Robots may not want your job – they like to watch

Paul Krugman says the decline in truck drivers’ wages is “not a technology story … robot truck drivers are a possible future, but not here yet … the obvious thing: unions.”

Certainly, the collapse of union power in trucking had a lot to do with the collapse of wages. But that does not mean that technology was not a factor. In trucking, technology has done little to change the hours of work, or the level of skills, required to deliver a load. But technology has improved management surveillance of truck drivers. Continue reading

Excavating late human civilization

Sifting the detritus of the late plastocine, archeologists have found that when coffee packaging came to exceed coffee, people recycled a bit to feel better. And not just those Nespresso pods: feeble prayers to angry Gaia included coffee cup “recycling”.

Coffee drinkers were not alone in the production of rubbish that was ceremonially, if not practically, recyclable: excavations along roads of the era find accumulations of McDonald’s coke cups, beer cans, energy drink cans, juice packs, and water bottles. The large quantity of containers for water, sweetened water and water substitutes has been a puzzle for archeologists. Now, the study of these reservoirs of rubbish has led to an improved understanding of the collapse of human civilization, and to an adjustment of the dates at which that the collapse is believed to have started.

The thickness of the strata of containers suggests that while late humans were well (and perhaps over-) hydrated, they had lost the art of plumbing: lead pipes may have done in the Romans, but drink container waste from the early 21st century is consistent with the absence of a reliable domestic supply of potable water – how else can the use and awkward transport of these costly containers be explained? Thus, the growing numbers of discarded bottles, cans and cups as the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first is now seen as indicative of the loss of much of the basic infrastructure that had been built up over the previous centuries, and suggests that the collapse of human civilization may have begun a century earlier than scholars had previously believed.

Henry Adams, back when America was on the brink of terrible things


Reading The Education of Henry Adams is for a while a pleasant and edifying distraction from today’s troubles, but he will keep pulling one back in. Here he is visiting Rome as a young man in 1860, while his own country was edging toward civil war:

“Rome was actual; it was England; it was going to be America. Rome could
not be fitted into an orderly, middle-class, Bostonian, systematic
scheme of evolution. No law of progress applied to it. Not even
time-sequences–the last refuge of helpless historians–had value for
it. The Forum no more led to the Vatican than the Vatican to the Forum.
Rienzi, Garibaldi, Tiberius Gracchus, Aurelian might be mixed up in any
relation of time, along with a thousand more, and never lead to a

He might well be asking how we today wound up back in the 1930s.

The Education of Henry Adams (1907) is available, free, in various formats from Project Gutenberg.

Trump & Putin would break EU to block climate action

The Trump-Putin connection can seem just a lurid sideshow in Trump’s horrific circus of racial and religious profiling, misogyny and authoritarianism. And, when that special relationship does catch our attention, the most obvious thing linking the two men (possible videos and blackmail aside) is their common political language of aggressive nationalism.

But this is no sideshow, and much as Trump would like it to be all about him, it is not his personal foible: the agendas of the Republican Party’s petro-backers coincide perfectly with those of the Russian oligarchy, and that is why Trump’s links to Russia were tolerated even before he was elected. The nationalist postures of Trump and Putin, which might seem to be simply ways of rallying some segments of the aggrieved masses to the banners of the countries’ respective caudillos, are instrumental for reshaping the international order in a way favourable to the oil interests.

The overriding need of the oil interests is to block anything that would cut the demand for oil – which is to say, to stymie any serious steps to mitigate climate change. International cooperation is necessary to fight climate change, and aggrieved nationalism undermines international cooperation. The cohesion of the EU is particularly important for international action on climate, and so European integration has become the enemy not only of Moscow, but also of Republican Washington.

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India’s tax reform: tortoise of regional integration inches ahead

Ajit Ranade in The Hindu
Economist Intelligence Unit
Concerns of India’s manufacturing states – A Sarvar Allam in Economic and Political Weekly

Regional economic integration is something usually associated with international trade blocs – the European Union, ASEAN, and so forth. But two of the most important cases aren’t international – they are happening within India and China. Both countries are more populous than any international “region” (excluding of course regional groupings which include either India or China), and both have had very poorly integrated national markets, for reasons to do both with internal transport infrastructure, and the protection of sub-national markets by various means.

Global economic integration – quick, and institutionally shallow – is the hare; regional integration is the tortoise.

Better cycling infrastructure, or make driving more costly? Yes.

Good cycling infrastructure is extremely important for increasing cycling and for reducing the use of cars in our towns and cities. On main roads, that means protected (segregated) cycle lanes; on side roads it means filtered permeability – pedestrians and cycles go through, cars and trucks don’t. There’s plenty of evidence for the importance of such infrastructure.

But when the UK cycling organization runs the headline “Cycle infrastructure responsible for 85% of cycling increase“, I have to object. This is the message of Infrastructure, Infrastructure and Infrastructure gone mad. If you read just that headline, you’ll be left with the impression that nothing much matters other than infrastructure. Even if you read the whole article, you won’t know why that interpretation is dead wrong.
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