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Archive for the category “economics”

Making Work = Job

There is an on-going lament about “Where have all the jobs gone?” or variations on that theme.  The single most common aspect of the question seemingly being that “job” is a tangible item which some diffuse other retains control over and to whom you must apply in order to be paid for work performed.

In the now-past Industrial Revolution there was a quite deliberate truth behind that belief.  Welcome to the 21st century.

One of the most widely occurring and historically repeated models of attaining economic self reliance is that of the story teller.  In the modern world, this most often takes the form of being a writer of some niche application or expertise; technical manuals or instructions, computer code, science fiction (some overlap in those three, I think), poetry, screenplay, music and on and on.  This post is about making that sort of work into an income producing job for far more of us than is ordinarily believed possible, and Jobster is its name-o.

In my experience, the hardest part of telling a story is how to begin.  Which seems completely silly until you start to actually think about how much of a story actually doesn’t appear on the page (or screen, as you prefer).  Known as the “back-story”, these are all the tiny and overwhelming details that combine to give the characters and their actions both context and believability, but don’t achieve direct mention in the actual telling of events except possibly as a bit of background color.  The classic opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night …” would quite possibly be the stereotypical example of this, and the Star Wars sext-ology a recent example of failure in this part of story development.  What follows is how to create all of this (so as to be better able to tell the good bits to others for money) and how to make doing so into an industry that carries a great many more of us into the 21st century than you might think.

Jobster is a job board/career development site that presently offers traditional job availability/application services mixed with modern networking technology that patches together 19th century employment structures with very-late 20th century labor resources (that last would be a cumbersome euphemism for you and me).  In the doing of, Phil Bowermaster and his cohorts at Jobster have in place the infrastructure to re-create an industry that few can find entry into (never mind financial success) and hopefully expand our entertainment and information acquisition experience far beyond our present range of possibility.

All good propositions have a succinct definitional or mission statement; this is as close as I can come to one:

STORY TELLERA job board that provides all of the support functions needed by successful authors

Story Teller is a writers development tool for any genre or production format.  Deliberately modeled after the straightforward Turbo Tax Q&A process of content development by non-experts, Story Teller provides the structural framework for an author to create a consistent “back-story” environment within which to relate information to an audience.  By creating this wealth of back-story detail, the writer builds a contextual infrastructure to support any reference requirements the story might require during telling.  Who are the characters involved, what are the circumstances and technology experienced, when do events take place, Where are characters located during the course of the tale, why do actions occur; once these have been worked out as fully as possible in advance (and there will be need for some back-story on-going editing required) finally the how (the actual story or information being offered for sale) can be told by as many authors as the originator can interest in his creation.

The devil is ever in the details (and despite some of my more questionable predilections, I fall well short of that standard), but some of the major support functions Story Teller would need to provide would include:

1) Tax and contract legal advice links.  These could take the form of links to “boilerplate” legal contract sites up to a paid member service of retained counsel from legal professionals directly.

2) Reference links.  While I like refdesk and wikipedia, this would probably require a more refined search function than is currently available from those two.  As a start though, they’re a good beginning as they are (see also: 7 below).

3) Editorial support.  This would involve the classical editor functions, but also include links to those wishing to work as “reader”, page/cover illustrator or researcher as well.  The possibility of these services being for direct cash or on a limited sales profit-sharing basis needs to be explored and appropriate contracts developed.

4) Co-Author job posting requests.  This works from either end of the deal; author needs help or author wants to help (a good deal of specificity would be required for such notices to be useful I expect).  In addition to expansion of the existing Jobster model, this is an avenue for Jobster to make a business alliance with an established publishing house (for the record, I like and hereby nominate Baen books for a lot of reasons – only some of which are the cracking good authors who publish there and the management team with a proven history of being willing to look beyond established market and industry standards).  Such an alliance would offer new opportunities for the established writers as well as provide vital assistance with the next point of emphasis, to wit:

5) Marketing.  In addition to the now-traditional “Hey look, my book is for sale” tug on Instapundit‘s blogospheric cape, the capability to combine the advertising resources of both Jobster and an established publisher’s promotional expertise should result in sales potential far beyond anything either can currently economically achieve independently.  This would result in a vast increase for potential markets for all authors as well as increased profitability for both members of the business alliance.

