Saturday, June 16, 2018 "next election"

... and I want ice cream and a pony

Pompeo has that Sean Spicer-esque "I work for a f*in moron" look.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Trump-Kim Summit: Not looking good, folks...

Oh shit


His lengthy explanation:

The word “denuclearization” is more or less native to the Korean Peninsula. This wasn’t the term experts used to talk about the elimination of nuclear weapons programs in South Africa, Iraq or Libya. In those contexts, the word was almost always “disarmament.”
“Denuclearization” [is] conveniently abstract. That allowed it to capture different aspects of what James Baker, [George H.W.] Bush’s secretary of state, called “the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula.” It covered at the same time the nuclear weapons that the United States withdrew from South Korea, the so-called “nuclear umbrella” of extended deterrence provided by the United States, and North Korea’s own nuclear weapons ambitions. [...]  Today, of course, things are very different than they were in 1992. There are no American nuclear weapons in South Korea (although the North Koreans don’t believe that, and some South Korean politicians have called for their return). More important, North Korea has moved in fits and starts to build a nuclear weapons capability that may be as large as 60 nuclear weapons, including a small number that can strike the United States.
North Korea’s disarmament is unlikely, except in the broader context of inter-Korean reconciliation and a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War. (Even then, it seems like a long shot.) [...]   If the term “denuclearization” merely reduces the problem of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions to a small challenge in the big context of a settlement of Korea’s division, then it is the right one.

Vipin Narang of MIT further elaborates:

That phrase — “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — is a term of art that the United States and North Korea can interpret to suit their interests. 
Mr. Trump can walk away claiming that the phrase encompasses unilateral “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement,” or disarmament of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. North Korea can interpret the phrase to mean termination of the American security guarantee and nuclear umbrella to South Korea, or more literally, as universal disarmament by all nuclear countries. And the phrase commits North Korea to no concrete action — especially since it pledged only to “work towards” it.  
And presumably, as long as he freezes any further long-range-missile and nuclear testing, Mr. Kim will get at least a short-term freeze on American and South Korean military exercises.  He views them as provocative, a sign that his enemies are training to overthrow the regime. To his domestic audience, Mr. Kim can now present the end of this provocation as a signal of North Korea’s sovereignty and security. 
Mr. Kim also leaves Singapore having snuffed out the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign. [...]  Having apparently helped get North Korea to the table, it is unlikely that China will ever again agree to a maximum pressure campaign. Tightening sanctions would only destabilize North Korea, and China fears a desperate and broken North Korea on its border more than it fears a nuclear North Korea. Even if sanctions by the US and the UN Security Council remain in place, without additional Chinese implementation, North Korea will find itself enjoying considerable breathing space. 
American allies in the region are not so sanguine. South Korea was taken by surprise by the sudden announcement of an end to joint military exercises. But it is Japan who is perhaps most terrified, because US-Japan exercises may be the next to go. Mr. Trump has chafed at the cost of America’s deployment in East Asia, and Mr. Kim led him right where he wanted to go. The only thing that may actually be dismantled is the architecture of America’s longstanding military alliance with Japan and South Korea.
So a bit of a nuance here.  James Hershberg, of George Washington University, adds:
Kim has only agreed (in his April 27 joint statement with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, reaffirmed when they met again on Saturday May 26) to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. That very different idea means that even in the remote scenario that Kim agreed to intrusive inspections inside North Korea, he would insist, inevitably and at a minimum, on reciprocal rights to inspect comparable locations in South Korea — for example, all US military bases (where around 30,000 troops are currently stationed) and probably South Korean ones as well, plus any and all US warships or aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons that enter South Korea’s waters or airspace. After all, they can argue, how else can the denuclearization of the entire peninsula be assured unless North Korean inspectors are allowed to snoop around all possible hiding places in South Korea, and the Americans withdraw and/or dismantle their bases or equipment capable of storing or using nuclear warheads—such as any dual-use (able to use conventional or nuclear) weapons that the US has deployed in South Korea for decades?

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Do what you Love, or Should you?


Recently I heard a tech startup founder during a speech, who said: "I've been taught, that if you just do what you love, the money will come."  It was mentioned in passing, very casually, probably didn't even think twice about it.  But my immediate response was: "well that's easy to say if your last name is [insert wealthy family], but most people have mouths to feed." 

I'd love to see research on how enterpreneurship, especially in tech, drives wider inequality.  The 99% don't have the luxury of quitting their day jobs in pursuit of their lifelong dreams of fishing, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, or doing Brazilian jiujitsu for a living.  Risk-taking is only remotely an option to the privileged.  With billions of dollars sloshing around in the venture capital space, naturally the moneys flow into the hands of these elite few.  This is how 82% (US$762 billion) of all wealth creation in 2017 went to the top 1%, while the bottom 50% saw no increase at all.  Or how the 42 richest people control the same wealth as the bottom 3.7 billion.  Sure 90% of all startups fail in less than five years.  Perhaps they die in a fiery inferno like Webvan or Pets-dot-Com, but most likely they just can't get funding to continue, the principals lose interest, everybody understands and moves on.

