you do a search on the word multitasking, you will find similar articles. Like the Vox piece, they are all reasonable, and they all offer good advice.

What they all miss is why we multitask.  I think there are three key reasons why we do, and they go hand in hand:

  1. We have too much to do in the little time you have.
  2. The tools we use are not responsive and/or support multitasking.
  3. You will be penalized for not appearing busy.

To give you an example of what I mean, consider your day. You likely have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Now let’s look at the tool you have at hand in an office. First, you have a computer and you use software like email and your browser. With email, you can start a number of tasks, but you cannot complete them. With your browser, you ask for information, then you wait for a response. If you are using a mobile device, a similar lag in request and response occurs. Now, you could just sit there and wait for a response to complete your task, but remember, you have too much to do and not enough time. As a result, you start other tasks. You are ….multitasking. You are maximizing your idle time while you wait for tasks to complete. Now you could just sit there, look out the window or go for a walk, but that would be ignoring the third point, which is that you will be penalized for not appearing busy.

If you are fortunate, you can focus on one task, complete it, and then move on to the next one. If you are like most of us, you have to multitask for the reasons above.