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Comment Negative Interest Rates (Score 2, Interesting) 350

You are sort-of right, but you are looking at the wrong 'tax'. The real benefit of cashless, is that central banks can drive interest rates negative in a deflationary environment.

Since around the 1990s, automation and competition from low labour centers basically destroyed the utility value of the working class. We still give them jobs (which are basically funded by welfare), but most of these are just a sop to our consciences so that we can enjoy our lattes and craft beer without having to stare at slum dwelling children.

The real horror for us, however, is that through the 2000s this same effect has extended well into the middle class. Some of us have quite obviously been directly affected, but these are not a majority yet so nobody cares about them. So why has the middle class not collapsed? The reason is because of the banking sector. What the banking sector has been doing since 2000s is engaging in a giant UBI process for anyone in the middle class who owned a house. Central banks have maintained broadly negative real interest rates (when you've adjusted for inflation) since then, which has ensure that anyone with access to credit (ie middle class home owners) can get connected to a perpetual money spiggot that supplements their falling income from their increasingly unnecessary jobs. This has sustained the middle class in most western countries.

Essentially the problem that occurred is that central banks let a fast bubble develop which blew open the nature of the ponzi scheme and those middle class homeowners freaked out. They then hit the zero lower bound on interest rates, and could not keep the bubble inflated. This is why they are desperate for inflation (just watch Mark Carney do nothing as UK inflation rockets) as this would force real interest rates negative, but demographics, automation and a continuing lack of confidence means that they cannot get the mild 3-4% inflation that would allow them to keep the debt ponzi scheme going.

Because of this, what they would really like to be able to do is drive nominal interest rates deeply negative. If they could do this they can get the debt bubble going again even under deflationary conditions. Just imagine how many people will rush out to buy a house for even more stupid prices if people started getting paid to have mortgages. The middle class economy would take off again as the homeowner UBI comes back on line (well, for anyone lucky enough to have gotten onto the housing bandwagon).

The biggest impediment to negative rates is cash. This is why the swiss national bank does not allow you to store francs in safety deposit boxes, and why many countries have introduced controls on cash (under the guises of preventing terrorism). Central banks want this as a tool for the next crash, and they are slowing setting things up to ensure this is possible.

If you have lots of money, then you'll know how to protect it (buy a house, basically). If you have lots of debt then the central banks have your back. If you have a moderate amount of savings, then you will be screwed. Indeed, watch Mark Carney's recent talk on the post crash recovery and he admits that the only people who have suffered since the crash are those who had savings but not assets, but he justifies letting this happen by saying they in the minority.

Comment Re:WTF (Score 3, Insightful) 249

Jordan isn't on the ban list though? Are you sure it only applies to flights from those countries - the guardian was reporting that 13 are involved.

I doubt boris/may would have asked for anything in return. As you say they are desperate, and the UK has always been a bit of a lapdog for the USA anyway. They will just be hoping that showing obedience to the Don means they are rewarded with his favor when the UK is left floating in the atlantic without easy access to the 500+ million person market of rich westerners that it was previously able to trade freely with.

Comment Re:WTF (Score 1) 249

Personally, I'm more concerned that they must have a quite big hole in their security net that they cannot easily fix. I mean, there is security theater for sure, but things like the metal detectors and carry on scanners at least turn getting a weapon onto an aircraft into much more of a lottery with low odds of winning than a sure thing.

I wonder how long before they extend this to all flights, and whether they have any ability to restore things to the status quo. Because that is one hell of a inconvenience for those of us who still have to deal with the circus that is flying on account of work commitments.

Comment If it's on company time, it's the company's dime? (Score 1) 75

Really? I guess it depends a lot on the country etc, but in NZ/Aus/UK I was under the impression that ownership of all employee generated IP, even outside work time and unrelated to company activities, was the default position. Having said that it is a while since I have signed an employment contract.

Comment Re:wrong conclusion (Score 1) 374

I don't think most politicians have the mental capacity to figure this out, but the people pushing the loans sure did.

In the UK the same sort of dynamic has occurred in the housing market. Basically, poor people could not afford rent, so governments offered them housing benefits so nobody would live on the street. This does not create any new houses (the housing shortage is a different problem) so all that happened is rents went up for everyone, creating an outcry for more housing benefit. This cycle kept repeating until a jobless person in central London with a family can basically out-bid a couple on the median wage when it comes to rents.

It is sort of comically bad now. The whole thing has become a giant salary harvesting scheme for landlords. A highly skilled person turns up in London, gets a well paid job, pays half or more of their salary to their landlord, and then half of their tax goes to their neighbours landlord.

In the end this is how financialisation works. Financialisation can, at best, facilitate the creation of new goods and services, but we were able to do this quite successfully in the 1970-90s with much smaller portions of the economy dedicated to finance (and without the computers). When you get a bigger financial sector than is required to facilitate the development of new products and services, the sector can only generate extra profit by transferring income from productive members of the economy to itself. This sort of dynamic is basically consuming most western nations now.

