Disruption and the Upcoming Chaos

Ben Sasse wrote a piece in the WSJ about how the political sphere is not dealing with economic changes head on. It’s written as if a government can do something about it.

When he talks about education and retraining, the problem is worse than he describes. Companies don’t train anymore. That’s because the fundamental purpose of business has changed. Ruthlessly (potentially) optimized to provide a product or service for maximum profit at all costs. People are a liability. Not only that, the skills most people can learn here, anyone anywhere in the world can learn and do it cheaper. If the radiologist can be sitting in Malaysia reading the chart of a patient in Midtown, an accountant in India is working on taxes for Deloitte, what job exactly does Sasse think will stay in the US? He says there are many potential policy responses available. Doubtful. None of them will be sustainable. Especially none that he can get through a Republican Congress. We won’t even get into automation.

Sasse alludes to it, most of the rules/religions we have and what we expect out of our lives were designed for living on farms when the family was the economic unit. It was for a time when having a bigger family meant more money. A boy knew as much as he was going to know about farming by the age of 15. He needed to start on the baby makin’. Concepts like waiting for marriage before being intimate meant something different 2000 years ago. Protestant work ethic was great when people were traveling on a wagon trying to stake out 100 acres in California in the 1850s. Will Durrant wrote about this. In an agricultural world, you could see religion in action, the cycle of birth, death, rebirth. It does not have the same impact when most of the population lives in dense areas, commuting, and pushing around pointless (digital) paper feverishly all day indoors or staring at tiny screens in our hands.

Whatever tribe (family, church, country, etc.) protected us and gave us comfort previously doesn’t know how to deal with the current avalanche of changes. We are in the ugly middle where the old ways don’t work anymore, but we haven’t found anything new to replace them with yet.

And anyone who says they have the answers is full of shit.

Shared Cultural Stories

100 Photographs | The Most Influential Images of All Time

Time picked these photos. They are memorable. They are influential in part because everyone knows them. Is it possible for any image/video/story to be that prominent nowadays? There are too many channels vying for our attention. 75 million watched the Seinfeld series finale. The Walking Dead had ratings of 9.6 in 2016. Sure, comparing a series finale against a regular episode may not be fair, but how does any group of people have a set of common cultural stories if there are no standard channels for consumption? The assumption is that it is much easier and faster to share, so theoretically it is possible. If all the social platforms are algorithmically personalizing content for clicks/engagement/whatever, essentially customizing for the individual instead of the common, how do you build the common?

Why did the Roman Empire Fall?

Podcast: The Art of Manliness – The Fall of Rome

Fascinating topic. We think of societal and cultural breakdowns led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. That might not be true. Rome had a thin layer of bureaucracy. Local officials ran the different regions and cities. They invested in their communities, and they connected the locals to Rome. Over time and changes in leadership, the governing model became more centralized. Rome co-opted the local officials, and those officials were more interested in making Rome happy and less invested in their local communities. Collapse coming in 10…9…8…

McDonald’s and Hot Coffee

You don’t know what really happened in that McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit

Ah, the early 90’s. Everyone remembers that story. The woman who sued McDonald’s was an example of stupid lawsuits. But read the link. It doesn’t sound like she was greedy and McDonald’s did know it was handing out coffee that was too hot. McDonald’s presented a different story which became embedded in society. Media and truth are fungible concepts.