Archive for the ‘Economic’ Category

The rise of orphaned assets

June 14, 2018

As a result of developments in the production of solar technology panels and batteries for generating and storing electricity, the cost of producing and delivering energy in this form is rapidly declining.

I pay 15 cents per kwh for electricity delivered to my home in Ottawa: the 15 cents are the cost of the electricity plus the delivery cost. In Tucson, Arizona, residents pay 4 cents (US) per kwh resulting from the use of solar power and battery technology. As solar energy is introduced into the grid, many of the fossil fuel driven power plants and pylons delivering the electricity will become orphaned assets having little more than scrap value. It makes no economic sense to build new traditional power plants.

Because solar energy is captured at different times and for different periods of the day it has to be stored, and may be supplemented by energy supplied from traditional power plants. The location and demand for energy will determine how fast and far the substitution of solar for other forms of energy takes place.

There is evidence that it is already happening. A large school in Copenhagen, which is three degrees south of Juneau Alaska and gets less sunshine than more southerly locations, has built a school with walls made of solar panels which provide half of the buildings energy costs. Australia has 25% of its homes supplied by solar energy.

To see how fast this change is coming and how it already is affecting different industries, see Tony Seba’s presentation at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2b3ttqYDwF0

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Coping with Grade Inflation in Ontario

June 12, 2018
Ontario high school graduates often experience lower grades in first year university courses from those received in grade twelve. This can come as a shock to first year students…. and their parents. In the late 1960’s Ontario moved from province wide exams to each school grading its own students. The change resulted from proposals in the Hall-Dennis provincial report, which recommended the abolition of general exams for all students in the province. Grade inflation ensued.
In the 1960’s, less than 10% of Ontario high school students graduated with an 80% or higher average. Today over 60% have an average of 80%. Because university enrollment has expanded since the 1960s, the absolute number of those with an 80% average is today far higher. At the time teachers argued that there would be grade inflation if each school could grade its own students. They were correct. Now, if there are suggestions of returning to province wide exams, schools oppose the move because the results would reflect more directly on their ability to perform.
Today, almost all applicants can get accepted for Canadian university entrance but there will be limited enrollment for particular programs such as law, medicine, nursing, engineering and the need to maintain certain grades to remain registered in these programs. Universities have an interest in enhancing enrollment because they are in part funded by provincial governments on a per student basis and in part by fees. (Foreign students pay higher fees and do not receive provincial funding. Quebec offers lower fees to Quebec students than out of province students.)
Other jurisdictions use a common exam as a way of, amongst other things, avoiding grade inflation. The General Certificate of Education (GCE) is offered at three levels in the United Kingdom, and a number of other mainly Commonwealth countries; the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) in the US is an admission requirement for most graduate schools in the US; and the International Baccalaureate (IB) offers four educational programmes: the IB Diploma Programme and the IB Career-related Programme for students aged 16 to 19, the IB Middle Years Programme for students aged 11 to 16, and the IB Primary Years Programme. To teach these programmes, schools need to be authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization. About 60 schools in Canada are listed as offering the IB program. Almost 11,000 Canadian students wrote IB exams in 2017.
While Canadian universities cannot say that they treat an IB grade different from a non-IB grade when accepting students from Canadian high schools, it does not take much imagination that this would be the case, especially when performance statistics are reviewed.
IB grades are reported to universities, most of which now understand what they mean.  The IB Schools of Ontario have devised a conversion scale for reporting to parents and for those universities that are not yet on board.  All IB schools in Ontario must agree to using this conversion scale just so that marks will not be inflated.  This customary (as opposed to mandatory) procedure allows universities to evaluate the IB grades relative to  the Ontario high school grades which have experienced massive inflation since the 1960s.
In a review of IB enrolment in the US, the following findings were published:
This analysis examines the postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and graduation rates of IB diploma seekers graduating from both public and private high schools in the US. Currently, the IB offers the Diploma Programme in 830 high schools in the US. Of these schools, 727 (88%) are public schools (state funded). Not surprisingly therefore, the data for this analysis included mostly public schools. When the results from this study are compared to national rates (as available) it is evident that diploma students, both earners and non-earners, enroll, persist, and graduate on time at notably higher rates. Diploma earners have generally slightly higher rates than non-earners. • Immediate enrollment for all diploma students was 78% compared to the national average of 69% • 2-year retention for all diploma students was 96% compared to the national rate of 77% • 2-year retention rates for diploma earners was 96% compared to the non-earners rate of 95% • 6-year graduation rates for all diploma students was 83% compared to the national rate of 56% • 6-year graduation rates for diploma earners was 87% compared to the non-earners rate of 72%

Back to Beer and Hockey

June 4, 2018

Back to Beer and Hockey, The Story of Eric Molson by Helen Antoniou is part history of Molson the company, part of Molson the family, and part of the hockey team that the Molson family has owned. The three are interwoven in a variety of ways that focus on the man and his career.

