Category Archives: Economy

Twitter Users Don’t Really Seem to be Using Twitter?

I posted this just a few seconds ago to the Twitter feed, but I thought it required a bit more commentary:

CHART OF THE DAY: Here’s How Twitter Employees Use Twitter.

What is interesting about this chart is the sort of lack of engagement as most of us who have been living the Web2.0 thing since Web2.0 was a phrase anyone gave a shit about. The thing is: what has given rise to the huge swell of new technology over the course of the last ten years has been the near-ubiquitous spread of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that allow programmers to share data between different applications. For example, this website features the latest updates from my Twitter feed and linking systems. You don’t need to go to Twitter or to see what’s going on, because I’m able to request this information on a moment to moment basis. Or rather, the code that makes my site work does.

But what this chart reveals is that the company most directly responsible for huge dissemination of data across the Internet is made up of people who, at least as they report it for this study, don’t actually engage in a lot of that same type of information sharing. They use the web interface, iPhone and Mac applications, but Foursquare and many of the other services just barely register. One presumes that the “other” category would include sharing a page from another site.

Its hard to imagine where the Internet goes next week, let alone in a year. I am constantly being tired and annoyed by those who attempt to do so. But it seems like perhaps a pendulum between social / proprietary data may be the new expression of the classic pendulum of technology as we’ve known it, swinging between client/server (or “cloud”) relationships and peer-to-peer systems.

Anyway, I just found that interesting…..

Better News on Jobs is Good, But About Those Prices….

Pew Research just released polling data on their People Press website indicating that the general consensus among those polled seems to be that they’re hearing less bad news about the jobs situation, but more bad news about prices:

Public Sees Better News about Jobs, But Not Prices | Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Certainly, that squares with reality: the price of just about everything is going up and if the overall job market hasn’t gotten much better, it hasn’t gotten the same bad press.

But for Obama, its those prices – specifically oil prices – that he has to worry about for 2012. I would submit that oil prices are a lot more deleterious to Republican incumbent chances than they are to Democratic ones, but prices this bad are just toxic for anyone.

CMAC Concessions: Junk Food and Out of State Wine

So, I’m checking out events for this year’s summer festivities – YES and Steely Dan are BOTH coming to town, holy shit, holy shit – and I notice the CMAC concessions page:

CMAC Concessions.

CMAC. The “C” stands for Canandaigua, right in the middle of Upstate New York wine country. And guess who is serving up wine at the venue? Why, California producer Mondavi, naturalmente. And Arbor Mist, the company that makes Mad Dog 20/20 seem almost legitimate. And what else?

Well, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is never frowned upon, nor are Zweigels Hots. But c’mon! Why not some local beers and cheeses? Some tastes of the region? At least something that makes a vague play at being healthy might be a nice touch.

I’m sure there must be some bullshit reason for all of this. Guess who doesn’t give a shit what that reason is?

Update: Its been pointed out that, duh, Constellation is running the show, so that would explain the choices. Partially. But for fuck’s sake, give me the Clos du Bois Merlot or Alice White Shiraz over any bullshit from Mondavi any day of the week and twice on Steely Dan night.

What Does it Look Like When Fake Wealth Ablates?

[Ed note: Doh! Damned spelling]

Well, if you are the unfortunate bearer of the now-worthless piece of paper that banks used to make money, it looks like an eviction notice:

60 Minutes Investigates ‘Cutting Corners’ On Foreclosures (VIDEO).

I make this point over and over again, so my apologies if I sound like a broken record. Banks make money off shitty mortgages – literally making money out of thin air – and what happens when the money carousel stops? They recoup their losses by snatching back the homes they should never have lent money for in the first place.

And efforts to try to keep people in their homes – while noble perhaps – are just another tax on American working men and women, trying to fill in a hole with dirt we don’t have and never did. Not that there are a lot of alternatives, mind you.

The Amazing Shrinking Manufacturing Base

My friend and fellow Twitter traveler @speedmaster posts the following snippet of a WSJ article:

Amateur Economist: Weve Become a Nation of Takers, Not Makers.

The rise in “government jobs” is pretty spectacular. But then, it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise to Rochestarians, should it? When the University of Rochester is the number 1 employer?

I think the more shocking number in the article defines the depression of the manufacturing base. Over the course of the fifty year period described by the article, the population of the United States has doubled. The number of people working in the government has nearly tripled, but the number of people working in manufacturing has actually declined. Logically, the number of people working in manufacturing aught to be around thirty million (15m x 2) , but its a third of that number.

What are the prime movers of this change? The original article cites the “the offer of near lifetime security” in government jobs and also makes a demuring nod to “hugely beneficial productivity improvements” in other sectors of the economy. Well, gosh. Didn’t it use to be the case that manufacturing workers had nearly the same security in that less-efficient world? So the private sector has traded respecting and taking care of its workers for “efficiency,” but we need to do something about government jobs, or so the article suggests.

Its also worth pointing out that the article only compares manufacturing to government jobs, as though these were the only two sectors – and as if a “government job” was a single thing. What about if we take service industry jobs into account? Bloomberg just posted an article yesterday saying that the service industry is the fastest-growing sector of our economy.  A quick look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ break down of the current economy by occupation (admittedly, not recent) shows that the majority of those occupations are service jobs.

And yes, many “government jobs” such as nursing and social services jobs are service-related. Nor should we be surprised that, after decades of telling our kids to go to college, that they end up working in non-manufacturing jobs.

And to end the article, the writer suggests:

President Obama says we have to retool our economy to “win the future.” The only way to do that is to grow the economy that makes things, not the sector that takes things.