Moreover, "Do What You Love" is just a horrible, horrible mantra.  Popularized by the late Steve Jobs, DWYL is basically a propaganda tool for capitalism.  From Miya Tokumitsu:

"By portraying Apple as a labor of his individual love, Jobs elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories, conveniently hidden from sight on the other side of the planet — the very labor that allowed Jobs to actualize his love.  [...] 
Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?"

Nobody is arguing that the work environment shouldn't be enjoyable.  But DWYL degrades work, making it less of a serious, valuable and worthwhile effort.  By masking our labor as "love", do employers expect us not to demand fair compensation & benefits, or ask for reasonable leisure and family time?

When we (employers) succeed, we earn all the credit to ourselves -- forget about all of the support workers who are "doing it for the money", not for love.  When we fail -- and as mentioned above, most likely we *will* fail -- sure everybody loses their livelihoods, but at least we're doing something we love. 

Friday, June 01, 2018

The Future of Work, and Education

Source: McKinsey Global Institute (2017)

Today's job market is dramatically different than that of the previous generation.  Long venerable career paths (doctors, lawyers, oil engineers) have been replaced by new ones like startup executives, software engineer, or data scientists.  However, not everybody can, or want to, or should, learn coding.  So what really is the future of work?

What is the future of work?

We have heard futurists declaring manufacturing jobs extinct, replaced by factory automation.  Other manual laborers (accountants? lawyers? also likely victims: real estate brokers, insurance, and loan officers) may also disappear, replaced by AI and blockchain.  Service work may persist, but likely transformed beyond recognition.  McKinsey recently issued a report arguing that 1/3 of Americans would need to change careers by 2030, thanks to automation and machine learning.

However, in all likelihood technological disruption won't make the future of work "jobless".  Instead, it’ll look like a new labor market in which millions of Americans have lost their job security and most benefits that accompanied work in the 20th century, with nothing to replace them.

Source: Katz and Krueger (2015)

Subcontracting ("alternative work arrangements" -- basically freelancing) have already toppled the American labor market over the past 20 years, albeit quietly.  The "sharing economy" of late is not the primary driver -- these changes happened way before Uber was conceived -- but it is part of the same trend.  From Danny Vinik:
"Among “transportation and material moving workers,” a category that includes everything from taxi drivers to flight attendants, the share of contingent workers had doubled: In 2005, it was 9%; it was 18.2% by 2015. Among health care support workers, it nearly doubled, from 9.5% to 17.9%. The share of food preparation workers in contingent work had quadrupled. And this trend wasn’t limited to blue-collar jobs: The rise in contingent work was as large for people with a bachelor’s degree as it was for those without a high school diploma."
Source: Katz and Krueger (2015)

How should education evolve for the future?

Education, especially higher education, is one sector in desperate need of a disruption.  Most of us understand the whole deal, and let's face it: the vast majority of students are lazy, the vast majority of teachers are uninspiring, and the  administrators just wanna get by with minimum effort.

Today’s college students are less willing than ever to make the littlest effort of showing up for class and learning whichever topic is on the test.  From Bryan Caplan:
"Fifty years ago, college was a full-time job; the typical student spent 40 hours a week in class or studying.  Effort has since collapsed across the board. “Full time” college students now average 27 hours of academic work a week—including just 14 hours spent studying.   Students at one typical college spent 13 hours a week studying, 12 hours “socializing with friends,” 11 hours “using computers for fun,” eight hours working for pay, six hours watching TV, six hours exercising, five hours on “hobbies,” and three hours on “other forms of entertainment.” Grade inflation completes the idyllic package by shielding students from negative feedback. The average GPA is now 3.2."

The only real, plausible argument for a college degree can be summed up in two words: credential inflation.  The same jobs today require higher qualifications than they did 20 years ago, even just to get your foot in the door -- just because college degrees are so widespread but practical knowledge is hard to find.  It's the same case outside of white collar work: there are so many new licenses certifications required for anybody to be a florist, home entertainment installer, or even a barber, in the US.

Vocational education—classroom training, apprenticeships and other types of on-the-job training, and straight-up work experience— teaches specific job skills, and all vocational education revolves around learning by doing, not learning by listening.  Most researchers agree that vocational education improves pay and reduces unemployment.  Even formal education can benefit from adopting more practical (as opposed to pure academic) training.  Finally, the next wave of education is likely to emphasize lifelong, continual training—to keep current in a career, to complement rising levels of automation, and to gain skills for new lines of work that may arise. 


Kevin Roose (NYT) argues that we are living in a MoviePass economy, wherein urban professionals' comfort and convenience are propped up by venture capital bubble and the working class' loss of benefits and job security.  Indeed, the major cost of technological dislocation would be income and wealth inequality, but this can be tackled with sound government policies, such as universal basic income, public health insurance and social safety nets.

So yeah, the future looks bleak, but we're not flying blind. Actually we have pretty good ideas for navigating the uncertain future of our economy. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Blockchain in meme

"Blockchain is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it."