6) Back-story Development.  This is the crux of the thing, the point upon which all of the fulcrum above rests.  Broken down to its basics, a story consists of the classic detectives line of questioning; who, what, when, where, why and only then can the tale be told as the how.  Eric S. Raymond is one of the premier open source software developers alive today, has no idea I’m bruiting his name about this way, and should be the first person Jobster contracts with to develop this concept (OK, second :)).  To make Story Teller function as intended will require that the operating code architecture be written such that it can be easily adapted to a variety of story development and presentation requirements.  Having an open source menu of roughly pre-formatted options from which individual story tellers can select offers the least demanding entry-level requirement for new story tellers to achieve; the emphasis being on telling their story and not displaying their code-adapting skills.  Besides, esr has more contacts in the open source coder’s market than most along with a sterling reputation; his involvement in this project will result in it being accomplished much more quickly – not to mention better – than other likely available options could achieve for a good deal more expense.

7) Story Teller must be at minimum a two-tiered structure.  The open-to-all page (see the Baen link in 4 above as example) should provide links to all material available for sale (possible partnership with Amazon or a competitor here) as well as a “New Writer Sponsorship” link.  The NWS link would offer a bare bones version of the Story Teller development software for a new writer to display his concept for established writers to consider.  The secondary level would by for paid members, which is how Story Teller becomes a business entity.  Membership fees should be nominal (US$120/year) but include a modest (10%?) percentage of all sales made of products developed on Story Teller.  Members automatically have access to all networking, research and editorial support contractors and receive access to legal and tax professional assistance at a negotiated per-transaction fee.  Members can arrange a contract to co-develop a story with an NWS writer by sponsoring the new writer into Story Teller membership (paying the membership fee for a year).  There should be a tertiary forum/library in which members can document/debate stipulated metrics for character types (do vampires sparkle or not?) and technology (how does that space drive work?) which should permit members to directly link to stories under development.

8) This software needs to be written in such a fashion that it be readily adaptable to other applications of a generally similar, but discrete, market

This initial proposal is intended to introduce a digital network-based solution for individuals to create an income for themselves in an era of Industrial Revolution-model economic decline.  To defile a metaphor, the buggy whip market is going even further away and taking much of the rest of traditional human-centric “manufacturing” with it.  I propose we build a new, digital manufacturing industry, initially around the creation of entertainment and education, but adaptable to many other applications also.  This is but the first step in that industry developing process, but offers entry into all the rest at a comparatively minimal initial cost that offers considerable long-term ROI potential in its own right.

As I said, Sun Tzu wrote his own job application; this is mine.


Hey Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

So, the other day Captain Capitalism (AKA: Aaron Clarey) (Yes, it’s on Kindle too … sigh) posted a video he made about the Federal Reserve and whatever else it was that was clogging up his spleen.  Since his spleenic ventings are typically entertaining/interesting (for a given value of either you understand; YMMV), I watched – and then felt compelled to ask:

Query (because I really don’t know); isn’t GDP the Gross Domestic Product? If so, what influence does foreign based contribution to US stock markets have on market valuation that doesn’t reflect in the formal GDP valuation? Or does it?

Cappy is ranting about decreased GDP with increased stock value; if the stock value includes input from non-domestic sources, wouldn’t that be the expected result?

I ask because, since so much of US manufacturing business (and heavy industry generally) has been exported/off-shored/pick-whatever-euphamism-you-like, wouldn’t a lack of growth in domestic financial indicators (which are what contribute to determining GDP) with simultaneous growth in domestic stock valuations driven by foreign capital investment result in pretty much just what arouses Cappy’s ire?

I don’t remember where off-hand, but I read recently (like, in the last few days) that Mexico is financially no longer even remotely deserving of the appellation “third world country” as it is now ranked as the 39th largest economy in the world.  That doesn’t mean that at least a third of the country’s territory isn’t still a third world shit-hole as a practical matter, but there’s a first-world pantload of money swirling around through the rest of the place apparently.

And somebody there seemingly wants to invest some of that in something other than amateur pharmacology, impromptu eugenics and surreptitious import/export.

