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Four Tweets and Two Interviews

About a week ago, this tweet showed up in my stream and summarized everything that is worng with our current economy:

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.30.24 AM

Here’s what happened next:

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.30.56 AM

And after that?


That’s because when anyone has to actually sit down and think about it, the Gig Economy is only good for investors with a lot of money who can afford to dump a start-up when it doesn’t turn out to be the “get rich quick” scheme they thought it was.

The idea that some guy in his 20s is going to want to become a journeyman tech worker indefinitely is unrealistic. No one wants to live in a micro apartment forever. If you want a spouse and kids and a house, you can not do it if you are constantly looking for your next job that might be in another city where your spouse might not be able to find work or have to leave their own career behind. You can’t drag kids from one insecure gig to another and keep them in school without facing significant consequences down the road. (Take if from a Navy brat who still has problems with simple arithmetic. Thank god for calculators.)

Other things you can’t do in the Gig Economy as a tech worker: It’s hard to justify owning a house.How can you reasonably apply for a 30 yr mortgage if you don’t know when or where you’ll be working? It’s hard to save for retirement. Even if you are paid well, and some Accenture people I know are paid very well, you need to keep a significant chunk of liquid assets in case you’re laid off for extended periods of time. It used to be 6 months of salary. I’d say the actual amount is closer to two years. You just never know.

And add to that the stress of always shopping for a new job, updating your LinkedIn profile, networking, paying thousands of dollars for meaningless certifications, never getting enough experience or getting experience and then having to leave it all behind when the contract runs out.


Yeah, if you’re an entrepreneur and you have a flexible morality that allows you to take advantage of “ease of migration” and “fluid labor laws” while benefitting from the “rule of law” and other nice infrastructure that everyone else pays for with their taxes, then it’s a sweeeeet deal. Good for Marc Andreeson! I used to admire the team who came up with Mosaic, the first browser I ever wrote HTML pages for back in 1995. But he is symptomatic of many people who think that just because this economy is working swell for him that we can all jump on the “I wanna be a rich entrepreneur!” bandwagon.

As I’ve pointed out before, biopharma R&D is a team sport, a collaborative activity where the credit is spread among many people. It does not adapt well to a start up economy where there are promises of fabulous riches made to a select few people of “talent”. Sure , there will be exceptions but what Marc will never know is how many cures did not get made because the research was not sexy enough to get the funding it needed.

And don’t even get me started about the companies and universities that make you sign over your patent rights as a condition of employment. When we were all in corporate labs with mostly stable jobs and a decent standard of living, we didn’t think twice about it. The company paid for the capital and overhead, we gave them a patent. It was fair. Now, all the risk is born by the researcher and they can’t keep their intellectual property.

Anyway, I won’t go on and on about it because you’ve heard it all before. My point is that as much as the candidates talk about retraining and having the work force catch up with technology, they seem to be ignoring the fact that there are millions of highly trained tech and R&D workers with all of the tech skills a company could want who are forced into lives that are pretty similar to migrant labor. Sure, the pay might be good for short periods of time but stretch that out over 40 years of a typical worker’s life and it’s a bad deal. There is so much uncertainty that it is going to have, and is currently having, a significant impact on the economy going forward.

We need to do something about those fluid labor laws where it is easy to lay people off for no good reason at any time, and we need to give foreign workers green cards when they are hired here so that their lives are not subject to the whims of vulture capitalism. If we really, really need highly educated foreign born citizens, then they are valuable enough to treat them as human beings, decently, with an opportunity to find other jobs if they are laid off due to no fault of their own.

Which one of our candidates is getting a clue?

I submit to you two recent interviews that Hillary has given recently. One is with Ezra Klein where they talked about policy. When I heard this, I could swear she’s been reading this blog for the last several years. She uses the words like “churn” to refer to the practice of large corporations to be perpetually overturning their work force every couple of years.

The other is the interview she gave to Charlie Rose last week where she says that “income insecurity” is a big problem. If she really means it, she will also have to acknowledge that profit sharing does NOT lead to secure incomes. She’s going to have to go back and talk to the Andreesons and other Obama’s supporters and tell them that’s not going to cut it.

The best thing about these interviews besides her command of policy, her confidence and her passion, is that she seems to have really started to listen. America is not as dark and foreboding as Trump would make us believe. But all is not well in terms of the economy and work and no one believes the current administration’s rosy scenarios and PR team. That is where the anger is coming from. We get a steady stream of Pravda media and it isn’t squaring with our own lives. Politicians, and by that I mean Republicans and some student body president Democrats, can only pull this off for so long before the electorate throws them all out.

She’s getting it. Good. That’s what I want to hear.

