May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)

Contents Bulletin Scripting in shell and Perl Network troubleshooting History Humor

Slightly Skeptical View on Enterprise Unix Administration

News Unix/Linux Internals Recommended Books Recommended Links Unix System Monitoring Job schedulers
Admin Horror Stories HP Operations Manager iLO Dell DRAC ALOM Working with serial console
Advanced Linux Administration Red Hat Enterprise Linux Administration SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) Solaris AIX Administration HP-UX Administration
Networking TCP Performance Tuning Redhat Network Configuration Classic Network Utilities Network Troubleshooting Tools TCP/IP Network Troubleshooting
Linux Multipath The Linux Logical Volume Manager (LVM) Nagios in Large Enterprise Environment System Activity Reporter (sar) Authentication Unix config management
Helpdesk software Software Distribution Assets management Project Management Unix to Unix migration Working with Console
Backup Baseliners Classic Unix Tools Perl admintools Software Distribution Performance Tuning
Unix filesystem navigation Bash history and bang commands profile and RC-files Orthodox File Managers SSH for System Administrators Network File System (NFS)
Access Control in Operating Systems Enterprise System Management Resources Reverse Cloud as Alternative to Cloud Computing Logs Analysis SMTP Mail Social Problem in Enterprise Unix Administration
The Unix Hater’s Handbook IBM Humor Tips History Humor Etc
The KISS rule can be expanded as: Keep It Simple, Sysadmin ;-)

Additional useful material on the topic can also be found in an older article Solaris vs Linux:



Nine factors framework for comparison of two flavors of Unix in a large enterprise environment

Four major areas of Linux and Solaris deployment

Comparison of internal architecture and key subsystems


Hardware: SPARC vs. X86

Development environment

Solaris as a cultural phenomenon

Using Solaris-Linux enterprise mix as the least toxic Unix mix available




Here are my notes/reflection of sysadmin problem in strange (and typically pretty toxic) IT departments of large corporations:

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"I appreciate Woody Allen's humor because one of my safety valves is an appreciation for life's absurdities. His message is that life isn't a funeral march to the grave. It's a polka."

-- Dennis Kusinich

[Sep 30, 2015] Are American Schools Making Inequality Worse

Sep 30, 2015 | Economist's View

Education is not the only cause of inequality, but it's part of the problem:

Are American schools making inequality worse?, American Educational Research Association: The answer appears to be yes. Schooling plays a surprisingly large role in short-changing the nation's most economically disadvantaged students of critical math skills, according to a study published today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Findings from the study indicate that unequal access to rigorous mathematics content is widening the gap in performance on a prominent international math literacy test between low- and high-income students, not only in the United States but in countries worldwide.

Using data from the 2012..., researchers from Michigan State University and OECD confirmed not only that low-income students are more likely to be exposed to weaker math content in schools, but also that a substantial share of the gap in math performance between economically advantaged and disadvantaged students is related to those curricular inequalities. ...

"Our findings support previous research by showing that affluent students are consistently provided with greater opportunity to learn more rigorous content, and that students who are exposed to higher-level math have a better ability to apply it to addressing real-world situations of contemporary adult life, such as calculating interest, discounts, and estimating the required amount of carpeting for a room," said Schmidt, a University Distinguished Professor of Statistics and Education at Michigan State University. "But now we know just how important content inequality is in contributing to performance gaps between privileged and underprivileged students."

In the United States, over one-third of the social class-related gap in student performance on the math literacy test was associated with unequal access to rigorous content. The other two-thirds was associated directly with students' family and community background. ...

"Because of differences in content exposure for low- and high-income students in this country, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," said Schmidt. "The belief that schools are the great equalizer, helping students overcome the inequalities of poverty, is a myth."

Burroughs, a senior research associate at Michigan State University, noted that the findings have major implications for school officials, given that content exposure is far more subject to school policies than are broader socioeconomic conditions.

Anonymous -> Anonymous...
do you think schools in China/India have funding on the level you are implicitly arguing for? As Eva Maskovich is showing in NYC - it takes better teachers, not more money.

pgl -> Anonymous...

I live in NYC

"According to Success Academy Charter Schools founder and President Eva Moskowitz".

Ah yes - the charter school crowd. As in Mayor Bloomberg's push for privatizing our public education system. They have a lot of really dishonest ads attacking our new mayor. So you are with these privatization freaks? Go figure!

Anonymous -> kthomas...

I am an Asian immigrant who came to the US to pursue the American dream. My education allowed me to run circles around most students at the university. I ended up with triple major and a post grad degree. So, go ahead. call the rigorous schooling horrifying all you want. It is silly to raise kids in an ultra sheltered environment. The jobs are going to go where qualified highly productive people who want less money are. Then they will have to face reality anyway. We can sit here and argue about it all we want. The truth is that kids in Asia can do the job I started with sitting there better for a fraction of the cost here. And this is a job requiring advanced degrees.

Anonymous -> Anonymous...

And you can add Eastern Europe to Asia. The competition is going to degrade our standard of living as it has whether we like it or not.

DrDick -> Anonymous...

Sorry, but this is pure BS. We are talking about the presence of AP, foreign language, and advanced math classes. Having new textbooks and enough textbooks for all students, class sizes, laboratory equipment for science classes, and building maintenance, among many other very significant differences.

Anonymous -> DrDick...

yes. they spend on things that count. instead of hockey rinks and olympics standard gyms for toddlers.

DrDick -> Anonymous...

None of which are characteristic of public schools. Have you ever even visited reality? Charter schools suck up a much greater share of available public resources and further starve the schools serving the poor and minorities, as happened in Chicago. Unlike you, I believe in fact based decision making.

EMichael -> Tom aka Rusty...

few anecdotes


" The new school year has been marred for many students all over the country by severe budget cuts, shuttered schools, and decimated staff. Philadelphia, where students went back to school Monday, is seeing some of the most extreme effects of these budget cuts.

Nine thousand students will attend 53 different schools today than they did last fall after 24 were closed down. Class sizes have ballooned in many schools, with parents reporting as many as 48 students in one classroom. Meanwhile, the district laid off 3,859 employees over the summer.

A new policy also eliminates guidance counselors from schools with fewer than 600 students, which is about 60 percent of Philadelphia schools. Now one counselor will be responsible for five or six schools at once. Arts and sports programs have also been sacrificed.

Philly's new barebones regime was implemented after Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and the Republican-dominated legislature cut $961 million from the basic education budget, or 12 percent overall. Federal stimulus funds cushioned schools from state cuts for a couple of years, but they are now dwindling. The district is struggling to fill a $304 million deficit. In order to open schools on time, the state gave an extra $2 million in funding and the city borrowed $50 million. Corbett is also withholding a $45 million state grant until teachers unions agree to concessions of about $133 million in a new labor pact. The district plans to sell 31 shuttered school properties. "

pgl -> Anonymous...

I love how the Aussies do the terminology:

"All Australian private schools receive some commonwealth government funding. So they are technically all "Charter" schools although the term is not used in Australia."

Charter schools are precisely what Milton Friedman recommended. He has the integrity to call this privatization. Anonymous does not. Funded by taxpayers but these schools are for profit entities.

Anonymous - have the courage to admit your agenda next time.

ilsm -> pgl...

Charter schools are like privatized arsenals, all cost cutting, profit and no performance.

US privatized the arsenals starting after WW I when a lot of "qui tammers" got to send arms to the Brits.

How long before the charter industry complex has enough unwarranted influence to ruin education?

djb -> Anonymous...

the charter schools cherry pick the best students and they don't deal with problem kids

this I known, they do poorly especially in new York city

as pgl said it is the fact that schools are fund locally that is the problem

to use a favorite right wing phrase

public education is an "unfunded mandate"

it should be paid for by the federal government

then all the mostly right wing politician could use property tax for divide and conquer politics

and funding can go where it is needed

djb -> djb...

then all the mostly right wing politician could NO LONGER use property tax for divide and conquer politics

DrDick -> pgl...

I think this is the primary issue. The schools in my hometown of 30K, national headquarters for Phillips Petroleum with a major research facility at the time, were excellent and most students went to college. Elsewhere in Oklahoma, students from similar sized towns were barely literate when they graduated. The primary reliance on local funding guarantees perpetuation of inequalities and the failure of the poor. This is exacerbated in larger communities by differential funding and resources allocated to schools within the district. When I lived in Chicago, Lincoln Park High School, in an affluent neighborhood, had world class programs. Meanwhile, schools on the predominately black west side and south side were literally falling apart with peeling lead paint and asbestos insulation falling on the students (along with occasional pieces of the cielings).

[Aug 22, 2015]How Complex Systems Fail

"...This is really a profound observation – things rarely fail in an out-the-blue, unimaginable, catastrophic way. Very often just such as in the MIT article the fault or faults in the system are tolerated. But if they get incrementally worse, then the ad-hoc fixes become the risk (i.e. the real risk isn't the original fault condition, but the application of the fixes)."
"...It is that cumulative concentration of wealth and power over time which is ultimately destabilizing, producing accepted social norms and customs that lead to fragility in the face of both expected and unexpected shocks. This fragility comes from all sorts of specific consequences of that inequality, from secrecy to group think to brain drain to two-tiered justice to ignoring incompetence and negligence to protecting incumbents necessary to maintain such an unnatural order."
"...The problem arises with any societal order over time in that corrosive elements in the form of corruptive behavior (not principle based) by decision makers are institutionalized. I may not like Trump as a person but the fact that he seems to unravel and shake the present arrangement and serves as an indicator that the people begin to realize what game is being played, makes me like him in that specific function."
".... . .but it is also true that the incentives of the capitalist system ensure that there will be more and worse accidents than necessary, as the agents involved in maintaining the system pursue their own personal interests which often conflict with the interests of system stability and safety."
"...Globalization factors in maximizing the impact of Murphy's Law..."
"...Operators or engineers controlling or modifying the system are providing feedback. Feedback can push the system past "safe" limits. Once past safe limits, the system can fail catastrophically Such failure happen very quickly, and are always "a surprise"."
"...Where one can only say: "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do""
"...The Iron Law of Institutions (agents act in ways that benefit themselves in the context of the institution [system], regardless of the effect those actions have on the larger system) would seem to mitigate against any attempts to correct our many, quickly failing complex social and technological systems."
Aug 21, 2015 | naked capitalism
August 21, 2015 by Yves Smith

Lambert found a short article by Richard Cook that I've embedded at the end of the post. I strongly urge you to read it in full. It discusses how complex systems are prone to catastrophic failure, how that possibility is held at bay through a combination of redundancies and ongoing vigilance, but how, due to the impractical cost of keeping all possible points of failure fully (and even identifying them all) protected, complex systems "always run in degraded mode". Think of the human body. No one is in perfect health. At a minimum, people are growing cancers all the time, virtually all of which recede for reasons not well understood.

The article contends that failures therefore are not the result of single causes. As Clive points out:

This is really a profound observation – things rarely fail in an out-the-blue, unimaginable, catastrophic way. Very often just such as in the MIT article the fault or faults in the system are tolerated. But if they get incrementally worse, then the ad-hoc fixes become the risk (i.e. the real risk isn't the original fault condition, but the application of the fixes). documents how a problem of core instability was a snag, but the disaster was caused by what was done to try to fix it. The plant operators kept applying the fix in ever more extreme does until the bloody thing blew up.

But I wonder about the validity of one of the hidden assumptions of this article. There is a lack of agency in terms of who is responsible for the care and feeding of complex systems (the article eventually identifies "practitioners" but even then, that's comfortably vague). The assumption is that the parties who have influence and responsibility want to preserve the system, and have incentives to do at least an adequate job of that.

There are reasons to doubt that now. Economics has promoted ways of looking at commercial entities that encourage "practitioners" to compromise on safety measures. Mainstream economics has as a core belief that economies have a propensity to equilibrium, and that equilibrium is at full employment. That assumption has served as a wide-spread justification for encouraging businesses and governments to curtail or end pro-stability measures like regulation as unnecessary costs.

To put it more simply, the drift of both economic and business thinking has been to optimize activity for efficiency. But highly efficient systems are fragile. Formula One cars are optimized for speed and can only run one race.

Highly efficient systems also are more likely to suffer from what Richard Bookstaber called "tight coupling." A tightly coupled system in one in which events occur in a sequence that cannot be interrupted. A way to re-characterize a tightly coupled system is a complex system that has been in part reoptimized for efficiency, maybe by accident, maybe at a local level. That strips out some of the redundancies that serve as safeties to prevent positive feedback loops from having things spin out of control.

To use Bookstaber's nomenclature, as opposed to this paper's, in a tightly coupled system, measures to reduce risk directly make things worse. You need to reduce the tight coupling first.

A second way that the economic thinking has arguably increased the propensity of complex systems of all sorts to fail is by encouraging people to see themselves as atomized agents operating in markets. And that's not just an ideology; it's reflected in low attachment to institutions of all sorts, ranging from local communities to employers (yes, employers may insist on all sorts of extreme shows of fealty, but they are ready to throw anyone in the dust bin at a moment's notice). The reality of weak institutional attachments and the societal inculcation of selfish viewpoints means that more and more people regard complex systems as vehicles for personal advancement. And if they see those relationships as short-term or unstable, they don't have much reason to invest in helping to preserving the soundness of that entity. Hence the attitude called "IBY/YBG" ("I'll Be Gone, You'll Be Gone") appears to be becoming more widespread.

I've left comments open because I'd very much enjoy getting reader reactions to this article. Thanks!

James Levy August 21, 2015 at 6:35 am

So many ideas….
Mike Davis argues that in the case of Los Angeles, the key to understanding the city's dysfunction is in the idea of sunk capital – every major investment leads to further investments (no matter how dumb or large) to protect the value of past investments.

Tainter argues that the energy cost (defined broadly) of maintaining the dysfunction eventually overwhelms the ability of the system to generate surpluses to meet the rising needs of maintenance.

Goldsworthy has argued powerfully and persuasively that the Roman Empire in the West was done in by a combination of shrinking revenue base and the subordination of all systemic needs to the needs of individual emperors to stay in power and therefore stay alive. Their answer was endlessly subdividing power and authority below them and using massive bribes to the bureaucrats and the military to try to keep them loyal.

In each case, some elite individual or grouping sees throwing good money after bad as necessary to keeping their power and their positions. Our current sclerotic system seems to fit this description nicely.

Jim August 21, 2015 at 8:15 am

I immediately thought of Tainter's "The Complex of Complex Cultures" when I starting reading this. One point that Tainter made is that collapse is not all bad. He presents evidence that the average well being of people in Italy was probably higher in the sixth century than in the fifth century as the Western Roman Empire died. Somewhat like death being necessary for biological evolution collapse may be the only solution to the problem of excessive complexity.

xxx August 22, 2015 at 4:39 am

Tainter insists culture has nothing to do with collapse, and therefore refuses to consider it, but he then acknowledges that the elites in some societies were able to pull them out of a collapse trajectory. And from the inside, it sure as hell looks like culture, as in a big decay in what is considered to be acceptable conduct by our leaders, and what interests they should be serving (historically, at least the appearance of the greater good, now unabashedly their own ends) sure looks to be playing a big, and arguably the defining role, in the rapid rise of open corruption and related social and political dysfunction.

Praedor August 21, 2015 at 9:19 am

That also sounds like the EU and even Greece's extreme actions to stay in the EU.

jgordon August 21, 2015 at 7:44 am

Then I'll add my two cents: you've left out that when systems scale linearly, the amount of complexity, and points for failure, and therefore instability, that they contain scale exponentially–that is according to the analysis of James Rickards, and supported by the work of people like Joseph Tainter and Jared Diamond.

Ever complex problem that arises in a complex system is fixed with an even more complex "solution" which requires ever more energy to maintain, and eventually the inevitably growing complexity of the system causes the complex system to collapse in on itself. This process requires no malignant agency by humans, only time.

nowhere August 21, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Sounds a lot like JMG and catabolic collapse.

jgordon August 21, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Well, he got his stuff from somewhere too.

Synoia August 21, 2015 at 1:26 pm

There are no linear systems. They are all non-linear because the include a random, non-linear element – people.

Jim August 21, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Long before there were people the Earth's eco-system was highly complex and highly unstable.

Ormond Otvos August 21, 2015 at 4:37 pm

The presumption that fixes increase complexity may be incorrect.

Fixes should include awareness of complexity.

That was the beauty of Freedom Club by Kaczinsky, T.

JTMcPhee August 21, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Maybe call the larger entity "meta-stable?" Astro and geo inputs seem to have been big perturbers. Lots of genera were around a very long time before naked apes set off on their romp. But then folks, even these hot, increasingly dry days, brag on their ability to anticipate, and profit from, and even cause, with enough leverage, de- stability. Good thing the macrocosms of our frail, violent, kindly, destructive bodies are blessed with the mechanisms of homeostasis.

Too bad our "higher" functions are not similarly gifted… But that's what we get to chat about, here and in similar meta-spaces…

MikeW August 21, 2015 at 7:52 am

Agree, positive density of ideas, thoughts and implications.

I wonder if the reason that humans don't appreciate the failure of complex systems is that (a) complex systems are constantly trying to correct, or cure as in your cancer example, themselves all the time until they can't at which point they collapse, (b) that things, like cancer leading to death, are not commonly viewed as a complex system failure when in fact that is what it is. Thus, while on a certain scale we do experience complex system failure on one level on a daily basis because we don't interpret it as such, and given that we are hardwired for pattern recognition, we don't address complex systems in the right ways.

This, to my mind, has to be extended to the environment and the likely disaster we are currently trying to instigate. While the system is collapsing at one level, massive species extinctions, while we have experienced record temperatures, while the experts keep warning us, etc., most people to date have experienced climate change as an inconvenience — not the early stages of systemwide failure.

Civilization collapses have been regular, albeit spaced out, occurrences. We seem to think we are immune to them happening again. Yet, it isn't hard to list the near catastrophic system failures that have occurred or are currently occurring (famines, financial markets, genocides, etc.).

And, in most systems that relate to humans with an emphasis on short term gain how does one address system failures?

Brooklin Bridge August 21, 2015 at 9:21 am


would be a GREAT category heading though it's perhaps a little close to "Imperial Collapse"

Whine Country August 21, 2015 at 9:52 am

To paraphrase President Bill Clinton, who I would argue was one of the major inputs that caused the catastrophic failure of our banking system (through the repeal of Glass-Steagall), it all depends on what the definition of WE is.

jrs August 21, 2015 at 10:12 pm

And all that just a 21st century version of "apres moi le deluge", which sounds very likely to be the case.

Oregoncharles August 21, 2015 at 3:55 pm

JT – just go to the Archdruid site. They link it regularly, I suppose for this purpose.

Jim August 21, 2015 at 8:42 am

Civilizational collapse is extremely common in history when one takes a long term view. I'm not sure though that I would describe it as having that much "regularity" and while internal factors are no doubt often important external factors like the Mongol Onslaught are also important. It's usually very hard to know exactly what happened since historical documentation tends to disappear in periods of collapse. In the case of Mycenae the archaeological evidence indicates a near total population decline of 99% in less than a hundred years together with an enormous cultural decline but we don't know what caused it.

As for long term considerations the further one tries to project into the future the more uncertain such projections become so that long term planning far into the future is not likely to be evolutionarily stable. Because much more information is available about present conditions than future conditions organisms are probably selected much more to optimize for the short term rather than for the largely unpredicatble long term.

Gio Bruno August 21, 2015 at 1:51 pm

…it's not in question. Evolution is about responding to the immediate environment. Producing survivable offspring (which requires finding a niche). If the environment changes (Climate?) faster than the production of survivable offspring then extinction (for that specie) ensues.

Now, Homo sapien is supposedly "different" in some respects, but I don't think so.

Jim August 21, 2015 at 2:14 pm

I agree. There's nothing uniquely special about our species. Of course species can often respond to gradual change by migration. The really dangerous things are global catastrophes such as the asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous or whatever happened at the Permian-Triassic boundary (gamma ray burst maybe?).

Ormond Otvos August 21, 2015 at 4:46 pm

Interesting that you sit there and type on a world-spanning network batting around ideas from five thousand years ago, or yesterday, and then use your fingers to type that the human species isn't special.

Do you really think humans are unable to think about the future, like a bear hibernating, or perhaps the human mind, and its offspring, human culture and history, can't see ahead?

Why is "Learn the past, or repeat it!" such a popular saying, then?

diptherio August 21, 2015 at 9:24 am

The Iron Law of Institutions (agents act in ways that benefit themselves in the context of the institution [system], regardless of the effect those actions have on the larger system) would seem to mitigate against any attempts to correct our many, quickly failing complex social and technological systems.

jgordon August 21, 2015 at 10:40 am

This would tend to imply that attempts to organize large scale social structures is temporary at best, and largely futile. I agree. The real key is to embrace and ride the wave as it crests and callapses so its possible to manage the fall–not to try to stand against so you get knocked down and drowned. Focus your efforts on something useful instead of wasting them on a hopeless, and worthless, cause.

Jim August 21, 2015 at 2:21 pm

Civilization is obviously highly unstabe. However it should remembered that even Neolithic cultures are almost all less than 10,000 years old. So there has been little time for evolutionary adaptations to living in complex cultures (although there is evidence that the last 10,000 years has seen very rapid genetic changes in human populations). If civilization can continue indefinitely which of course is not very clear then it would be expected that evolutionary selection would produce humans much better adapted to living in complex cultures so they might become more stable in the distant future. At present mean time to collapse is probably a few hundred years.

Ormond Otvos August 21, 2015 at 4:50 pm

But perhaps you're not contemplating that too much individual freedom can destabilize society. Is that a part of your vast psychohistorical equation?

washunate August 21, 2015 at 10:34 am

Well said, but something I find intriguing is that the author isn't talking so much about civilizational collapse. The focus is more on various subsystems of civilization (transportation, energy, healthcare, etc.).

These individual components are not inherently particularly dangerous (at a systemic/civilizational level). They have been made that way by purposeful public policy choices, from allowing enormous compensation packages in healthcare to dismantling our passenger rail system to subsidizing fossil fuel energy over wind and solar to creating tax incentives that distort community development. These things are not done for efficiency. They are done to promote inequality, to allow connected insiders and technocratic gatekeepers to expropriate the productive wealth of society. Complexity isn't a byproduct; it is the mechanism of the looting. If MDs in hospital management made similar wages as home health aides, then how would they get rich off the labor of others? And if they couldn't get rich, what would be the point of managing the hospital in the first place? They're not actually trying to provide quality, affordable healthcare to all Americans.

It is that cumulative concentration of wealth and power over time which is ultimately destabilizing, producing accepted social norms and customs that lead to fragility in the face of both expected and unexpected shocks. This fragility comes from all sorts of specific consequences of that inequality, from secrecy to group think to brain drain to two-tiered justice to ignoring incompetence and negligence to protecting incumbents necessary to maintain such an unnatural order.

Linus Huber August 21, 2015 at 7:05 pm

I tend to agree with your point of view.

The problem arises with any societal order over time in that corrosive elements in the form of corruptive behavior (not principle based) by decision makers are institutionalized. I may not like Trump as a person but the fact that he seems to unravel and shake the present arrangement and serves as an indicator that the people begin to realize what game is being played, makes me like him in that specific function. There may be some truth in Thomas Jefferson's quote: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." Those presently benefiting greatly from the present arrangement are fighting with all means to retain their position, whether successfully or not, we will see.

animalogic August 22, 2015 at 2:18 am

Well said, washunate. I think an argument could be run that outside economic areas, the has been a drive to de-complexity.
Non economic institutions, bodies which exist for non market/profit reasons are or have been either hollowed out, or co-opted to market purposes. Charities as vast engines of self enrichment for a chain of insiders. Community groups, defunded, or shriveled to an appendix by "market forces". The list goes on…and on.
Reducing the "not-market" to the status of sliced-white-bread makes us all the more dependant on the machinated complexities of "the market"….god help us….

Jay Jay August 21, 2015 at 8:00 am

Joseph Tainter's thesis, set out in "The Collapse of Complex Societies" is simple: as a civilization ages its use of energy becomes less efficient and more costly, until the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in, generates its own momentum and the system grinds to a halt. Perhaps this article describes a late stage of that process. However, it is worth noting that, for the societies Tainter studied, the process was ineluctable. Not so for our society: we have the ability -- and the opportunity -- to switch energy sources.

Moneta August 21, 2015 at 5:48 pm

In my grandmother's youth, they did not burn wood for nothing. Splitting wood was hard work that required calories.

Today, we heat up our patios at night with gas heaters… The amount of economic activity based on burning energy not related to survival is astounding.

A huge percentage of our GDP is based on economies of scale and economic efficiencies but are completely disconnected from environmental efficiencies.

This total loss is control between nature and our lifestyles will be our waterloo .

TG August 21, 2015 at 8:20 am

An interesting article as usual, but here is another take.

Indeed, sometimes complex systems can collapse under the weight of their own complexity (Think: credit default swaps). But sometimes there is a single simple thing that is crushing the system, and the complexity is a desperate attempt to patch things up that is eventually destroyed by brute force.

Consider a forced population explosion: the people are multiplied exponentially. This reduces per capita physical resources, tends to reduce per-capita capital, and limits the amount of time available to adapt: a rapidly growing population puts an economy on a treadmill that gets faster and faster and steeper and steeper until it takes superhuman effort just to maintain the status quo. There is a reason why, for societies without an open frontier, essentially no nation has ever become prosperous with out first moderating the fertility rate.

However, you can adapt. New technologies can be developed. New regulations written to coordinate an ever more complex system. Instead of just pumping water from a reservoir, you need networks of desalinization plants – with their own vast networks of power plants and maintenance supply chains – and recycling plans, and monitors and laws governing water use, and more efficient appliances, etc.etc.

As an extreme, consider how much effort and complexity it takes to keep a single person alive in the space station.

That's why in California cars need to be emissions tested, but in Alabama they don't – and the air is cleaner in Alabama. More people needs more controls and more exotic technology and more rules.

Eventually the whole thing starts to fall apart. But to blame complexity itself, is possibly missing the point.

Steve H. August 21, 2015 at 8:30 am

No system is ever 'the'.

Jim Haygood August 21, 2015 at 11:28 am

Two words, Steve: Soviet Union.

It's gone now. But we're rebuilding it, bigger and better.

Ormond Otvos August 21, 2015 at 4:54 pm

If, of course, bigger is better.

Facts not in evidence.

Ulysses August 21, 2015 at 8:40 am

"But because system operations are never trouble free, human practitioner adaptations to changing conditions actually create safety from moment to moment. These adaptations often amount to just the selection of a well-rehearsed routine from a store of available responses; sometimes, however, the adaptations are novel combinations or de novo creations of new approaches."

This may just be a rationalization, on my part, for having devoted so much time to historical studies– but it seems to me that historians help civilizations prevent collapse, by preserving for them the largest possible "store of available responses."

aronj August 21, 2015 at 8:41 am


Thanks for posting this very interesting piece! As you know, I am a fan Bookstaber's concept of tight coupling. Interestingly, Bookstaber (2007) does not reference Cook's significant work on complex systems.