My thinking is that Mexican (and Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, etc) money going into the US stock market ought to tend to drive up stock valuations irrespective of the rest of the US economic fraud manipulation activity also occurring.  The very idea of the Federal Reserve Bank being anything more than Congress and the Treasury Department’s ATM machine and safety deposit box for temporary cash surplus occasions is just an invitation to larceny, so I understand the impulse to shout “The Federal Reserve Doesn’t Produce Anything!”, even though I have to say the Fed has a well-established track record of producing a faux debt that the US .gov insists we the tax payers have to honor which, however physically insubstantial it might be, is very definitely (some)thing.

I have also read that, “the universe is about 90% hydrogen and 10% helium; all the rest is basically a rounding error”.  Speaking for my own portion of that fractional error, I wonder if there isn’t possible a mathematical formula that is based on a measurable universal standard – say, the elemental number of hydrogen fer instance – and that this figure could be the known metric by which a stipulated quantity could be determined.  This measurable, known quantity could then be the basis for calculating a standardized valuation.  That being determined, any monetary issue (currency, regardless of source) could then have a universal monetary valuation calculated based upon the issuing country’s floating (but serially measurable to a universal standard) GDP as that is mutually stipulated to reflect.

No such thing as fiat currency is even possible if all currency can be valued by a universal (and importantly, fixed and untamperable) standard.

All that aside, I do wonder if my basic observation about stocks and GDP is at all correct.  Wadda ya say, Cap’n?

Don’t Let The Goldbugs Bite

So, Tam takes notice of a recent Captain Capitalism post that uses the seemingly immortal gold = money illusion as a metaphor to illustrate a tedious teaching challenge, not to mention a very debilitating belief.  As is her want, she draws a sound conclusion, and this is a topic I have given some consideration heretofore.

Nice to see some of my earlier speculations given presumptively true status, however all unknowingly.



China To Revolve Ushan

That’s revolution according to this guy’s read of the 8 November economic forecast from The Conference Board. I took a quick look and didn’t see much mention of the endemic financial corruption and blatant market manipulation that is the PRC economy, so I have to think that the next few years self-inflicted antics and outrages ought to be quite entertaining from this more-or-less remove.

For a given value of “entertaining”.

Via Instapundit.

Housing Bubble Bursts

In China.

All over mainland China at that.

Residential property prices are in freefall in China as developers race to meet revenue targets for the year in a quickly deteriorating market. The country’s largest builders began discounting homes in Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen in recent weeks, and the trend has now spread to second- and third-tier cities such as Hangzhou, Hefei, and Chongqing.

What started slowly in September turned into a rout by the middle of last month—normally a good period for sales—when Shanghai developers started to slash asking prices. Analysts then expected falling property values to move Premier Wen Jiabao to relax tightening measures, such as increases in mortgage rates and prohibitions on second-home purchases, intended to cool the market.

They were wrong. After a State Council meeting on October 29, Mr. Wen affirmed his policy, stating that local authorities should continue to “strictly implement the central government’s real estate policies in the coming months to let citizens see the results of the curbs.” Then, the selling began in earnest as “desperate” developers competed among themselves to unload inventory.

One presumes that none of Premier Wen Jiabao’s family are financially invested in the Chinese residential real estate markets. One does wonder how many of his potential opposition within the CCP are?

In any case, in Mr. Wen’s strategic context he and his are the only one’s “too big to fail”, everybody else’s balls bounce along as his little baton directs.

h/t: Instapundit

A Question Of Context

In his entry for Monday, April 11, Jerry Pournelle writes:

… the more corn we turn into alcohol to burn as fuel the higher its price will go. I do not see that this is well understood by the policy wonks in Washington.

I have to disagree, they understand very well indeed within their occupational context. Budgetary policy wonks in D.C. (who advise Congress) view the price of commodities like corn and wheat as components of national GDP. From that contextual perspective, the rise in corn price increases GDP, which works to reduce the inflationary influence of other more directly financial government policy (quantitative easing, or printing more money). From that viewpoint the price increases can be expressed as a desirable effect of Congress’s budget efforts.

