The End of Capitalism

Over at The Guardian, Paul Mason talks about the end of capitalism and what comes after it:

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Quite a long, but interesting read.

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Finance

Decamping Artists

Dezeen:

The flow of creative people from New York to Los Angeles is “a cautionary tale for London” according to Rohan Silva, former senior policy advisor to UK prime minister David Cameron.

Silva told Dezeen that the recent trend for designers, artists and other creatives to leave New York due to sky-high prices and lack of suitable studio space could happen in London too.

“I think it’s a cautionary tale for London,” he said. “In New York, people are decamping to LA and I think we’ve really got to be careful in London that people don’t pick another city and choose to go there. Because the moment a city starts to lose its artists, things can fall apart and the city might lose its edge.”

This seems to be happening everywhere. I live in San Francisco and rents are insane. I lived in NYC until 2012 and watched rents continue to balloon (they continue to balloon with more luxury apartments being built). I’ve even heard that Austin is getting expensive and the music scene isn’t what it used to be since its rise in popularity and Google setting up a huge office there.

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Finance

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It’s Not Okay to Work Yourself to Death

The other day I saw this article from the New York Times:

In Busy Silicon Valley, Protein Powder Is in Demand

Here’s a quote:

Boom times in Silicon Valley call for hard work, and hard work — at least in technology land — means that coders, engineers and venture capitalists are turning to liquid meals…While athletes and dieters have been drinking their dinner for years, Silicon Valley’s workers are now increasingly chugging their meals, too, so they can more quickly get back to their computer work.

This is absolutely ridiculous. If a person is working so hard that they can’t take a break, then they need a different job. If a person does not want to take a break, then they need to have breaks forced on them for their own good, and for the good of the rest of us.

I’ve been working in the tech industry since 2003, and as a salaried employee, at times there is pressure to work large amounts of overtime. When I worked remotely for a company in Silicon Valley, I would have to remind my supervisors and coworkers that while they were working on national holidays, I was not. The picture many people have of the working culture in Silicon Valley is one of foosball tables and being allowed to bring a dog to work everyday. What I found, instead, is a culture of workaholics who are either chasing an elusive fortune, or who are not cognizant of the fact their lives no longer belong to them, but to the company. As just about everyone who is not an hourly worker knows, there is usually no overtime pay for salaried positions. It’s not enough for companies to rent out a person’s life for 40 hours a week. They want free labor, as well.

It’s a travesty that this is the case. Past generations fought hard for fair pay and worker protections, including the forty-hour work week and breaks during a shift, that have steadily been eroded as labor unions have lost their influence. People died for these rights, at the hands of thugs hired by their employers, and from the U.S. military. They died for all of us, and the worst part about this situation is that modern-day workers have gone into arrangements where more and more of their time, for free, is ceded to their employers voluntarily.

This new fad of protein shakes replacing meals is but a small symptom of the larger problem of American workers not being fairly compensated for their labor. The people mentioned in this article should not be praised for their work ethic. They should be pitied. And the companies that employ them should be ashamed that they are, or are allowing, their talent to be exploited in such a way.

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Behind every great fortune, is a great crime.

City Paper has an eye-opening inside look at how much you make being an Uber driver in Philly.

So many choice nuggets, here are just a few:

So it’s no wonder the taxi industry is having so much trouble competing with Uber — taxi companies have to pay to maintain, acquire and insure all the cars in a taxi fleet. Uber’s drivers shoulder that burden themselves, with expenses eating around 20 percent of total gross fares. And Uber’s gross fares, according to a Business Insider tipster, are expected to hit $10 billion in 2015.

And:

Driving for UberX isn’t the worst-paying job I’ve ever had. I made less scooping ice cream as a 15-year-old, if you don’t adjust for inflation. If I worked 10 hours a day, six days a week with one week off, I’d net almost $30,000 a year before taxes.

Uber, you know, a company “valued” at 50 billion dollars.

What did Chris Rock say? Behind every great fortune, is a great crime?

via Daring Fireball

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Career, Finance

Sell More Ads, Don

The Gothamist says data provided to them by Trulia determined Don Draper couldn’t afford his Manhattan apartment in 2015:

  • With Don’s title as Creative Director and Junior Partner it is estimated that he made around $45,000 in the 1960s
  • In 2015, that has a buying power of $355,297
  • Median home values in New York in the ’60s were $75,000, which is pretty good if he was making $45k a year
  • Today, a Creative Director in New York City makes an average of $154,838+ a year [ed. note: Don was also a founding partner]
  • Today, places in Don and Megan’s Park Ave. apartment are going for a cool $16.5 Million

There are lots of fun nit-pickers in the comments too.