Before reading this article, I considered the most preventable accidents involve a sequence of events uninterrupted by human intelligence. This needs to be modified by Cook's points 8, 9. 10 and 12.

In using the aircraft landing in the New York river as an example of interrupting a sequence of events, the inevitable accident occurred but no lives were lost. Thus the human intervention was made possible by the unknowable probability of coupling the cause with a possible alternative landing site. A number of aircraft accidents involve failed attempts to find a possible landing site, even though Cook's point #12 was in play.

Thanks for the post!!!!!

Brooklin Bridge August 21, 2015 at 8:47 am

A possible issue with or a misunderstanding of #7. Catastrophic failure can be made up of small failures that tend to follow a critical path or multiple critical paths. While a single point of origin for catastrophic failure may rarely if ever occur in a complex system, it is possible and likely in such a system to have collections of small failures that occur or tend to occur in specific sequences of order. Population explosion (as TG points out) would be a good example of a failure in a complex social system that is part of a critical path to catastrophic failure.

Such sequences, characterized by orders of precedence, are more likely in tightly coupled systems (which as Yves points out can be any system pushed to the max). The point is, they can be identified and isolated at least in situations where a complex system is not being misused or pushed to it's limits or created due to human corruption where such sequences of likelihood may be viewed or baked into the system (such as by propaganda->ideology) as features and not bugs.

Spring Texan August 21, 2015 at 8:53 am

I agree completely that maximum efficiency comes with horrible costs. When hospitals are staffed so that people are normally busy every minute, patients routinely suffer more as often no one has time to treat them like a human being, and when things deviate from the routine, people have injuries and deaths. Same is true in other contexts.

washunate August 21, 2015 at 10:40 am

Agreed, but that's not caused by efficiency. That's caused by inequality. Healthcare has huge dispariaties in wages and working conditions. The point of keeping things tightly staffed is to allow big bucks for the top doctors and administrators.

susan the other August 21, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Yes. When one efficiency conflicts with and destroys another efficiency. Eq. Your mother juggled a job and a family and ran around in turbo mode but she dropped everything when her kids were in trouble. That is an example of an efficiency that can juggle contradictions and still not fail.

JTMcPhee August 21, 2015 at 11:38 am

Might this nurse observe that in hospitals, there isn't and can't be a "routine" to deviate from, no matter how fondly "managers" wish to try to make it and how happy they may be to take advantage of the decent, empathic impulses of many nurses and/or the need to work to eat of those that are just doing a job. Hence the kindly (sic) practice of "calling nurses off" or sending them home if "the census is down," which always runs aground against a sudden influx of billable bodies or medical crises that the residual staff is expected to just somehow cope with caring for or at least processing, until the idiot frictions in the staffing machinery add a few more person-hours of labor to the mix. The larger the institution, the greater the magnitude and impact (pain, and dead or sicker patients and staff too) of the "excursions from the norm."

It's all about the ruling decisions on what are deemed (as valued by where the money goes) appropriate outcomes of the micro-political economy… In the absence of an organizing principle that values decency and stability and sustainability rather than upward wealth transfer.

Will August 21, 2015 at 8:54 am

I'll join the choir recommending Tainter as a critical source for anybody interested in this stuff.

IBG/YBG is a new concept for me, with at least one famous antecedent. "Après moi, le déluge."

diptherio August 21, 2015 at 9:17 am

The author presents the best-case scenario for complex systems: one in which the practitioners involved are actually concerned with maintaining system integrity. However, as Yves points out, that is far from being case in many of our most complex systems.

For instance, the Silvertip pipeline spill near Billings, MT a few years ago may indeed have been a case of multiple causes leading to unforeseen/unforeseeable failure of an oil pipeline as it crossed the Yellowstone river. However, the failure was made immeasurably worse due to the fact that Exxon had failed to supply that pump-station with a safety manual, so when the alarms started going off the guy in the station had to call around to a bunch of people to figure out what was going on. So while it's possible that the failure would have occurred no matter what, the failure of the management to implement even the most basic of safety procedures made the failure much worse than it otherwise would have been.

And this is a point that the oil company apologists are all too keen to obscure. The argument gets trotted out with some regularity that because these oil/gas transmission systems are so complex, some accidents and mishaps are bound to occur. This is true–but it is also true that the incentives of the capitalist system ensure that there will be more and worse accidents than necessary, as the agents involved in maintaining the system pursue their own personal interests which often conflict with the interests of system stability and safety.

Complex systems have their own built-in instabilities, as the author points out; but we've added a system of un-accountability and irresponsibility on top of our complex systems which ensures that failures will occur more often and with greater fall-out than the best-case scenario imagined by the author.

Brooklin Bridge August 21, 2015 at 9:42 am

As Yves pointed out, there is a lack of agency in the article. A corrupt society will tend to generate corrupt systems just as it tends to generate corrupt technology and corrupt ideology. For instance, we get lots of little cars driving themselves about, profitably to the ideology of consumption, but also with an invisible thumb of control, rather than a useful system of public transportation. We get "abstenence only" population explosion because "groath" rather than any rational assessment of obvious future catastrophe.

washunate August 21, 2015 at 10:06 am

Right on. The primary issue of our time is a failure of management. Complexity is an excuse more often than an explanatory variable.

abynormal August 21, 2015 at 3:28 pm

August 21, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Am I the only hearing 9″Nails, March of the Pigs

Aug. 21, 2015 1:54 a.m. ET

A Carlyle Group LP hedge fund that anticipated a sudden currency-policy shift in China gained roughly $100 million in two days last week, a sign of how some bearish bets on the world's second-largest economy are starting to pay off.

oink oink is the sound of system fail

Oregoncharles August 21, 2015 at 3:40 pm

A very important principle:

All systems have a failure rate, including people. We don't get to live in a world where we don't need to lock our doors and banks don't need vaults. (If you find it, be sure to radio back.)

The article is about how we deal with that failure rate. Pointing out that there are failures misses the point.

cnchal August 21, 2015 at 5:05 pm

. . .but it is also true that the incentives of the capitalist system ensure that there will be more and worse accidents than necessary, as the agents involved in maintaining the system pursue their own personal interests which often conflict with the interests of system stability and safety.

How true. A Chinese city exploded. Talk about a black swan. I wonder what the next disaster will be?

hemeantwell August 21, 2015 at 9:32 am

After a skimmy read of the post and reading James' lead-off comment re emperors (Brooklin Bridge comment re misuse is somewhat resonant) it seems to me that a distinguishing feature of systems is not being addressed and therefore being treated as though it's irrelevant.

What about the mandate for a system to have an overarching, empowered regulatory agent, one that could presumably learn from the reflections contained in this post? In much of what is posted here at NC writers give due emphasis to the absence/failure of a range of regulatory functions relevant to this stage of capitalism. These run from SEC corruption to the uncontrolled movement of massive amount of questionably valuable value in off the books transactions between banks, hedge funds etc. This system intentionally has a deliberately weakened control/monitoring function, ideologically rationalized as freedom but practically justified as maximizing accumulation possibilities for the powerful. It is self-lobotomizing, a condition exacerbated by national economic territories (to some degree). I'm not going to now jump up with 3 cheers for socialism as capable of resolving problems posed by capitalism. But, to stay closer to the level of abstraction of the article, doesn't the distinction between distributed opacity + unregulated concentrations of power vs. transparency + some kind of central governing authority matter? Maybe my Enlightenment hubris is riding high after the morning coffee, but this is a kind of self-awareness that assumes its range is limited, even as it posits that limit. Hegel was all over this, which isn't to say he resolved the conundrum, but it's not even identified here.

Ormond Otvos August 21, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Think of Trump as the pimple finally coming to a head: he's making the greed so obvious, and pissing off so many people that some useful regulation might occur.

Another thought about world social collapse: if such a thing is likely, (and I'm sure the PTB know if it is, judging from the reports from the Pentagon about how Global Warming being a national security concern) wouldn't it be a good idea to have a huge ability to overpower the rest of the world?

We might be the only nation that survives as a nation, and we might actually have an Empire of the World, previously unattainable. Maybe SkyNet is really USANet. It wouldn't require any real change in the national majority of creepy grabby people.

Jim August 21, 2015 at 9:43 am

Government bureaucrats and politicians pursue their own interests just as businessmen do. Pollution was much worst in the non-capitalist Soviet Union, East Germany and Eastern Europe than it was in the Capitalist West. Chernobyl happened under socialism not capitalism. The present system in China, although not exactly "socialism", certainly involves a massively powerful govenment but a glance at the current news shows that massive governmental power does not necessarily prevent accidents. The agency problem is not unique to or worse in capitalism than in other systems.

Holly August 21, 2015 at 9:51 am

I'd throw in the theory of cognitive dissonance as an integral part of the failure of complex systems. (Example Tarvis and Aronon's recent book: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by me))

We are more apt to justify bad decisions, with bizarre stories, than to accept our own errors (or mistakes of people important to us). It explains (but doesn't make it easier to accept) the complete disconnect between accepted facts and fanciful justifications people use to support their ideas/organization/behavior.

craazymann August 21, 2015 at 10:03 am

I think this one suffers "Metaphysical Foo Foo Syndrome" MFFS. That means use of words to reference realities that are inherently ill-defined and often unobservable leading to untestable theories and deeply personal approaches to epistemological reasoning.

just what is a 'complex system"? A system implies a boundary — there are things part of the system and things outside the system. That's a hard concept to identify — just where the system ends and something else begins. So when 'the system' breaks down, it's hard to tell with any degree of testable objectivity whether the breakdown resulted from "the system" or from something outside the system and the rest was just "an accident that could have happened to anybody'"

maybe the idea is; '"if something breaks down at the worst possible time and in a way that fkks everything up, then it must have been a complex system". But it could also have been a simple system that ran into bad luck. Consider your toilet. Maybe you put too much toilet paper in it, and it clogged. Then it overflowed and ran out into your hallway with your shit everywhere. Then you realized you had an expensive Chinese rug on the floor. oh no! That was bad. you were gonna put tthat rug away as soon as you had a chance to admire it unrolled. Why did you do that? Big fckk up. But it wasn't a complex system. It was just one of those things.

susan the other August 21, 2015 at 12:14 pm

thanks for that, I think…

Gio Bruno August 21, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Actually, it was a system too complex for this individual. S(He) became convinced the plumbing would work as it had previously. But doo to poor maintenance, too much paper, or a stiff BM the "system" didn't work properly. There must have been opportunity to notice something anomalous, but appropriate oversight wasn't applied.

Oregoncharles August 21, 2015 at 3:29 pm

You mean the BM was too tightly coupled?

craazyman August 21, 2015 at 4:22 pm

It coould happen to anybody after enough pizza and red wine

people weren't meant to be efficient. paper towels and duct tape can somettmes help

This ocurred to me: The entire 1960s music revolution would't have happened if anybody had to be efficient about hanging out and jamming. You really have to lay around and do nothing if you want to achieve great things. You need many opportunities to fail and learn before the genius flies. That's why tightly coupled systems are self-defeating. Because they wipe too many people out before they've had a chance to figure out the universe.

JustAnObserver August 21, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Excellent example of tight coupling: Toilet -> Floor -> Hallway -> $$$ Rug

Fix: Apply Break coupling procedure #1: Shut toilet door.
Then: Procedure #2 Jam inexpensive old towels in gap at the bottom.

As with all such measures this buys the most important thing of all – time. In this case to get the $$$Rug out of the way.

IIRC one of Bookstaber's points was that that, in the extreme, tight coupling allows problems to propagate through the system so fast and so widely that we have no chance to mitigate before they escalate to disaster.

washunate August 21, 2015 at 10:03 am

To put it more simply, the drift of both economic and business thinking has been to optimize activity for efficiency.

I think that's an interesting framework. I would say effeciency is achieving the goal in the most effective manner possible. Perhaps that's measured in energy, perhaps labor, perhaps currency units, but whatever the unit of measure, you are minimizing that input cost.

What our economics and business thinking (and most importantly, political thinking) has primarily been doing, I would say, is not optimizing for efficiency. Rather, they are changing the goal being optimized. The will to power has replaced efficiency as the actual outcome.

Unchecked theft, looting, predation, is not efficient. Complexity and its associated secrecy is used to hide the inefficiency, to justify and promote that which would not otherwise stand scrutiny in the light of day.

BigEd August 21, 2015 at 10:11 am

What nonsense. All around us 'complex systems' (airliners, pipelines, coal mines, space stations, etc.) have become steadily LESS prone to failure/disaster over the decades. We are near the stage where the only remaining danger in air travel is human error. We will soon see driverless cars & trucks, and you can be sure accident rates will decline as the human element is taken out of their operation.

tegnost August 21, 2015 at 12:23 pm

see fukushima, lithium batteries spontaneously catching fire, financial engineering leading to collapse unless vast energy is invested in them to re stabilize…Driverless cars and trucks are not that soon, tech buddies say ten years I say malarkey based on several points made in the article, while as brooklyn bridge points out public transit languishes, and washunate points out that trains and other more efficient means of locomotion are starved while more complex methods have more energy thrown at them which could be better applied elsewhere. I think you're missing the point by saying look at all our complex systems, they work fine and then you ramble off a list of things with high failure potential and say look they haven't broken yet, while things that have broken and don't support your view are left out. By this mechanism safety protocols are eroded (that accident you keep avoiding hasn't happened, which means you're being too cautious so your efficiency can be enhanced by not worrying about it until it happens then you can fix it but as pointed out above tightly coupled systems can't react fast enough at which point we all have to hear the whocoodanode justification…)

susan the other August 21, 2015 at 12:34 pm

And the new points of failure will be what?

susan the other August 21, 2015 at 3:00 pm

So here's a question. What is the failure heirarchy. And why don't those crucial nodes of failsafe protect the system. Could it be that we don't know what they are?

Moneta August 22, 2015 at 8:09 am

While 90% of people were producing food a few decades ago, I think a large percentage will be producing energy in a few decades… right now we are still propping up our golf courses and avoiding investing in pipelines and refineries. We are still exploiting the assets of the 50s and 60s to live our hyper material lives. Those investments are what gave us a few decades of consumerism.

Now everyone wants government to spend on infra without even knowing what needs to go and what needs to stay. Maybe half of Californians need to get out of there and forget about building more infra there… just a thought.

America still has a frontier ethos… how in the world can the right investments in infra be made with a collection of such values?

We're going to get city after city imploding. More workers producing energy and less leisure over the next few decades. That's what breakdown is going to look like.

Moneta August 22, 2015 at 8:22 am

Flying might get safer and safer while we get more and more cities imploding.

Just like statues on Easter Island were getting increasingly elaborate as trees were disappearing.

ian August 21, 2015 at 4:02 pm

What you say is true, but only if you have a sufficient number of failures to learn from. A lot of planes had to crash for air travel to be as safe as it is today.

wm.annis August 21, 2015 at 10:19 am

I am surprised to see no reference to John Gall's General Systematics in this discussion, an entire study of systems and how they misbehave. I tend to read it from the standpoint of managing a complex IT infrastructure, but his work starts from human systems (organizations).

The work is organized around aphorisms — Systems tend to oppose their own proper function — The real world is what it is reported to the system — but one or two from this paper should be added to that repertoire. Point 7 seems especially important. From Gall, I have come to especially appreciate the Fail-Safe Theorem: "when a Fail-Safe system fails, it fails by failing to fail safe."

flora August 21, 2015 at 10:32 am

Instead of writing something long and rambling about complex systems being aggregates of smaller, discrete systems, each depending on a functioning and accurate information processing/feedback (not IT) system to maintain its coherence; and upon equally well functioning feedback systems between the parts and the whole — instead of that I'll quote a poem.

" Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; "

-Yates, "The Second Coming"

flora August 21, 2015 at 10:46 am

erm… make that "Yeats", as in W.B.

Steve H. August 21, 2015 at 11:03 am

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.

– Swift

LifelongLib August 21, 2015 at 7:38 pm

IIRC in Robert A. Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters" there's a different version:

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas
And so, ad infinitum.

Since the story is about humans being parasitized and controlled by alien "slugs" that sit on their backs, and the slugs in turn being destroyed by an epidemic disease started by the surviving humans, the verse has a macabre appropriateness.

LifelongLib August 21, 2015 at 10:14 pm

Original reply got eaten, so I hope not double post. Robert A. Heinlein's (and others?) version:

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite 'em
And little fleas have lesser fleas
And so ad infinitum!

Lambert Strether August 21, 2015 at 10:26 pm

The order Siphonoptera….

Oregoncharles August 21, 2015 at 10:59 pm

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"

I can't leave that poem without its ending – especially as it becomes ever more relevant.

Oldeguy August 21, 2015 at 11:02 am

Terrific post- just the sort of thing that has made me a NC fan for years.
I'm a bit surprised that the commentators ( thus far ) have not referred to the Financial Crisis of 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession as being an excellent example of Cook's failure analysis.

Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera's

All The Devils Are Here

describes beautifully how the erosion of the protective mechanisms in the U.S. financial system, no single one of which would have of itself been deadly in its absence ( Cook's Point 3 ) combined to produce the Perfect Storm.

It brought to mind Garett Hardin's The Tragedy Of The Commons . While the explosive growth of debt ( and therefore risk ) obviously jeopardized the entire system, it was very much within the narrow self interest of individual players to keep the growth ( and therefore the danger ) increasing.

Ormond Otvos August 21, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Bingo. Failure of the culture to properly train its members. Not so much a lack of morality as a failure to point out that when the temple falls, it falls on Samson.

The next big fix is to use the US military to wall off our entire country, maybe include Canada (language is important in alliances) during the Interregnum.

Why is no one mentioning the Foundation Trilogy and Hari Seldon here?

Deloss August 21, 2015 at 11:29 am

My only personal experience with the crash of a complex, tightly-coupled system was the crash of the trading floor of a very big stock exchange in the early part of this century. The developers were in the computer room, telling the operators NOT to roll back to the previous release, and the operators ignored them and did so anyway. Crash!

In Claus Jensen's fascinating account of the Challenger disaster, NO DOWNLINK, he describes how the managers overrode the engineers' warnings not to fly under existing weather conditions. We all know the result.

Human error was the final cause in both cases.

Now we are undergoing the terrible phenomenon of global warming, which everybody but Republicans, candidates and elected, seems to understand is real and catastrophic. The Republicans have a majority in Congress, and refuse–for ideological and monetary reasons–to admit that the problem exists. I think this is another unfolding disaster that we can ascribe to human error.

Ormond Otvos August 21, 2015 at 5:17 pm

"Human error" needs unpacking here. In this discussion, it's become a Deus ex Humanitas. Humans do what they do because their cultural experiences impel them to do so. Human plus culture is not the same as human. That's why capitalism doesn't work in a selfish society.

Oldeguy August 21, 2015 at 5:52 pm

" capitalism doesn't work in a selfish society "
Very true, not nearly so widely realized as it should be, and the Irony of Ironies .

BayesianGame August 21, 2015 at 11:48 am

But highly efficient systems are fragile. Formula One cars are optimized for speed and can only run one race.

Another problem with obsessing about (productive or technical) efficiency is that it usually means a narrow focus on the most measured or measurable inputs and outputs, to the detriment of less measurable but no less important aspects. Wages are easier to measure than the costs of turnover, including changes in morale, loss of knowledge and skill, and regard for the organization vs. regard for the individual. You want low cost fish? Well, it might be caught by slaves. Squeeze the measurable margins, and the hidden margins will move.

Donw August 21, 2015 at 3:18 pm

You hint at a couple fallacies.

1) Measuring what is easy instead of what is important.
2) Measuring many things and then optimizing all of them optimizes the whole.

Then, have some linear thinker try to optimize those in a complex system (like any organization involving humans) with multiple hidden and delayed feedback loops, and the result will certainly be unexpected. Whether for good or ill is going to be fairly unpredictable unless someone has actually looked for the feedback loops.

IsabelPS August 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Very good.

It's nice to see well spelled out a couple of intuitions I've had for a long time. For example, that we are going in the wrong direction when we try to streamline instead of following the path of biology: redundancies, "dirtiness" and, of course, the king of mechanisms, negative feedback (am I wrong in thinking that the main failure of finance, as opposed to economy, is that it has inbuilt positive feedback instead of negative?). And yes, my professional experience has taught me that when things go really wrong it was never just one mistake, it is a cluster of those.

downunderer August 22, 2015 at 3:52 am

Yes, as you hint here, and I would make forcefully explicit: COMPLEX vs NOT-COMPLEX is a false dichotomy that is misleading from the start.

We ourselves, and all the organisms we must interact with in order to stay alive, are individually among the most complex systems that we know of. And the interactions of all of us that add up to Gaia are yet more complex. And still it moves.

Natural selection built the necessary stability features into our bodily complexity. We even have a word for it: homeostasis. Based on negative feedback loops that can keep the balancing act going. And our bodies are vastly more complex than our societies.

Society's problem right now is not complexity per se, but the exploitation of complexity by system components that want to hog the resources and to hell with the whole, quite exactly parallel to the behavior of cancer cells in our bodies when regulatory systems fail.

In our society's case, it is the intelligent teamwork of the stupidly selfish that has destroyed the regulatory systems. Instead of negative feedback keeping deviations from optimum within tolerable limits, we now have positive feedback so obvious it is trite: the rich get richer.

We not only don't need to de-complexify, we don't dare to. We really need to foster the intelligent teamwork that our society is capable of, or we will fail to survive challenges like climate change and the need to sensibly control the population. The alternative is to let natural selection do the job for us, using the old reliable four horsemen.

We are unlikely to change our own evolved selfishness, and probably shouldn't. But we need to control the monsters that we have created within our society. These monsters have all the selfishness of a human at his worst, plus several natural large advantages, including size, longevity, and the ability to metamorphose and regenerate. And as powerful as they already were, they have recently been granted all the legal rights of human citizens, without appropriate negative feedback controls. Everyone here will already know what I'm talking about, so I'll stop.

Peter Pan August 21, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Formula One cars are optimized for speed and can only run one race.

Actually I believe F1 has rules regarding the number of changes that can be made to a car during the season. This is typically four or five changes (replacements or rebuilds), so a F1 car has to be able to run more than one race or otherwise face penalties.

jo6pac August 21, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Yes, F-1 allows four power planets per-season it has been up dated lately to 5. There isn't anything in the air or ground as complex as a F-1 car power planet. The cars are feeding 30 or more engineers at the track and back home normal in England millions of bit of info per second and no micro-soft is not used but very complex programs watching every system in the car. A pit stop in F-1 is 2.7 seconds anything above 3.5 and your not trying hard enough.

Honda who pride themselves in Engineering has struggled in power planet design this year and admit they have but have put more engineers on the case. The beginning of this Tech engine design the big teams hired over 100 more engineers to solve the problems. Ferrari throw out the first design and did a total rebuild and it working.

This is how the world of F-1 has moved into other designs, long but a fun read.

I'm sure those in F-1 system designs would look at stories like this and would come to the conclusion that these nice people are the gate keepers and not the future. Yes, I'm a long time fan of F-1. Then again what do I know.

The sad thing in F-1 the gate keepers are the owners CVC.

Brooklin Bridge August 21, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Interesting comment! One has to wonder why every complex system can't be treated as the be-all. Damn the torpedos. Spare no expense! Maybe if we just admitted we are all doing absolutely nothing but going around in a big circle at an ever increasing speed, we could get a near perfect complex system to help us along.

Ormond Otvos August 21, 2015 at 5:21 pm

If the human race were as important as auto racing, maybe. But we know that's not true ;->

jo6pac August 21, 2015 at 5:51 pm

In the link it's the humans of McLaren that make all the decisions on the car and the race on hand. The link is about humans working together either in real race time or designing out problems created by others.

Marsha August 21, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Globalization factors in maximizing the impact of Murphy's Law:

  1. Meltdown potential of a globalized 'too big to fail' financial system associated with trade imbalances and international capital flows, and boom and bust impact of volatile "hot money".
  2. Environmental damage associated with inefficiency of excessive long long supply chains seeking cheap commodities and dirty polluting manufacturing zones.
  3. Military vulnerability of same long tightly coupled 'just in time" supply chains across vast oceans, war zones, choke points that are very easy to attack and nearly impossible to defend.
  4. Consumer product safety threat of manufacturing somewhere offshore out of sight out of mind outside the jurisdiction of the domestic regulatory system.
  5. Geographic concentration and contagion of risk of all kinds – fragile pattern of horizontal integration – manufacturing in China, finance in New York and London, industrialized mono culture agriculture lacking biodiversity (Iowa feeds the world). If all the bulbs on the Christmas tree are wired in series, it takes only one to fail and they all go out.

Globalization is not a weather event, not a thermodynamic process of atoms and molecules, not a principle of Newtonian physics, not water running downhill, but a hyper aggressive top down policy agenda by power hungry politicians and reckless bean counter economists. An agenda hell bent on creating a tightly coupled globally integrated unstable house of cards with a proven capacity for catastrophic (trade) imbalance, global financial meltdown, contagion of bad debt, susceptibility to physical threats of all kinds.

Synoia August 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Any complex system contains non-linear feedback. Management presumes it is their skill that keeps the system working over some limited range, where the behavior approximates linear. Outside those limits, the system can fail catastrophically. What is perceived as operating or management skill is either because the system is kept in "safe" limits, or just happenstance. See chaos theory.

Operators or engineers controlling or modifying the system are providing feedback. Feedback can push the system past "safe" limits. Once past safe limits, the system can fail catastrophically Such failure happen very quickly, and are always "a surprise".

Synoia August 21, 2015 at 1:43 pm

All complex system contain non-linear feedback, and all appear manageable over a small rage of operation, under specific conditions.

These are the systems' safe working limits, and sometimes the limits are known, but in many case the safe working limits are unknown (See Stock Markets).

All systems with non-linear feedback can and will fail, catastrophically.

All predicted by Chaos Theory. Best mathematical filed applicable to the real world of systems.

So I'll repeat. All complex system will fail when operating outside safe limits, change in the system, management induced and stimulus induced, can and will redefine those limits, with spectacular results.

We hope and pray system will remain within safe limits, but greed and complacency lead us humans to test those limits (loosen the controls), or enable greater levels of feedback (increase volumes of transactions). See Crash of 2007, following repeal of Glass-Stegal, etc.

Brooklin Bridge August 21, 2015 at 4:05 pm

It's Ronnie Ray Gun. He redefined it as, "Safe for me but not for thee." Who says you can't isolate the root?

Synoia August 21, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Ronnie Ray Gun was the classic example of a Manager.