Behold the power that automatic COLA raises has on the nation’s political decision-making process. Something the good Doctor is well aware of also.

Wheat Up 13% – Likely Will Keep Rising

From The Wall Street Journal’s Heard On The Street page comes notice of the following:

The freeze gripping a swath of the U.S. threatens winter wheat planted in the fall. The problem, believe it or not, is a lack of snow rather than too much. While those on the East Coast trudge through the stuff to work, some Midwestern areas haven’t enough.

Winter wheat in the ground ideally has at least 4 inches of snow to insulate it against “winter kill,” where freezing temperatures damage the crop, according to Joel Widenor of consultancy Commodity Weather Group. He says most areas of the wheat belt have less than 2 inches of cover now, and he cannot remember such a combination of thin cover and freezing weather in over 15 years. Another mass of cold air is forecast to descend next week.

So, this would be a good year to do the Atkins Diet then?

Via Instapundit

A Question Of Strategy

An anonymous commenter encouraged me to read the Martin Ford book The Lights In The Tunnel (available free in .pdf form here).

Chapter Two is titled “Acceleration” with the first sub-heading being, The Rich Get Richer, where-in Mr. Ford illustrates the process of technologic acceleration using the example of Bill Gates and the old daily doubling model (this time with pennies instead of grains of rice). I notice a logical fault in Mr. Ford’s thinking though.

Mr. Ford asserts that as Bill Gates increases his wealth through continued expansion of the technology acceleration Microsoft contributes to, necessarily others become less rich as a result of the advancing automation of industry (and human labor occupation generally) made possible thereby (which Mr. Ford analogises as the titular Lights in the Tunnel growing respectively brighter or dimmer). This seems consistent with a purely technological process, but ignores the actual condition and process of wealth possession (or so I have read; no direct experience sadly).

While I am confident he theoretically could, I suspect Bill Gates can’t remember the last time he balanced his own accounts personally. This statement requires a brief look at the process of “wealth”. Fortune doesn’t exist as stacks of material in a storeroom somewhere; even in the days when it did that was a temporary solution to a handling problem, not a model for economic activity generally. With great wealth comes the necessity to manage it, an activity that typically doesn’t generate great wealth for it’s practitioners (“bankers” – those who own banks – employ financial managers, not vice versa). Bookkeepers, who’s work is Accounted for by others so that specialists in Investment can transact in Markets to obtain some degree of ownership in something to result ultimately in some financial gain to Bill Gates.

See the problem here? Mr. Ford’s Tunnel model fails to acknowledge the universe of financial betterment attendant to Bill Gates’ richness. Not only does this illustrate the severe limitation on modeling-as-prognostication, it calls into question just how well Mr. Ford understands the strategy of human wealth.

Just to get this out of the way, when Bill Gates finds himself a bit short of cash of an evening, he stops at a convenient ATM just like most other Americans do. Unlike most of the rest of US, if he’s thinking ahead he sends an employee to do that for him or has his bank (quite possibly literally his) deliver it to him. And Mr. Ford seems to think that Bill Gates is only about half way through his computer/technology related exponential growth, too.

The strategy of wealth is to create a series of interconnected mechanisms that each independently work to increase their net worth while avoiding inhibiting the efforts of allied efforts doing so themselves. Net worth, the value of something after removing the expenses incurred from maintaining and operating it, is one success standard that works against the change process due to the desirability for stability to nurture continued strength of alliances and control of costs in pursuing a chosen strategy. Mr. Ford’s Tunnel model doesn’t seem to even recognise the effect such contrary interests exert on market transaction decisions.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation exists to keep Bill and Melinda in a sufficiency of the folding stuff and does so by creating as many opportunities for others to do so for themselves as can be arranged through the efforts of as many others as Bill and Mel can comfortably keep track of. Not only does this call into question Mr. Ford’s financial example, it casts doubt on his “overcoming automation” concern. Agreed that automation removes humans from an existing application within the job market, but there without doubt exists mechanisms whereby they can adapt to changing circumstance – even from the most extreme of disadvantage, thanks to Bill and Mel among many others. Wealthy people (which condition doesn’t actually include wealthy companies/corporations all that well) don’t hoard their gains in a vacuum; they employee other people, both directly and at often surprising remove, to perform that process to their mutual benefit. The human psychology of “control” is intimately involved and any examination which doesn’t take that into account is a profoundly flawed model.

