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

Anti-austerity is terrible messaging

Opposition to the UK government’s cuts, since 2010, in all public services – deep cuts in police, transport, hospitals, schools, fire, universities, disability benefits, mental health services, care for the elderly, legal aid for the poor, nursery schools, the army, green technology … everything – has gone under that banner of “anti-austerity”. And every time I hear the slogan, I despair.
Continue reading

Ordinary surveillance, inequality, and fear

Our friends Giorgio and Gemma, visiting here from Rome, had this impression from a recent trip to New York: workers in New York are scared. Security staff enforced seemingly trivial rules – don’t step across this line – in a way that they couldn’t explain otherwise.

Workers watch you so nervously when they themselves are watched closely and their jobs are insecure. Continue reading

Fast food ≠ low pay

Continuing the fast food theme (yum): BK in the USA vs. BK in Denmark, fast food work can provide living wages, if the institutional environment is right. Read the report by Liz Alderman and Steven Greenhouse in the New York Times.
The fast food restaraunt is an organizational technology designed to use low cost labor – a restaurant that can operate without any employee who knows how to cook! Continue reading

CEOs: agents in turbulent monopoly markets

Gravity-defying CEO pay is not a payment for talent. It’s not looting by the executives, either. It’s the outcome of principal-agent relationship in a market where new technologies combined with regulatory dereliction have created a lot of winner-take-all situations.

More of that, and a few links, below. But first, what prompts this Continue reading

The richer get richest

Margaret Jacobson and Filippo Occhino of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland provide a nice charting of changes in

* the shares of income going to labor (wages, salaries) and to capital (profits, interest) from 1947 to present, and
* the concentration (i.e., inequality) of income within each share, from 1979 to present.

The data are for the USA. The share of income going to labor has been declining for some time – since 1970 or 1980, depending on which data series you use.

Since capital income is more highly concentrated (most working age adults have labor income, but little or no capital income), an increased capital share produces increased inequality even if nothing else changes. But, also, there’s been increased concentration (inequality) within both the labor and capital shares.

Increased inequality within the labor share is well known. It is also well known that, in the distribution of overall (labor+capital) income, the top 0.1% have seen a much larger growth of their income than the top 1%, who have in turn seen a larger growth than the top 10%; and since those top slices of total income all get large shares of capital income, increased inequality within the capital share is no surprise. It’s nice, though, to see it plotted and explained so clearly.