Generation Screwed

We’ve all heard the statistics. More millennials live with their parents than with roommates. We are delaying partner-marrying and house-buying and kid-having for longer than any previous generation. And, according to The Olds, our problems are all our fault: We got the wrong degree. We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. We still haven’t learned to code. We killed cereal and department stores and golf and napkins and lunch. Mention “millennial” to anyone over 40 and the word “entitlement” will come back at you within seconds, our own intergenerational game of Marco Polo.

[…]

For decades, most of the job growth in America has been in low-wage, low-skilled, temporary and short-term jobs. The United States simply produces fewer and fewer of the kinds of jobs our parents had. This explains why the rates of “under-employment” among high school and college grads were rising steadily long before the recession. […] The decline of the job has its primary origins in the 1970s, with a million little changes the boomers barely noticed. The Federal Reserve cracked down on inflation. Companies started paying executives in stock options. Pension funds invested in riskier assets. The cumulative result was money pouring into the stock market like jet fuel. […] The pressure to deliver immediate returns became relentless. When stocks were long-term investments, shareholders let CEOs spend money on things like worker benefits because they contributed to the company’s long-term health. Once investors lost the ability to look beyond the next earnings report, however, any move that didn’t boost short-term profits was tantamount to treason.

[…]

In one of the most infuriating conversations I had for this article, my father breezily informed me that he bought his first house at 29. It was 1973, he had just moved to Seattle and his job as a university professor paid him (adjusted for inflation) around $76,000 a year. The house cost $124,000 — again, in today’s dollars. I am six years older now than my dad was then. I earn less than he did and the median home price in Seattle is around $730,000. My father’s first house cost him 20 months of his salary. My first house will cost more than 10 years of mine.

[…]

And the problem is only getting worse. That’s because all the urgency to build comes from people who need somewhere to live. But all the political power is held by people who already own homes. For homeowners, there is no such thing as a housing crisis. Why? Because when property values go up, so does their net worth. They have every reason to block new construction. And they do that by weaponizing environmental regulations and historical preservation rules.

Michael Hobbes — Generation Screwed

Open source is debt

An idea I'd like to throw in the wild.

Open source is software businesses use to shorten time to market and accelerate their product. Some businesses build and collaborate in public because it's a leverage strategy to get more from less. Most businesses maximize their use of open source software because they get it for "free".

Debt is the financial term, stolen for the sake of illustrating a concept.

Open source is debt because:

  • Open source software is not a sellable asset. It's both priceless and devoid of monetary value. What counts is the business value it enables.
  • The liability, and effort required to service this liability, grows as: 1) the software gains users, and 2) those users become more dependent the software. Support is a variable accelerant to the liability (e.g. it can grow the liability at an exponential rate).
  • Maintainers hold the debt liability. Their ongoing labor is required to service the debt. Typically, maintainers can only escape the obligation by declaring bankruptcy: "it's done" or "I'm done."

This idea could be helpful framing for:

  • Businesses to understand their dependency on open source in CFO-friendly terms.
  • Communities to understand the debt burden carried by maintainers, and general health of the project.

Another, possibly more correct, way of thinking about this is: "every line of source code, open or closed, is a liability." Businesses own 100% of their closed source liability. They like open source because they would rather own 0% the liability.

American Equity

I think that every adult US citizen should get an annual share of the US GDP.

[…]

Countries that concentrate wealth in a small number of families do worse over the long term—if we don’t take a radical step toward a fair, inclusive system, we will not be the leading country in the world for much longer.

A Capitalist’s Dilemma

In the last three recoveries, however, America’s economic engine has emitted sounds we’d never heard before. The 1990 recovery took 15 months, not the typical six, to reach the prerecession peaks of economic performance. After the 2001 recession, it took 39 months to get out of the valley. And now our machine has been grinding for 60 months, trying to hit its prerecession levels – and it’s not clear whether, when or how we’re going to get there. The economic machine is out of balance and losing its horsepower. But why?

The answer is that efficiency innovations are liberating capital, and in the United States this capital is being reinvested into still more efficiency innovations. In contrast, America is generating many fewer empowering innovations than in the past. We need to reset the balance between empowering and efficiency innovations.

Clayton Christensen — A Capitalist’s Dilemma

Hypereconomics

While it is conceivable that PayPal could become a ‘financial API’, capitalizing all of the pieces of a production value chain, PayPal, like eBay, is an artifact of the transition to hyperconnectivity, an arbitrageur exploiting imperfections in hyperconnectivity. Once everyone is directly connected, it is possible to transfer capital between peers, without any mediating exchange service.

Given the capital flow restrictions of central banks, fiat currencies can not be employed in transactions crossing international boundaries. Instead, individuals and organizations will begin to develop their own exchange mechanisms, perhaps based on precious metals (a de facto return to the gold standard), but more likely employing virtual currencies: perhaps kilowatt-hours, abstract ‘labour units’, or other measures of value.

[…]

As capital migrates from friction-filled national and international finance markets into hypereconomic frameworks, institutions dependent upon those frictions will be threatened. Banks will not be able to collect interest. Governments will not be able to tax – customs duties and user fees look to be the only ways governments can generate revenue. Courts will not be able to seize assets. The peculiar arrangement of laws and regulations which keep our economic system stable will grow increasingly meaningless. Governments and courts will try to follow capital flows into hypereconomic zones, only to learn that their mechanisms of control and enforcement are poorly matched to such a fluid environment.

Mark Pesce — Hypereconomics

The Local-Global Flip, Or, “The Lanier Effect”

The Local-Global Flip, Or, “The Lanier Effect”. Absolutely fascinating interview. Two technologies on the cusp of going mainstream: self-driving cars and (dis)assembling robots. Also, technological efficiencies tend to have a positive benefit to the already wealthy (you save more money) but a negative benefit to the already middle-class or poor (you don’t have any money to begin with). What do we do when machines can do it better?

The University Has No Clothes

The University Has No Clothes. Data point one:

Nearly half of all students demonstrate “exceedingly small or empirically nonexistent” gains in the skills measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment, even after two years of full-time schooling, according to a study begun in 2005 by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa.

Data point number two:

In the past 30 years, private- college tuition and fees have increased, in constant 2010 dollars, from $9,500 a year to more than $27,000. Public-college tuition has increased from $2,100 to $7,600. Fifteen years ago, the average student debt at graduation was around $12,700; in 2009, it was $24,000. Over the past quarter-century, the total cost of higher education has grown by 440 percent.

Mull those two together.

The Great Ephemeralization

The Great Ephemeralization. Big picture: Today’s economic growth indices, like GDP, are poor at accounting for the effects of ephemeralization, or the processby which “special-purpose products are replaced by software running on general-purpose computing devices.”