None of which makes Mr. Ford’s book a failure. His point about a lack of examination of the process such changes effect on financial and economic considerations is well taken. As too is his direction of attention on the short-term costs such a process inevitably levees on individuals. I look forward to reading his prescriptions in this area of concern especially.

It is a strategic maxim that Opportunity = Risk. Indeed, it is the emergence of the latter that creates the former. You can’t have the one without the other and it is this which distinguishes Opportunity from Chance. Accept this most fundamental condition of human existence and you free yourself from useless resistance to change to concentrate on adaptation of your personal circumstance to benefit instead.

Addenda: Mr. Ford’s Tunnel model posits Bill Gates as a single market source and uses the market transaction of a $50 cell phone sale as example; behind Door “A” is Bill Gates, behind Door “B” is tens of thousands of potential individual sales. Since Bill Gates (through his dominance of other’s purchasing decisions by way of their financial relationship) represents a potential single sale of tens-of-thousands of phones on his own individual decision, I choose Door “A”, Mr. Ford, as doing so potentially represents a reduction in my transactional costs by an order of tens-of-thousands to one. None of which precludes my yanking open Door “B” as well, you know. People like Bill Gates are simultaneously both a single point of sale and a group purchase opportunity, a circumstance Mr. Ford’s model doesn’t address very well. Which is more a failing of models than anything else.

Making IF Real

Alvis Brigis examines a potential resolution to the current job loss situation in his latest blog post which I commented on here. In his post, Alvis said:

One result of this possibility expansion will be the ongoing emergence of a new class of Super-Prosumer companies that will fill much of the void left by dwindling American jobs. As the traditional economy flounders, these social web companies will clean-up (they already are) and expand the phase space for massive, rapid value creation like never before.

Over at The Speculist commenter damndirtytape asks in comments:

That’s an enticing scenario, but what does each CEO-company actually do or make? as in what tangible goods do they produce that other people (foreigners primarily) will buy?

What we are doing now doesn’t work. A high tech, but debt and credit based economic model is an illusion. At some point America will have to actually create real goods and services to sell to other countries to reverse the trade gap and get out of worlds largest debtor nation status.

Not sure how any of this prosumer stuff really creates anything new.

Alvis’ response speaks for itself, I wish to use both the above quotes to give context for what follows. As per my usual want, we get there by going this other way first. 🙂

I suspect more people are aware of Bristol Palin from her recent turn as third place finisher on the latest season of Dancing with the Stars, but what seems to be largely lost is the example she provides us of a possible mechanism whereby we can all help save our national economy. Unwed teen pregnancy is traditionally regarded as at best a devastating event. Young Miss Palin’s response takes a different tack (via wikipedia). Instead of a disaster, she chooses to make teen motherhood into a career – one that apparently earns a decent living, I might add.

Anybody seeing where I’m going with this yet?

In my initial comment to Alvis’ post (which is where this all started, remember?), I said:

How you initially define context greatly influences individual willingness to commit to a concept. The context “root cause” places the existing economic environment in an aggressive defense of established practice and process; the suggested alternative identifies potential additional revenue streams for existing business entities to consider. From there it becomes easier to consider more fundamental changes to business structure and process. Much like the change from manufacturing to service, the economy is easier to change to some entirely different model if there is an established business practice to expand upon to effect the transition. Without something of that nature in place, the established economic/governmental structure will actively resist transition instead of merely drag its collective feet.

The “context” I seek to define today is how we might structure our transition from a job-losing economy – where jobs are the providential offering of some diffuse other – into a job-creating environment in emulation of la Palin’s example.

A Limited Liability Corporation is a recognised legal and economic mechanism available to virtually any US citizen or resident, at modest individual cost, that provides a mechanism to transform almost any activity into a profit-making (and, lest we forget, tax-paying) enterprise. Unwed teen mother? No problem, Professional Advocate. Prosumer? What (or even who) do you know that you can start building into a network positioned to connect to a market (either existing or potential)?