Where one can only say: "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do"

Oregoncharles August 21, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Three quite different thoughts:

First, I don't think the use of "practitioner" is an evasion of agency. Instead, it reflects the very high level of generality inherent in systems theory. The pitfall is that generality is very close to vagueness. However, the piece does contain an argument against the importance of agency; it argues that the system is more important than the individual practitioners, that since catastrophic failures have multiple causes, individual agency is unimportant. That might not apply to practitioners with overall responsibility or who intentionally wrecked the system; there's a naive assumption that everyone's doing their best. I think the author would argue that control fraud is also a system failure, that there are supposed to be safeguards against malicious operators. Bill Black would probably agree. (Note that I dropped off the high level of generality to a particular example.)

Second, this appears to defy the truism from ecology that more complex systems are more stable. I think that's because ecologies generally are not tightly coupled. There are not only many parts but many pathways (and no "practitioners"). So "coupling" is a key concept not much dealt with in the article. It's about HUMAN systems, even though the concept should apply more widely than that.

Third, Yves mentioned the economists' use of "equilibrium." This keeps coming up; the way the word is used seems to me to badly need definition. It comes from chemistry, where it's used to calculate the production from a reaction. The ideal case is a closed system: for instance, the production of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen in a closed pressure chamber. You can calculate the proportion of ammonia produced from the temperature and pressure of the vessel. It's a fairly fast reaction, so time isn't a big factor.

The Earth is not a closed system, nor are economies. Life is driven by the flow of energy from the Sun (and various other factors, like the steady rain of material from space). In open systems, "equilibrium" is a constantly moving target. In principle, you could calculate the results at any given condition , given long enough for the many reactions to finish. It's as if the potential equilibrium drives the process (actually, the inputs do).

Not only is the target moving, but the whole system is chaotic in the sense that it's highly dependent on variables we can't really measure, like people, so the outcomes aren't actually predictable. That doesn't really mean you can't use the concept of equilibrium, but it has to be used very carefully. Unfortunately, most economists are pretty ignorant of physical science, so ignorant they insistently defy the laws of thermodynamics ("groaf"), so there's a lot of magical thinking going on. It's really ideology, so the misuse of "equilibrium" is just one aspect of the system failure.

Synoia August 21, 2015 at 5:34 pm


"equilibrium…from chemistry, where it's used to calculate the production from a reaction"

That is certainly a definition in one scientific field.

There is another definition from physics.

When all the forces that act upon an object are balanced, then the object is said to be in a state of equilibrium.

However objects on a table are considered in equilibrium, until one considers an earthquake.

The condition for an equilibrium need to be carefully defined, and there are few cases, if any, of equilibrium "under all conditions."

nat scientist August 21, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Equilibrium ceases when Chemistry breaks out, dear Physicist.

Synoia August 21, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Equilibrium ceases when Chemistry breaks out

This is only a subset.

Oregoncharles August 21, 2015 at 10:56 pm

I avoided physics, being not so very mathematical, so learned the chemistry version – but I do think it's the one the economists are thinking of.

What I neglected to say: it's an analogy, hence potentially useful but never literally true – especially since there's no actual stopping point, like your table.

John Merryman August 21, 2015 at 3:09 pm

There is much simpler way to look at it, in terms of natural cycles, because the alternative is that at the other extreme, a happy medium is also a flatline on the big heart monitor. So the bigger it builds, the more tension and pressure accumulates. The issue then becomes as to how to leverage the consequences. As they say, a crisis should never be wasted. At its heart, there are two issues, economic overuse of resources and a financial medium in which the rent extraction has overwhelmed its benefits. These actually serve as some sort of balance, in that we are in the process of an economic heart attack, due to the clogging of this monetary circulation system, that will seriously slow economic momentum.

The need then is to reformulate how these relationships function, in order to direct and locate our economic activities within the planetary resources. One idea to take into consideration being that money functions as a social contract, though we treat it as a commodity. So recognizing it is not property to be collected, rather contracts exchanged, then there wouldn't be the logic of basing the entire economy around the creation and accumulation of notational value, to the detriment of actual value. Treating money as a public utility seems like socialism, but it is just an understanding of how it functions. Like a voucher system, simply creating excess notes to keep everyone happy is really, really stupid, big picture wise.

Obviously some parts of the system need more than others, but not simply for ego gratification. Like a truck needs more road than a car, but an expensive car only needs as much road as an economy car. The brain needs more blood than the feet, but it doesn't want the feet rotting off due to poor circulation either.
So basically, yes, complex systems are finite, but we need to recognize and address the particular issues of the system in question.

Bob Stapp August 21, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Perhaps in a too-quick scan of the comments, I overlooked any mention of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, Antifragile. If so, my apologies. If not, it's a serious omission from this discussion.

Local to Oakland August 21, 2015 at 6:34 pm

Thank you for this.

I first wondered about something related to this theme when I first heard about just in time sourcing of inventory. (Now also staff.) I wondered then whether this was possible because we (middle and upper class US citizens) had been shielded from war and other catastrophic events. We can plan based on everything going right because most of us don't know in our gut that things can always go wrong.

I'm genX, but 3 out of 4 of my grandparents were born during or just after WWI. Their generation built for redundancy, safety, stability. Our generation, well. We take risks and I'm not sure the decision makers have a clue that any of it can bite them.

Jeremy Grimm August 22, 2015 at 4:23 pm

The just-in-time supply of components for manufacturing was described in Barry Lynn's book "Cornered" and identified as creating extreme fragility in the American production system. There have already been natural disasters that shutdown American automobile production in our recent past.

Everything going right wasn't part of the thinking that went into just-in-time parts. Everything going right — long enough — to steal away market share on price-point was the thinking. Decision makers don't worry about any of this biting them. Passing the blame down and golden parachutes assure that.

flora August 21, 2015 at 7:44 pm

This is really a very good paper. My direct comments are:

point 2: yes. provided the safety shields are not discarded for bad reasons like expedience or ignorance or avarice. See Glass-Steagall Act, for example.

point 4: yes. true of all dynamic systems.

point 7: 'root cause' is not the same as 'key factors'. ( And here the doctor's sensitivity to malpractice suits may be guiding his language.) It is important to determine key factors in order to devise better safety shields for the system. Think airplane black boxes and the 1932 Pecora Commission after the 1929 stock market crash.

Jay M August 21, 2015 at 9:01 pm

It's easy, complexity became too complex. And I can't read the small print. We are devolving into a world of happy people with gardens full of flowers that they live in on their cell phones.

Ancaeus August 22, 2015 at 5:22 am

There are a number of counter-examples; engineered and natural systems with a high degree of complexity that are inherently stable and fault-tolerant, nonetheless.

1. Subsumption architecture is a method of controlling robots, invented by Rodney Brooks in the 1980s. This scheme is modeled on the way the nervous systems of animals work. In particular, the parts of the robot exist in a hierarchy of subsystems, e.g., foot, leg, torso, etc. Each of these subsystems is autonomously controlled. Each of the subsystems can override the autonomous control of its constituent subsystems. So, the leg controller can directly control the leg muscle, and can override the foot subsystem. This method of control was remarkably successful at producing walking robots which were not sensitive to unevenness of the surface. In other words, the were not brittle in the sense of Dr. Cook. Of course, subsumption architecture is not a panacea. But it is a demonstrated way to produce very complex engineered systems consisting of many interacting parts that are very stable.

2. The inverted pendulum Suppose you wanted to build a device to balance a pencil on its point. You could imagine a sensor to detect the angle of the pencil, an actuator to move the balance point, and a controller to link the two in a feedback loop. Indeed, this is, very roughly, how a Segway remains upright. However, there is a simpler way to do it, without a sensor or a feedback controller. It turns out that if your device just moves the balance point sinusoidaly (e.g., in a small circle) and if the size of the circle and the rate are within certain ranges, then the pencil will be stable. This is a well-known consequence of the Mathieu equation. The lesson here is that stability (i.e., safety) can be inherent in systems for subtle reasons that defy a straightforward fault/response feedback.

3. Emergent behavior of swarms Large numbers of very simple agents interacting with one another can sometimes exhibit complex, even "intelligent" behavior. Ants are a good example. Each ant has only simple behavior. However, the entire ant colony can act in complex and effective ways that would be hard to predict from the individual ant behaviors. A typical ant colony is highly resistant to disturbances in spite of the primitiveness of its constituent ants.

4. Another example is the mammalian immune system that uses negative selection as one mechanism to avoid attacking the organism itself. Immature B cells are generated in large numbers at random, each one with receptors for specifically configured antigens. During maturation, if they encounter a matching antigen (likely a protein of the organism) then the B cell either dies, or is inactivated. At maturity, what is left is a highly redundant cohort of B cells that only recognize (and neutralize) foreign antigens.

Well, these are just a few examples of systems that exhibit stability (or fault-tolerance) that defies the kind of Cartesian analysis in Dr. Cook's article.

Marsha August 22, 2015 at 11:42 am

Glass-Steagall Act: interactions between unrelated functionality is something to be avoided. Auto recall: honking the horn could stall the engine by shorting out the ignition system. Simple fix is is a bit of insulation.

ADA software language: Former DOD standard for large scale safety critical software development: encapsulation, data hiding, strong typing of data, minimization of dependencies between parts to minimize impact of fixes and changes. Has safety critical software gone the way of the Glass-Steagall Act? Now it is buffer overflows, security holes, and internet protocol in hardware control "critical infrastructure" that can blow things up.

[Jun 29, 2015] College Is Wildly Exploitative Why Aren't Students Raising Hell

"..."Colleges have become a way for the ruling class to launder money into supposed non-profits and use endowments to purchase stocks, bonds, and real estate. ""
"...I read things like this and think about Louis Althusser and his ideas about "Ideological State Apparatuses." While in liberal ideology the education is usually considered to be the space where opportunity to improve one's situation is founded, Althusser reached the complete opposite conclusion. For him, universities are the definitive bourgeois institution, the ideological state apparatus of the modern capitalist state par excellance. The real purpose of the university was not to level the playing field of opportunity but to preserve the advantages of the bourgeoisie and their children, allowing the class system to perpetuate/reproduce itself. "
"...Perhaps some students are afraid to protest for fear of being photographed or videographed and having their face and identity given to every prospective employer throughout America. Perhaps those students are afraid of being blackballed throughout the Great American Workplace if they are caught protesting anything on camera."
"...Many of the best students feel enormous pressure to succeed and have some inkling that their job prospects are growing narrower, but they almost universally accept this as the natural order of things. Their outlook: if there are 10 or 100 applicants for every available job, well, by golly, I just have to work that much harder and be the exceptional one who gets the job."
"...In Chapter One of this book entitled "The Iron law of Liberalism and the Era of Total Bureaucratization" Graeber notes that the US has become the most rigidly credentialised society in the world where "
"...Robert Reich, in his book Supercapitalism, explains that in the past 30 years the two industries with the most excessive increases in prices are health care and higher education."
"...Using student loan loot and tax subsidies backed by its $3.5 billion endowment, New York University has created a new administrative class of aristocratic compensation. The school not only continues to hire more administrators – many of whom the professors indict as having no visible value in improving the education for students bankrupting themselves to register for classes – but shamelessly increases the salaries of the academic administrative class. The top 21 administrators earn a combined total of $23,590,794 per year. The NYU portfolio includes many multi-million-dollar mansions and luxury condos, where deans and vice presidents live rent-free."
"...As the managerial class grows, in size and salary, so does the full time faculty registry shrink. Use of part time instructors has soared to stratospheric heights at NYU. Adjunct instructors, despite having a minimum of a master's degree and often having a Ph.D., receive only miserly pay-per-course compensation for their work, and do not receive benefits. Many part-time college instructors must transform their lives into daily marathons, running from one school to the next, barely able to breathe between commutes and courses. Adjunct pay varies from school to school, but the average rate is $2,900 per course."
"...At a basic level, I think the answer is yes, because on balance, college still provides a lot of privatized value to the individual. Being an exploited student with the College Credential Seal of Approval remains relatively much better than being an exploited non student lacking that all important seal. A college degree, for example, is practically a guarantee of avoiding the more unseemly parts of the US "justice" system."
"...My nephew asked me to help him with his college introductory courses in macroeconomics and accounting. I was disappointed to find out what was going on: no lectures by professors, no discussion sessions with teaching assistants; no team projects–just two automated correspondence courses, with automated computer graded problem sets objective tests – either multiple choice, fill in the blank with a number, or fill in the blank with a form answer. This from a public university that is charging tuition for attendance just as though it were really teaching something. All they're really certifying is that the student can perform exercises is correctly reporting what a couple of textbooks said about subjects of marginal relevance to his degree. My nephew understands exactly that this is going on, but still …."
 June 26, 2015 | naked capitalism

Yves here. In May, we wrote up and embedded the report on how NYU exploits students and adjuncts in "The Art of the Gouge": NYU as a Model for Predatory Higher Education. This article below uses that study as a point of departure for for its discussion of how higher education has become extractive.

By David Masciotra, the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky). He has also written for Salon, the Atlantic and the Los Angeles Review of Books. For more information visit Originally published at Alternet

Higher education wears the cloak of liberalism, but in policy and practice, it can be a corrupt and cutthroat system of power and exploitation. It benefits immensely from right-wing McCarthy wannabes, who in an effort to restrict academic freedom and silence political dissent, depict universities as left-wing indoctrination centers.

But the reality is that while college administrators might affix "down with the man" stickers on their office doors, many prop up a system that is severely unfair to American students and professors, a shocking number of whom struggle to make ends meet. Even the most elementary level of political science instructs that politics is about power. Power, in America, is about money: who has it? Who does not have it? Who is accumulating it? Who is losing it? Where is it going?

Four hundred faculty members at New York University, one of the nation's most expensive schools, recently released a report on how their own place of employment, legally a nonprofit institution, has become a predatory business, hardly any different in ethical practice or economic procedure than a sleazy storefront payday loan operator. Its title succinctly summarizes the new intellectual discipline deans and regents have learned to master: "The Art of The Gouge."

The result of their investigation reads as if Charles Dickens and Franz Kafka collaborated on notes for a novel. Administrators not only continue to raise tuition at staggering rates, but they burden their students with inexplicable fees, high cost burdens and expensive requirements like mandatory study abroad programs. When students question the basis of their charges, much of them hidden during the enrollment and registration phases, they find themselves lost in a tornadic swirl of forms, automated answering services and other bureaucratic debris.

Often the additional fees add up to thousands of dollars, and that comes on top of the already hefty tuition, currently $46,000 per academic year, which is more than double its rate of 2001. Tuition at NYU is higher than most colleges, but a bachelor's degree, nearly anywhere else, still comes with a punitive price tag. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2014–2015 school year was $31,231 at private colleges, $9,139 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,958 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.

Robert Reich, in his book Supercapitalism, explains that in the past 30 years the two industries with the most excessive increases in prices are health care and higher education. Lack of affordable health care is a crime, Reich argues, but at least new medicines, medical technologies, surgeries, surgery techs, and specialists can partially account for inflation. Higher education can claim no costly infrastructural or operational developments to defend its sophisticated swindle of American families. It is a high-tech, multifaceted, but old fashioned transfer of wealth from the poor, working- and middle-classes to the rich.

Using student loan loot and tax subsidies backed by its $3.5 billion endowment, New York University has created a new administrative class of aristocratic compensation. The school not only continues to hire more administrators – many of whom the professors indict as having no visible value in improving the education for students bankrupting themselves to register for classes – but shamelessly increases the salaries of the academic administrative class. The top 21 administrators earn a combined total of $23,590,794 per year. The NYU portfolio includes many multi-million-dollar mansions and luxury condos, where deans and vice presidents live rent-free.

Meanwhile, NYU has spent billions, over the past 20 years, on largely unnecessary real estate projects, buying property and renovating buildings throughout New York. The professors' analysis, NYU's US News and World Report Ranking, and student reviews demonstrate that few of these extravagant projects, aimed mostly at pleasing wealthy donors, attracting media attention, and giving administrators opulent quarters, had any impact on overall educational quality.

As the managerial class grows, in size and salary, so does the full time faculty registry shrink. Use of part time instructors has soared to stratospheric heights at NYU. Adjunct instructors, despite having a minimum of a master's degree and often having a Ph.D., receive only miserly pay-per-course compensation for their work, and do not receive benefits. Many part-time college instructors must transform their lives into daily marathons, running from one school to the next, barely able to breathe between commutes and courses. Adjunct pay varies from school to school, but the average rate is $2,900 per course.

Many schools offer rates far below the average, most especially community colleges paying only $1,000 to $1,500. Even at the best paying schools, adjuncts, as part time employees, are rarely eligible for health insurance and other benefits. Many universities place strict limits on how many courses an instructor can teach. According to a recent study, 25 percent of adjuncts receive government assistance.

The actual scandal of "The Art of the Gouge" is that even if NYU is a particularly egregious offender of basic decency and honesty, most of the report's indictments could apply equally to nearly any American university. From 2003-2013, college tuition increased by a crushing 80 percent. That far outpaces all other inflation. The closest competitor was the cost of medical care, which in the same time period, increased by a rate of 49 percent. On average, tuition in America rises eight percent on an annual basis, placing it far outside the moral universe. Most European universities charge only marginal fees for attendance, and many of them are free. Senator Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bill proposing all public universities offer free education. It received little political support, and almost no media coverage.

In order to obtain an education, students accept the paralytic weight of student debt, the only form of debt not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Before a young person can even think about buying a car, house or starting a family, she leaves college with thousands of dollars in debt: an average of $29,400 in 2012. As colleges continue to suck their students dry of every dime, the US government profits at $41.3 billion per year by collecting interest on that debt. Congress recently cut funding for Pell Grants, yet increased the budget for hiring debt collectors to target delinquent student borrowers.

The university, once an incubator of ideas and entrance into opportunity, has mutated into a tabletop model of America's economic architecture, where the top one percent of income earners now owns 40 percent of the wealth.

"The One Percent at State U," an Institute for Policy Studies report, found that at the 25 public universities with the highest paid presidents, student debt and adjunct faculty increased at dramatically higher rates than at the average state university. Marjorie Wood, the study's co-author, explained told the New York Times that extravagant executive pay is the "tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.

Unfortunately, students seem like passive participants in their own liquidation. An American student protest timeline for 2014-'15, compiled by historian Angus Johnston, reveals that most demonstrations and rallies focused on police violence, and sexism. Those issues should inspire vigilance and activism, but only 10 out of 160 protests targeted tuition hikes for attack, and only two of those 10 events took place outside the state of California.

Class consciousness and solidarity actually exist in Chile, where in 2011 a student movement began to organize, making demands for free college. More than mere theater, high school and college students, along with many of their parental allies, engaged the political system and made specific demands for inexpensive education. The Chilean government announced that in March 2016, it will eliminate all tuition from public universities. Chile's victory for participatory democracy, equality of opportunity and social justice should instruct and inspire Americans. Triumph over extortion and embezzlement is possible.

This seems unlikely to happen in a culture, however, where even most poor Americans view themselves, in the words of John Steinbeck, as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." The political, educational and economic ruling class of America is comfortable selling out its progeny. In the words of one student quoted in "The Art of the Gouge," "they see me as nothing more than $200,000."

washunate June 26, 2015 at 10:07 am

Awesome question in the headline.

At a basic level, I think the answer is yes, because on balance, college still provides a lot of privatized value to the individual. Being an exploited student with the College Credential Seal of Approval remains relatively much better than being an exploited non student lacking that all important seal. A college degree, for example, is practically a guarantee of avoiding the more unseemly parts of the US "justice" system.

But I think this is changing. The pressure is building from the bottom as academia loses credibility as an institution capable of, never mind interested in, serving the public good rather than simply being another profit center for connected workers. It's actually a pretty exciting time. The kiddos are getting pretty fed up, and the authoritarians at the top of the hierarchy are running out of money with which to buy off younger technocratic enablers and thought leaders and other Serious People.

washunate June 26, 2015 at 10:17 am

P.S., the author in this post demonstrates the very answer to the question. He assumes as true, without any need for support, that the very act of possessing a college degree makes one worthy of a better place in society. That mindset is why colleges can prey upon students. They hold a monopoly on access to resources in American society. My bold:

Adjunct instructors, despite having a minimum of a master's degree and often having a Ph.D., receive only miserly pay-per-course compensation for their work, and do not receive benefits.

What does having a masters degree or PhD have to do with the moral claim of all human beings to a life of dignity and purpose?

flora June 26, 2015 at 11:37 am

There are so many more job seekers per job opening now than, say, 20 or thirty years ago that a degree is used to sort out applications. Now a job that formerly listed a high school degree as a requirement may now list a college degree as a requirement, just to cut down on the number of applications.

So, no, a B.A. or B.S. doesn't confer moral worth, but it does open more job doors than a high school diploma, even if the actual work only requires high school level math, reading, science or technology.

Ben June 26, 2015 at 1:11 pm

I agree a phd often makes someone no more useful in society. However the behaviour of the kids is rational *because* employers demand a masters / phd.

Students are then caught in a trap. Employers demand the paper, often from an expensive institution. The credit is abundant thanks to govt backed loans. They are caught in a situation where as a collective it makes no sense to join in, but as an individual if they opt out they get hurt also.

Same deal for housing. It's a mad world my masters.

What can we do about this? The weak link in the chain seems to me to be employers. Why are they hurting themselves by selecting people who want higher pay but may offer little to no extra value? I work as a programmer and I often think " if we could just 'see' the non-graduate diamonds in the rough".

If employers had perfect knowledge of prospective employees *and* if they saw that a degree would make no difference to their performance universities would crumble overnight.

The state will never stop printing money via student loans. If we can fix recruitment then universities are dead.

washunate June 26, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Why are they hurting themselves by selecting people who want higher pay but may offer little to no extra value?

Yeah, I have thought a lot about that particular question of organizational behavior. It does make sense, conceptually, that somebody would disrupt the system and take people based on ability rather than credentials. Yet we are moving in the opposite direction, toward more rigidity in educational requirements for employment.

For my two cents, I think the bulk of the answer lies in how hiring specifically, and management philosophy more generally, works in practice. The people who make decisions are themselves also subject to someone else's decisions. This is true all up and down the hierarchical ladder, from board members and senior executives to the most junior managers and professionals.

It's true that someone without a degree may offer the same (or better) performance to the company. But they do not offer the same performance to the people making decisions, because those individual people also depend upon their own college degrees to sell their own labor services. To hire significant numbers of employees without degrees into important roles is to sabotage their own personal value.

Very few people are willing to be that kind of martyr. And generally speaking, they tend to self-select away from occupations where they can meaningfully influence decision-making processes in large organizations.

Absolutely, individual business owners can call BS on the whole scam. It is a way that individual people can take action against systemic oppression. Hire workers based upon their fit for the job, not their educational credentials or criminal background or skin color or sexual orientation or all of the other tests we have used. But that's not a systemic solution because the incentives created by public policy are overwhelming at large organizations to restrict who is 'qualified' to fill the good jobs (and increasingly, even the crappy jobs).

Laaughingsong June 26, 2015 at 3:03 pm

I am not so sure that this is so. So many jobs are now crapified. When I was made redundant in 2009, I could not find many jobs that fit my level of experience (just experience! I have no college degree), so I applied for anything that fit my skill set, pretty much regardless of level. I was called Overqualified. I have heard that in the past as well, but never more so during that stretch of job hunting. Remember that's with no degree. Maybe younger people don't hear it as much. But I also think life experience has something to do with it, you need to have something to compare it to. How many times did our parents tell us how different things were when they were kids, how much easier? I didn't take that on board, did y'all?

sam s smith June 26, 2015 at 4:03 pm

I blame HR.

tsk June 27, 2015 at 4:42 pm

For various reasons, people seeking work these days, especially younger job applicants, might not possess the habits of mind and behavior that would make them good employees – i.e., punctuality, the willingness to come to work every day (even when something more fun or interesting comes up, or when one has partied hard the night before), the ability to meet deadlines rather than make excuses for not meeting them, the ability to write competently at a basic level, the ability to read instructions, diagrams, charts, or any other sort of necessary background material, the ability to handle basic computation, the ability to FOLLOW instructions rather than deciding that one will pick and choose which rules and instructions to follow and which to ignore, trainability, etc.

Even if a job applicant's degree is in a totally unrelated field, the fact that he or she has managed to complete an undergraduate degree–or, if relevant, a master's or a doctorate – is often accepted by employers as a sign that the applicant has a sense of personal responsibility, a certain amount of diligence and educability, and a certain level of basic competence in reading, writing, and math.

By the same token, employers often assume that an applicant who didn't bother going to college or who couldn't complete a college degree program is probably not someone to be counted on to be a responsible, trainable, competent employee.

Obviously those who don't go to college, or who go but drop out or flunk out, end up disadvantaged when competing for jobs, which might not be fair at all in individual cases, especially now that college has been priced so far out of the range of so many bright, diligent students from among the poor and and working classes, and now even those from the middle class.

Nevertheless, in general an individual's ability to complete a college degree is not an unreasonable stand-in as evidence of that person's suitability for employment.

Roland June 27, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Nicely put, Ben.

Students are first caught in a trap of "credentials inflation" needed to obtain jobs, then caught by inflation in education costs, then stuck with undischargeable debt. And the more of them who get the credentials, the worse the credentials inflation–a spiral.

It's all fuelled by loose credit. The only beneficiaries are a managerial elite who enjoy palatial facilities.

As for the employers, they're not so bad off. Wages are coming down for credentialled employees due to all the competition. There is such a huge stock of degreed applicants that they can afford to ignore anyone who isn't. The credentials don't cost the employer–they're not spending the money, nor are they lending the money.

Modern money makes it possible for the central authorities to keep this racket going all the way up to the point of general systemic collapse. Why should they stop? Who's going to make them stop?

Bobbo June 26, 2015 at 10:19 am

The only reason the universities can get away with it is easy money. When the time comes that students actually need to pay tuition with real money, money they or their parents have actually saved, then college tuition rates will crash back down to earth. Don't blame the universities. This is the natural and inevitable outcome of easy money.

Jim June 26, 2015 at 10:54 am

Yes, college education in the US is a classic example of the effects of subsidies. Eliminate the subsidies and the whole education bubble would rapidly implode.

washunate June 26, 2015 at 11:03 am

I'm very curious if anyone will disagree with that assessment.

An obvious commonality across higher education, healthcare, housing, criminal justice, and national security is that we spend huge quantities of public money yet hold the workers receiving that money to extremely low standards of accountability for what they do with it.

tegnost June 26, 2015 at 11:38 am

Correct, it's not the universities, it's the culture that contains the universities, but the universities are training grounds for the culture so it is the universities just not only the universities… Been remembering the song from my college days "my futures so bright i gotta wear shades". getting rich was the end in itself, and people who didn't make it didn't deserve anything but a whole lot of student debt,creating perverse incentives. And now we all know what the A in type a stands for…at least among those who self identify as such, so yes it is the universities

Chris in Paris June 26, 2015 at 12:07 pm

I don't understand why the ability to accept guaranteed loan money doesn't come with an obligation by the school to cap tuition at a certain percentage over maximum loan amount? Would that be so hard to institute?