Hockey is a well-defined game with winners and losers overseen by officials. Corporations like teams operate in a competitive environment which creates winners and losers within a framework of rules. Families are groups of individuals, who too are competitive, but where there is no referee to call the plays. When families become involved in corporate decision-making outcomes are difficult to predict but can be important for the future of a company. (A useful understanding of family behaviour is found in Robin Skynner and John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (Methuen, 1983)).

Future researchers will find the book a valuable source for a study of how senior management of a company operates as the market for its product changes; how family members with different interests and ambitions interact in pursuing their corporate related ambitions; and how the game of hockey infiltrates and permeates this family and their behaviour. The book is written from the viewpoint of Eric Molson who, while in retirement, gave the author, his daughter-in-law, interview access and declined to read it until it was published.

The history starts with the founding of the company in 1786 and the arrival from Scotland of John Molson. Since then and up to its merger with Coors, making it the world’s third largest brewing company, control was exercised through a restricted distribution of voting shares among Molson family members. Today, control is exercised jointly with the Coors company. Along the way it tried to diversify without success into other product markets.

Any corporate historian will want to read this book to understand what motivates executives, especially the controlling shareholders. Family dynamics are unique to each situation and difficult to predict ex ante. The inclusion of a blue ribbon hockey franchise in the corporate-family mix makes it harder to predict what the future may bring for the business of beer. The growth of craft breweries is a factor affecting industry competition.

Canada about to be sideswiped – trade, investment & asylum seekers

May 8, 2018

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride”

(Bette Davis actually said night not ride)

This quote aptly describes what is about to, and probably already is happening as a result of events south of the border. With 64 percent of Canada’s merchandise trade with the US (2016 exports plus imports), the negotiations over NAFTA and threats of US tariffs on steel and aluminum create the uncertainty that leave investors in both countries sitting on their funds.

The extent of foreign direct investment in Canada by the US, and in the US by Canada results in a similar high degree of interdependence and uncertainty. Companies often organize their supply chains across provincial and state lines as though national borders did not exist. When the US suddenly threatens to impose tariffs, investors in both countries tend to look elsewhere or to sit on their cash. There are always other places to invest, buy back shares, or stay in a liquid position.

As long as I can remember, and certainly since the 1950s, Canada’s politicians supported by nationalists have argued to decrease dependency on the US market for exports and imports, as well as for inflows of direct investment. It just never happens except for a few percentage points each way. Proximity to the US market offers business opportunities and the strong interdependency prevails. When the US threatens to restrict imports Canada can be the first to feel the impact. Threats are enough to cause concern for investors and this is where things now stand.

Canada has another concern involving the US but this one is self- inflicted and relates to refugees and asylum seekers. It is one which is felt more intensely in Europe and accounts for the rise of populist political parties and their leaders. Hungary, France, Italy and the Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK reveal pressures that arise from the influx of refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Canada has a stated policy of receiving a set number of refugees and asylum seekers each year. These are screened before coming to Canada. However, others arrive at the Canadian-US border and request asylum. If the request is made at an official entry point, the applicant will typically be disallowed entry as the US is considered a safe country. If the applicant crosses at any other point along the border, according to Canadian law the person can claim asylum and have the claim assessed.

Canada’s only land border is with the US. In 2017, Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board received 18,149 claims from irregular border crossers, that is those that claimed asylum after entering Canada illegally. This compares with 29,276 persons who applied for refugee status legally.

If a person approaches a Canadian official border entry point like an airport or a highway and asks for asylum, the official can accept or reject the claim. If the claimant comes from the US, the claim is likely rejected as the person comes from a safe country, the US. In order to avoid such rejection, the person crosses the border at a non-official point and claims asylum. There is an easy solution. Make any point of the US border with Canada an official point of entry and all claimants coming from the US can be turned back, although they will first have to be detained.

Beware of Bubbles

March 31, 2018

I live in a bubble. I meet and socialize with people who think broadly the same way concerning truth and lies, respect for the law and support for the democratic political process although they may favour different political parties. I get my news from many of the same sources as they do. Being in a bubble means that I, and I suspect many others, have difficulty in understanding the political scene south of the border, and to a lesser extent in Canada.

I get my news online from MSNBC for the US, the Economist and the Globe and Mail. Do I watch Fox News or Breitbart News? No, not just because I don’t like their political views, but because I don’t trust the veracity of their material. But other people do, and they are the ones who helped push Trump to victory in 2016. One question now is what will happen in 2020 and the midterm elections in 2018. For this one has to exit one’s bubble and discover what others think.

