Saturday, June 30, 2012

Microsoft and Income Distribution

Last year Forbes published an article titled "9.2% Unemployment? Blame Microsoft." The premise was the following:
Over the past twenty years, the technology industry, led by companies like Microsoft, have given us  powerful databases, operating systems, networks and software applications that have made it easier for us to accomplish more tasks than we did before with less people.   And it’s not just Microsoft who you can blame.
The article included the following graphic, which shows that despite a decrease in manufacturing jobs, manufacturing output has risen from 2000 until the 2008 crisis.

It shouldn't be surprising that we're becoming more and more efficient, and that there are fewer unskilled job options available. The question is, with US unemployment rate at about 8%, and 12 million americans unemployed, (and Canada only doing slightly better,) is this increased technological efficiency part of the root of our current economic situation? What if these people just aren't needed in any modern economy, healthy or not? What if we just don't need many people to work to support everyone?

I have one group of friends who are complaining about the economy, and another group of friends who studied one of the STEM fields and have many competing offers for six-figure salaries right out of school. By and large the first group would balk at hearing something about executives being paid millions of dollars to lead a company to lose money, about the University of Waterloo President's $500,000 2011 salary, and heck, even about how much Facebook interns make.

But what if it really is demand and supply? What if, because of technological advancement and other factors, these CEO's skills and work are more valuable than 100 or even 1000 workers? What would it do to society if a quarter of the population (plus some robots) can produce more than enough for the rest of the world to consume? What, then, would be a "fair" way to distribute income that would take advantage of this surplus?

End of Entry

Friday, June 29, 2012

Who you know vs. what you know

Back in high school, people told me that in real life, success will be determined more by who you know and less by what you know.

I think that these people have been correct in that success is largely determined by who you know. But they failed to mention that who you know in turn depends on what you know. What you know, what you learn, what you do and how interesting your projects are determines how interesting you are as a person, and whether someone might want to get to know you.

So the moral of the story is: to meet interesting people, do interesting things.

End of Entry

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Small decisions

We normally think that big decisions are what makes the biggest impact on our lives. We thus spend a lot of time deciding where school to go to, which job offer to take, and where to live. These decisions are so-called "big decisions" because they end up affecting a sizeable chunk of our lives for a large period of time in somewhat predictable ways.

Small decisions are rarely thought about. These are decisions like whether to send that email now or in an hour, whether to ask to present your findings in tomorrow's meeting or next week's, and whether you follow up with someone you met last night or put it off.

There's only a small chance that any single small decision would affect much of anything. Most of the time, the email receives no response, the presentation is uneventful, and no useful lead comes up. But because we face these small decisions on a regular basis, sheer number of these events mean that there is still a lot to be gained from being just a little more proactive.

I found that reaching out just a little bit further on a regular basis makes it more likely for those one-off "lucky" events to happen: a blog post goes viral, a grant is received, a new friend gained. In fact many of the wonderful things in my life happened by making a small decision that required being a little bit out of my comfort zone.

So in the end, which school you go to, which job offer you take and where to live might affect your life much less that what you do there, which opportunities you seek and how much you push yourself.

End of Entry