Ben June 26, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Student loans are debt issuance. Western states are desperate to issue debt as it's fungible with money and marked down as growth.

Borrow 120K over 3 years and it all gets paid into university coffers and reappears as "profit" now. Let some other president deal with low disposable income due to loan repayments. It's in a different electoral cycle – perfect.

jrd2 June 26, 2015 at 11:50 am

You can try to argue, but it will be hard to refute. If you give mortgages at teaser rates to anybody who can fog a mirror, you get a housing bubble. If you give student loans to any student without regard to the prospects of that student paying back the loan, you get a higher education bubble. Which will include private equity trying to catch as much of this money as they possibly can by investing in for profit educational institutions just barely adequate to benefit from federal student loan funds.

jrs June 26, 2015 at 6:16 pm

A lot of background conditions help. It helps to pump a housing bubble if there's nothing else worth investing in (including saving money at zero interest rates). It helps pump an education bubble if most of the jobs have been outsourced so people are competing more and more for fewer and fewer.

Beans June 26, 2015 at 11:51 am

I don't disagree with the statement that easy money has played the biggest role in jacking up tuition. I do strongly disagree that we shouldn't "blame" the universities. The universities are exactly where we should place the blame. The universities have become job training grounds, and yet continue to droll on and on about the importance of noble things like liberal education, the pursuit of knowledge, the importance of ideas, etc. They cannot have it both ways. Years ago, when tuition rates started escalating faster than inflation, the universities should have been the loudest critics – pointing out the cultural problems that would accompany sending the next generation into the future deeply indebted – namely that all the noble ideas learned at the university would get thrown out the window when financial reality forced recent graduates to chose between noble ideas and survival. If universities truly believed that a liberal education was important; that the pursuit of knowledge benefitted humanity – they should have led the charge to hold down tuition.

washunate June 26, 2015 at 12:47 pm

I took it to mean blame as in what allows the system to function. I heartily agree that highly paid workers at universities bear blame for what they do (and don't do) at a granular level.

It's just that they couldn't do those things without the system handing them gobs of resources, from tax deductability of charitable contributions to ignoring anti-competitive behavior in local real estate ownership to research grants and other direct funding to student loans and other indirect funding.

Jim June 26, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Regarding blaming "highly paid workers at universities" – If a society creates incentives for dysfunctional behavior such a society will have a lot of dysfunction. Eliminate the subsidies and see how quicly the educational bubble pops.

James Levy June 26, 2015 at 2:45 pm

You are ignoring the way that the rich bid up the cost of everything. 2% of the population will pay whatever the top dozen or so schools will charge so that little Billy or Sue can go to Harvard or Stanford. This leads to cost creep as the next tier ratchet up their prices in lock step with those above them, etc. The same dynamic happens with housing, at least around wealthy metropolitan areas.

daniel June 26, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Hi to you two,

A European perspective on this: yep, that's true on an international perspective. I belong to the ugly list of those readers of this blog who do not fully share the liberal values of most of you hear. However, may I say that I can agree on a lot of stuff.

US education and health-care are outrageously costly. Every European citizen moving to the states has a question: will he or she be sick whilst there. Every European parent with kids in higher education is aware that having their kids for one closing year in the US is the more they can afford (except if are a banquier d'affaires…). Is the value of the US education good? No doubt! Is is good value for money, of course not. Is the return on the money ok? It will prove disastrous, except if the USD crashed. The main reason? Easy money. As for any kind of investment. Remember that this is indeed a investment plan…

Check the level of revenues of "public sector" teaching staff on both sides of the ponds. The figure for US professionals in these area are available on the Web. They are indeed much more costly than, say, North-of-Europe counterparts, "public sector" professionals in those area. Is higher education in the Netherlands sub-par when compared to the US? Of course not.

Yep financing education via the Fed (directly or not) is not only insanely costly. Just insane. The only decent solution: set up public institutions staffed with service-minded professionals that did not have to pay an insane sum to build up the curriculum themselves.

Are "public services" less efficient than private ones here in those area, health-care and higher education. Yep, most certainly. But, sure, having the fed indirectly finance the educational system just destroy any competitive savings made in building a competitive market-orientated educational system and is one of the worst way to handle your educational system.

Yep, you can do a worst use of the money, subprime or China buildings… But that's all about it.

US should forget about exceptionnalism and pay attention to what North of Europe is doing in this area. Mind you, I am Southerner (of Europe). But of course I understand that trying to run these services on a federal basis is indeed "mission impossible".

Way to big! Hence the indirect Washington-decided Wall-Street-intermediated Fed-and-deficit-driven financing of higher education. Mind you: we have more and more of this bankers meddling in education in Europe and I do not like what I see.

John Zelnicker June 27, 2015 at 1:36 pm

@washunate – 6/26/15, 11:03 am. I know I'm late to the party, but I disagree. It's not the workers, it's the executives and management generally. Just like Wall Street, many of these top administrators have perfected the art of failing upwards.

IMNSHO everyone needs to stop blaming labor and/or the labor unions. It's not the front line workers, teachers, retail clerks, adjunct instructors, all those people who do the actual work rather than managing other people. Those workers have no bargaining power, and the unions have lost most of theirs, in part due to the horrible labor market, as well as other important reasons.

We have demonized virtually all of the government workers who actually do the work that enables us to even have a government (all levels) and to provide the services we demand, such as public safety, education, and infrastructure. These people are our neighbors, relatives and friends; we owe them better than this.

/end of rant

Roland June 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Unionized support staff at Canadian universities have had sub-inflation wage increases for nearly 20 years, while tuition has been rising at triple the rate of inflation.

So obviously one can't blame the unions for rising education costs.

Spring Texan June 28, 2015 at 8:03 am

Thanks for your rant! You said a mouthful. And could not be more correct.

Adam Eran June 26, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Omitted from this account: Federal funding for education has declined 55% since 1972. … Part of the Powell memo's agenda.

It's understandable too; one can hardly blame legislators for punishing the educational establishment given the protests of the '60s and early '70s… After all, they were one reason Nixon and Reagan rose to power. How dare they propose real democracy! Harumph!

To add to students' burden, there's the recent revision of bankruptcy law: student loans can no longer be retired by bankruptcy (Thanks Hillary!)…It'll be interesting to see whether Hillary's vote on that bankruptcy revision becomes a campaign issue.

I also wonder whether employers will start to look for people without degrees as an indication they were intelligent enough to sidestep this extractive scam.

washunate June 26, 2015 at 1:54 pm

I'd be curious what you count as federal funding. Pell grants, for example, have expanded both in terms of the number of recipients and the amount of spending over the past 3 – 4 decades.

More generally, federal support for higher ed comes in a variety of forms. The bankruptcy law you mention is itself a form of federal funding. Tax exemption is another. Tax deductabiliity of contributions is another. So are research grants and exemptions from anti-competitive laws and so forth. There are a range of individual tax credits and deductions. The federal government also does not intervene in a lot of state supports, such as licensing practices in law and medicine that make higher ed gatekeepers to various fiefdoms and allowing universities to take fees for administering (sponsoring) charter schools. The Federal Work-Study program is probably one of the clearest specific examples of a program that offers both largely meaningless busy work and terrible wages.

As far as large employers seeking intelligence, I'm not sure that's an issue in the US? Generally speaking, the point of putting a college credential in a job requirement is precisely to find people participating in the 'scam'. If an employer is genuinely looking for intelligence, they don't have minimum educational requirements.

Laughingsong June 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm

I heard that Congress is cutting those:

different clue June 28, 2015 at 3:06 am

Why would tuition rates come down when students need to pay with "real money, money they or their parents have actually saved. . . " ? Didn't tuition at state universities begin climbing when state governments began boycotting state universities in terms of embargoing former rates of taxpayer support to them? Leaving the state universities to try making up the difference by raising tuition? If people want to limit or reduce the tuition charged to in-state students of state universities, people will have to resume paying former rates of taxes and elect people to state government to re-target those taxes back to state universities the way they used to do before the reductions in state support to state universities.

Jesper June 26, 2015 at 10:29 am

Protest against exploitation and risk being black-listed by exploitative employers -> Only employers left are the ones who actually do want (not pretend to want) ethical people willing to stand up for what they believe in. Not many of those kind of employers around…. What is the benefit? What are the risks?

Tammy June 27, 2015 at 4:35 pm

What is the benefit? What are the risks?
I am not a progressive, yet, there is always risk for solidary progress.

Andrew June 26, 2015 at 10:53 am

The author misrepresents the nature and demands of Chile's student movement.

Over the past few decades, university enrollment rates for Chileans expanded dramatically in part due to the creation of many private universities. In Chile, public universities lead the pack in terms of academic reputation and entrance is determined via competitive exams. As a result, students from poorer households who attended low-quality secondary schools generally need to look at private universities to get a degree. And these are the students to which the newly created colleges catered to.

According to Chilean legislation, universities can only function as non-profit entities. However, many of these new institutions were only nominally non-profit entities (for example, the owners of the university would also set up a real estate company that would rent the facilities to the college at above market prices) and they were very much lacking in quality. After a series of high-profile cases of universities that were open and shut within a few years leaving its students in limbo and debt, anger mounted over for-profit education.

The widespread support of the student movement was due to generalized anger about and education system that is dearly lacking in quality and to the violation of the spirit of the law regulating education. Once the student movement's demands became more specific and morphed from opposing for profit institutions to demanding free tuition for everyone, the widespread support waned quickly.

And while the government announced free tuition in public universities, there is a widespread consensus that this is a pretty terrible idea as it is regressive and involves large fiscal costs. In particular because most of the students that attend public universities come from relatively wealthy households that can afford tuition. The students that need the tuition assistance will not benefit under the new rules.

I personally benefited from the fantastically generous financial aid systems that some private American universities have set up which award grants and scholarships based on financial need only. And I believe that it is desirable for the State to guarantee that any qualified student has access to college regardless of his or her wealth I think that by romanticizing the Chilean student movement the author reveals himself to be either is dishonest or, at best, ignorant.

RanDomino June 27, 2015 at 12:23 pm

The protests also involved extremely large riots.

The Insider June 26, 2015 at 10:57 am

Students aren't protesting because they don't feel the consequences until they graduate.

One thing that struck me when I applied for a student loan a few years back to help me get through my last year of graduate school – the living expense allocation was surprisingly high. Not "student sharing an apartment with five random dudes while eating ramen and riding the bus", but more "living alone in a nice one-bedroom apartment while eating takeout and driving a car". Apocryphal stories of students using their student loans to buy new cars or take extravagant vacations were not impossible to believe.

The living expense portion of student loans is often so generous that students can live relatively well while going to school, which makes it that much easier for them to push to the backs of their minds the consequences that will come from so much debt when they graduate. Consequently, it isn't the students who are complaining – it's the former students. But by the time they are out of school and the university has their money in its pocket, it's too late for them to try and change the system.

lord koos June 26, 2015 at 11:42 am

I'm sure many students are simply happy to be in college… the ugly truth hits later.

optimader June 26, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Sophomore Noell Conley lives there, too. She shows off the hotel-like room she shares with a roommate.

"As you walk in, to the right you see our granite countertops with two sinks, one for each of the residents," she says.

A partial wall separates the beds. Rather than trek down the hall to shower, they share a bathroom with the room next door.

"That's really nice compared to community bathrooms that I lived in last year," Conley says.

To be fair, granite countertops last longer. Tempur-Pedic is a local company — and gave a big discount. The amenities include classrooms and study space that are part of the dorm. Many of the residents are in the university's Honors program. But do student really need Apple TV in the lounges, or a smartphone app that lets them check their laundry status from afar?

"Demand has been very high," says the university's Penny Cox, who is overseeing the construction of several new residence halls on campus. Before Central Hall's debut in August, the average dorm was almost half a century old, she says. That made it harder to recruit.

"If you visit places like Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama," Cox says, "and you compare what we had with what they have available to offer, we were very far behind."

Today colleges are competing for a more discerning consumer. Students grew up with fewer siblings, in larger homes, Cox says. They expect more privacy than previous generations — and more comforts.

"These days we seem to be bringing kids up to expect a lot of material plenty," says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of the book "Generation Me."

Those students could be in for some disappointment when they graduate, she says.

"When some of these students have all these luxuries and then they get an entry-level job and they can't afford the enormous flat screen and the granite countertops," Twenge says, "then that's going to be a rude awakening."

Some on campus also worry about the divide between students who can afford such luxuries and those who can't. The so-called premium dorms cost about $1,000 more per semester. Freshman Josh Johnson, who grew up in a low-income family and lives in one of the university's 1960s-era buildings, says the traditional dorm is good enough for him.

"I wouldn't pay more just to live in a luxury dorm," he says. "It seems like I could just pay the flat rate and get the dorm I'm in. It's perfectly fine."

In the near future students who want to live on campus won't have a choice. Eventually the university plans to upgrade all of its residence halls.

So I wonder who on average will fair better navigating the post-college lifestyle/job market reality check, Noell or Josh? Personally, I would bet on the Joshes living in the 60's vintage enamel painted ciderblock dorm rooms.

optimader June 26, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Universities responding to the market

Competition for students who have more sophisticated tastes than in past years is creating the perfect environment for schools to try to outdo each other with ever-more posh on-campus housing. Keeping up in the luxury dorm race is increasingly critical to a school's bottom line: A 2006 study published by the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers found that "poorly maintained or inadequate residential facilities" was the number-one reason students rejected enrolling at institutions.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click Here to See the 10 Schools with Luxury Dorms

Private universities get most of the mentions on lists of schools with great dorms, as recent ratings by the Princeton Review, College Prowler, and Campus Splash make clear. But a few state schools that have invested in brand-new facilities are starting to show up on those reviews, too.

While many schools offer first dibs on the nicest digs to upperclassmen on campus, as the war for student dollars ratchets up even first-year students at public colleges are living in style. Here are 10 on-campus dormitories at state schools that offer students resort-like amenities.

Jerry Denim June 26, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Bingo! They don't get really mad until they're in their early thirties and they are still stuck doing some menial job with no vacation time, no health insurance and a monstrous mountain of debt. Up until that point they're still working hard waiting for their ship to come in and blaming themselves for any lack of success like Steinbeck's 'embarrassed millionaires.' Then one day maybe a decade after they graduate they realize they've been conned but they've got bills to pay and other problems to worry about so they solider on. 18 year-olds are told by their high school guidance councilors, their parents and all of the adults they trust that college while expensive is a good investment and the only way to succeed. Why should they argue? They don't know any better yet.

different clue June 28, 2015 at 3:09 am

Perhaps some students are afraid to protest for fear of being photographed or videographed and having their face and identity given to every prospective employer throughout America. Perhaps those students are afraid of being blackballed throughout the Great American Workplace if they are caught protesting anything on camera.

Today isn't like the sixties when you could drop out in the confidence that you could always drop back in again. Nowadays there are ten limpets for every scar on the rock.

seabos84 June 26, 2015 at 11:16 am

the average is such a worthless number. The Data we need, and which all these parasitic professional managerial types won't provide –
x axis would be family income, by $5000 increments.
y axis would be the median debt level
we could get fancy, and also throw in how many kids are in school in each of those income increments.

BTW – this 55 yr. old troglodyte believes that 1 of the roles (note – I did NOT say "The Role") of education is preparing people to useful to society. 300++ million Americans, 7 billion humans – we ALL need shelter, reliable and safe food, reliable and safe water, sewage disposal, clothing, transportation, education, sick care, power, leisure, … we should ALL have access to family wage jobs and time for BBQs with our various communities several times a year. I know plenty of techno-dweebs here in Seattle who need to learn some of the lessons of 1984, The Prince, and Shakespeare. I know plenty of fuzzies who could be a bit more useful with some rudimentary skills in engineering, or accounting, or finance, or stats, or bio, or chem …
I don't know what the current education system is providing, other than some accidental good things for society at large, and mainly mechanisms for the para$ite cla$$e$ to stay parasites.


Adam Eran June 26, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Mao was perfectly content to promote technical education in the new China. What he deprecated (and fought to suppress) was the typical liberal arts notion of critical thinking. We're witnessing something comparable in the U.S.

This suppression in China led to an increase in Mao's authority (obviously), but kept him delusional. For example, because China relied on Mao's agricultural advice, an estimated 70 million Chinese died during peacetime. But who else was to be relied upon as an authority?

Back the the U.S.S.A. (the United StateS of America): One Australian says of the American system: "You Yanks don't consult the wisdom of democracy; you enable mobs."

Tammy June 27, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Mao was perfectly content to promote technical education in the new China. What he deprecated (and fought to suppress) was the typical liberal arts notion of critical thinking. We're witnessing something comparable in the U.S. We're witnessing something comparable in the U.S.

Mao liked chaos because he believed in continuous revolution. I would argue what we're experiencing is nothing comparable to what China experienced. (I hope I've understood you correctly.)

Ted June 26, 2015 at 11:20 am

I am pretty sure a tradition of protest to affect political change in the US is a rather rare bird. Most people "protest" by changing their behavior. As an example, by questioning the value of the 46,000 local private college tuition as opposed the the 15k and 9k tiered state college options. My daughter is entering the freshman class next year, we opted for the cheaper state option because, in the end, a private school degree adds nothing, unless it is to a high name recognition institution.

I think, like housing, a downstream consequence of "the gouge" is not to question — much less understand — class relations, but to assess the value of the lifetyle choice once you are stuck with the price of paying for that lifestyle in the form of inflated debt repayments. Eventually "the folk" figure it out and encourage cheaper alternatives toward the same goal.

Jim June 26, 2015 at 3:18 pm

There's probably little point in engaging in political protest. Most people maximise their chances of success by focusing on variables over which they have some degree of control. The ability of most people to have much effect on the overall political-economic system is slight and any returns from political activity are highly uncertain.

jrs June 26, 2015 at 9:53 pm

How does anyone even expect to maintain cheap available state options without political activity? By wishful thinking I suppose?

The value of a private school might be graduating sooner, state schools are pretty overcrowded, but that may not at all be worth the debt (I doubt it almost ever is on a purely economic basis).

RabidGandhi June 27, 2015 at 7:57 pm

Maybe if we just elect the right people with cool posters and a hopey changey slogan, they'll take care of everything for us and we won't have to be politically active.

jrs June 26, 2015 at 10:04 pm

Of course refusal to engage politically because the returns to oneself by doing so are small really IS the tragedy of the commons. Thus one might say it's ethical to engage politically in order to avoid it. Some ethical action focuses on overcoming tragedy of the commons dilemmas. Of course the U.S. system being what it is I have a hard time blaming anyone for giving up.

chairman June 26, 2015 at 11:37 am

The middle class, working class and poor have no voice in politics or policy at all, and they don't know what's going on until it's too late. They've been pushed by all their high school staff that college is the only acceptable option — and often it is. What else are they going to do out of high school, work a 30 hour a week minimum wage retail job? The upper middle class and rich, who entirely monopolize the media, don't have any reason to care about skyrocketing college tuition — their parents are paying for it anyway. They'd rather write about the hip and trendy issues of the day, like trigger warnings.

Fool June 26, 2015 at 1:17 pm

To the contrary, they're hardly advised by "their high school staff"; nonetheless, subway ads for Phoenix, Monroe, etc. have a significant influence.

Uncle Bruno June 26, 2015 at 11:58 am

They're too busy working

Fool June 26, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Also Tinder.

collegestudent June 26, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Speaking as one of these college students, I think that a large part of the reason that the vast majority of students are just accepting the tuition rates is because it has become the societal norm. Growing up I can remember people saying "You need to go to college to find a good job." Because a higher education is seen as a necessity for most people, students think of tuition as just another form of taxes, acceptable and inevitable, which we will expect to get a refund on later in life.

Pitchfork June 26, 2015 at 1:03 pm

I teach at a "good" private university. Most of my students don't have a clue as to how they're being exploited. Many of the best students feel enormous pressure to succeed and have some inkling that their job prospects are growing narrower, but they almost universally accept this as the natural order of things. Their outlook: if there are 10 or 100 applicants for every available job, well, by golly, I just have to work that much harder and be the exceptional one who gets the job.

Incoming freshmen were born in the late 90s — they've never known anything but widespread corruption, financial and corporate oligarchy, i-Pads and the Long Recession.

But as other posters note, the moment of realization usually comes after four years of prolonged adolescence, luxury dorm living and excessive debt accumulation.

Tammy June 27, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Most Ph.D.'s don't either. I'd argue there have been times they have attempted to debate that exploitation is a good–for their employer and himself/herself–with linguistic games. Mind numbing… . To be fair, they have a job.

Gottschee June 26, 2015 at 1:34 pm

I have watched the tuition double–double!–at my alma mater in the last eleven years. During this period, administrators have set a goal of increasing enrollment by a third, and from what I hear, they've done so. My question is always this: where is the additional tuition money going? Because as I walk through the campus, I don't really see that many improvements–yes, a new building, but that was supposedly paid for by donations and endowments. I don't see new offices for these high-priced admin people that colleges are hiring, and in fact, what I do see is an increase in the number of part-time faculty and adjuncts. The tenured faculty is not prospering from all this increased revenue, either.

I suspect the tuition is increasing so rapidly simply because the college can get away with it. And that means they are exploiting the students.

While still a student, I once calculated that it cost me $27.00/hour to be in class. (15 weeks x 20 "contact hours" per week =
300 hours/semester, $8000/semester divided by 300 hours = $27.00/hour). A crude calculation, certainly, but a starting point. I did this because I had an instructor who was consistently late to class, and often cancelled class, so much that he wiped out at least $300.00 worth of instruction. I had the gall to ask for a refund of that amount. I'm full of gall. Of course, I was laughed at, not just by the administrators, but also by some students.

Just like medical care, education pricing is "soft," that is, the price is what you are willing to pay. Desirable students get scholarships and stipends, which other students subsidize; similarly, some pre-ACA patients in hospitals were often treated gratis.

Students AND hospital patients alike seem powerless to affect the contract with the provider. Reform will not likely be forthcoming, as students, like patients, are "just passing through."

Martin Finnucane June 26, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Higher education wears the cloak of liberalism, but in policy and practice, it can be a corrupt and cutthroat system of power and exploitation.

I find the "but" in that sentence to be dissonant.

Mark Anderson June 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm

The tuition at most public universities has quadrupled or more over the last 15 to 20 years precisely BECAUSE state government subsidies have been
slashed in the meantime. I was told around 2005 that quadrupled tuition at the University of Minnesota made up for about half of the state money that the legislature had slashed from the university budget over the previous 15 years.

It is on top of that situation that university administrators are building themselves little aristocratic empires, very much modeled on the kingdoms of corporate CEOs
where reducing expenses (cutting faculty) and services to customers (fewer classes, more adjuncts) is seen as the height of responsibility and accountability, perhaps
even the definition of propriety.

Jim June 26, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Everyone should read the introductory chapter to David Graeber's " The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy."

In Chapter One of this book entitled "The Iron law of Liberalism and the Era of Total Bureaucratization" Graeber notes that the US has become the most rigidly credentialised society in the world where

"…in field after field from nurses to art teachers, physical therapists, to foreign policy consultants, careers which used to be considered an art (best learned through doing) now require formal professional training and a certificate of completion."

Graeber, in that same chapter, makes another extremely important point. when he notes that career advancement in may large bureaucratic organizations demands a willingness to play along with the fiction that advancement is based on merit, even though most everyone know that this isn't true.

The structure of modern power in the U.S., in both the merging public and private sectors, is built around the false ideology of a giant credentialized meritorcracy rather than the reality of arbitrary extraction by predatory bureaucratic networks.

armchair June 26, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Anecdote: I was speaking to someone who recently started working at as a law school administrator at my alma mater. Enrollment is actually down at law schools (I believe), because word has spread about the lame legal job market. So, the school administration is watching its pennies, and the new administrator says the administrators aren't getting to go on so many of the all expense paid conferences and junkets that they used to back in the heyday. As I hear this, I am thinking about how many of these awesome conferences in San Diego, New Orleans and New York that I'm paying back. Whatever happened to the metaphorical phrase: "when a pig becomes a hog, it goes to slaughter"?

Another anecdote: I see my undergrad alma mater has demolished the Cold War era dorms on one part of campus and replaced it with tons of slick new student housing.

MaroonBulldog June 26, 2015 at 7:15 pm

No doubt those Cold War era dorms had outlived their planned life. Time for replacement. Hell, they had probably become inhabitable and unsafe.

Meanwhile, has your undergraduate school replaced any of its lecture courses with courses presented same model as on-line traffic school? I have a pending comment below about how my nephew's public university "taught" him introductory courses in accounting and macroeconomics that way. Please be assured that the content of those courses was on a par with best practices in the on-line traffic school industry. It would be hilarious if it weren't so desperately sad.

Roquentin June 26, 2015 at 5:04 pm

I read things like this and think about Louis Althusser and his ideas about "Ideological State Apparatuses." While in liberal ideology the education is usually considered to be the space where opportunity to improve one's situation is founded, Althusser reached the complete opposite conclusion. For him, universities are the definitive bourgeois institution, the ideological state apparatus of the modern capitalist state par excellance. The real purpose of the university was not to level the playing field of opportunity but to preserve the advantages of the bourgeoisie and their children, allowing the class system to perpetuate/reproduce itself.

It certainly would explain a lot. It would explain why trying to send everyone to college won't solve this, because not everyone can have a bourgeois job. Some people actually have to do the work. The whole point of the university as an institution was to act as a sorting/distribution hub for human beings, placing them at certain points within the division of labor. A college degree used to mean more because getting it was like a golden ticket, guaranteeing someone who got it at least a petit-bourgeois lifestyle. The thing is, there are only so many slots in corporate America for this kind of employment. That number is getting smaller too. You could hand every man, woman, and child in America a BS and it wouldn't change this in the slightest.

What has happened instead, for college to preserve its role as the sorting mechanism/preservation of class advantage is what I like to call degree inflation and/or an elite formed within degrees themselves. Now a BS or BA isn't enough, one needs an Master's or PhD to really be distinguished. Now a degree from just any institution won't do, it has to be an Ivy or a Tier 1 school. Until we learn to think realistically about what higher education is as an institution little or nothing will change.

Jim June 26, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Any credential is worthless if everybody has it. All information depends on contrast. It's impossible for everybody to "stand out" from the masses. The more people have college degrees the less value a college degree has.

sid_finster June 26, 2015 at 5:49 pm

When I was half-grown, I heard it said that religion is no longer the opiate of the masses, in that no one believes in God anymore, at least not enough for it to change actual behavior.

Instead, buying on credit is the opiate of the masses.

MaroonBulldog June 26, 2015 at 6:58 pm

My nephew asked me to help him with his college introductory courses in macroeconomics and accounting. I was disappointed to find out what was going on: no lectures by professors, no discussion sessions with teaching assistants; no team projects–just two automated correspondence courses, with automated computer graded problem sets objective tests – either multiple choice, fill in the blank with a number, or fill in the blank with a form answer. This from a public university that is charging tuition for attendance just as though it were really teaching something. All they're really certifying is that the student can perform exercises is correctly reporting what a couple of textbooks said about subjects of marginal relevance to his degree. My nephew understands exactly that this is going on, but still ….

