28 February 2024

Real GDP Growth Highest in 18 years

Real GDP growth in 2023 was 3.1%.
The three years with highest real GDP growth in the last 19 years:
2021: 5.8%
2005: 3.5%
2023: 3.1%

In simpler terms, GDP growth over the last few years - adjusted for inflation - is the best it's been in decades.


23 February 2024

26 US Counties with Highest Wages - Silicon Valley Continues to Dominate

Silicon Valley wages continue to be the highest in the country, the only 3 counties where wages average more than twice what they average across the whole country.

Raw data:

21 February 2024

A Market Economy - Or What It Will Be Like When the Price of Lunch Bounces Around Like Stock Prices - Wendy's Adopts Dynamic Pricing

This amuses me far more than it should.

Everyday - all day - stock prices bounce up and down. I've wondered how long it'll be before all prices behave like that. Now Wendy's is adopting "dynamic pricing," creating a world where the price of lunch combos do indeed bounce around during the day, depending on fluctuations in supply and demand.

Imagine an exasperated guy telling his partner, "Look at that! You had to visit the bathroom first. And then you had to let that lady with the kids cut in front of us. And now! Now french fries have gone up a dollar. Way to go Stephanie."

"Well, we could just sit here until prices drop again."
"What? For a dollar an hour?"

My cousin in Montana just had a bull sale. Those are auctions and maybe that's what the restaurants will try next. Hordes of hungry office workers and school kids bidding on the price of ramen or burgers like traders in the pits from the 1990s.

"I hear $9.99, $9.99 ... oop! $10.99 to the kid in the hoodie... $10.99 ... going once ... twice ... Sold!"

A market economy.

20 February 2024

Invented Word of the Day: Petipreneur

I'm coining a few words today.

Petipreneur, noun. A person who engages in small acts of entrepreneurship that result in new routines, practices, or relationships that have the potential to spread or outlast them.

Petipreneurship, verb. A small act of inspiring or creating a new group, practice, or shared value. Less about creating an institution (which is better described as entrepreneurship) than about changing some portion of it or daily life.

Petipreneurial, adjective. A person who tends to create new practices, social norms and relationships.

Let me know if you have occasion to use it in conversation. Or even better, practice it.

18 February 2024

The Curiously Recursive Problem of the Meta-Fictional Genre

His creative potential was never realized for the simple fact that he never could decide between doing documentaries about fictional work or fictionalized versions of documentaries. All he could be sure of is that he wanted to prove a point about how arbitrary was the line between fiction and nonfiction and as a consequence was never able to actually move from the concept - his fictional notions of the project - into the reality - the actual product that could share his ideas about reality with an audience. He'd encountered a curiously meta-fictional problem of being unable to document his fiction. The good news is that he'd pioneered a meta-fictional genre. The bad news is that this genre - by its very nature - could never become a reality he could share with anyone else. It was itself - like its imagined products - meta-fictional.

16 February 2024

Trump Needs the Support of Reasonable Republicans to Win. In November We Learn Their Price

Trump can't win with just the support of the MAGA boys who thrill at Donald's casual racism and misogyny and enabling the invasion of Western Europe. He needs votes from reasonable Republicans who have voted for Trump because they have considered themselves Republicans because they really like lower taxes but they also consider themselves more aligned with the morals of a Mitt Romney than convicted rapist Donald Trump.
Biden made a promise he's kept: he won't raise taxes on incomes less than $400,000. What that means is that if - say - you make $500,000 a year and the difference in marginal tax rate from a Trump to a Biden is 2%, you would pay $2,000 more under a Biden than a Trump presidency. (And actually that has not yet happened but its a fear among many Republicans.) Out of a half a million income. So, essentially 0.4% (that four-tenths of a percent) of your total salary in additional taxes.
Trump will deport young adults who have never known any country but the US but came here "illegally" when they were little kids. Trump will enable Putin to invade countries throughout Western Europe. (Putin is the first European leader since Hitler to invade a neighboring country. Trump supports that.)
If the reasonable Republicans decide that they would need to be paid more than $2,000 to ruin or end so many lives, Trump has no chance of winning in November. The MAGA boys are not enough for a national victory.