Here, here.

Could We Get Them to Work in Shirt Factories, Maybe?

The same state (Maine) whose governor wants to eliminate pro-labor images from the halls of the Department of Labor is also ginning up a new set of rules that significantly increases the amount of work a child in school is “able” to work:

The Maddow Blog – Maine pol: Put those kids to work.

Couple things jump out at me:

The bill starts a kid off at $5.25 an hour for the first 180 days of employment. Because that’s the “training period.” The state’s minimum wage for everybody else is $7.50. 180 days is six months. How many kids do you know that work for more than six months anywhere when they’re in school? The “training wage” is effectively a child-only labor rate that is a boon to businesses throughout the state on the backs of kids.

Eliminating the number of hours an employee “can work” is not a boon for the employee: those rules were set in place to prevent employers from mandating hours well in excess of what we consider (for now) to be normal. Eliminating this rule for kids means, again, introducing them to the world of slave labor… once again, for a discounted wage $2.25 less than their parents would have to work!

The bill also “allows” kids to work *during school hours*, up to four hours a day. School is generally only in session for about six.

Should anybody even need to be told why this bill needs to be killed?

What, Precisely, is an Online Job Listing? is reporting this afternoon that “Online job listings up locally, nationally.” That’s great, but what does that mean? The report offers no hint as to the quality of the listings nor the means by which they are included:

Online job listings up locally, nationally | Business First.

There are two immediate questions that spring to mind as a person who was only just recently unemployed and who is entirely too familiar with “online job postings”:

  1. Are the jobs actually local, or are they those “work from home” sales jobs that just advertise locally?
  2. Are those jobs unique? Many staffing agencies will post the same job with different titles and descriptions, but they’re the same job. Five companies all trying to book a single gig are not the same as five jobs.

Pardon me whilst I keep my enthusiasm in check.

… But Please: Don’t Let That Stop You Raising Your Prices

Dean Baker notes that, while automobile plants in Japan are closing due to the disaster there, actual shortages of automobiles in this country are extremely unlikely:

The Japanese Disaster and Plant Shutdowns | Beat the Press.

Let me put this another, more cynical way: you can bet that car prices will get jacked up over the next few months, but there won’t actually be any real cause. Prices for autos will, like the price of gasoline, never really return to normal after this. Because after decades of ever-increasing incentive programs, discounts and price wars, the auto industry has so underpriced its stock that no one’s really making any money.

PAETEC: Building a Tunnel to the ‘Burbs?

This was an old blog post, but I’d missed it. Rachel Barnhart ( @rachbarnhart ) flagged it this morning while discussing the Johnson presser about Midtown:

5 Things About Midtown Project You Didn’t Know – Rochester, News, Weather, Sports, and Events –

The thing that really grabs me is the first bullet: that part of the PAETEC deal is to construct a tunnel directly from the parking garage to the office building.

Wasn’t the major selling point of the project supposed to be revitalizing downtown? Everyone generally agrees that the tunnels that used to connect Midtown to its neighboring buildings were major setbacks for foot traffic on Main St., but at least they were above ground. This new tunnel system goes underground and right past all the businesses that might have sprung up in the wake of this new influx of money and opportunity. Its almost like you could work there every single day and never admit you worked downtown.

It raises the spectre of the siphoning of money out of Rochester that many residents complain of: relatively wealthy suburbanite people build businesses downtown and take their money right back to the ‘burbs. In this case, that spectre is rather a lot like a ghost, passing in and out of the city with barely a notice.

How Many New Homes are “Considered” Healthy?

Sometimes, I find myself getting my Dean Baker on. Not that I’m that smart, you understand: I clearly am not. But busting the language used by the media is occasionally fun.

Take for example the following NPR news article about the falling housing market which includes this curiously unqualified statement:

Housing Starts Dive; Food Boosts Wholesale Prices : NPR.

The building pace is far below the 1.2 million units a year that economists consider to be healthy.

Considered by whom, I wonder? By the Commerce Department? If so, why not say that? And what is the normal pace of new home building, per capita, over the history of the United States? Since WWII? Is that what “healthy” means, or is there some other criteria not discussed in the article?

The thing is: we went through ten years of a constantly-climbing housing market which was the result of entirely fictitious loan approvals aimed at supporting a financial investment shell game of monumental, world-wide scope and scale. Every year, we were told that this was a sign of a “healthy” economy. I am not an economist, but may I respectfully submit that perhaps its time that we used another benchmark?

Monday Japan Tsunami Economic News Roundup

The economic impact of the tsunami is hardly the most important thing. But this being the day when I normally blog / link economic news, I figured it would be worth checking in on what is going on there in this context.

The least surprising news is that the Nikkei, Japan’s stock market, took a huge hit as a result of the chaos. That index is down 6.2% this morning. They’ve been suffering from the same cash flow problem that the United States has been for the last few years – it is primarily the lack of cash and readily-available credit in the marketplace that’s been shutting down business as usual here and abroad. And just like the United States, Japan has been venturing into the world of Quantitative Easing. Now with the disaster, they’ve opened up the QE floodgates in the hopes of injecting more than 10 billion yen into the market.

Interestingly, this has to be the first international crisis in the past twenty years that caused the price per barrel of oil to decrease, on concerns about Japanese consumption drops. At least as interestingly, Business Insider is speculating that it may also have to do with Saudi troops moving into Bahrain. Not sure I understand that at all.

And here’s something I understand even less, but love more: Japanese officials are urging their residents to – wait for it – *not* go to work today. Apparently, this kind of thing presents a problem in Japan, whereas in this country when times of crisis hit us, we’re urged to shop.