Comment Re:Bubble Company (Score 1) 200

It is a bit strange. I suspect their alpha dog ways simply pissed of too many people, and that is coming back to bite them. Normally everyone who could damage a startup like this has share options, so even if they think the whole thing is a scam, they'll keep quiet until they cash out. This leaves very few people who have an interest in hacking away at the IPO potential. Having said that Uber has upset a lot of powerful industries, so I guess that is probably where the stories are coming from. There is also a growing annoyance among institution investors who, thanks to index tracking funds, typically end up holding the can when these IPOs tank.

Comment Re:Careful what you wish for... (Score 1) 448

If people are upset about all this, perhaps our elected representatives can change the laws?

The problem with this is that these companies have an army of lawyers trying to find holes in whatever laws are passed. They can find these holes faster than laws can be patched because governments have to tread carefully to make sure new laws do not accidentally penalize companies who are behaving themselves. The only way I can see governments defeating this is by giving themselves far more discretionary taxation power to target individual companies than they currently have and that can lead to abuse of that power if we are not careful.

Further to this, they need lawyers to draft the rules that they pass. Politicians are, at best, management oversight. The lawyers they draw on to do this are from the same pool that companies use to find loopholes. Sure, there are conflict of interest rules, but who is going to enforce them? More lawyers?

Comment Bubble Company (Score 5, Insightful) 200

I think you're seriously overestimating the strategic thinking capabilities of the people behind Uber. They haven't, up until recently, had even an R&D interest in developing driverless cars, and there is little chance they can realistically compete with Tesla, Ford, Google, VW, etc, even if they could raise another couple of billion in cash to burn. The likelihood of them coming from behind and beating the others to a viable driverless car solution is zero.

Further, what exactly do they have that will maintain their market position? An app? How easy is it for Google to turn the 'book Uber' button in google maps into a 'book google car'? If anything, they have worse than nothing - they are beholden to the company that is well ahead of them in the technology they desperately need to have a viable business model.

What I think Uber has been for quite a while now (granted, I don't think this was the original plan) is a financial bubble milking machine. Unless the board is actually delusional, the only viable strategy behind them entering the driverless car development race was to keep the IPO price at stupid levels. And if it wasn't for the PR disasters coming out of Uber on an almost weekly basis now, they would have been obscenely successful in achieving this.

Comment Re:Why even have 3rd party dealers / distributions (Score 1) 49

A significant portion of consumer sales still go through walk-in-retail channels, and with the phones they have the added issue that many people buy the phone as part of a contract. Apple doesn't want to become a mobile network operator all around the world, so they are going to have to partner with local dealers. I imagine this is even more of an issue in Russia where you probably need some local connections to keep things moving along.

As for the retail pricing control thing, that is rather interesting. I used to sell an electronics product through retailers. Every single retailer always bugged me about needing a bigger margin, but if I ever gave one to them, they would immediately started discounting so they could undercut their competitors. This would cause all the other retailers to get really annoyed and demand that I stop the rogue retailer from discounting (even though they know I'm not legally allowed too). In the end everyone just got totally screwed over by their own competition on margin, which allowed me to gradually raise prices and pocket more of the sale price myself. Apart from that last bit (my product decimated the competition, so I didn't really have that much pricing pressure myself), that is sort of how the retail marketplace is meant to work.

I must admit though, there were times when I would 'suggest' that a retailer shouldn't get carried away with long term discounting to avoid the constant harassment of other retailers. In the end most retailers are just sales people with low to medium levels of business acumen, and many of them cannot see the bigger picture of the system they are in. A big part of your job as the manufacturer is to manage perceptions so they feel happy and enthusiastic, and some times this involves playing a few games and managing the different egos as best you can. I would have thought at the level Apple operates though, they would be much more meticulous about not getting caught out in such an obvious way.

Comment Re:Industrial accident (Score 2, Insightful) 407

The other thing to note is that a good solution to the robot safety problem is to simply add more automation. Mixing humans and automation requires huge effort and cost at the interface. Even if it costs a lot more than the marginal cost of labour to eliminate the last pieces of manual work on a production line, the potential savings across the wider system could make it worth doing. This is likely to mean that even those prepared to work well below minimum wage will not be able to get jobs that can be automated. In effect, the externalised costs of labour will at some point exceed the cost of automation, reducing the demand for labour to zero at a price well above zero wages.

Of course one solution to this would be to abolish health and safety laws, which I imagine will be the next step. As Milton Friedman said, the biggest discriminator against the low paid is pesky things such as minimum wages law that prevent workers offering their labour at a price that clears the market. I'm sure there is an equilibrium point for the number of worker mutilations per hour that ensure full employment - we just have to let the market find it!

Comment Viral Marketing? (Score 2, Interesting) 199

When I first read the story on the front page of basically every newspaper, my immediate thought was that it was a publicity stunt. Maybe it wasn't, but I know that I - and many of my friends - didn't care about the oscars this year until that story popped up. Whether this was 'fake news' or not, we are most definitely entering a strange new world, where information is more readily available than ever, but more unreliable than ever.

Comment Double trick question (Score 1) 1001

Freefont uses bubble sort for sorting edge contour lists during rasterization. It is extremely well suited to the problem, as most sequential scan lines do not require a sort, making the algorithm an easy-to-optimise order validator. Further, most situations where a sort is required occur in localised pairs (from edges crossing) making the algorithm very efficient.

I personally steer clear of 'smart' answers in interviews. The more experience you gain, the more you come to appreciate the limits of your knowledge.

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