13 February 2024

McGilchrist on Truth and Trust

"Truth and trust, words that come from the same root, naturally go together. One cannot have trust in a society where no one is speaking the truth. and one cannot report truth to a society where there is no trust. Confucius told his disciple that a stable society needs three things: weapons, food, and trust. If you must forgo one of these, you should first forgo weapons. Then food. Without trust we cannot stand. Trust cost nothing but the time to build it. Once built it is a fantastically efficient way for any human enterprise to operate. There is a Dutch proverb, Trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback."
- Dr Iain McGilchrist


09 February 2024

The Engineering of Consent and the Invention of Propaganda - Freud's Nephew Edward Bernays (1891 to 1995)

"The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest."

"We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of."

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."

These quotes are from Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew. Bernays was the first to apply psychological principles to influence public opinion and market products. He was said to have "invented propaganda" for business and politics in a time of mass media, his life spanning the invention of the radio, the TV, and the internet. Bernays was born in 1891, in Vienna, Austria and died in 1995, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Bernays originally used the term propaganda but once Hitler so openly used propaganda and Bernays' methods, Bernays changed the term to public relations.

08 February 2024

Trump's Tactical Error That Will Cost Him the Election

Many nerds like me tend to think that politics is about facts and policies and programs. Here's a counterargument to that.

Hillary Clinton was more prepared and knowledgeable than any candidate in history. She had numerous policy papers.

Trump didn't bother with policy papers. He just wrote Tweets.
Clinton's 2016 policy papers had more than 50,000 words total.
In 2016, Trump's tweets were never more than 140 characters. (The limit at the time. And those were characters, not words.)
No one read Clinton's policy papers. Everyone read Trump's tweets.
Trump kept everyone's attention and in 2016, he won.

In 2017, Twitter doubled its limit to 280 characters and in 2020, Trump lost. His tweets had become too long to hold our attention.

Now in 2024, Trump only posts to Truth Social, which has a 500 character limit.

A bloat from 140 to 280 to 500 characters, each iteration more demanding to read. Trump's biggest weakness as a candidate is his unfounded optimism about how much the attention-span of average Americans has grown in the last 8 years.

[A friend calls me aside. "Ron. It's like you don't even read your own posts. Do you actually think anyone has read this far? You think that people will make it to your conclusion?"
"I just thought ..."
"- Ron. Nobody is going to read this far."
"But ..."
"Shhh. Just read your own post. Nobody else will."]

Progress Comes From the Interplay of Technology, Social Invention and New Ideas of What it Means to Be Human

Most people around the globe today are better off than our ancestors because citizens and workers in early industrial societies organized, challenged elite-dominated choices about technology and work conditions, and forced ways of sharing the gains from technical improvements more equitably.
- Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson

Progress comes out of an interplay of technological and political advances, social invention and technological invention continually disrupting and reshaping each other, democracy and capitalism never getting the upper hand for long, and continually changing reality, people, and their institutions and each other. Economic progress includes technological change, cultural change, changes to processes and politics, and even to our notions of what it means to be human and what is possible. Progress impacts everything and is impacted by everything.

06 February 2024

Economic Reporting As if It Were a Romance Novel

In romance novels:
"It's a beautiful, sunny day Heathcliff. My heart is full. Please kiss me!"
Heathcliff, mournfully, "Someday we are all going to die." 

 Meanwhile, in economic reporting:

"Unemployment is at its lowest in 60 years! The stock market is at record highs! Inflation has dropped to 2%. New business formation is 50% higher than it has ever been!"
"Yes but the economy will eventually fall into a recession. It might not be for a decade. It might start next month. But it will eventually falter. And that bad news - however speculative and far into the future - is the real news."


Biden's Mixed Feelings About Trump Learning That Presidents Are Not Immune From Prosecution

"A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected former President Donald J. Trump’s claim that he was immune from prosecution for any crimes committed while in office." - NY Times, 2/6/2024

President Biden had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, his political opponent still faces criminal charges for plotting to subvert the 2020 election. On the other hand, he had to cancel the SEAL team he had scheduled to, er, take advantage of his presidential immunity for any crimes committed while in office.

[If you're going to claim that presidents have immunity for any crimes committed while in office, you probably want to do that when you - and not your political opponent - are in office.]