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Comment: Re:Too bad. (Score 1) 798

by An Onerous Coward (#42785133) Attached to: AT&T: Don't Want a Data Plan for That Smartphone? Too Bad.

Of course population density matters. The cost of "handling twice as many calls" ought to be small compared to the cost of covering large swaths of empty countryside that only generate a few calls a day. In the former case, the infrastructure can be paid for by all those extra calls and customers. In the latter case, you have to maintain tons of infrastructure that is being subsidized by customers from higher-density areas.

Comment: Re:Google Could use some Fresh Ideas in AI (Score 1) 117

by An Onerous Coward (#42372537) Attached to: Why Google Hired Ray Kurzweil

They all think it. Thinking it isn't the issue. The issue is whether it's a useful model to try and replicate in software. I think it is, but I didn't see much of anything like that in the AI/NLP classes I took.

I suspect part of the problem is, it's hard to come up with a test question that involves a neural net with more than three perceptrons.

Comment: Re:If Obama doesn't come out swinging, he's toast. (Score 1) 706

by An Onerous Coward (#41692995) Attached to: US Presidential Debate #2 Tonight: Discuss Here

Thank you for an outstanding and interesting response. I apologize, as I was mostly focusing on differences within the set of industrialized countries, a la The Spirit Level. I should have made that clear.

Now, the Great and Powerful Wikipedia is telling me that the PPP GDP/capita is $48K for the US and $35K for France. (PPP vs. Nominal is an important distinction, one I wasn't really thinking about, so good catch there). If correct, that's 37%, not 10%. The difference seems fairly stark, though it's not clear to me what that extra 37% purchasing power is buying us, since both countries are plenty wealthy enough to provide for their people, and France seems like a much nicer place to live.

I don't have any data to back up my statement that France could close the GDP gap by working longer hours. It makes intuitive sense to me, though my model is probably overly simplistic. The argument here reminds me of the (problematic) Laffer Curve. There has to be some point where working an additional hour actually diminishes the quality of work to the point where you're actually less productive over the entire labor period.

Extreme example: Say I'm working 154 hours a week and getting two hours of sleep each night (the minimum amount of sleep Navy SEAL trainers are required to give trainees, IIRC). Now move one of those hours a night from the "sleep" column to the "work" column. At that point, it doesn't matter what the nature of the work is, you're going to be way less productive at it.

Like the Laffer Curve, the actual shape of the Work/Life curve varies tremendously from person to person, by working conditions (if your work is inherently rewarding, or extremely hard on the body), by life conditions (if you're in a bad marriage, work might be where you go to unwind, to feel useful), whether a change in hours comes from vacation time or a longer work day, and probably by a dozen other factors that aren't coming to mind. So it's impossible to say which side of the "traditional" 40 hour work week the ideal falls on, even as a society-wide average. Maybe I'm too hung up on 40 hours a week as "the norm," but I suspect that adding a few hours to France's work week would result in increased GDP. If my math's right, and you assume the additional hours were as productive as the original hours (probably not the case), it would lead to a 25% increase in GDP, significantly closing the gap.

Which is kind of suggestive to me. Perhaps at this point in the evolution of the economy, we should be trying to maximize GDP per hour of labor, instead of GDP(PPP) per se, with some mechanism to keep Gini from straying too far from the ideal.

Quality of life metrics are indeed somewhat subjective, but I think a rough consensus can be obtained. For example, self-reported happiness is certainly a better measure of quality of life than, say, average educational attainment or per-capita hours spent playing video games. The Spirit Level makes the attempt by taking the unweighted average of several different indicators, which seems like a good start. It seems incomplete, because they only included those indicators that they found had a statistically significant relationship to inequality (educational attainment, drug abuse, obesity, life expectancy, levels of trust, etc.), and while they avoided weighting in order to avoid making value judgments, I think you could dig in and select some weights that make more sense than the unweighted version.