In 2016, both Trump and Sanders appealed to some of the same group of voters, those who felt unrepresented in Washington. When Clinton became the Democratic candidate, Sanders supporters decided either not to vote, or that Trump would best represent their interests, and probably they still feel that way today.

With the election over, the question is whether the conditions remain which gave rise to both Republican and disaffected Democrat supporters of Trump.  For low income white voters in states like Kentucky and Ohio where manufacturing jobs have been lost, the situation is forcefully described in Hill Billy Elegy by J.D.Vance. The thirty-one year old author comes from a poor white background, a descendant of Scottish-Irish immigrants from several generations back. He sets out the plight of white working-class families in impressive detail.

In Strangers In their own Land, Airlie Hochschild, a sociologist, does much the same by researching the circumstances of poor voters in the US, especially in Louisiana where she went to live while focusing on  the lives of those in the second poorest State in the US. She describes people living in vastly different conditions, and seeing few prospects for change, despite the fact that two recent Presidents, Carter and Clinton came from Georgia and Arkansas, two other states near the bottom of the economic ladder.

Trump won the 2016 election by appealing to the few very wealthy supporters, and the many who saw few prospects which would enhance their lives. If Clinton had won in 2016, the disadvantaged US voters would have felt even less likelihood for improvement in their lives, and the next presidential election would have given a Trump-like candidate and even stronger mandate. The only glimmer of hope I can see from 2016 is that enough voters will step outside their bubbles to prevent a continuation and worsening of the political circumstances in the US.  If they don’t then those who presently feel disenfranchised will support even more unsuitable leaders. Conditions in a number of European countries face similar pressures with politicians locked into their particular bubbles.

(As of April 2018, polls show Trump with 42% political support having risen from the low 30%. Where will the figure be tomorrow?)

The Storm Over Income Inequality

March 20, 2018

Thirty percent of the US electorate continue to stand by Trump despite his ability to change the channel when some issue gets too hot. Why do voters stick with him? Part 1 outlines some facts about income inequality in the US, as set out by Jonathan Tepper – (see his blog for Feb. 17, 2018.) Part 2 suggests some measures aimed at reducing income inequality.

Part 1

Income inequality in the US

  1. Corporate profits are rising but with corporations keeping a larger share of gross earnings, and a smaller share going to employee compensation.
  2. Changes in average hourly earnings use to be a leading indicator of a growing economy. Wages pick up and growth soon follows. Today, growth is leading, while slowly rising wages show that workers salaries are being left behind as the economy grows.

 

  1. Industrial concentration is rising, as are measures such as the share of gross and net income by the largest firms in an industry. Between 1997 and 2012, two-thirds of US industries are in the hands of fewer firms.

 

  1. Evidence for 3. is suggested by the fall in the number of publicly listed companies, so that more industries have only fewer but larger firms.
  2. Productivity is increasing at a faster rate than average hourly compensation, suggesting that workers are not being rewarded for their share in the rise.

 

  1. Corporations today having more market power is suggested by data showing that average markups of 18% in 1980 rose to 70% in 2014. In the beer industry, two American firms have 90% of the market. For high-speed internet access, 75% of households have one provider. Four US companies dominate US airline traffic. In many US states, the top insurers have 80-90 percent of the market. In pesticides, three companies have 70% of the US market, and three companies have 80% of the corn-seed market.

 

  1. Between 1996 and 2016, publicly listed companies fell by 50 percent (7200 to 3600). There are now less listed companies than there were in 1970.
    More US towns now have one major buyer of labour, or are a monopsonist, such as coal mining towns and towns with Walmart stores. These conditions tend to depress wage increases.

 

  1. The extent of unionized labour has fallen. In 1983, 20% of workers were unionized; today it is 11% and coincides with a fall of national income going to workers. The rate of strike action has also fallen from 1960 to today.

 

  1. The gap between CEO and worker compensation has increased markedly.All this is consistent with a U – shaped distribution of income by population, with a high proportion of income going to many low-income families and a similar high proportion to far fewer upper income families. Many of the 30% solid Trump supporters reside at the low-end of this scale and want the Washington swamp drained; some would have supported Bernie Sanders. They feel that the political and economic situation is stacked against them.

    Part 2

 Measures to counteract income inequality

If the US is experiencing domestic political upheaval due to growing income inequality, are there precedents elsewhere and what measures might address this situation? The French Revolution from 1789 and the Russian Revolution in 1917 have some similar features which played out in unique ways. (The American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence in 1776 were more a fight to overthrow British rule, than over aspects of income equality.)

In the case of France, the aggrieved classes took to the streets overthrowing the monarchy and eventually accepting Napoleon as their leader which he did until the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. This may seem a long time ago, but my grandfather was born in 1824 and must have grown up wondering what was going on in his world, as many of us do today in ours.