Friday: “His whole life is narrative”

Charlie Rose had a fascinating post-election wrap up with John Meacham and Evan Thomas of Newsweek that suggests why Americans make the decisions they make based on the jounralism they get.  Meacham and Thomas had the evidence in front of their faces and even admit that Obama’s cult of personality is “slightly creepy” but they are stuck in a frame of their profession and their social circle so they can’t make sense of the pieces of the puzzle they hold.

See if you agree.  The really interesting stuff starts at about the 6:00 minute mark:

There are a couple of moments that make me want to slap both of them.  First, they have reporters covering the campaign since the convention with all kinds of interesting information that would have been swell to know *before* the election, but they are saving it for the post-election issue.  This has been a tradition since the 80’s.  Well, that certainly explains Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II.  I’m not sure how we dodged the bullet with Bill Clinton.  They also have a tape of Obama’s debate prep where he tries to figure out why he is completely failing as a debater while he flatters himself as being a great writer.  This is a moment of introspection that we should have all had the privilege of seeing.

Secondly, they have some really warped perceptions about the election.  They think that Obama went out of his way to make sure the election was not about race.  Actually, the election had *everything* to do with race.  Obama bludgeoned people with it.  No one was to forget for one moment that Obama was black and he went out of his way to remind people of it on a daily basis.

He’s compared to Reagan.  To many of us out here who were right about how destructive Reagan really was, that is not a compliment.  They speculate that Reagan was a teflon president because his supporters made him that way and the same would hold true of Obama.  The truth is that CLINTON was the teflon president.  The difference is the way the press treated these presidencies.  Reagan did really bad stuff and there were a lot of us who despised the reactionary idiot but the press gave him a pass so the voters let it slide.  Clinton had some minor pecadillos that were blown completely out of proportion but the electorate liked him anyway.  Bush also got away with murder.  Probably literally.  How many times have you heard some older relative say something like, “Well, Bush *can’t* be that bad, otherwise the press would be covering it.”  The coverage of the press matters a great deal and they are already signalling here that they are about to give Obama a reach around.

The other thing that is baffling is their analysis of what voters were rejecting.  Their conversation is typical of the Villager mindset.  They are convinced that voters were rejecting “the 60’s”.  I’m always really puzzled by that statement.  There is a huge swath of voters today who were little children during the 60’s (moi), who only remember the 60’s vaguely.  We remember things like assassinations and the walk on the moon and in the corner of our minds, we understand a little bit about the social stuff. But for us, the 60’s ushered in what was more or less the status quo.  There wasn’t a huge shredding of culture.  The culture was pre-shredded and settled into its present form by the time we came of age.  I’m not sure what it is we are supposed to be rejecting.  Are we rejecting the fact that women made enormous progress during the 60’s and 70’s?  Are we supposed to be upset that African-Americans shattered their own glass ceilings with the civil rights era?  I’ve always thought statements about rejecting the 60’s are “out of joint” statements made by baby boomers who know they pushed the envelope back then and then blamed themselves for the Reagan backlash.  Fine, blame yourselves, guys, but what does that have to do with us?

Then there is this bizarre notion that we are a center right country.  You know, I don’t really think that’s true.  I think a lot of people voted for the Democrat because he wasn’t a Republican.  They didn’t really like Republicans this year.  Of the sane, non-Obamaphiles I talked to, they just planned to vote for the Democrat.  It was a complete and utter rejection of everything that has to do with movement conservatism.  In fact, they were pretty convinced that nothing could be worse than a Republican in office.  I’m not sure that’s true but we shall see.  Voters wanted something other than the nasty, brutish and short lifestyle that the Bushies ushered in.  They want a stronger economy, better jobs, better healthcare.  It remains to be seen whether they want equality for all people.  I think they do but leaders have to lead and Obama shows no inclination for doing that.

They did get the “risk averse” nature of Obama right.  He is going to be a very cautious, non-transformative president.  They acknowledge that he owes the people who gave him the $600,000,000 to run his campaign.  Meacham and Thomas are onto something here if they just bothered to step outside their box and followed up on some of what their intuition is telling them.  All of the pieces are there to see Obama for what he is: a clever, manipulative person who constructed and sold his own story.  He’s a man who was in control of his campaign from the beginning, so he is also responsible for its corruption.  He is a cipher and doesn’t even know what he is.  He is a screen onto which we project our own desires, a tofu president.  And he uses his ability to appeal to many people at once to get what he wants.  The question is, what does he want now that he has it all?

Meacham and Thomas do not have an answer to that question because they never bothered to ask it.  And besides, Sarah Palin asked for more clothes!