Weekly reading

3 minute read

Here are more recent links from hecker.tumblr.com. This week (actually, more like two weeks) was somewhat random, to say the least.

Race Against the Machine. This is a must-read. The basic argument is that exponential advances in software technology threaten to automate all jobs involving low-to-mid-level relatively routine intellectual work, and even threaten what we would consider relatively high-end work (e.g., medical diagnosis). You should read this instead of reading yet another superficial pro- or anti-OWS article. (Plus it’s a smashing bargain as a $3.99 ebook.)

What if middle-class jobs disappear”. This is an interesting analysis of potential structural changes in the economy, aligned with the arguments in Race Against the Machine. The final paragraphs (e.g., “I believe that a scenario in which many people have dignified jobs and enjoyable lifestyles is more likely to emerge in an environment with decentralized voluntary charities than one with concentrated, coercive government.”) strike me as libertarian wishful thinking in the absence of any real evidence for the likelihood of this outcome.

Howard County Register of Wills Election Returns, 1851-present”. Byron Macfarlane, the current Howard County Register of Wills, worked with the Maryland State Archives to put this page together. It would be great if we had a similar online resource for the results of all Howard County local elections from the founding of the county forward (and even greater if we had results down to the precinct level). The usual places (Howard County Board of Elections, Maryland State Board of Elections, Maryland State Archives) seem not to have any information prior to the 1980s or 1990s.

Adaptive Evolution of Cooperation through Darwinian Dynamics in Public Goods Games”. This paper is pretty technical, and I’d have to read it more closely in order to fully follow the math, but it seems to be an interesting result if the simulations therein reflect reality. The basic idea appears to be as follows, if I’m reading it right: In an evolutionary scenario cooperation can take hold and persist if the returns from cooperation initially increase relatively more rapidly than the number of cooperators. If returns from cooperation do not kick in until the number of cooperators reaches a certain threshold, or if returns increase only proportionately to the number of cooperators, then cooperation cannot arise and persist in the population.

The Shadow Superpower”. This article discusses the unregulated economy (aka “System D”), its size worldwide, and how it’s increasing in importance in developed countries: “after the financial crisis of 2008-09, System D was revealed to be an important financial coping mechanism. A 2009 study by Deutsche Bank … suggested that people in the European countries with the largest portions of their economies that were unlicensed and unregulated — in other words, citizens of the countries with the most robust System D — fared better in the economic meltdown of 2008 than folks living in centrally planned and tightly regulated nations. … By 2020, the OECD projects, two-thirds of the workers of the world will be employed in System D.” In an interesting hitting-close-to-home twist, the article ends with a quote from Joanne Saltzberg of the nonprofit group Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore.

The Growth Ponzi Scheme”. TJ Mayotte’s post “A Strong Howard County” alerted me to this interesting article (actually a series of articles). The basic thesis is that suburban growth does not generate sufficient tax revenue to cover long-term maintenance of its associated infrastructure. A couple of key quotes: “If you want a simple explanation for why our economy is stalled and cannot be restarted, it is this: Our places do not create wealth, they destroy wealth. Our development pattern — the American style of building our places — is simply not productive enough to sustain itself.** … We need to wring more value out of our places** and that is only going to happen if we understand how to create value in the first place.” [emphasis in the original]