The underlying point of all this is that, so far, we the individual retain the initiative in determining how (and by whom) our economic salvation might be attained outside of the established, historical arrangements. To do so via such a creative example as touted by Alvis (and many others, to be fair) requires that we provide some mechanism whereby the existing powers-that-be (like, potentially, that other Palin woman) can recognise and categorise our efforts into their present understanding of things. Doing that makes our efforts merely part of the system, something to be ordinarily taxed and otherwise burdened (think Craigslist), rather than some extremist, disruptive activity to be actively opposed and outlawed (pick your favorite file sharing/aka: music piracy site as example).

Classical strategy teaches that success is attained by a steady process of supportive alliance and avoidance of active opposition. I believe that to be an effective summation of ordinary human interaction and something everyone is well advised to consciously practice in their day-to-day activities, most especially when setting out to effect change to an existing -and well entrenched – paradigm of human behavior and association.

Like turning “job” into individual liberty instead of controlling dependence.

The Future Is Coming

Blog friend Alvis Brigis has a post up about the transition in economic activity he sees underway in the US. While I still question just how broadly applicable the Prosumer concept will prove to be, I concur that it is certainly one of the options available to people today to begin their individual transition into the developing economy.

In his post, Alvis identifies some of the factors that contribute to the on-going economic downturn:

The erosion of traditional American jobs continues unabated and we can expect it to steadily worsen. From a macro perspective, there is simply no silver-bullet counter to the converging forces of globalization, automation, overvalued real estate prices, national debt, mega quantitative easing (printing more U.S. dollars to buy back our bonds so they don’t tank – a new round of $600 billion has just been proposed), mounting international resistance to U.S. monetary policy, massive overseas spending (Iraq, Afghanistan) general inefficiencies in govt, defense, education, oversight, and social services. Despite weak signs of life in the country’s massive services sector, which comprises an astounding 80% of U.S. jobs, last week’s dismal jobs report reinforces the steady downhill march.

I find it telling that all of them are governmental/regulatory in nature.

That said, I also find it refreshing (if not at all unexpected of the man) that his prescriptions are all oriented around the individual human, alone or in organised groups, creating their own relief without recourse (or even regard) to government.

Note that I did not say in dis-regard to government. Lack of reliance does not mean rejection.

Elsewhere in the post, he says:

If our goal is to save American jobs, then it’s our responsibility to identify, vet and selectively apply these emerging solutions.

First and most obviously, we can turn to well-established, leading-edge American tech and web companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Intel, Cisco, IBM, Johnson Controls, Amazon, EBay for software, hardware and intelligent systems that can bring down personal and business costs and increase profit.


Even more interesting is the symbiotic relationship these companies have with their customers. Each and every one of them fundamentally depends on user generated content and participation to function. Therefore, they inherently must make the cost of participation as low as possible, and the benefits to users as high as possible

Every company Alvis identifies is dependent on government provided infrastructure just to operate and all of them have both governmental regulatory constraints and self-imposed limitations they impose on their users – Alvis’ proposed Prosumers. Certainly they offer some opportunity, and the Groupon example Alvis provides is inspirational, but the problems left unstated make success through these channels much more unlikely than Alvis makes apparent (not an unexpected aspect of an introductory effort such as this one, it should be acknowledged).

All of the companies named have to offer the most user experience for the least user expense (whether financial or in usage frustration levels). All of the companies named risk additional regulatory and taxation burdens resulting from increased individual economic activity beyond that already regulated/taxed. From this it can be seen that increased usage will result in decreased usability. Methinks these won’t cooperate much or for long.

All of which ignores the mores most of them practice; E-Bay discriminates against anyone wishing to exercise the tenets of the US 2nd Amendment on their site for only one example of highly dubious company conduct that inhibits the user/prosumer experience. Google is infamous for it’s unethical censorship and data gathering practices.

The point being that none of the examples proffered are positioned to be quite as opportune as Alvis seems to believe. They could be, but in practice have not been to-date. Perhaps an effort to persuade them differently, developed at the local societal level, would be a practicable first step in changing this circumstance.

As is his usual practice, a complex and thoroughgoing look at the present circumstance with an eye to getting to a future we all can find fulfilling. Well done you.

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