September 2010


OK, why the hell am I maintaining a change log for zompist.com when I have a blog?  It’s just an extra bit of hassle.

What I’ll do instead is list changes here with change-log as a tag.  So if you have the changes page or the RSS feed bookmarked for some reason, bookmark this instead.

Does this mean there’s a new page up?  Indeed there is: Blogging Adam Smith.

If you’re looking for older changes, they’re here.

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I had dinner tonight with my old pal Harry (hi Harry), who has a macabre career… basically, outsourcing jobs.

He explained what’s happening when two companies merge and some particular function gets taken apart and shipped elsewhere.  I’ve seen such things from the ground, and it’s not pretty.  I think the employees’ expectation is something like this: Company A has function X, and it works pretty well.  B has function X’ and it works OK too.  Why not either keep both X and X’, or at least pick one of the two, keeping as much of the personnel as possible?  After all, there’s a huge investment in these people; they have an enormous stock of knowledge we ought to retain, and just getting rid of people will cause enormous strain and distrust.

The view from 30,000 feet: the new company doesn’t want X or X’.  It wants a standardized, dumbed-down X” that can be done by high school graduates in a small town.  Such an organization easily scales up as the company grows, and can also be easily moved to seek lower wages.  The key point: the skill mix, chief/Indian ratio, and wages of the original X and X’ teams are all wrong.  It’s essentially the process of turning skilled craft work into unskilled assembly line labor, and the original workers would be miserable being transmuted into X”.

It occurred to me that the vaunted mobility of American workers is indirect.  Company A is going to lose department X and all its workers; some other location is going to get a bunch of new jobs in X”.   This won’t involve anyone moving from X to X”; the laid-off workers will find new jobs near their homes; the new ones are found from local resources.  The new location may become a slightly more desirable place to live and some other people will start to move there.

If this is how capitalism works, why don’t capitalist countries continually get poorer?  Historically, the answer is that this is only half of the process.  The other is that, as enterprises grow, entirely new kinds of jobs open up, at a higher skill level.  We no longer need cottage industry weavers and farmers; instead we need paper pushers, marketers, cinematographers, bridal consultants, statisticians, real estate lawyers, software engineers, yoga instructors, outsourcing experts, and a host of other more sophisticated jobs.

Is the whole process still balanced?  Damned if I know.  In the ’90s it was; as fast as jobs were outsourced, new ones were created domestically.  In the ’00s it looked unbalanced— American business just seemed to stop creating jobs.

If you’re looking at careers or something, the take-home lesson is this: find a job that’s not easily moved to Shanghai.  Some jobs are too local to move: lawn care, nursing, plumbing.  Others are still American specialties and safe— for now.

I don’t know how it is for other authors, but for me there’s a period when the text of a book is liquid.  I keep thinking of things that need to go in, I keep re-reading and finding new typos or marginally better wording.  That’s where the book has been for awhile.  But, well, it has to go out sometime.

And it has— I sent the files to Amazon tonight.  Once those are processed I order a proof copy, then find approximately 80% of the remaining errors, leaving at least one embarrassing one on the very first page.  Then repeat, hopefully just once.  So it’s probably 6 to 8 weeks from the virtual bookshelves, most of this now being waiting on Amazon rather than on myself.

I’ve also been working on a paid conlanging job.  Yes, such things happen!

I have two novels I want to publish too; but I also need to bolster the sagging bank account.  So, er, if anyone has a programming or tech writer job in the Chicago area, or a telecommute, contact me.  It doesn’t have to be full time.

I’m freaking out about November. Any words of comfort? Does the Big
Picture offer any solace?

—Nephi

For November, no.  The ruling party in the US almost always loses House seats in a midterm election:

Ignore all the pundit excretions on What Obama Did Wrong.  The midterm effect plus the bad economy is all you need to know.

In the slightly longer term, we can take some perverse comfort in the fact that the Republicans won’t endear themselves to Americans once they control the House.  An opposition party out of power can just shout “no no no”, but once in government they have to do something.  They can’t enact their own agenda (like repealing health care) and they don’t want to help Obama or the country, so they’ll do little or nothing, and that will look bad in 2012… much worse than not being in power.  All the unfairness of blaming Obama for the crisis Bush bequeathed him, they’ll get it all back.

Krugman points out that they’ll try to invent scandals to investigate, as they did in the Clinton years.  It’ll be ugly.  But it’s ugly now.

The longer-term trends are against them.  They’ve staked everything on speaking for angry old white men, and that demographic is, well, going to die off.  Anger against non-whites, non-Christians, and gays is going to play less well every decade.

Dave Weigel has a discussion of the history and beliefs of the Tea Party here:

http://daveweigel.com/?p=2412

The list of goals is interesting, though it mostly comes down to “stop government spending”.  But where the rubber meets the road is here:

The politician who’s rightly seen as the ideological vessel of the tea party movement is Sen. Jim DeMint. I’d argue that he’s more important to the movement than its bigger star, Sarah Palin, because DeMint has actually gotten specific about what he wants to do in power and why he thinks tea party activists can help him do it. He thinks that Congress needs to reckon with popular entitlements and spending programs, and it needs to cut them even though this has been, consistently, politically disastrous. His theory is that things are bad enough that Americans understand what needs to be cut. They are ready to give up benefits and programs that, in the past, they’ve supported, because they realize how bad things are.

If DeMint really thinks that, he’s crazy… he’s misread his own movement.  The Tea Party is not going to fight to reduce government spending. 

A few reminders:

  • One of the most effective Repub strategies against health care reform was to confuse people about Medicare.  Tea Partiers were led to think Medicare wasn’t actually a government program.  More importantly, their zeal was not at all to reduce Medicare, but to oppose any cuts to it.
  • They’re against extending health care to the uninsured, but they didn’t seem to grasp that the program was designed to be revenue-neutral at worst, money-saving at best.  In other words, they opposed a large-scale effort to reduce government spending.
  • None of these people were in the streets for eight years of George Bush.  They had a balanced budget in 2001.  They hated it and had to get rid of it as fast as possible.  (Quick: how did they get rid of it?  If you answered “by cutting spending”, bzzzzzt wrong.)
  • Look at the breakdown of federal spending helpfully provided in your tax instructions.  Add up law enforcement, Social Security, Medicare, defense, and interest payments.  Total: 71%.  In other words, those are overwhelmingly  the major components of federal spending, and if you actually want to reduce government substantially, that’s where you must cut.  Now look me in the eye and tell me that Tea Partiers will fight to reduce these things. 

Here’s a simpler theory for you, Jim: the Tea Party just objects to new Democratic programs… whatever they are, whatever their effect on the deficit, whatever their effect on the country.  Like most Americans, they love old Democratic programs that benefit the middle class and will fight to keep them.

What would they do in power?  What Republicans always do in power from Reagan on: make the deficit skyrocket.  They still have a childlike faith in the Laffer curve; despite years of contrary evidence, they think reducing government income somehow decreases the deficit.

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