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Finance

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Stop Hitting Yourself

Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’d feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you’d probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?

It certainly wouldn’t imply that hitting yourself in the head was a good idea. It would, however, be an indication that the pain you were experiencing wasn’t a reflection of anything fundamentally wrong with your health. Your head wasn’t hurting because you were sick; it was hurting because you kept hitting it with that baseball bat.

And now you understand the basics of what has been happening to several major economies, including the United States, over the past few years. In fact, you understand these basics better than many politicians and commentators.
—Paul Krugman, The Obama Recovery

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Finance

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The Post-Scarcity Economy

I just finished reading a great essay by Rick Webb on the post-scarcity economy of the future.
What happens when capitalism is so efficient that us humans are no longer needed to keep the money machine running?
Webb digs in:

The key here, to me, is to start thinking about how economics would work when we decouple labor from reward. Does that make a system inherently communist? I don’t think it does. People work. They get paid. It is market driven, and not centrally planned. In reality,the market already basically dictates this, for who can claim that a Wall Street banker works more than a teacher? The only thing we really need to do is take this to a logical extreme: that people can still get paid doing zero work. This fear seems to be at the heart of most people who say that Europe is communist: if we give people so much welfare, some of them might stop working! Quelle Horreur!

It seems to me that with the rise of machines and robotics, advances in mining technology, energy technology (both fracking and green energy technologies), the obesity epidemic in the US, etc., that there are plenty of reasons to believe that we may be at the beginnings of a post scarcity economy. We have a surplus, no doubt. Of course, we still have legions of people in the world that are starving, and even people still here at home. But we actually have the capacity to feed them, to feed everyone, even now, even if we don’t have the will. It’s not a matter of scarcity; it’s a matter of the organization of labor and capital.
I lost some interest in the middle during all the Star Trek talk, but if all you read are the first and last sections of his essay, you’ll be good (I read through all 20 minutes of it).
As my fellow Exhauster Bryan noted, this is the kind of thing that makes the GOP shit their pants.

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Finance

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Spend More

David Cain noticed his spending habits changed when he returned from many months backpacking around the world:

One of the most surprising discoveries I made during my trip was that I spent much less per month traveling foreign counties (including countries more expensive than Canada) than I did as a regular working joe back home. I had much more free time, I was visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world, I was meeting new people left and right, I was calm and peaceful and otherwise having an unforgettable time, and somehow it cost me much less than my humble 9-5 lifestyle here in one of Canada’s least expensive cities.

It seems I got much more for my dollar when I was traveling. Why?
Later on he gets to the antiquated 40-hour work week bullshit we still have in the West:
The eight-hour workday developed during the industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, as a respite for factory workers who were being exploited with 14- or 16-hour workdays.

As technologies and methods advanced, workers in all industries became able to produce much more value in a shorter amount of time. You’d think this would lead to shorter workdays.

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.
It’s amazing how such obvious observations can be so eye-opening (and depressing).

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Finance

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This is the reward.

Thomas Frank drops a tremendous essay on the McMansion:

Inequality is the point of the McMansion, and the McMansion is also, to a certain degree, the point of inequality; it’s the pot of pyrite at the end of the rainbow of shit that we have chosen as a nation to follow. As you enter its soaring narthex of an entrance, keep this in mind: Before you, in the skim-coated drywall greatroom and the monster granite kitchen with its multiplicity of faucets and its Viking stove–this is what it is all about. This is the reward of thirty-odd years of economic policy.
There’s many great things about the United States.
McMansions are not one of them.

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Finance

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I Love Bitcoin

Bitcoin continues to sound fucking awesome:

A bitcoin bank has been forced to close after hackers stole 896 bitcoin, worth £365,000, in an attack on Sunday.

The company shut its website and posted a statement on Tuesday morning detailing the loss.
Sure, greedy banks that default and get bailed out with taxpayer money suck balls, but I’m not converting my money to Bitcoin any time soon. This is a shit show.

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Finance

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