Your dad makes an interesting point. What do people do when money is no longer a big factor in their decisions. I assume people are generally more productive when they're doing what they're passionate about. Say you could become a doctor, which inspires you, or a job on Wall Street, which sounds like a boring job that would add nothing to the world. If you can make $80K/year as a doctor, and $110K/year on Wall Street, it seems like a pretty obvious decision. But if instead you could make $1.1M/year on Wall Street, suddenly "following your passion" makes you look like a chump. It's a good argument for a strongly progressive income tax; if the government is going to take 75% of your Wall Street dollars back, there's little incentive for Wall Street to offer those economy-distorting salaries, and less incentive for workers to take them, freeing the best and brightest to do what they love, and freeing up seats on Wall Street for the gambling addicts who would actually enjoy the work.

In a similar vein, I'd offer a guaranteed minimum income. It wouldn't be enough to live on, unless you're happy sharing a cramped apartment with three other adults and eating a lot of potatoes. But it would be enough to force employers to offer more than just a subsistence paycheck. Just being able to say, "I need this job, but I don't NEED need it" would be enough to give laborers more leverage against poor working conditions, and more freedom to find jobs that they actually found fulfilling. Plus it would be a humane incentive to automate away the boring, unrewarding tasks. Side note: I think that if the US existed in a vacuum, and we couldn't outsource our labor needs to the developing world, we'd be much further along the path to a mostly automated economy.

My thoughts. Take 'em or leave 'em.

Comment: Re:Gary Johnson is the Libertarian candidate (Score 1) 706

by An Onerous Coward (#41680107) Attached to: US Presidential Debate #2 Tonight: Discuss Here

Well said. I voted (past tense, cuzza vote by mail) third party because I live in Utah. As Romney leads +42 here, my vote has absolutely no chance of keeping Utah's five electoral votes out of his hands. Last time around, I voted for Gloria LaRiva (the real Socialist candidate), and this time I voted for former SLC mayor Rocky Anderson.

I'd say that if you don't live in one of the ten or fifteen states that Obama and Romney are actively campaigning in, you should feel safe about voting your conscience. Which is a powerful condemnation of the electoral college system we're saddled with.

Comment: Re:If Obama doesn't come out swinging, he's toast. (Score 1) 706

by An Onerous Coward (#41679967) Attached to: US Presidential Debate #2 Tonight: Discuss Here

I think you're talking about different things. Stripping a business for short-term profit happens frequently under cutthroat capitalism, but it's not what the GP is talking about when he says "a well-run business."

Businesses by nature try to maximize profits. It can do this by reducing "expenses," one of which is labor costs. To delve a bit further, you can reduce those costs by getting the same work done with fewer people (automation, making processes more efficient, etc.), or by hiring the same (or more) workers at a lower cost (offshoring, cutting salaries).

But there's unresolved tension here. Corporations benefit society when they provide wages to workers. They benefit themselves when they reduce the need to pay wages. The solution is simple: transfer ownership of the company to the people doing the work. Once wages are moved from the "expenses" column to the "profits" column, much of the tension disappears.

Comment: Re:If Obama doesn't come out swinging, he's toast. (Score 1) 706

by An Onerous Coward (#41679877) Attached to: US Presidential Debate #2 Tonight: Discuss Here

GDP per capita is a pretty terrible metric for gauging the success of a country. In fact, I'd say it's only slightly less awful than the idiots in climate change discussions who run around saying that the more energy a country uses, the more successful it is.

Certainly, there's a minimum GDP beneath which you can't provide a decent quality of life for your citizens. But every industrialized country is well above that threshold already. Beyond that minimum, distribution of the GDP among the various capitas seems to make a lot more difference to the overall quality of life. By most any metric, European nations have much lower income inequality, and they also score better on many quality of life metrics.

For example, France has a much lower GDP per capita than we do. Is it because their economy is less efficient? Partly. But a good chunk of the difference was a conscious policy decision. French citizens generally only work 35 hours a week, and get five weeks mandatory vacation. If they started working themselves to exhaustion the way we Americans do, it would close the GDP per capita gap significantly. But would France's quality of life go up? Doubtful.

   

Comment: Re:More importantly (Score 1) 706

by An Onerous Coward (#41679751) Attached to: US Presidential Debate #2 Tonight: Discuss Here

Fossil fuels should be more expensive. If you forced fossil fuels to internalize all the external costs (climate change, asthma, mercury poisoning, acid deposition, runoff, miner deaths, environmental degradation, etc.), alternative energy would be very competitive, and there wouldn't be a coal plant on Earth that didn't scrub its emissions until they smelled of pine and lavender.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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