This is how 21st century America treats its young people: it takes people who are poor, in the sense that they have no assets, and makes them poorer, loading them up with student debt, which they incur in order to finance a falsely-so-called course of university study that can't be a good deal, even for the best students among them.

I am not suggesting the correspondence courses have no worth at all. But they do not have the worth that is being charged for them in this bait-and-switch exercise by Ed Business.

MaroonBulldog June 27, 2015 at 1:39 am

After further thought, I'd compare my nephew's two courses to on-line traffic school: Mechanized "learning" – forget it all as soon as the test is over – Critical thinking not required. Except for the kind of "test preparation" critical thinking that teaches one to spot and eliminate the obviously wrong choices in objective answers–that kind of thinking saves time and so is very helpful.

Not only is he paying full tuition to receive this treatment, but his family and mine are paying taxes to support it, too.

Very useful preparation for later life, where we can all expect to attend traffic school a few times. But no preparation for any activity of conceivable use or benefit to any other person.

Spring Texan June 28, 2015 at 8:07 am

Good story. What a horrible rip-off!

P. Fitzsimon June 27, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I read recently that the business establishment viewed the most important contribution of colleges was that they warehoused young people for four years to allow maturing.

Fred Grosso June 27, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Where are the young people in all this? Is anyone going to start organizing to change things? Any ideas? Any interest? Are we going to have some frustrated, emotional person attempt to kill a university president once every ten years? Then education can appeal for support from the government to beef up security. Meanwhile the same old practices will prevail and the rich get richer and the rest of us get screwed.

Come on people step up.

Unorthodoxmarxist June 27, 2015 at 6:22 pm

The reason students accept this has to be the absolutely demobilized political culture of the United States combined with what college represents structurally to students from the middle classes: the only possibility – however remote – of achieving any kind of middle class income.

Really your choices in the United States are, in terms of jobs, to go into the military (and this is really for working class kids, Southern families with a military history and college-educated officer-class material) or to go to college.

The rest, who have no interest in the military, attend college, much like those who wanted to achieve despite of their class background went into the priesthood in the medieval period. There hasn't been a revolt due to the lack of any idea it could function differently and that American families are still somehow willing to pay the exorbitant rates to give their children a piece of paper that still enables them to claim middle class status though fewer and fewer find jobs. $100k in debt seems preferable to no job prospects at all.

Colleges have become a way for the ruling class to launder money into supposed non-profits and use endowments to purchase stocks, bonds, and real estate. College administrators and their lackeys (the extended school bureaucracy) are propping up another part of the financial sector – just take a look at Harvard's $30+ billion endowment, or Yale's $17 billion – these are just the top of a very large heap. They're all deep into the financial sector. Professors and students are simply there as an excuse for the alumni money machine and real estate scams to keep running, but there's less and less of a reason for them to employ professors, and I say this as a PhD with ten years of teaching experience who has seen the market dry up even more than it was when I entered grad school in the early 2000s.

A Real Black Person purple monkey dishwasher June 28, 2015 at 9:13 pm

"Colleges have become a way for the ruling class to launder money into supposed non-profits and use endowments to purchase stocks, bonds, and real estate. "

Unorthodoxmarxist, I thought I was the only person who was coming to that conclusion. I think there's data out there that could support our thesis that college tuition inflation may be affecting real estate prices. After all, justification a college grad gave to someone who was questioning the value of a college degree was that by obtaining a "a degree" and a professional job, an adult could afford to buy a home in major metropolitan hubs. I'm not sure if he was that ignorant, (business majors, despite the math requirement are highly ideological people. They're no where near as objective as they like to portray themselves as) or if he hasn't been in contact with anyone with a degree trying to buy a home in a metropolitan area.

Anyways, if our thesis is true, then if home prices declined in 2009, then college tuition should have declined as well, but it didn't at most trustworthy schools. Prospective students kept lining up to pay more for education that many insiders believe is "getting worse" because of widespread propaganda and a lack of alternatives, especially for "middle class" women.

Pelham June 27, 2015 at 7:04 pm

It's hard to say, but there ought to be a power keg of students here primed to blow. And Bernie Sanders' proposal for free college could be the fuse.

But first he'd have the light the fuse, and maybe he can. He's getting huge audiences and a lot of interest these days. And here's a timely issue. What would happen if Sanders toured colleges and called for an angry, mass and extended student strike across the country to launch on a certain date this fall or next spring to protest these obscene tuitions and maybe call for something else concrete, like a maximum ratio of administrators to faculty for colleges to receive accreditation?

It could ignite not only a long-overdue movement on campuses but also give a big boost to his campaign. He'd have millions of motivated and even furious students on his side as well as a lot of motivated and furious parents of students (my wife and I would be among them) — and these are just the types of people likely to get out and vote in the primaries and general election.

Sanders' consistent message about the middle class is a strong one. But here's a solid, specific but very wide-ranging issue that could bring that message into very sharp relief and really get a broad class of politically engaged people fired up.

I'm not one of those who think Sanders can't win but applaud his candidacy because it will nudge Hillary Clinton. I don't give a fig about Clinton. I think there's a real chance Sanders can win not just the nomination but also the presidency. This country is primed for a sharp political turn. Sanders could well be the right man in the right place and time. And this glaring and ongoing tuition ripoff that EVERYONE agrees on could be the single issue that puts him front-and-center rather than on the sidelines.

Rosario June 28, 2015 at 1:18 am

I finished graduate school about three years ago. During the pre-graduate terms that I paid out of pocket (2005-2009) I saw a near 70 percent increase in tuition (look up KY college tuition 1987-2009 for proof).

Straight bullshit, but remember our school was just following the national (Neoliberal) model.

Though, realize that I was 19-23 years old. Very immature (still immature) and feeling forces beyond my control. I did not protest out of a) fear [?] (I don't know, maybe, just threw that in there) b) the sheepskin be the path to salvation (include social/cultural pressures from parent, etc.).

I was more affected by b). This is the incredible power of our current Capitalist culture. It trains us well. We are always speaking its language, as if a Classic. Appraising its world through its values.

I wished to protest (i.e. Occupy, etc.) but to which master? All of its targets are post modern, all of it, to me, nonsense, and, because of this undead (unable to be destroyed). This coming from a young man, as I said, still immature, though I fear this misdirection, and alienation is affecting us all.

John June 28, 2015 at 10:42 am

NYU can gouge away.

It's filled with Chinese students (spies) who pay full tuition.

[May 28, 2015]8 Ways Robots Are Taking Over Our Jobs and Our World naked capitalism

May 27, 2015 |

Disturbed Voter

Great post with lots of out-of-box insight.

In the IT world, one can see both the dumbing down of the users, and the dumbing down of the IT staff. Thanks to automatic spell check and copy/paste … the clerical world has pretty much absorbed as much productivity increase as it can … but the people doing the writing on a PC with Word are less skilled than someone with an IBM Selectric was 30 years ago. This is applied to IT personnel as well … IT support is increasingly centralized with fewer and fewer local support people, thanks to more highly skilled specialists at the server farm, but the net-net is fewer people and lower labor costs. Eventually local IT help will only be able to show users what they could have done for themselves, if only they had read the instructions. This promotes less able users … since they don't have to do this themselves, they can always call up an IT dog's-body to come show them for the Nth time how to do something.

And not only is quality declining, but superfluous quantity is king … particularly with email.

Mark, May 27, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Interesting thesis. One answer about why we work is to live, but another quite separate answer is, to secure the means we need to live the lives we think we ought to live.

That is to say, the Western preoccupation with occupation has perhaps shifted (devolved?) from a dutiful, industrious working out of some sense of calling to some to more material motivation for industriousness purposed toward working out how to keep up with the Joneses, whoever they are. In this, organisational productivity is not unimportant, but perhaps appearances of importance to productivity are more important. As you note, the work that goes into appearing important is often at odds with actually getting a task completed faster, or for less. In this logic, having a certain job is a bit like what it meant to have a title in eras and states where nobility came with real privilege. So people go for these things, big time.

As I think about the ridiculous efforts required to make it in "society" in bygone eras, I'm uncertain whether this decoupling of work and material productivity is a new thing.

Either way, it's a big thing.

subgenius, May 27, 2015 at 4:04 pm

I have actually been fired from a job for "time-wasting"…

Thing is, I was so much faster than the surrounding drones that I had completed all my alloted tasks.

Apparently appearance is all when working for little napoleon bosses (who, incidentally, have no problem telling you exactly how easy something THEY can't personally do is…)

hunkerdown, May 27, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Ritualized, exactly spot-on. The need for production may have lessened, but the desperate, singular need to take the inferior side of a power relationship that only gets worse… well, it is the English we have to blame for that.

Brooklin Bridge, May 27, 2015 at 10:45 am

In a corrupt society, the devices we invent and the system in which they operate will be corrupted. The rent extraction nature of smart phones, the case of John Deere and GM arguing their vehicles are part of a licensing agreement and are not "owned" by buyers, are good examples. That's the problem I have with technology more than unfair and harmful replacement of human labor.

At some point, assuming we deal with the above, we will have to deal with some sort of basic economic/resource guarantee based simply on being born. Robots and systems will be capable of doing more and more work from basic, to very sophisticated, so yes at some point they will replace more people than they create work for.

Another consideration and one that seems particularly overlooked is that all these things need energy and lots of it. It will be amusing (perhaps more along the lines of tragic) to create a society totally dependent on robots (where people forget how to be auto-mechanics, doctors, lawyers, or mathematicians, or really expensive people such as plumbers only to have it shut down (in some drawn out unplanned manner) due to energy depletion.

Pepsi, May 27, 2015

You're right on and you address what I was going to post.

This confluence of robots, jobs, and profit lead one to wonder, what is a job, what is profit, why do we need to make things at lower cost?

There are no satisfying answers, just loops back to creating profit and satisfying some arbitrary need.

We have to destroy this 'market' based thinking and instead think about things in terms of the world and its people, or we'll all be screwed, robots or no.

Peter, May 27, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Digby calls it "The Midas Cult." Which I think sums America up quite nicely.

Disturbed Voter, May 27, 2015 at 1:07 pm

Having effective artificial doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers … other than providing labor saving tools for the people already doing those jobs … is based on the AI myth. AI is a con, and unfortunately most people aren't intelligent themselves to see thru it. A back hoe replaces a ditch digger, but there is nothing like a ditch digger to replace a thinking individual.

TG, May 27, 2015 at 10:48 am

The possibility that someday someone might produce a robot that can reliably act as a general purpose maid is of no relevance to TODAYS labor market.

For some jobs that need very high levels of precision like welding car frames or wave-soldering SMT components, robots are used. Some tasks, like mass-producing nails, are so efficiently done by machines that nobody will ever do that by hand no matter how cheap labor gets. But in general, industries are using LESS automation, not more! Nike has its shoes made by hand in Vietnam by disposable workers paid 57 cents an hour – even today we could at least substantially automate that process, but it would require a massive up-front capital investment. For now automation is a red herring, like gay marriage, designed to distract us from the real causes of falling wages.

Today $100,000 can buy you an industrial robot that can sort clothes about as well as a brain-damaged orangutang. Will robots someday be able to perform these tasks at human/human+ levels? Probably, although it could still be a ways off. But even then, how much will these robots cost? Computers are getting cheaper all the time – industrial machinery, not so much. It's not just whether a robot can someday do the job, but what are the total amortized costs and risks? (A sick or excess Vietnamese worker can be fired – a million dollar robot that breaks down or is no longer needed is a big hole in the bottom line of any business that purchased it).

One notes also that automation is generally found in high-wage countries like Japan, not so much in low-wage countries like Mexico or Vietnam. If automation was a major cause of low wages wouldn't you expect the opposite? The bottom line is that automation does not (for now) cause low wages – rather, because it is (for now) generally so expensive, automation is a reaction to high wages, that allows sufficient productivity so that businesses can operate with $40/hour labor costs.

So don't believe your lying eyes when you see pictures of workers jammed into sheds like battery hans assembling iphones by hand – no, believe that it's the evil robots that are taking all our jobs and driving wages down!

craazyboy, May 27, 2015 at 11:01 am

A cynic may even conclude that "capital" knows robots are expensive and offshored labor is cheap!

Santi, May 27, 2015 at 10:50 am

Somehow, the Japanese mean, we should turn Henry Ford's quotation upside down:

"I will build a motor car for the great multitude…constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise…so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one-and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."

Instead of building products for the great multitude, nowadays businessmen should aspire to build consumers for their products… No wonder most products from the dot com panoply are free…

Bart Fargo, May 27, 2015 at 12:03 pm

The problem with robotic surgery is that it doesn't give any better results than manual minimally invasive surgical techniques, but is much more expensive – often multiple times the cost of laparoscopic surgery. That could change in the future, but for now demand is driven by direct-to-patient marketing by da Vinci's manufacturer (Intuitive Surgical, which has a monopoly on robotic MIS) as well as hospitals who buy the robots to advertise that they are cutting-edge and then are stuck trying to recoup the purchase cost by increasing volume, since insurance reimburses all forms of minimally invasive surgery the same.

roadrider, May 27, 2015 at 3:22 pm

The main problem with the results not surpassing traditional procedures is most likely the steep learning curve associated with the surgical "robots" (they're not really robots but are instead remotely operated devices that translate movements of the surgeons hands into more precise movements of the instruments). Once hospitals spend millions to acquire these devices they have quite an incentive to use them as much as possible. That means that patients may unwittingly become part of a surgeon's transition period from traditional procedures during which they may produce no better or even worse results. Trying to get information out of surgeons and hospitals about the experience level and outcomes is a trying exercise at best. This is a big problem in community hospitals trying to make a name for themselves.

I went through this last year when I had a robotic procedure (prostate). I declined to have my community urologist perform the procedure because I had doubts about his experience level about which he could not provide me with adequate reassurance. I ended up having the procedure at a high-volume government/academic medical center to which I had access as part of a clinical study (full disclosure: insurance – or lack of same – issues also figured into this decision). So far, I've been very happy with the results.

My advice: find the best surgeon accessible to you irrespective of the tools he/she chooses to use.

Steven, May 27, 2015 at 12:45 pm

This is a huge issue which I hope will be revisited in much greater depth. When you substitute machines and computers powered from inanimate energy sources for human labor and what Frederick Soddy called "diligence" (i.e. machine tending), it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that less labor will be required to produce what had been regarded as life's essentials. The real economic problem for more than a century has been finding a way to distribute what an advanced industrial economy has been able to produce. Even the 'iron law of wages' is under attack as human labor becomes more and more redundant.

Even in Soddy's day (the 1920s – 50s) our civilization found it easier to address the contradiction between its incessant drive to render human labor redundant and its rigid enforcement of the rule that '(s)he who does not work neither shall (s)he eat' than address more fundamental questions like the definition of wealth and 'how much is enough?' The Keynes / New Deal 'solution' was, along with some much needed investment in public infrastructure from which the bankers and financiers couldn't make enough profit, make-work programs for the public sector and vast subsidies for an 'American lifestyle' built around suburbia, the automobile culture, waste and planned obsolescence for the private sector. Those much vaunted 'services industry' jobs turned out to be mainly MILITARY services.

Some of us are old enough to remember all the talk and the promise of a 'leisure society' in which people had enough time to understand the world around them and perhaps explore the meaning of life, should they so chose. Apparently that is not to be. It must be sacrificed in the interest of a 'full employment for money' program under which profit margins not protected by government cost-plus contracts are allowed and encouraged to extract their required margins with ever more 'efficiency' (read displacement of human labor).

Nancy Pelosi is supposed to have asked "Where did they get all that money?" when informed of the sums involved in the Fed's QE policies. Perhaps the country's (and the world's) political leadership really is that dense when it comes to questions of money and economics. But the rest of us need not be. After 2008 it should be pretty clear by now that all that money was not real 'wealth'. It was – and remains – debt. For people who have more wealth than they could ever consume in several lifetimes, that debt is the real goal – control over the life and labor of present and future generations – of people or at least machines).

Time is running out for the West – if not the world – to order its affairs with by better definition of wealth than the money created by its bankers and financial engineers. Soddy's definition of wealth is a good place to start:

Wealth as a form, product or result of a draft upon the flow of available energy consists of the special forms, products, or results which empower and enable human life.

The keynote of the age is discovery, and life itself is discovery. Once made, countless generations may use it and live by it without conscious apprehension of the nature of it, without further changing their mode of livelihood, and, indeed, deeming it the only possible way to live.

Discovery, Natural Energy and Diligence— the Three Ingredients of Wealth.

Soddy, Frederick M.A., F.R.S.. Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt (Kindle Locations 874-876, 1982-1983, Location 1276 ). Distributed Proofreaders Canada.

Not all of us can be scientists or engineers. But most of us are at least capable of understanding who and what butters our bread. That is a job much more important than raking rocks.

Disturbed Voter, May 27, 2015 at 1:11 pm

Raking rocks is a job you assign to a junior Zen monk. It is the job of the senior Zen monk to contemplate the resulting aesthetic ;-)

fresno dan, May 27, 2015 at 1:52 pm

"I have to differ a little with the cheery, "Better policy will create new/different jobs." What passes for our leadership believes in the mantra of more education and more skilled workers as the answer. In fact, America is going in reverse in this category, as educational attainment has fallen and college and higher education costs rise into the stratosphere. Moreover, the notion that there is a raft of highly technical jobs with lots of unmet demand is a canard. As we've discussed at some length, STEM graduates are finding it hard to obtain work (see confirming evidence in The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage from the Atlantic last year)."

I can't help but reiterate what was pointed out in NC in the past:


So whether it is flat out conspiracies to suppress wages, or conspiracies to import workers, it amounts to the same thing. There is a desire at the top to harvest all the gains of society for themselves.

So, let's look at the arguments that more tech will increase productivity, and that rising productivity helps everyone. If that were so, we should all work less and have a higher standard of living. I think the working less is indisputable (maybe just not voluntarily). The higher standard of living…not so much.

Again, I would say that 99% have had stagnating incomes for 40 years. During this time there has been the "tech boom" – Whether its tech or policies that is the cause of the stagnation, it doesn't seem to me that the oligarchy is much inclined to change what is making themselves richer and richer….

[Apr 20, 2015] Colleagues Addicted to Tech

Apr 20, 2015 |

Discussing Bad Work Situations

I have been in my present position for over 25 years. Five years ago, I was assigned a new boss, who has a reputation in my industry for harassing people in positions such as mine until they quit. I have managed to survive, but it's clear that it's time for me to move along. How should I answer the inevitable interview question: Why would I want to leave after so long? I've heard that speaking badly of a boss is an interview no-no, but it really is the only reason I'm looking to find something new. BROOKLYN

I am unemployed and interviewing for a new job. I have read that when answering interview questions, it's best to keep everything you say about previous work experiences or managers positive.

But what if you've made one or two bad choices in the past: taking jobs because you needed them, figuring you could make it work — then realizing the culture was a bad fit, or you had an arrogant, narcissistic boss?

Nearly everyone has had a bad work situation or boss. I find it refreshing when I read stories about successful people who mention that they were fired at some point, or didn't get along with a past manager. So why is it verboten to discuss this in an interview? How can the subject be addressed without sounding like a complainer, or a bad employee? CHICAGO

As these queries illustrate, the temptation to discuss a negative work situation can be strong among job applicants. But in both of these situations, and in general, criticizing a current or past employer is a risky move. You don't have to paint a fictitiously rosy picture of the past, but dwelling on the negative can backfire. Really, you don't want to get into a detailed explanation of why you have or might quit at all. Instead, you want to talk about why you're such a perfect fit for the gig you're applying for.

So, for instance, a question about leaving a long-held job could be answered by suggesting that the new position offers a chance to contribute more and learn new skills by working with a stronger team. This principle applies in responding to curiosity about jobs that you held for only a short time.

It's fine to acknowledge a misstep. But spin the answer to focus on why this new situation is such an ideal match of your abilities to the employer's needs.

The truth is, even if you're completely right about the past, a prospective employer doesn't really want to hear about the workplace injustices you've suffered, or the failings of your previous employer. A manager may even become concerned that you will one day add his or her name to the list of people who treated you badly. Save your cathartic outpourings for your spouse, your therapist, or, perhaps, the future adoring profile writer canonizing your indisputable success.

Send your workplace conundrums to, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld for publication). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

[Apr 02, 2015] Congressional Budget Plans Get Two-Thirds of Cuts From Programs for People With Low or Moderate Incomes'

March 23, 2015 | Economist's View
The true goal of Republican's "deficit fetishism":
Congressional Budget Plans Get Two-Thirds of Cuts From Programs for People With Low or Moderate Incomes, by Richard Kogan and Isaac Shapiro, CBPP: The budgets adopted on March 19 by the House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee each cut more than $3 trillion over ten years (2016-2025) from programs that serve people of limited means. These deep reductions amount to 69 percent of the cuts to non-defense spending in both the House and Senate plans.

Each budget plan derives more than two-thirds of its non-defense budget cuts from programs for people with low or modest incomes even though these programs constitute less than one-quarter of federal program costs. Moreover, spending on these programs is already scheduled to decline as a share of the economy between now and 2025.[1]

The bipartisan deficit reduction plan that Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles (co-chairs of the National Commission on Federal Policy) issued in 2010 adhered to the basic principle that deficit reduction should not increase poverty or widen inequality. The new Congressional plans chart a radically different course, imposing their most severe cuts on people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. ...


What they increase instead of cutting is our absurdly overblown defense spending. It should be turned around with all the cuts in defense and a slight increase in non-defense (as we desperately need to invest in infrastructure.

ilsm said in reply to DeDude...

They cannot cut defense, how will they pay to fix the F-35's they are taking possession of?

Billions a year in contracts because we pay soldiers too much to do combat support services......

Perpetual war is "security", just not the kind that a poor kids food stamps should pay for.

400 ppm CO2 said in reply to ilsm...

"Perpetual war is..."

Perpetual war is perpetual refugees. Most of the young kids are fleeing Ukraine as we network. Older folks are glued to their retirement plans which are being taxed to the max.

We need to write to Congressional Creatures and beg for some refugee relief for our cousins now in Ukraine. We need to organize community action. Make a place for some of them here. A daunting task, but somebody has got to do it before even more Ukrainians get maimed and killed.

Russian cousins should also get their shjt together and help relocate some of the refugees. It will be easier for the Живаго-s to extricate victims. Живаго-s are closer than we. It is everyone's responsibility.

Zinsky said...

This is an immoral piece of proposed legislation. The wealthy in the United States are doing just fine, thank you, and don't need another gratuitous tax cut. Especially given the fact that it wouldn't do a thing to stimulate the U.S. economy, all the right-wing rhetoric to the contrary.

The United States is a very wealthy country. We can afford to feed the hungry and help trodden. In fact, if we truly were a Judeo-Christian country, we would be morally obligated to do so. Of course, most conservatives are phony Christians who care not a whit for the poor and broken. Shame on them.

Darryl FKA Ron said in reply to Zinsky...

[Yep! Ayn Rand was an atheist.]

[Mar 18, 2015] IT workers' voices heard in the Senate, confidentially

"...the IT industry now fills about two-thirds of its entry-level positions with guest workers."

Mar 18, 2015 | Network World

A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today on the H-1B visa offered up a stew of policy arguments, positioning and frustration.

Much of the frustration focused on the IT layoffs at Southern California Edison, which is cutting 500 IT workers after hiring two offshore outsourcing firms. This has become the latest example for critics of the visa program's capacity for abuse.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chair who has long sought H-1B reforms, said he invited Southern California Edison officials "to join us today" and testify. "I thought they would want to defend their actions and explain why U.S. workers have been left high and dry," said Grassley. "Unfortunately, they declined my invitation."

The hearing, by the people picked to testify, was weighted toward critics of the program, prompting a response by industry groups.

Compete America, the Consumer Electronics Association,, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many others submitted a letter to the committee to rebut the "flawed studies" and "non-representative anecdotes used to create myths that suggest immigration harms American and American workers."

The claim that H-1B critics are using "anecdotes" to make their points (which include layoff reports at firms such as Edison) is a naked example of the pot calling the kettle black. The industry musters anecdotal stories in support of its positions readily and often. It makes available to the press and congressional committees people who came to the U.S. on an H-1B visa who started a business or took on a critical role in a start-up. These people are free to share their often compelling and admirable stories.

The voices of the displaced, who may be in fear of losing their homes, are thwarted by severance agreements.

The committee did hear from displaced workers, including some at Southern California Edison. But the communications with these workers are being kept confidential.

"I got the letters here from people, without the names," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). "If they say what they know and think about this, they will lose the buy-outs."

Infosys whistleblower Jay Palmer, who testified, and is familiar with the displacement process, told Sessions said these workers will get sued if they speak out. "That's the fear and intimidation that these people go through - they're blindsided," said Palmer.

Moreover, if IT workers refuse to train their foreign replacement, "they are going to be terminated with cause, which means they won't even get their unemployment insurance," said Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University, who also testified. Affected tech workers who speak out publicly and use their names, "will be blackballed from the industry," he said.

While lawmakers voiced either strong support or criticism of the program, there was interest in crafting legislation that impose some restrictions on H-1B use.

"America and American companies need more high-skilled workers - this is an undeniable fact," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "America's high-skilled worker shortage has become a crisis."

Hatch, who is leading the effort to increase the H-1B cap, suggested a willingness to raise wage levels for H-1B dependent employers. They are exempt from U.S. worker protection rules if the H-1B worker is paid at least $60,000 or has a master's degree, a figure that was set in law in 1998. Hatch suggested a wage level of $95,000.

Sen. Dick Durbin, (Dem-Ill.), who has joined with Grassley on legislation to impose some restrictions on H-1B visa use -- particularly in offshoring -- has argued for a rule that would keep large firms from having more than 50% of their workers on the visa. This so-called 50/50 rule, as Durbin has noted, has drawn much criticism from India, where most of the affected companies are located.

"I want to put the H-1B factories out of business," said Durbin.

Durbin got some support for the 50/50 rule from one person testifying in support of expanding the cap, Bjorn Billhardt, the founder and president of Enspire Learning, an Austin-based company. Enspire creates learning development tools; Billhardt came to the U.S. as an exchange student and went from an H-1B visa to a green card to, eventually, citizenship.

"I actually think that's a reasonable provision," said Billhardt of the 50% visa limit. He said it could help, "quite a bit." At the same time, he urged lawmakers to raise the cap to end the lottery system now used to distribute visas once that cap is reached.

Today's hearing went well beyond the impact of H-1B use by outsourcing firms to the displacement of workers overall.

Hal Salzman, a Rutgers University professor who studies STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) workforce issues, told the committee that the IT industry now fills about two-thirds of its entry-level positions with guest workers. "At the same time, IT wages have stagnated for over a decade," he said.

H-1B supporters use demand for the visa - which will exceed the 85,000 cap -- as proof of economic demand. But Salzman argues that U.S. colleges already graduate more scientists and engineers than find employment in those fields, about 200,000 more.

"Asking domestic graduates, both native-born and immigrant, to compete with guest workers on wages is not a winning strategy for strengthening U.S. science, technology and innovation," said Salzman.

See also

File Under Improving Economy, Not

If the US is at Full Employment and the Economy is at full steam ( as Obot lackeys keep telling us), then why is the Fed Funds rate still at 0%. Isn't 0% Fed rate an indicator of an Economy On Life Support. Tell me why I'm wrong.

March 14, 2015 | naked capitalism

participant-observer-observed, March 14, 2015 at 5:19 am

This is int'l but insofar as City sleeps with Wall St, it may be relevant to see that City has a new boyfriend, getting front page coverage at the Taipei Times

Beijing yesterday hailed Britain's announcement that it would seek to join a Chinese-led development bank, after Washington voiced caution about the move.

. . . .

London's move drew a cautious response from Washington, a rare note of discord in their "special relationship," which follows criticism from the US about Britain's cuts to defense spending.

China and 20 other countries signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the Beijing-headquartered bank in October.

"We believe any new multilateral institution should incorporate the high standards of the World Bank and the regional development banks," US National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.

"Based on many discussions, we have concerns about whether the AIIB will meet these high standards, particularly related to governance, and environmental and social safeguards."

The bank has support from countries including India, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

China's official Xinhua news agency rapped the US for its skepticism, writing in a commentary yesterday that Washington "exhibited nothing but a childish paranoia towards China."

"It seems that the US government needs to be reminded that bias and a deep-rooted strategic distrust towards China are by no means helpful in forging a healthy relationship with the country," Xinhua wrote.

"It's imperative for Washington to change its mindset," it said.

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim yesterday also welcomed the setting up of the China-backed bank.

Llewelyn Moss, March 14, 2015 at 8:51 am

If the US is at Full Employment and the Economy is at full steam ( as Obot lackeys keep telling us), then why is the Fed Funds rate still at 0%.

Isn't 0% Fed rate an indicator of an Economy On Life Support. Tell me why I'm wrong.

cassiodorus, March 14, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Employment-population ratio: 59.3%, where it was in July of 2009

Employment-population ratio, 25-54: 77.3%, about where it was at the beginning of 2009

There has, then, been only a limited recovery.

Being 'Laid Off' Leads to a Decade of Distrust

On the costs of unemployment:

Being 'laid off' leads to a decade of distrust, EurekAlert!: People who lose their jobs are less willing to trust others for up to a decade after being laid-off, according to new research from The University of Manchester.

Being made redundant or forced into unemployment can scar trust to such an extent that even after finding new work this distrust persists, according to the new findings of social scientist Dr James Laurence. This means that the large-scale job losses of the recent recession could lead to a worrying level of long-term distrust among the British public and risks having a detrimental effect on the fabric of society.

Dr Laurence ... finds that being made redundant from your job not only makes people less willing to trust others but that this increased distrust and cynicism lasts at least nine years after being forced out of work. It also finds that far from dissipating over time, an individual can remain distrustful of others even after they find a new job. ...

gunste said...

I was laid off many years ago, because my usually correct advice to management bugged them when I was proved right.

Best thing that ever happened to me, because I found that I was able to use the projects that I managed and start my own business. It grew and became known world wide. I provided some QC, accelerated test equipment for my industry that was unique. Since the market was limited, no one else got into it. I thrived for 14 years, when the equipment became obsolescent and retired - very comfortably.
The lesson is, if you have new areas to explore and start your own business based on something you know very, very well, you can make it as your own boss - which is the best boss you will
ever have.

cm said in reply to gunste...

"you can make it as your own boss - which is the best boss you will ever have"

That's only the case if you are in a line of work where somebody else doesn't specify the details of what you have to do (to some level), which is often the case if your work can be described as a "service". But you sound happy so you weren't in that place.

reason said...

you do realize what the probability of new business succeeding is? It is like winning the lottery, and saying look there is no problem, just go in a lottery.

Because you succeeded, there is no guarantee that anybody else could. And as cm pointed out, you may not have a boss where you work, but your customer is your boss. You are still not fully self directed (and a good boss can give you some room for making you own decisions).

[Feb 08, 2015] How would you turn off IT's always-on culture By Tim Elkins

Feb 04, 2015 | The Enterprisers Project

The press is full of stories about Americans being overstretched and overworked. The U.S. Travel Association reported in August that 40 percent of us will leave paid vacation days unused this year. I know that work-life balance is a challenge because I, along with my colleagues in IT, live it every week. When I recently took my family on a vacation five time zones west of my home base in Dallas, I was excited because I could work in the morning before they got up and shut the computer off when they did.

In retrospect, should I have turned my computer on at all?

In the evenings, I've stopped counting how many times I go look at my phone just to see what's going on. Rationally I know that if something alarming is going on I'll get a text or a call, but for some reason I still check. And I know it's not just me, because of all the other people I see responding and working during the evening hours. The point is, you can never truly stay ahead of your email, but so many of us try regardless. We know it's insanity, but for some reason we still do it.

Better culture, less process

At PrimeLending we're trying to take our out-of-balance lives back again. We call this effort Enhancing Culture. One thing I'm asking everyone on the technology team to do is send me ideas on how to enhance culture.

Another initiative is to reduce process. Here, too, I'm looking for ideas where team members see process is too heavy or unnecessary such that we can eliminate or reduce it. Anything we can do to make people want to work here, to enjoy working here more, is on the table.

Where have we landed thus far? Here are a few of our directions:

Am I satisfied yet? Not really. Part of the difficulty is the mortgage industry, of course, since our employees are meeting with customers in the evening, on weekends, and at their jobs. We don't really have set business hours. Our corporate office opens and closes 7:00 to 5:30, but the actual folks who are supporting the people in the field across the country have to work. They have to meet with borrowers when it's convenient for the borrowers, not when it's convenient for us.

Just as with vacations, though, we need to be able to turn it all off and step away. I know I feel the stress and I know folks on the team feel it. We have conversations all the time about it. When there wasn't a smartphone, there was a lot more downtime and a lot more conversations with folks. I don't think we're handling the smartphone well as a country, to be honest. Just like email, staying on top of your smart phone literally never ends. If I clean out my inbox tonight, it's going to be filled right back up tomorrow.

We asked some of our Enterprisers to respond to Tim's thoughts, here are their responses:

Sven Gerjets, chief technology officer at Pearson

  1. Define success measures for your employees. Hours spent is the worst way to measure productivity and value. I would never measure the success of my financial planner this way, as an example. I would rather have him spend an hour a day on me and get a 25 percent return than spend 12 hours and get a 10 percent return. Similarly, I think the key to balance is in helping our employees figure out the measure of their success. This is often easier said than done. If they don't understand the KPIs that show they are or are not successful they will burn the midnight oil to earn your approval.
  2. Act on priorities immediately. I think the other thing that erodes productivity and creates waste is our reliance on email and meetings. Well over half of the emails we get are a waste, in my opinion. Burning through these as quickly as possible, if you can't stop them, is critical. For the few important emails you do get, addressing them right away is critical. The longer they sit the more you get and after a while you will have 100 emails that you have to spend time on, which becomes impossible. On the meeting front, I think pushing for agendas and expected outcomes helps guide the time and documented decisions and named action items helps prevent the need for follow up meetings because of misunderstanding and confusion about accountability.

Rajeev Jaswal, director of IT at Red Hat

As you know there is no magic bullet. Five principles we apply in our groups are:

  1. Effective delegation with the ability to check (trust but verify periodically)
  2. Accountability at all levels to avoid the hero syndrome
  3. Rotation into roles that cause disruption of work/life balance (pager duties)
  4. Reward for the right behaviors
  5. Establish clip levels of authorization rather than the funnel approach.

In other words, delegate authority downward into the organization so our associates feel more ownership for change approvals, financial approvals, or project checkpoint approvals. This goes hand-in-hand with accountability.

Tom Soderstrom, IT chief technology officer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

This is a difficult problem. For example, I'm responding to this after 11 p.m. on Sunday, and have worked all weekend, so we're not necessarily there yet. But here are three things we do:

  1. We celebrate successes with awards, get-togethers, lunches, dinners, etc., which include spouses.
  2. We do a 90/80 work schedule, which means seven nine-hour days in a two-week period, one eight-hour day and then a free Friday every other week.
  3. We encourage outdoor meetings and provide outdoor space. We're now creating more open space inside and outside and more creative space.

Peter Buonora, enterprise architect at BJ's Wholesale Club

Become a business chemistry expert. One of the keys to avoiding team burnout starts with building a team that has a strong chemistry — hiring people that will be driven to succeed together and would ideally spend time together outside of work. The team should enjoy doing things together and be able to bond and make a human connection with each other, almost like an extended family. This becomes an internal support system and I believe these types of teams can conquer just about anything. It is also critical that they have a strong sense of purpose far beyond just what they are working on today, tomorrow or for the next six months.

I am reading a great book called "Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose" by Tony Hsieh – founder of Zappos. I would highly recommend it for new ideas on building a great culture. I believe this is the key to sustaining great team performance and avoiding burnout. Check out the culture book that they put together. Each year they ask team members to describe in 500 words or less what Zappos culture means to them. Whether it is good or bad it goes into their culture book.

Even though teams may have to work long and hard, it is those teams that build a strong bond that will be able to not only endure, but deliver things nobody thought possible and will over-deliver in the of toughest times.


John McGregor, CTO of Kronos Inc., also has some ideas about how to mitigate the burnout effect on staff. Read his interview, "CIOs should look for the 3 C's: character, collaboration and competence."

Tim Elkins joined PrimeLending in November 2008 as Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer. In October 2012, Tim was promoted to executive vice president, chief information officer, and he is responsible for information security, IT operations, and technology initiatives.

[Oct 08, 2014] IMF warns period of ultra-low interest rates poses fresh financial crisis threat

Quote: "loose monetary policies also prompted investment in high-yield but risky assets and for investors to take bigger bets."... From comments: "I think there are a couple of problems with British Business from my observation. Firstly a lot of senior management lack technical experience in the business sector their business is involved in. When I was at university I worked freelance as a web developer and I noticed that a lot of the MDs of these web development firms had no background in web design or development. Whilst i'd concede that it's not necessary to be an expert web developer to own web development firm i'd say it is necessary to have some technical competency otherwise how do you make appropriate decisions, you end up reliant on other people and usually those people have their own interests at heart not the interest of the business.
The other problem is again senior management not being able to accept responsibility or criticism. They pretend they're open to constructive criticism but as soon as somebody sticks their neck out the axe swings even if the criticism is valid. This is part of the reason I struck out on my own and tried to run my business differently, I got pissed off with not being able to challenge stupid decisions. Being a CEO or MD doesn't mean one is better than anyone else, nor are they infallible and the sooner people realise this the better. "
The Guardian

...José Viñals, the IMF's financial counsellor, said:

"Policymakers are facing a new global imbalance: not enough economic risk-taking in support of growth, but increasing excesses in financial risk-taking posing stability challenges."

He added that traditional banks were safer after the injection of additional capital but not strong enough to support economic recovery.

Viñals said the IMF had analysed 300 large banks in advanced economies, making up the bulk of their banking system. It found that institutions representing almost 40% of total assets lacked the financial muscle to supply adequate credit in support of the recovery. In the eurozone, this proportion rose to about 70%.

"And risks are shifting to the shadow banking system in the form of rising market and liquidity risks," Viñals said. "If left unaddressed, these risks could compromise global financial stability."

The stability report said low interest rates were "critical" in supporting the economy because they encouraged consumers to spend, and businesses to hire and invest. But it noted that loose monetary policies also prompted investment in high-yield but risky assets and for investors to take bigger bets. One concern is that much of the high-risk investment has taken place in emerging markets, leaving them vulnerable to rising US interest rates.

"Accommodative policies aimed at supporting the recovery and promoting economic risk taking have facilitated greater financial risk taking," the IMF said. As evidence it pointed to rising asset prices, smaller premiums on riskier investments and the lack of volatility in financial markets. In many cases, the IMF said the behaviour of investors was at odds with the state of the global economy.

"What is unusual about these developments is their synchronicity: they have occurred simultaneously across broad asset classes and across countries in a way that is unprecedented."

tomsixty1, 08 October 2014 2:30pm

So why do they now recognise that the policies they supported are making what remains of the global economy unstable and unsustainable?

They are preparing us for more bail outs and austerity.

"The primary beneficiaries of these central bank money creation policies have been global very high net worth investors, their financial institutions, and global corporations in general. According to a study in 2013 by Capgemini, a global business consultancy, Very High Net Worth Investors increased their invest-able wealth by $4 trillion in 2012 alone, with projected further asset growth of $4 trillion a year in the coming decade. The primary financial institutions which invest on their behalf, what are called 'shadow banks' (i.e. hedge funds, private equity firms, asset management companies, and dozens of other globally unregulated financial institutions) more than doubled their total assets from 2008 to 2013, and now hold more than $71 trillion in invest-able assets globally.

This massive accrual of wealth by global finance capitalists and their institutions occurred in speculating and investing in offshore financial and emerging market opportunities—made possible in the final analysis by the trillions of dollars, pounds, Euros, and Yen provided at little or no cost by central banks' policies since 2008. That is, until 2014.
That massive tens of trillions of dollars, diverted from the US, Europe and Japan to the so-called 'Emerging Markets' and China is now beginning to flow back from the emerging markets to the 'west'.

Consequently in turn, the locus of the global crisis that first erupted in 2008 in the U.S., then shifted to Europe between 2010-early 2013, is now shifting again, a third time. Financial and economic instability is now emerging and deepening in offshore markets and economies—and growing increasingly likely in China as well." Jack Rasmus February 2014.

Fendercombo -> Elbowpatch , 08 October 2014 11:43pm
Speaking as somebody who actually owns a small manufacturing business I can't say I blame you for not investing in a manufacturing start-up. It's not a safe investment. I was pretty lucky in that i've been building guitar amplifiers and effect pedals since about 14 as a hobby and I kind of grew that hobby into a business. The only investment i've ever taken was a startup loan in 2002 and I paid that back in 2010.

I think there are a couple of problems with British Business from my observation. Firstly a lot of senior management lack technical experience in the business sector their business is involved in. When I was at university I worked freelance as a web developer and I noticed that a lot of the MDs of these web development firms had no background in web design or development. Whilst i'd concede that it's not necessary to be an expert web developer to own web development firm i'd say it is necessary to have some technical competency otherwise how do you make appropriate decisions, you end up reliant on other people and usually those people have their own interests at heart not the interest of the business.

The other problem is again senior management not being able to accept responsibility or criticism. They pretend they're open to constructive criticism but as soon as somebody sticks their neck out the axe swings even if the criticism is valid. This is part of the reason I struck out on my own and tried to run my business differently, I got pissed off with not being able to challenge stupid decisions. Being a CEO or MD doesn't mean one is better than anyone else, nor are they infallible and the sooner people realise this the better.

[Sep 12, 2014] 5 questions to ask before you take a tech job By Mary K. Pratt

Sep 11, 2014 |

Anthony Artois, 1 day ago

This is a "print-and-keep" for the job search folder.

Some interview questions one may ask:

  1. Will I be expected to falsify records ?
  2. Has the person who will be my direct supervisor ever been sued for sexual harassment?
  3. Can you provide any additional details on why the person who held this position last abruptly quit?
  4. Have you ever considered abruptly quitting yourself? What were the associated circumstances?
  5. Has anyone at this company ever attempted suicide while on-premises?

WARNING: Only ask these questions if you are reasonably certain you don't want the job anyway.

[Aug 17, 2014] Engineers are the lifeblood of a country – and the UK doesn't have enough by

August 16, 2014 |, | Jump to comments (857)

The number of people taking science and maths A-levels is up for the fifth year running. Good, because I need some engineers. Rather a lot, in fact.

Unfazed by complex data and comfortable with technical theory and practice, engineers are a rarefied breed of problem-solvers. Or at least they are here in Britain. In the next six years, nearly 3m engineering jobs will be unfilled. With a shortage of supply, and growing demand, we certainly can't afford for the brightest minds to be snared by the City's big bucks.

Today, Dyson has a shortfall of 100 engineers. Next year we begin our £300m expansion, creating thousands of research and development roles in Wiltshire. I like our laboratories to be busy, creative hives buzzing with brain power – rather like a school. I don't like clinical white-coated silence. And so we need more "brains". Dyson needs them. Britain needs them. Otherwise we will lose out to China and India – countries that revere engineers – when it comes to developing, patenting and exporting new technology.

Twelve years ago, Dyson stopped assembling vacuums in the UK. One major reason was a failure to secure planning permission for a second factory adjacent to our existing one. Ironically, the factory we mothballed is now the R&D space we are outgrowing. The ironies continue: our new laboratories will rise on the very spot of our never-built second factory.

The closure of our assembly lines was painful, but it meant focusing on developing technology here in the UK. For example, our ultra-high-speed digital motors are conceived and engineered here. We've been developing them now for more than 15 years. They use new technology which makes them much smaller and more efficient – a revolution in motor design. I can say that, because I'm not clever enough to invent a motor. But I am lucky enough to work with people who are.

Every six seconds one of these motors rolls off the line. Actually it's more of a very accurate placing, and it's all totally automated, in Singapore – close to the lines that make the Airblade hand-dryers and cordless vacuums they are to propel, and close to Singapore's rapidly growing engineering talent pool.

Somewhere in that tale is a warning. Britain fell out of love with manufacturing, and emerging economies picked up the tools we'd downed. If the encouraging renaissance of science and engineering in schools is a dead cat bounce, we will fall out of love with invention too.

When you crunch the numbers, just 4% of this year's A-levels were in physics – an essential subject for most engineering courses. A problem. But the problems start even earlier. Research by the Royal Academy of Engineering shows that only half of 16-year-olds in England pass both GCSE maths and at least two sciences, meaning half of our young people are disadvantaged if they wish to pursue engineering.

Yes, science is perceived as hard. But a bigger problem is that young people don't know what a career in science or engineering offers. An engineer is not a man in greasy overalls or a harebrained oddball (though I have a soft spot for the latter). They are technologists, developing ideas to shape our future. That's why my foundation works with young people from primary school age to dispel the myths and help them discover what a career in engineering is like.

Science and design and technology in schools must highlight the excitement of developing ideas and experimenting with new materials – carbon fibre, not just cardboard. Learning by doing, failing in the process, and trying again. The classroom must equip young people with the skills to bring these ideas to life, and most importantly the enthusiasm to embark on further study.

We have seen exactly this. For the past two years we have been working with five schools in Bath encouraging students as young as 13 to discover the world of engineering – high-tech equipment working alongside an industry-relevant curriculum. Uptake in design and technology has increased by 200%, and crucially more girls are taking it up too.

I want the biggest discoveries of the future to take place on our soil. We must build on the reputation of our world-class universities. That starts by feeding in the best young people from our schools. If we get it right we will fill our pipeline with highly skilled inventors, develop patentable technology and export it around the world.

patrick111, 16 August 2014 11:07am

Working in City of London is more paying, attractive and respectable than to be an Engineer in Britain. Surely the brightest would go for financial services.

bluejay2011 -> patrick111, 16 August 2014 11:29am

Surely there's an element of satisfaction that could lure "the brightest" back to engineering: being involved in a creative process that changes technology and the the way humans interact with the world.

In the city you may make some temporary money to spend on things others have made, but as an engineer you can (occasionally) change human destiny.

RedLaup -> patrick111, 16 August 2014 11:38am

You do not need to be "bright" to work in the city, let's nail that myth!!!

Billyandbenny, 16 August 2014 11:13am

Well, what do you expect? We allowed the unions to be destroyed, which allowed corporations to offshore most of our industrial production - and our engineering skills. Yes, we need more engineers but there will be no point in training more unless we take concrete steps to reinstate domestic production capacity.

This is a political 'hot potato' - donations - and the tragic irony of it is that the very people who cheered on the decimation of our working class now say that, rather than train our own engineers, we should import them as and when needed. It's all quite treasonous.

bailliegillies -> niko91, 16 August 2014 11:54am

In most cases it was not a matter of the production being placed offshore. It was more a matter that the UK industries could not produce goods as well and as cheaply as other countries.

Yet Germany doesn't have a problem, their goods are expensive and they pay their workers four times as much as British workers get. So no it's not simply about producing goods cheaper and quicker, there's something else at play and it's about profit as there is more money to be made manufacturing the goods in China and Korea than there is in the UK.

mugclass -> Billyandbenny, 16 August 2014 2:15pm

You are contradicting what Dyson is saying. He is stating that his company in the UK does not have a sufficient pool of young engineers, whereas you are saying there's no point training them without jobs available. I work in a manufacturing industry and we are on a continual hunt for young people with potential for engineering, but we also need university graduate engineers - of which there's a massive shortage - civil engineers, mechanical, bio mechanical etc. we've just taken on a 26 year old graduate Mechanical Engineer from Madrid, having failed to find a UK candidate.

He, on the other hand, couldn't find a well paid post in Spain so came to the UK. Remember there's a massive difference between an 'engineer' who mends your washing machine, and a professionally qualified graduate.

ID7776906 -> niko91, 16 August 2014 3:19pm

Yes between that and industrial spying and just improving upon the British and American inventions already in existence. Paying your work force in bags of rice and adding a few basic electric improvements for vanity it was simple for foreign nations to produce manufactured goods more cheaply and ship across the world. Who invented the steam engine ?Who invented the internal combustion engine,Who discovered vulcanized rubber and plastic and injection molding machines?

Michael Faraday and his development of the electric motor?The 1830`s steam carriages that pioneered automobiles? The triple expansion steam engine? I have yet to see any substantial earth shaking development from the Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissans and Tesas and the Korean car firms, it`s all been simple convenient basic tuning of what has already been established by the West, and they took over the market without research and development costs and paying their workers a pittance starvation wages.

NomadEngineer -> bailliegillies, 16 August 2014 6:14pm

German 'workers' earn about the same as UK workers if you are referring to production line workers and technicians.

But Germany values its engineers, and their pay is excellent. A 'Diploma Engineer' has a higher status than lawyers, medics, financiers. That is the reason Germany's manufacturing is so successful.

This problem in the UK is two generations old. As a graduate engineer I worked in Germany around 1970, and could not believe how valued and supported I was, my productivity was three times that in the UK. I had beens seconded by my UK company, but found out I could earn twice my UK salary if I shifted employers.

For personal reasons I returned to the UK, but wish I could have stayed in Germany. It also explains why such a large percentage of scientists and engineers, graduating from our good universities, quit the UK, many for good.

It's better now, but the general public still can't differentiate between a highly qualified engineer and a mechanic.

Putting it briefly, an engineer uses maths where an accounant uses arithmetic, an engineer uses logic where a lawyer uses precedent, and I won't comment on the guesswork that financiers use.

I have since spent a good part of my life working outside the UK, though unlike many of my university compatriots, I have not quit the UK entirely.

bodrules -> theindyisbetter, 16 August 2014 7:29pm

The rot in R&D started waaay before the 80's - look at the machine tool industry (where Germany makes big bucks), that was effectively killed off by the early 70's in the UK - thanks to poor R&D (which UK companies are still poor at) plus they lacked investment into modern capital equipment etc

Just one example, then there's the advent of the petro-pound in the early 90's, the all round R&D debacle, poor industrial relations, poor levels of investment in training, UK consumers being willing to purchase cheap foreign imports, our very open markets, short term rent seeking and profit boosting etc all combine to make today.

thedavegray watersdeep, 16 August 2014 9:16pm

Wrong. Some German companies pay a 13th pay packet but certainly not all of them.

Tax is and the cost of living are higher in Germany too.

Happytravelling Billyandbenny, 16 August 2014 11:38pm

You're obviously not an engineer and you're talking rubbish.

Mismanagement and Destructive employee-employer relations led to the decline in UK mass manufacturing. And that was in part due to unions as well as poor management. You obviously don't remember red Robbo?

But small scale, high end manufacturing is very healthy in the UK.

The reality is, for high volume, low margin manufacturing to be viable in a high wage economy, high productivity and efficiency is essential.

watersdeep thedavegray, 17 August 2014 2:40pm

Wrong. Some German companies pay a 13th pay packet but certainly not all of them.

Tax is and the cost of living are higher in Germany too.

No, tax was about the same (i.e. no lower in the UK, even though the standard of living is lower). Housing is the major outgoing, Germans have a system where they save for a house. but most Germans rent (and the rental market is strictly controlled), and although not all companies may be paying a 13th month salary, most do.

We also received between 2,000 - 3,500€ in bonus once a year shared in the company, which was family run, and a small number of free shares at Christmas time. Now show me the UK company that does the same.

MohammedS chalkandcheese, 16 August 2014 11:53am

I don't think this is world wide. For instance many developing world universities have excellent engineering programmes and the likes of the USA strives to attract and retain engineers as it understands the importance of the sector. Here in the UK we live in a service sector reliant economy and production and design has taken not only a back seat but a space under the spare wheel! Until we have significant shifts in the way we think about our economy we will never attract or retain good engineers. And so fall behind everyone else year upon year.

bailliegillies chalkandcheese, 16 August 2014 12:01pm

No it isn't worldwide, very much a UK problem. When I left the oil industry they were throwing money at the few engineers and experienced people around and bringing in people from abroad. On one of my last contracts I had some from Australia who I had to instruct on the systems. Go take a look at what they're paying engineers offshore now compared to what they paid when I was working. Even taking into account inflation the rates for offshore have risen exponentially.

zeke2u MohammedS, 17 August 2014 11:44am

I think you'll find that the UK is more like the US than differs from it. The US economy is also highly financialised. This statistic says a lot: in Japan, engineers outnumber lawyers 10 to 1. In the US, there's 10 lawyers for every engineer. The steel industry in Japan was financed by US banks in the '60's, while the US was still in a monopoly position. GM, which employs ~300,000 people worldwide, use to employ that many in Detroit alone. The attack against industry in the US was motivated by the same reasons in both countries: that's where union concentration was the highest.

Williamlarge , 16 August 2014 11:32am
James Dyson is a right wing Tory. He off shores employment because it makes him more money not because he has an inherent love for English workers (which is the real reason why we lose out to India and China. Not because they have thousands of engineers, but their labour is cheap). He's always going on and on about engineers every time A level results come out, but you can't force someone to be one can you? I always find it strange how these right wing business men love the idea of social engineering when it comes to their own business, but shout 'socialism' if when there is a whiff of egalitarian politics.
exiledlondoner , 16 August 2014 11:32am

The closure of our assembly lines was painful, but it meant focusing on developing technology here in the UK. For example, our ultra-high-speed digital motors are conceived and engineered here.

"Conceived and engineered here" means "built somewhere else". For all his bollocks about 'pain', James Dyson moved production abroad because it was cheaper - assembly lines do not need hoards of engineering and physics graduates to work on them.

Meanwhile, his rival vacuum cleaner maker, Numatic, continue to make their excellent products in the UK (no gadgets, no gizmos - just really good machines), and actually do contribute to the UK economy, instead of just wrapping themselves in a far-eastern made union jack, and pretending to....

Has anyone seen a builder using a Dyson? In my experience, they all use Numatic 'Henry' machines....

spatterfest -> exiledlondoner, 16 August 2014 11:52am


Dyson's much trumpeted adoration of British engineers is largely garbage.

He likes British engineers in the areas where he can't find cheaper engineers elsewhere.

exiledlondoner theindyisbetter , 16 August 2014 12:23pm

I'm not sure why Dyson gets so much stick in the Guardian comments section.

Because he likes to present himself as something he's not - a patriot who cares about British manufacturing. In reality he's just another corporate suit making more profits by taking advantage of the low-wage, unregulated labour markets in Asia.

As far as I can tell it seems that Dyson employs roughly twice the number of people in the UK than Numatic do, and on better wages presumably (since according a Guardian report a few years ago the majority of Numatic employees are on a basic shop floor wage).

Dyson is a much bigger company - that's to be expected. The difference is that Dyson talks about British manufacturing, while Numatic actually make things here....

I know it does you no good if you were a factory shop floor worker, but as far as I can see Dyson now employs more people in the UK than they did when the factory was here - just doing different things.

He may have finally got back to the employment levels he reached before he sacked his workers and exported their jobs, but this is a south east Asian success story - not a British one. Most of Dyson's employees and his profits are not here.

Dyson are hardly the only company to do this, so why the animosity?

Other foreign companies don't lecture me about how the UK should be run, and how much they care for all the people here they've made redundant to increase their profits.

Dyson is to all intents and purposes a foreign company. James Dyson should lecture the Malaysians and the people of Singapore - not us.

NotForTurning jusi , 16 August 2014 2:48pm

"Engineers are the lifeblood of a country"

Typical case of tunnel vision.

A teacher would say the same of teachers. A politician of politicians. A banker of bankers. But a nurse wouldn't. Really, this is just silly stuff and is the product of a narrowed mind.

And the irony is that in consideration of the heavy, expensive, cumbersome, fragile vaccuum cleaners, he should really be saying that marketing men

RedLaup, 16 August 2014 11:37am

Students perception of engineering is a very valid point. Engineering needs to sell itself! Too many students are bowled over by hyped up media, finance and law careers. Glamorous films and tv series are not set in engineering environments. The whole engineering community needs to get together and present a coordinated PR and educational campaign. I would love my son to go into engineering.

OffensiveUnsuitable RedLaup, 16 August 2014 3:04pm

Too many children are put off maths & science subjects by the curriculums and the way they are taught. Make them more accessible for those who cannot see the point. When I was in graduate school, we had an eminent professor of structural engineering, Mario Salvadori who, twice a week, used to teach teenagers in Harlem an evening class in statics and strengths of structures. He used props: for instance, he had a long piece of foam rubber that he used to demonstrate tension & compression in simply supported beams vs fixed beams and cantilevered beams - oh, and he taught it using no mathematics, because so many people are intimidated by maths.

Maurice Walshe RedLaup, 16 August 2014 4:52pm

As the drifters said its "money honey"

BeastNeedsMoreTorque RedLaup, 16 August 2014 8:20pm

There's a lot of Physics PhD's working in finance.

The astronomical wages in finance have sucked in brains from many fields.

There are and will be consequences from that.

This article is very poor. It trots out the old cliches about why there are shortages of engineers. Yet never mentions the wages of the finance sector as a factor.

WilliamAshbless -> RedLaup, 17 August 2014 9:32am

Glamorous films and tv series are not set in engineering environments.

Who makes these tv series? Arts graduates of course.
Do Arts graduates think engineering glamorous? Clearly not.
But this is, no doubt, the same the world over. Yet Germany and Switzerland they have high wage economies with significant exports and a positive balance of trade. How come? It's not as if their media are engineering propagandists. Likewise the UK, Switzerland has a big finance sector.

I, personally, put it down to the culture of the elites. The elites decide pay grades; and they pay themselves most. UK elite culture goes back decades; if not centuries. How many engineers are MPs? 1, 2, 0? Every single member of the Chinese politburo are engineering PhDs.

WilliamAshbless RedLaup , 17 August 2014 10:39am
Have a look at the Guardian's news front page today:

Interview with Liv Tyler: actress
Interview with Sofie Gråbøl: actress
Interview with Kim Dotcom: hardly an engineer
Interview with Mo Farah: sportsman
Interview with Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike: actors
Interview with Jackie Chan: actor
Tribute to Lauren Bacall: actress

These are the people we want to read about - engineering is, indeed, not glamorous and no amount of propaganda is going to get Guardian journalists to change that. Yet these glamorised people are, by and large, actors. Guardian writers aren't glamorizing lawyers, bankers, dentists, accountants and salespeople. There's quite a lot of media portrayal of police; especially detectives but I don't necessarily see that as glamorizing crime fighting. Accountancy must be just about the most unglamourous job going. Does that explain the status of accounts in the UK w.r.t. engineers? No.

WilliamAshbless WilliamAshbless , 17 August 2014 10:41am

Does that explain the status of accountants in the UK w.r.t. engineers? No.

Arhhh. When will we get an edit button on CiF? It need only last 4 minutes.
PeterS378 , 16 August 2014 11:37am

Engineers are the lifeblood of a country – and the UK doesn't have enough

Engineering degrees are demanding, and at the end, pay relatively poorly, even at graduate level, let alone after a few years:

Average graduate starting salary, by sector:

Investment Banking £45,000
Law £38,000
Oil and Energy £32,500
Media £32,000
Consulting £31,500
Dentistry £31,000
Banking and Finance £30,000
IT and Telecommunications £30,000
Armed Forces £29,500
Medicine £29,000
Accounting and Professional Services £28,000
Chemical and Pharmaceutical £27,500
Engineering and Industrial £26,500
Retail £24,000
Public Sector £23,000

If you want more engineers, pay them more


16 August 2014 11:41am

An engineer is not a man in greasy overalls or a harebrained oddball

Problem is that our political leaders believe just the opposite - and why wouldn't they? Davo's a jumped up PR man and Milbo's a political policy wonk. Ultimate irony though is that the person who destroyed manufacturing in the country was actually a qualified Chemist!

No chance of Engineers being as respected and valued as much here as they are in Germany until we get someone in government who is one. Government advisors on Science & Technology have been completely anonymous - can you even name one?? - and if you can, tell us one thing that

Freeport PacoFleyas

16 August 2014 11:55am

No chance of Engineers being as respected and valued as much here as they are in Germany until we get someone in government who is one.

You mean Dennis Healey, Major in the Royal Engineers and in charge of the landings at Anzio. He realised that wasting time and money keeping dead engineering companies going was a total non-starter, even before Thatcher. The left hated him for telling them the reality.

theindyisbetter PacoFleyas, 16 August 2014 11:59am

the person who destroyed manufacturing in the country was actually a qualified Chemist

Blaming Thatch for everything again. If you actually look at the facts, Brown/Blair were much worse.

Never mind Thatcherism. As McFadden confessed, the former Labour government "came late to the game". Only after the financial collapse did it remember there were still these buildings called factories with owners and workers who deserved to be helped and encouraged. Under Blair and Brown, manufacturing jobs shrank from 4.1m to 2.6m, and manufacturing's share of GDP from 18% to 13%.

ID1298062 , 16 August 2014 1:11pm

In Germany, engineers are respected as much as doctor's and lawyers, it's not the same in the UK. I met a German business graduate and told him I had an engineering degree, he said he wasn't smart enough to be an engineer. Here, business graduates are put on a pedestal above engineers, which puts engineers off. Bean counters are rewarded a lot more than those that produce tangible products.

semyorka, 16 August 2014 1:19pm

I have to say that a part of this is the English maths A level structure. In most countries your maths final year is 1\6th of what you need to learn in England it is 1/3rd or 2/3rds. Too many people are put off maths by it being a difficult subject that you have to immerse yourself in at high school level.

This runs contrary to the mantra from certain universities that we are not educating our school leavers to be good enough for their undergrad maths courses.

But to turn high school maths into little more than a preparatory system for the most elite maths specialists means we are putting off the huge number of mid level grads who have decent maths skills but will not need to be competing for Fields Medals.

pretendname, 16 August 2014 1:25pm

The UK has plenty of engineers. It's just that they end up having to go into other careers because being an Engineer doesn't pay enough.

Corozin, 16 August 2014 1:30pm

I am frankly getting quick sick of reading articles by Dyson bemoning the lack of engineering talent in the UK.

This is, after all, the man who shafted a vast proportion of his workforce only a few years ago when he moved his factory production offshore. The way he bangs the patriotic drum makes me puke.

1789wasAgoodYear, 16 August 2014 1:30pm

How can you say this? Everyone is an engineer these days. We've got Sanitation Engineers, Domestic Engineers, etc..

The problem is many Engineers of the variety you're speaking of have had their jobs and pay downgraded by everyone being an engineer.

ian barton, 16 August 2014 1:38pm

I am an ex toolmaker who had to do a six year apprenticeship, got fed up of getting dirty everyday and of other people who look down on you because you get your hands dirty,

I now work in IT, I get paid more but I still get emails asking if I want a toolmaker contract for about £10 an hour, why? I can stack shelves for this and have no responsibility, and go home at night no thinking what might happen the the cnc machine that I have progrmmed. This counrty was built on manufacturing like Germany,look where Germany is now,they still manufacture and make profit.

all we have are low paid unskilled jobs or highly skilled jobs the uk company's wan't
people for but won't pay to train these youg people incase they leave for more money,why not have a transfer fee like football,if someone whant's to leave for anther company fine but the must pay a fee to the company who paid to train them.

slapmatt ian barton, 16 August 2014 3:02pm

Germany GDP by sector
Agriculture: 0.8%,
Manufacturing: 28%,
services: 71.2%

UK GDP by sector
Agriculture: 0.7%
Manufacturing: 21.5%
Services: 77.8%

Hardly a massive difference between the contributions made by manufacturing in Germany and the UK, despite all the myths.

felixzacat, 16 August 2014 1:42pm

As a software engineer you can build automatic trading software, which will mean city traders will lose their jobs. I think that's a good thing :)

JBigglesworth, 16 August 2014 1:44pm

James, as a Tory fanboy, how do you think Gove and his party and their media cronies' persistent denigration of vocational education in favour of such vital subjects as Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew (EBacc subjects that "count"!) promote the development of engineers?

If only so many entry-level engineering jobs hadn't been farmed out to India and China....James, are you listening??

What we need is proper vocational education that is considered as "enabling" as academic subjects, proper career pathways and respect for engineers with appropriate salary levels and an industrial base that means that the few engineers we have don't have to move to India, China and Korea to earn a living.

But that will require putting a brake on off-shoring (I'm sure it truly was the permissive planning regime and absolutely not the ability to make enormous margins that encouraged you to move!), investment in State schools, and the kind of long term plan that costs serious money; all of which are anathema to the Tory-loving, short-termist, quick-buck spivvery that dominates this country. You never know, you might get fewer Chinese copyright infringements then too James!

heringgull, 16 August 2014 1:50pm

BROKER 98 000
LAWYER 71 000

Physicist 49 000
ELECTR. Enginer 43 000
Engineer 40 000 ----- from this is mones 1/2013

any question why there is a shortage of technical experts or researchers ?

epidavros heringgull, 16 August 2014 1:56pm

I left semiconductor physics research because it was woefully paid and had dreadful job security. We do almost none of it now in the UK, and having invented the programmable computer have absolutely no leading companies in the field.

jgharston epidavros, 16 August 2014 3:34pm


[Aug 12, 2014] A Good IT Person Needs To Be Half Technologist, Half Psychologist All Tech Considered NPR by Laura Sydell

August 11, 2014 |

Your doctor and your lawyer may know a lot about you. But in a time when we are using computers to socialize, keep track of finances, do work and store family photos, your IT person probably knows more.

So when computers go down, it can cause intense feelings. There's an entire meme of online videos of frustrated people destroying their computers. Some psychologists have even coined the term "computer rage" to describe these outbursts.

When you're feeling that way, you can pick up a hammer or you can call an IT guy at a firm like Mann Consulting in downtown San Francisco. This is command central for customers in the midst of a crisis.

Co-founder Harold Mann says his office can be like a hospital emergency room. "We have the same challenges where we have to counsel people and comfort them during stressful times while also practicing our craft, which is getting their machines to work," he says.

Getting machines to work is an essential part of the job, but so is making the customer feel better. And tech geeks are famous for not being very good at that.

The British comedy series The IT Crowd gets laughs because it nails that modern-day trope. Two of its main characters, Maurice Moss and Roy Trenneman, answer phone calls from distressed computer users and treat them with disdain or give incoherent technical explanations.

Mann, who has a staff of 16, says those are the kinds of people he doesn't want to hire. "There's no question that pure engineering talents does not make for a great IT person," he says. "We have to do a lot of vetting when we hire people to find people who are kind, not just brilliant."

Many of Mann's clients say they find him kind.

Fred Goldberg, a retired advertising executive, has been working with Mann for two decades. "I always kid him," Goldberg says. "I say, 'What'd you take a lesson on human behavior this morning?' But it's good. I'm sure it gives comfort to a lot of people."

[Apr 08, 2014] The Unix sysadmin's guide to getting along with co-workers By Sandra Henry-Stocker


One of the top strategies for managing relationships at work is to always maintain an appropriate level of humor. It doesn't pay to be goofy, but a few running jokes and inside humor can lighten those hard days when you'd otherwise be inclined to beat your head against the wall or cry out in frustration. Keep your sense of humor, even when the going gets rough. Spend a little time away from the office together if you can. Share some personal events. Don't base your entire relationship on trouble tickets and backups.

Another, perhaps related, tactic is to remember that you are not your job. I've had to remind myself of this time and time again. To a large degree, I often let my career become too big a part of my self-definition. One way around this -- other than having a deeply satisfying personal life (which hasn't always worked for me) -- is to base some part of your professional identity well beyond the walls of the building in which you work. Join professional organizations. Meet people at conferences and stay in touch. Develop and share tutorials on those things you're really good at. Find ways to use your skills that provide you with an independent sense of your worth. And don't lose track of the fact that your coworkers are not their jobs either.

Try to avoid becoming isolated, even when your work is primarily independent of the work of your coworkers. For several years, I worked for a guy who cut me off from everything else going on in our division. He'd drop by my office once a week to ask what I'd been working on and then disappear for a week while maintaining conspiracy theories about how his boss was intent on making everything we worked on fail. Having connections outside the company -- my writing and part-time teaching -- helped me deal with the isolation, but I don't ever want to work like that again. In retrospect, I should have found some way to better understand and deal with whatever politics were feeding this situation, but I survived and he didn't.

Another lesson -- behave professionally. Make peace with your big disappointments without allowing resentment to build up, leaving you bitter or impacting the quality of your work or your relationships with your coworkers.

[Apr 08, 2014] 7 habits of highly successful Unix admins By Sandra Henry-Stocker

April 05, 2014 |

Unix admins generally work a lot of hours, juggle a large set of priorities, get little credit for their work, come across as arrogant by admins of other persuasions, tend to prefer elegant solutions to even the simplest of problems, take great pride in their ability to apply regular expressions to any challenge that comes their way....

You can spend 50-60 hours a week managing your Unix servers and responding to your users' problems and still feel as if you're not getting much done or you can adopt some good work habits that will both make you more successful and prepare you for the next round of problems.

  1. Habit 1: Don't wait for problems to find you. One of the best ways to avoid emergencies that can throw your whole day out of kilter is to be on the alert for problems in their infancy. I have found that installing scripts on the servers that report unusual log entries, check performance and disk space statistics, report application failures or missing processes, and email me reports when anything looks "off" can be of considerable value. The risks are getting so much of this kind of email that you don't actually read it or failing to notice when these messages stop arriving or start landing in your spam folder. Noticing what messages *aren't* arriving is not unlike noticing who from your team of 12 or more people hasn't shown up for a meeting.

    Being proactive, you are likely to spot a number of problems long before they turn into outages and before you users notice the problems or find that they can no longer get their work done. It's also extremely beneficial if you have the resources needed to plan for disaster. Can you fail over a service if one of your primary servers goes down? Can you rely on your backups to rebuild a server environment quickly? Do you test your backups periodically to be sure they are complete and usable? ....

  2. Habit 2: Know your tools and your systems. Probably the best way to recognize that one of your servers is in trouble is to know how that server looks under normal conditions. If a server typically uses 50% of its memory and starts using 99%, you're going to want to know what is different. What process is running now that wasn't before? What application is using more resources than usual?

    ... ... ...

  3. Habit 3: Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Putting first things first is something of a no brainer when it comes to how you organize your work, but sometimes selecting which priority problem qualifies as "first" may be more difficult than it seems. ....
  4. Habit 4: Perform post mortems, but don't get lost in them ...If you do figure out why something broke, not just what happened, it's a good idea to keep some kind of record that you or someone else can find if the same thing happens months or years from now. As much as I'd like to learn from the problems I have run into over the years, I have too many times found myself facing a problem and saying "I've seen this before ..." and yet not remembered the cause or what I had done to resolve the problem. Keeping good notes and putting them in a reliable place can save you hours of time somewhere down the line.
  5. Habit 5: Document your work. In general, Unix admins don't like to document the things that they do, but some things really warrant the time and effort. I have built some complicated tools and enough of them that, without some good notes, I would have to retrace my steps just to remember how one of these processes works. ...In fact, I sometimes have to stop and ask myself "wait a minute; how does this one work?" Some of the best documentation that I have prepared for myself outlines the processes and where each piece is run, displays data samples at each stage in the process and includes details of how and when each process runs.
  6. Habit 6: Fix the problem AND explain. Good Unix admins will always be responsive to the people they are supporting, acknowledge the problems that have been reported and let their users know when they're working on them. If you take the time to acknowledge a problem when it's reported, inform the person reporting the problem when you're actually working on the problem, and let the user know when the problem has been fixed, your users are likely to feel a lot less frustrated and will be more appreciative of the time you are spending helping them....
  7. Habit 7: Make time for yourself. As I've said in other postings, you are not your job. Taking care of yourself is an important part of doing a good job. Don't chain yourself to your desk. Walk around now and then, take mental breaks, and keep learning -- especially things that interest you. If you look after your well being, renew your energy, and step away from your work load for brief periods, you're likely to be both happier and more successful in all aspects of your life.

    Read more of Sandra Henry-Stocker's Unix as a Second Language blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld, Twitter and Facebook.

NSA hacks system administrators, new leak reveals

In its quest to take down suspected terrorists and criminals abroad, the United States National Security Agency has adopted the practice of hacking the system administrators that oversee private computer networks, new documents reveal.

In its quest to take down suspected terrorists and criminals abroad, the United States National Security Agency has adopted the practice of hacking the system administrators that oversee private computer networks, new documents reveal.

The Intercept has published a handful of leaked screenshots taken from an internal NSA message board where one spy agency specialist spoke extensively about compromising not the computers of specific targets, but rather the machines of the system administrators who control entire networks.

Journalist Ryan Gallagher reported that Edward Snowden, a former sys admin for NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, provided The Intercept with the internal documents, including one from 2012 that's bluntly titled "I hunt sys admins."

According to the posts — some labeled "top secret" — NSA staffers should not shy away from hacking sys admins: a successful offensive mission waged against an IT professional with extensive access to a privileged network could provide the NSA with unfettered capabilities, the analyst acknowledged.

"Who better to target than the person that already has the 'keys to the kingdom'?" one of the posts reads.

"They were written by an NSA official involved in the agency's effort to break into foreign network routers, the devices that connect computer networks and transport data across the Internet," Gallagher wrote for the article published late Thursday. "By infiltrating the computers of system administrators who work for foreign phone and Internet companies, the NSA can gain access to the calls and emails that flow over their networks."

Since last June, classified NSA materials taken by Snowden and provided to certain journalists have exposed an increasing number of previously-secret surveillance operations that range from purposely degrading international encryption standards and implanting malware in targeted machines, to tapping into fiber-optic cables that transfer internet traffic and even vacuuming up data as its moved into servers in a decrypted state.

The latest leak suggests that some NSA analysts took a much different approach when tasked with trying to collect signals intelligence that otherwise might not be easily available. According to the posts, the author advocated for a technique that involves identifying the IP address used by the network's sys admin, then scouring other NSA tools to see what online accounts used those addresses to log-in. Then by using a previously-disclosed NSA tool that tricks targets into installing malware by being misdirected to fake Facebook servers, the intelligence analyst can hope that the sys admin's computer is sufficiently compromised and exploited.

Once the NSA has access to the same machine a sys admin does, American spies can mine for a trove of possibly invaluable information, including maps of entire networks, log-in credentials, lists of customers and other details about how systems are wired. In turn, the NSA has found yet another way to, in theory, watch over all traffic on a targeted network.

"Up front, sys admins generally are not my end target. My end target is the extremist/terrorist or government official that happens to be using the network some admin takes care of," the NSA employee says in the documents.

When reached for comment by The Intercept, NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines said that, "A key part of the protections that apply to both US persons and citizens of other countries is the mandate that information be in support of a valid foreign intelligence requirement, and comply with US Attorney General-approved procedures to protect privacy rights."

Coincidentally, outgoing-NSA Director Keith Alexander said last year that he was working on drastically cutting the number of sys admins at that agency by upwards of 90 percent — but didn't say it was because they could be exploited by similar tactics waged by adversarial intelligence groups. Gen. Alexander's decision came just weeks after Snowden — previously one of around 1,000 sys admins working on the NSA's networks, according to Reuters — walked away from his role managing those networks with a trove of classified information.

[Dec 27, 2013] Power-Loss-Protected SSDs Tested Only Intel S3500 Passes

December 27, 2013 | Slashdot
lkcl writes
"After the reports on SSD reliability and after experiencing a costly 50% failure rate on over 200 remote-deployed OCZ Vertex SSDs, a degree of paranoia set in where I work. I was asked to carry out SSD analysis with some very specific criteria: budget below £100, size greater than 16Gbytes and Power-loss protection mandatory. This was almost an impossible task: after months of searching the shortlist was very short indeed. There was only one drive that survived the torturing: the Intel S3500. After more than 6,500 power-cycles over several days of heavy sustained random writes, not a single byte of data was lost. Crucial M4: failed. Toshiba THNSNH060GCS: failed. Innodisk 3MP SATA Slim: failed. OCZ: failed hard.
Only the end-of-lifed Intel 320 and its newer replacement, the S3500, survived unscathed. The conclusion: if you care about data even when power could be unreliable, only buy Intel SSDs."
ssufficool (1836898)
So make the power reliable...

and get a UPS. Why blow more money on a slightly more reliable SSD when a UPS is so much cheaper?

nerdguy0 (101358) <>

Re: So make the power reliable... (Score:2)

Or get an m500 which is basically a m4 with capacitor backup and newer NAND.

Dunbal (464142) * on Friday December 27, 2013 @05:01PM (#45800499)

People who have "important data" and fail to make a backup copy - no matter which type of media they are using - deserve to lose their data. Seriously, what you said doesn't only apply to SSD's.

CajunArson (465943)

Consumer grade vs. Enterprise Grade (Score:5, Insightful)

Slightly more seriously than my last post, the S3500 was the only enterprise-grade SSD tested in that batch. Frankly, I have little sympathy for you if you expected consumer-grade SSDs to perform like Enterprise-grade SSDs in a mission-critical application.

Consumer grade drives, even/especially the "high performance" ones that will often benchmark better than the "overpriced" enterprise drives, ain't designed to have perfect data retention. Of course, consumer or enterprise, any drive can fail and appropriate measures including RAID and backup* should always be in place no matter what type of drive you have.

* Yes, RAID != backup, I know, don't bother making that post.

[Aug 10, 2013] Hybrid Hard Drives Just Need 8GB of NAND

August 08, 2013

judgecorp writes

"Research from Seagate suggests that hybrid hard drives in general use are virtually as good as solid state drives if they have just 8GB of solid state memory.

The research found that normal office computers, not running data-centric applications, access just 9.58GB of unique data per day. 8GB is enough to store most of that, and results in a drive which is far cheaper than an all-Flash device.

Seagate is confident enough to ease off on efforts to get data off hard drives quickly, and rely on cacheing instead. It will cease production of 7200 RPM laptop drives at the end of 2013, and just make models running at 5400 RPM."

Brad DeLong Illegitimate and Unfair Larry Summers Bashing The Smart and Thoughtful Matthew Klein Gets One Wrong


Hmmm. Kinda reminds me of a story I once heard about IBM: that it took a huge amount of data gathering and persuasion to get IBM to adopt a new, or changed, policy/strategy/tactic. But that once adopted, having been through an exhausting process of approval, it was all but impossible to stop it, even when circumstances had significantly changed.

Or, in short, "this was approved and supported by (ex)President, and economics guru Larry Summers, so it must be right for all time".

The price of fiscal success is eternal (and repeated, and systematic) vigilance ?

Microsoft Has 1 Million Servers. So What

July 18, 2013 | Slashdot


Since they do mail hosting (Score:2)

Since they do mail hosting that's probably half right and a large proportion of them are mail servers. It probably works well most of the time, but I've only ever been exposed to that side of their business due to an utterly stupid fuckup that took them a week to resolve because that's how long the trouble ticket queue is - that's how little respect they had for their client with more than twenty thousand email accounts.

I wasn't working for that client of theirs but instead trying to contact someone there while their Microsoft hosted email was down for a week.


Re:How do you calculate space and power... (Score:2)

While running VMs is more flexible, is there too much overhead in the tradeoff? Especially with a million servers and all.

Which does need some consideration. Supposedly, in a perfect virtualized environment you'd see about 2-3% knocked off, in a headless configuration (no preferred guest OS VM installed on top of the host) and with perfect loading. However it's an imperfect world and no matter how you automagically mix and match loads, assuming it's allowed for those guests (think HIPAA, etc.), you're going to see more inefficiency. How much? No one seems to be releasing real numbers that I know of. It's quite literally a billion dollar question for the host providers and perhaps a trillion dollar question for the world.

-- "The most deadly words for an engineer. 'I have an idea.'"


Re:How do you calculate space and power... (Score:3)

Not really. Microsoft's Quincy data center started virtualizing servers and they saved so much electricity that they didn't hit Bonneville Power Association's target energy usage to qualify for the huge discount they normally get.

To make up the difference they opened all the vents in the middle of winter, turned the heaters on full blast, and burned $70,000 in electricity in a week. The renegotiated the next year's contract with the BPA so they haven't had to repeat that particular bit of foolishness.

-- "Think about how stupid the average person is. Now, realise that half of them are dumber than that." - George Carlin

Is the Information Technology Revolution Over

June 4, 2013 | Economist's View

Quick one, then I have to figure out how to get to Toulouse (missed connection, in Paris now ... but should be able to get there ... long day so far):

Is the Information Technology Revolution Over?, by David M. Byrne, Stephen D. Oliner, and Daniel E. Sichel, FRB: Abstract: Given the slowdown in labor productivity growth in the mid-2000s, some have argued that the boost to labor productivity from IT may have run its course. This paper contributes three types of evidence to this debate. First, we show that since 2004, IT has continued to make a significant contribution to labor productivity growth in the United States, though it is no longer providing the boost it did during the productivity resurgence from 1995 to 2004. Second, we present evidence that semiconductor technology, a key ingredient of the IT revolution, has continued to advance at a rapid pace and that the BLS price index for microprocesssors may have substantially understated the rate of decline in prices in recent years. Finally, we develop projections of growth in trend labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector. The baseline projection of about 1¾ percent a year is better than recent history but is still below the long-run average of 2¼ percent. However, we see a reasonable prospect--particularly given the ongoing advance in semiconductors--that the pace of labor productivity growth could rise back up to or exceed the long-run average. While the evidence is far from conclusive, we judge that "No, the IT revolution is not over."


Darryl FKA Ron said...
The pickup reflects ongoing advances in IT and an assumption that those gains and innovations in other sectors spur some improvement in multifactor productivity (MFP) growth outside of the IT sector relative to its tepid pace from 2004 to 2012.5 These developments feed through the economy to provide a modest boost to labor productivity growth.

[Using technology to replace people or make them more productive, generally considered the same thing, is one form of productivity increasing technology integration. Automating accounting functions from producing bills to meter reading or selling your goods on the WWW were examples of the revolution of picking low hanging fruit. Using technology to manage systems in ways that people could not realistically accomplish is another way of increasing productivity. From running power production and distribution, traffic lights, and just in time manufacturing integrated with ERP accounting systems from order entry through to shipping and general ledger were other ways of increasing productivity. The green fields of labor replacement have largely been sewn. The green fields of automated systems management are without end. Economists have a limited lens into operations with metrics that often confuse value and price.]

Darryl FKA Ron said in reply to Darryl FKA Ron...
IOW, the MFP is underpriced because its marginal benefits get absorded by price competition.
squidward said in reply to Darryl FKA Ron...
Economists have a limited lens into operations with metrics that often confuse value and price.

That can be very true when looking at it qualitatively. Google or Amazon could be loading your browser with cookies and data mining your online habits to maximize sales. Their increases in revenue don't help the average consumer much other than consume more. It's not quite the same brave new world we had with the advent of online banking, bill paying and 24 hr shopping with home delivery.

I would have to agree that now marginal increases in productivity due to IT aren't giving the same marginal increases in value to the end consumer.

john personna said...
As I understand it, middle class incomes have fallen as productivity has risen. Doesn't that make a productivity centered view much less interesting to compassionate observers?
reason said in reply to john personna...
Not sure, but it makes redistribution more interesting.
Fred C. Dobbs said...

Yesterday I watched three techs work for two hours to get a laser printer going again that had been working fine Friday, but now was down due to 'network problems', so I would have to say, yeah, it could be over.

Julio said in reply to Fred C. Dobbs...
I watched the same scene twenty years ago, and it was a crappy dot-matrix printer that cost ten times as much.

What does it all mean?

john personna said in reply to Julio...
I suspect that techs stretched out a ticket, then and now.
Fred C. Dobbs said in reply to Fred C. Dobbs...

Such problems, which are infrequent, seem to be invariably network-related. Network support techs
are in short supply so 'everything else' is always tried first, even when that doesn't make much sense.

KJMClark said...

If economists at the FRB are still getting paid to ruminate on whether the IT revolution is over, then the IT revolution is not over. We'll know it's nearly over when we're replacing all but the top level of economists with intelligent software. (The top level will be helping the top-level software developers write the software.) We'll know it's completely over when the politicians decide we've had enough of the experiment of replacing people with machines. Or, rather, when we get the intelligent machines' responses to the politicians saying we're done.

ezra abrams said...

ya know, if u economist ever got outta yr offices, and did some real work...
You would find that the gains yet to be realized from the IT revolution are IMMENSE
People like myself, highly paid and educated PhDs, we can all be dispensed with
or, how about an earpiece that in real time tells a trial lawyer, *while s/he is in court*, what ruling he needs to cite to rebut a just made oral argument...

or CAD software that allows automotive design engineers to shave 10% of the weight of a car in an iteritve fashion (lower the weight of one component; therefore suspension can be less sturdy, in turn you then need less horsepower due to the lower wieght...)

or software that can solve Navier stokes for non laminair flow at high reynolds number

i mean, seriously, the it revolution is over ?
I'm sure they said the same thing about RailRoads and the tansportation revolution in, say 1890

jt said...

Couldn't automation lead to declining gross productivity via underemployment of displaced workers into low productivity jobs (services)? In fact, one could argue that the dual mandate of monetary policy will produce exactly this outcome. Labor income distributions seem to confirm this split in the labor market. The more interesting comparison, is in industry that use a lot of IT, has their productivity improved?

Michael Gamble:

Computer technology with out software is just a paperweight. The technology revolution is stalled but not over. The problem as I see it and it seems to be everywhere is not nearly enough people paying for custom software development done in house.

Every company any bigger than a few employees needs someone on staff who manages software purchases, installation and the creation of custom software to make the bridge between a lot of chimerical software, but no one wants to pay for it.

I don't blame them mind you there has been a lot of over hyping going on by the big players in the industry for years. And looking around you would think your entire business could be run from your phone with all the advertising, technology and hype put in to mobile phones?

Observer said in reply to Michael Gamble...
I used to lead teams that built custom software for internal use. The ROI can be high under the right conditions, but Commercial Off The Shelf is often a better solution. It depends. My off the cuff guess is that custom is hard to justify for a small business, except in very special cases.

Custom software that actually supports business critical processes tends to be quite expensive, with reason.

Another reason to avoid custom software is risk mitigation. A business that relies on software built by one "someone on staff" is running a real risk if/when that someone leaves.

Part of the unwillingness to pay is that people's expectations are influenced by consumer software price points, $0 to a few hundred dollars.

Jerry said...
A secondary inhibiter might be the growing mess in the software patent world. There seems to be an increasing reluctance to make an investment because of the patent toes that might get tweaked.
squidward said in reply to Jerry...

This is very true, the whole tech industry is a mess with antiquated patent law. You have to wonder how many products aren't being brought to market because a smaller company can't afford to get in a heavy weight patent brawl a la Samsung v. Apple.

I'm no expert but I have always wondered why writing code isn't more analogous to copyrighting than inventing and patenting. If we could incentivize more open source we could have more innovation.

Second Best said...

For the US, much of the IT revolution was over after the major carriers killed the internet revolution in its tracks, and it ain't coming back anytime soon.

See 'Captive Audience' by Susan Crawford.

kievite said...

Situation is enterprise datacenters definitely corresponds to definition of stagnation. We see a lot of cost cutting.

Percentage of custom software is small and getting smaller as Observer already noted above. Programmers are disappearing from the enterprise IT departments.

At the same time a new dangerous trend is in place. Some "of-the-shelf" packages on which enterprise depends are problematic with some subsystems close to junk or even harmful (SAP/R3, some IBM products, etc). Moreover there is now a new type of enterprise software vendors who are specializing in selling completely useless or even harmful software on the pure strength of marketing (plus fashion). Vendor which try to capitalize on ignorance of a typical IT management layer.

Like Kolmogorov once said "You can't overestimate the level of ignorance of the audience". That was about different audience, but fully applicable here. So snake oil salesmen in IT are making good money, may be better than honest sailmen.

But the problems with "off-the-shelf" packages are increasing due to their often unwarranted complexity (which serves mainly as barrier of entry for competitors), or just complexity for the sake of complexity.

This and the fact that generally software is a the most complex artifact invented by mankind lead to the level of understanding of existing packages and operating systems that can be called dismal. Even people who "should know" often look like coming from the pages of "The Good Soldier Švejk" or "Catch 22". One Unix group manager in a large company that I used to know for example did not understand the fact that IBM Power servers and Intel servers are based on CPU with two different architectures. When at the meeting I realized that my jaw simply dropped.

People who saw the software evolution from its humble beginning and can understand internals and nature of compromises taken in existing hardware and software are now close to retirement and in the new generation such people are exceedingly rare.

That is true for operating systems such as Linux or Solaris, this is even more true for web-related software such as Apache, MediaWiki, Frontpage, etc. As a result a lot of things are "barely run" and a lot of system are bought just because people have no clue that already bought systems can perform the same functions.

This is also true about Office, especially Excel. One think that I noticed that the level of knowledge of Excel is really dismal across the enterprise. I would agree with "squidward" that for office (but only for office) "I would have to agree that now marginal increases in productivity due to IT aren't giving the same marginal increases in value to the end consumer. ". But that's for office only. Cars, homes, etc are still "terrra incognita".

But while internally everything looks rotten, externally situation looks different: there is unending assault of automation on existing jobs. So JT is on something when he asks the question "The more interesting comparison, is in industry that use a lot of IT, has their productivity improved?" Yes and to the extend that many workforce cuts are permanent and moreover cuts might continue.

As for statement "For the US, much of the IT revolution is over" I doubt it. Computer will continue to eat jobs. The "cutting edge" simply moved elsewhere and one hot area are various robotic systems. Here is one example:

"IBM is using robots based on iRobot Create, a customizable version of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, to measure temperature and humidity in data centers. The robot looks for cold zones (where cold air may be going to waste instead of being directed to the servers) and hotspots (where the air circulation may be breaking down. IBM is putting the robots to commercial use at partners — while EMC is at an early stage on a strikingly similar project."

Both home and datacenter are huge application areas. Even in consumer electronics what we have is still very primitive in comparison with what is possible on the current hardware. That is true for smartphones, tablets and other mass gargets. And it is even more true for home. For example for older people a cutting edge computer technology can probably provide the level of service comparable with the level of service of nursing home. Automated cook who accepts a simple menu and deliver dishes is already feasible automation. Currently the cost will be high but gradually it will drop and quality of service improves. One interesting area is saving energy. How many people here have home network which integrates thermostat, outdoor and indoor lights, and security system. And probably nobody here has computer automated shades on windows.

Autonomous datacenters with robot service are in my opinion an interesting development which in many cases can serve as "distributed cloud".

Sunny Liu said in reply to kievite...

I agree. That was a wonderfully informative post, and thank you for that. I also don't think it's even close to over not just because of robotics but also because of machine learning. The implications for data mining and big data are enormous, and the research being done in those fields are still yet to be fully utilized.

Right now, machine learning and big data are advancing research in biology, but what about the optimizations possible in pharmaceuticals or manufacturing?


not sure if this qualifies as IT. Not even sure if that is a meaningful distinction, but as a distributor I can't help thinking that 3D printers will have a profound impact on both manufacturing and distribution.

The issue now becomes whether the technology will transform manufacturing more broadly. At the moment, 3D printing is a small part of the economy. The printers are typically slow, and the material they use is expensive and inconsistent. As the industry advances, however, printing on demand could reduce assembly lines, shorten supply chains, and largely erase the need for warehouses for many companies. Cutting back on shipping and eliminating the waste and pollution of traditional manufacturing could be an environmental boon.


The software revolution is over, just the same way the written word revolution ended in 1900.

Tom Shillock:

Does increased labor productivity increase living standards? What if the products are lower quality and either must be disposed of sooner than if they were of higher quality or incur greater lifecycle service costs than if they were of higher quality? If increased productivity degrades the natural environment (air, water, soil, food) are living standards increased? If productivity numbers increase because more people are unemployed or under employed or suffer stagnant or lower wages from globalization has the standard of living increased?

Looking at aggregate data glosses losers and winners. For the last three decades the winners are relatively fewer in number but grabbing a greater share of GDP, while the loser are vastly greater in number and have fewer opportunities to be winners other than through random luck (marriage, inheritance, connections).

Is IT innovation necessarily good or more productive? The increase in semiconductor performance (pick your metric) at a given price, or even lower price, will not increase productivity if you already have all the IT performance you can use. In some cases, it might reduce productivity. E.g., having larger hard drives means more data will be collected (data collects to fill the space available: Shillock's Second Law of Storage). Unless one has efficient methods to keep track of it all then searching for it will reduce productivity. Also, access and seek times have not improved linearly with capacity. Another hit to productivity from IT. This is why the Fed's incorporation of a "hedonic index" for microprocessors into its price index muddies the water (c.f. p. 8)

What if some IT innovation gives a company a competitive edge such as happened in finance? Others are compelled to adopt it ASAP but that does not necessarily make the financial industry more productive. Indeed, it facilitated fraud on a massive scale that caused the Great Recession while leaving insiders vastly wealthier for it. It could be argued that IT innovations have facilitated the increasing and increasingly server financial crises over the past three decades, if only because they create the delusion among users that they know more than they do thereby feeding their hubris.

The Dictatorship of Data

Most of the gains to productivity from IT are in two areas. First, is that large financial and reservation systems. These run on IBM mainframes. The second is the application of smaller computers to manufacturing to run tools. The vast amount of PC level IT probably reduces productivity because most people do not know how to use it. Word processors allow more people to take more time making their emails and interoffice memos grammatically better and with fewer spelling errors. Most people have little clue how to use spreadsheets, even Rinehart and Rogoff were challenged. PowerPoint and similar PC apps are great for enabling the incompetent and ignorant to appear otherwise, which accounts for their popularity. They are the lingua franca of IBM. So far Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. are a great waste of time for the neurotically self-conscious and self-important.

Economics is a literary genre in which contestants focus only on the numbers and usually those they like then use their imaginations to spin stories about the numbers. Audiences then vote on which story they find most pleasing.

Can You Say "Bubble"?

April 30, 2013 by | 18 Comments By James Kwak

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had an article titled "Foosball over Finance" about how people in finance have been switching to technology startups, for all the predictable reasons: The long hours in finance. "Technology is collaborative. In finance, it's the opposite." "The prospect of 'building something new.'" Jeans. Foosball tables. Or, in the most un-self-conscious, over-engineered, revealing turn of phrase: "The opportunity of my generation did not seem to be in finance."

We have seen this before. Remember That film documented the travails of a banker who left Goldman to start an online company that would revolutionize the delivery of local government services. It failed, but not before burning through tens of millions of dollars of funding. There was a time, right around 1999, when every second-year associate wanted to bail out of Wall Street and work for an Internet company.

The things that differentiate technology from banking are always the same: the hours (they're not quite as bad), the work environment, "building something new," the dress code, and so on. They haven't changed in the last few years. The only thing that changes are the relative prospects of working in the two industries—or, more importantly, perceptions of those relative prospects.

Wall Street has always attracted a particular kind of person: ambitious but unfocused, interested in success more than any achievements in particular, convinced (not entirely without reason) that they can do anything, and motivated by money largely as a signifier of personal distinction. If those people want to work for technology startups, that means two things.

[Mar 27, 2013] Most IT Admins Have Considered Quitting Due To Stress

Mar 27, 2013 | Slashdot

Posted by Soulskill

Orome1 writes

"The number of IT professionals considering leaving their job due to workplace stress has jumped from 69% last year to 73%. One-third of those surveyed cited dealing with managers as their most stressful job requirement, particularly for IT staff in larger organizations. Handling end user support requests, budget squeeze and tight deadlines were also listed as the main causes of workplace stress for IT managers. Although users are not causing IT staff as much stress as they used to, it isn't stopping them from creating moments that make IT admins want to tear their hair out in frustration. Of great concern is the impact that work stress is having on health and relationships. While a total of 80% of participants revealed that their job had negatively impacted their personal life in some way, the survey discovered some significant personal impact: 18% have suffered stress-related health issues due to their work, and 28% have lost sleep due to work."


Re:IT admins are special (Score:5, Insightful)

lots of jobs really suck, and lots of people are stressed to the point of health impacts and have considered quitting. Many of these jobs pay significantly less than IT wages.

Whenever I get stressed out, I remember the jobs I did before/while I was in college, and I'm happy to be where I am. I can't imagine what today's grads do without any work experience at low-wage McJobs. Consider quitting I guess?


Re:IT admins are special (Score:4, Insightful)

Admin is just a step up from help desk, hang out too long and it will begin to suck badly. If you fail to increase your skills (most admins) and your ability to add value, then it will start to suck badly after a number of years--it's boring.

How many servers can you provision or user accounts can you setup before pulling your fucking hair out?

Learn to code, become a professional DBA, or acquire some more skills that makes you valuable, like perhaps getting involved with business intelligence.

Admins are a commodity. Yes, it is easy to hang out and collect a paycheck, but don't whine when your value wanes and people direct you around like a monkey boy.

i kan reed

Re:IT admins are special (Score:5, Insightful)

As an software engineer(and thus not an IT admin), IT admins have it much worse than most middle class office workers. They get shit on over the smallest thing, and are the only IT employees who are expected to deliver within minutes of being asked. I don't think it's a stretch to say their stress levels might be higher than yours.


Re:IT admins are special (Score:5, Interesting)

In terms of certain job expectations they are. These include longer hours and working weekends and during the 3rd shift.

A lot of mundanes don't understand this. They hear that you've got some office job and they don't understand why you would be working those kinds of hours.

Clueless spouses can add to the stress level. Even spouses that are part of the workforce can be ignorant and unsympathetic.


Re:IT admins are special (Score:4, Funny)

No your wife will not understand no matter what your job is. She will undoubtedly have worked more then you did, no matter what.


That is only $48k. That is terrible pay for sysadmin work.


Personally I was supporting Windows, Linux, and Apple... So no, not just windows. I also was not the only one, I worked with admins from a dozen companies from time to time and pay varied from $40k-55k. Those making $55k were in their 50's and had started (often at these companies) during the 70's or at most 80's...


Lying liars and the lies they lie about (Score:5, Informative)

Only 73% have considered quitting? The other 27% are lying to you, probably because they're worried that the survey is being snooped on by the corporate Barracuda firewall.

Spy Handler

Rapid change in IT is the problem (Score:3)

When IT and computer/internet field in general settle down and become mature, things will get better.

Right now there's just too many new technolgies and buzzwords and platforms and architecture and paradigms popping up, and pointy-haired managers and VPs all want to implement this and that and oh by the way make it work with our legacy system and nothing better get lost or you're fired.


Re:Rapid change in IT is the problem (Score:5, Insightful)

It's not a matter of maturity. Many organizations hide behind the disclaimer "we are not an I.T. company", despite having sizable I.T. departments. And despite having this sizable department, which offers mission-critical applications and infrastructure, zero effort is made towards working smarter. Problems are fixed with mandatory overtime, cutting staffing/costs, and "quick-and-dirty" fixes to long standing problems.

I think some companies are starting to understand that their project management methodologies are flawed, but most cannot connect the concepts of "software debt" to decreasing marginal output in their I.T. efforts. An hour of work today is less effective than in the past because you are paying "interest" on your previous bad decisions.

I think that the 27% is reflective of companies that can connect the longevity and cost-effectiveness of I.T. systems to proper project planning, management, and I.T. expertise. Whether or not this is an upper-bound remains to be seen, because a lot of organizations simply don't understand that inventing your own project management ideas dooms you to repeating the same failures that have happened over the last 50 years.


Thats why your #1 priority in an interview is: (Score:5, Insightful)

Picking your boss. If you're not up a creek looking for work, that interview is to let you meet your managers, talk to some workers about the managers.

When I started working it was "If I can just get in the door"

When I was in my 20's it was "What cool things will this job do for me"

Now That i'm in my 30's its "Will I be able to work with these people"


It's about being "Always on" (Score:5, Insightful)

I'm an IT professional and more than once I've thought about quitting, especially when I was doing high-stress consulting. Clients treat you like meat, like "the help." They have no problem waking you up at 5AM with nonsense problems. If you don't answer and do it politely, they call your boss and then your job/livelihood is in jeopardy.

This isn't just a 9-5 thing where, when you leave the office, you're no longer on the hook -- it's always happening. Sometimes, you're at a bar at 10PM and you get an urgent call -- pick it up, and you in your tipsy state are now on the hook to resolve an important issue.

The fear of getting these calls has made me stay home sometimes when I could have been being social, and not travel away on vacation when I knew some action was going on I'd be needed for. It creates a lot of stress to be depended on so much, and now with telecommuting, you're expected to be responsive at all times wherever you are.

It's a lot of stress even in the best setup/most-redundant environments, and the job is not for everyone. And when projects come up that are difficult and highly user-facing, it's hard to avoid this type of a situation.


Re:It's about being "Always on" (Score:2)

How is that different from being... a doctor, a fireman, a nuclear plant operator, a plumber, or an electrical line repairman?

Welcome to the world of essential services. When your job is to keep things working, you don't get to pick your hours cause shit happens.

[Mar 26, 2013] Not your father's IBM - I, Cringely

Another Ex-IBMer says:

April 18, 2012 at 9:28 am

The current level of EPS was reached by a combination of two things: (1) offshoring jobs and (2) killing the pension fund (IBM stopped contributing to its pension fund in 2007 – all subsequent benefit dollars have gone into 401k plans). Lots of other shenanigans too of course, documented well in the book "Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers" by Ellen Schultz.

Since (2) has already been done, to redouble EPS again to $20 per share will require an even greater rate of US job elimination than we have seen in the past.

They have also done other little things. Yes, retirees can purchase health insurance through IBM, but retirees are placed into their own insurance pool rather than being co-insured with all employees. Result: (much) higher rates. Result of higher rates: retirees cannot afford health insurance ==> retirees die sooner ==> lower pension costs for IBM ==> higher EPS!

[Dec 06, 2012] If tech is so important, why are IT wages flat

IT salaries have not really kept pace with inflation

Despite the fact that technology plays an increasingly important role in the economy, IT wages remain persistently flat. This may be tech's inconvenient truth.

The still sluggish U.S. economy gets most of the blame for this wage stagnation, but factors such as outsourcing and automation also contribute to the problem, say analysts.

"IT salaries have not really kept pace with inflation," said Victor Janulaitis, the CEO of Janco Associates, which reports on IT wage compensation.

In 2000, the average hourly wage was $37.27 in computer and math occupations for workers with at least a bachelor's degree. In 2011, it was $39.24, adjusted for inflation, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

[Aug 10, 2012] Business Has Killed IT With Overspecialization by Charlie Schluting

April 7, 2010 | Enterprise Networking Planet

What happened to the old "sysadmin" of just a few years ago? We've split what used to be the sysadmin into application teams, server teams, storage teams, and network teams. There were often at least a few people, the holders of knowledge, who knew how everything worked, and I mean everything. Every application, every piece of network gear, and how every server was configured -- these people could save a business in times of disaster.

Now look at what we've done. Knowledge is so decentralized we must invent new roles to act as liaisons between all the IT groups. Architects now hold much of the high-level "how it works" knowledge, but without knowing how any one piece actually does work. In organizations with more than a few hundred IT staff and developers, it becomes nearly impossible for one person to do and know everything. This movement toward specializing in individual areas seems almost natural. That, however, does not provide a free ticket for people to turn a blind eye.


You know the story: Company installs new application, nobody understands it yet, so an expert is hired. Often, the person with a certification in using the new application only really knows how to run that application. Perhaps they aren't interested in learning anything else, because their skill is in high demand right now. And besides, everything else in the infrastructure is run by people who specialize in those elements. Everything is taken care of.

Except, how do these teams communicate when changes need to take place? Are the storage administrators teaching the Windows administrators about storage multipathing; or worse logging in and setting it up because it's faster for the storage gurus to do it themselves? A fundamental level of knowledge is often lacking, which makes it very difficult for teams to brainstorm about new ways evolve IT services. The business environment has made it OK for IT staffers to specialize and only learn one thing.

If you hire someone certified in the application, operating system, or network vendor you use, that is precisely what you get. Certifications may be a nice filter to quickly identify who has direct knowledge in the area you're hiring for, but often they indicate specialization or compensation for lack of experience.

Resource Competition

Does your IT department function as a unit? Even 20-person IT shops have turf wars, so the answer is very likely, "no." As teams are split into more and more distinct operating units, grouping occurs. One IT budget gets split between all these groups. Often each group will have a manager who pitches his needs to upper management in hopes they will realize how important the team is.

The "us vs. them" mentality manifests itself at all levels, and it's reinforced by management having to define each team's worth in the form of a budget. One strategy is to illustrate a doomsday scenario. If you paint a bleak enough picture, you may get more funding. Only if you are careful enough to illustrate the failings are due to lack of capital resources, not management or people. A manager of another group may explain that they are not receiving the correct level of service, so they need to duplicate the efforts of another group and just implement something themselves. On and on, the arguments continue.

Most often, I've seen competition between server groups result in horribly inefficient uses of hardware. For example, what happens in your organization when one team needs more server hardware? Assume that another team has five unused servers sitting in a blade chassis. Does the answer change? No, it does not. Even in test environments, sharing doesn't often happen between IT groups.

With virtualization, some aspects of resource competition get better and some remain the same. When first implemented, most groups will be running their own type of virtualization for their platform. The next step, I've most often seen, is for test servers to get virtualized. If a new group is formed to manage the virtualization infrastructure, virtual machines can be allocated to various application and server teams from a central pool and everyone is now sharing. Or, they begin sharing and then demand their own physical hardware to be isolated from others' resource hungry utilization. This is nonetheless a step in the right direction. Auto migration and guaranteed resource policies can go a long way toward making shared infrastructure, even between competing groups, a viable option.


The most damaging side effect of splitting into too many distinct IT groups is the reinforcement of an "us versus them" mentality. Aside from the notion that specialization creates a lack of knowledge, blamestorming is what this article is really about. When a project is delayed, it is all too easy to blame another group. The SAN people didn't allocate storage on time, so another team was delayed. That is the timeline of the project, so all work halted until that hiccup was restored. Having someone else to blame when things get delayed makes it all too easy to simply stop working for a while.

More related to the initial points at the beginning of this article, perhaps, is the blamestorm that happens after a system outage.

Say an ERP system becomes unresponsive a few times throughout the day. The application team says it's just slowing down, and they don't know why. The network team says everything is fine. The server team says the application is "blocking on IO," which means it's a SAN issue. The SAN team say there is nothing wrong, and other applications on the same devices are fine. You've ran through nearly every team, but without an answer still. The SAN people don't have access to the application servers to help diagnose the problem. The server team doesn't even know how the application runs.

See the problem? Specialized teams are distinct and by nature adversarial. Specialized staffers often relegate themselves into a niche knowing that as long as they continue working at large enough companies, "someone else" will take care of all the other pieces.

I unfortunately don't have an answer to this problem. Maybe rotating employees between departments will help. They gain knowledge and also get to know other people, which should lessen the propensity to view them as outsiders


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