Income inequality in the US, and to some extent in Canada and Western Europe, has grown since the end of WW2 and especially with the economic growth experienced by many countries. The factors associated with this situation include the restoration of economies devastated by war such as Japan, Germany, the UK and other countries of Western Europe, as well as the USSR and countries of the Soviet bloc.

From the 1970s onward, the introduction of computer communications and the internet in many phases of production and distribution led to changes in the production of goods and services and the way supply chains are organized. This caused changes in the demand for labour skills and the need for retraining. What is happening today is not new but is occurring rapidly so that some workers get left behind and naturally feel aggrieved.

An earlier example from around 1900 is the mechanization of agriculture so that today only about two percent of the labour force is assigned to this sector, while output has vastly increased. That adjustment was made with the growth of manufacturing and good wages. Today manufacturing output is growing, but with less employment and some of the service sector jobs have lower incomes than in manufacturing. It is the latter who now are Trump-style supporters.

Some jobs disappeared and new ones introduced as supply chains are reorganized. The new ones are often not suited to those who have lost jobs. While retraining takes place, it is often not fast enough to make up the differences in required skills. Having said that, the unemployment rate is hovering around 4%. The problem is that many lower paid workers see little opportunity for rising incomes and experience a declining standard of living. All this results in growing income inequality.

If the foregoing is an approximate account of economic conditions in the US, and to some extent Canada, what policies might alleviate this situation. There is no quick turnaround to a set of circumstances that have built up over decades. It would be like trying to turn around the Queen Mary in the Thames. The example of how Silicon Valley emerged in the US illustrates some peculiarities of the policy environment, and the time factor which accompanied its development. The reasons for Silicon Valley’s success in the 1950s and 1960s include the following:

 

Government programmes, intended to surpass the Soviet Union in space and weapons systems, galvanized investment in education, research, and engineering across a broad range of technologies. This ultimately gave rise to Silicon Valley where it was infused by a spirit of free enquiry, vigorous competition and a healthy capitalist incentive to make money. It was supercharged by an immigration system that welcomed promising minds from every quarter of the planet. Sixty years after the Sputnik moment, America needs the same combination of public investment and private enterprise in pursuit of a national project. (Economist March 17th, 2018 The Battle for Digital Supremacy).

The foregoing is illustrative of what policymakers are up against and the recognition of the time it will take to bring about change incorporating new technology and modes of organization. Meanwhile there are policy initiatives that can be taken which may be helpful and nibble at the growing unease felt by those who feel disadvantaged by these entrepreneurial initiatives.

Following is a list of some fairly mundane measures which may help to reduce inequality and are easier to implement than waiting for structural changes in the economy and/or political unrest:

  1. The immediate circumstances of low incomes can be addressed by a combination of some form of guaranteed annual income, which phases out as incomes rise and labour receives a mix of education and training to address evolving technological conditions.
  2. Implementing a system of repayable loans to aid students entering the labour force as well as older persons requiring retraining. Repayment would be made out of future income according to ability to pay
  3. Planned increases of minimum wages that employers can anticipate.
  4. Improved access to good-quality public services such as libraries, public parks, bus services and safe streets for low-income people funded by taxpayers.
  5. Restructure executive remuneration at the high income end by paying executives out of current income rather than including some stock options.

(I am indebted to Professor Timothy Taylor, Macalester College for suggestions re 4. And 5.)

 

Competition Policy in the 21st Century

March 1, 2018
In 1900, at the turn of the century, US business moguls included Carnegie, Dupont, Ford, Guggenheim, Morgan, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. Among the largest firms were US Steel, Standard Oil, Ford, J.P. Morgan, DuPont, and a number of railway and financial corporations.

Compare these with some of today’s largest firms, their founders and founding dates, the last four labelled by some as the FANGs.

1975 Microsoft- Gates and Allen
1976 Apple – Jobs and Wozniak
1994 Amazon – Bezos
1997 Netflix – Hastings and Randolph
1998 Google – Brin and Page
2004 Facebook – Zuckerberg

Today’s giants and their industries are the result of developments in computers and communications since the 1960s when this technology began to permeate our economic and social life.

My first interaction with computers was in 1962 when they were housed in large air-conditioned rooms with data fed in on punched cards. Computational work was processed in batches and the output would be available perhaps the next day. It was often necessary to learn a programming language such as Fortran and write one’s own program. Later, programs such as Word Perfect and Excel could be purchased. I acquired my first desktop computer in 1970 for $5000.00. It had 64K memory. It was followed by laptops, pads and the smart phones available today. My regular use of email dates from 1985 when words were spelled out slowly across the screen, rather than appearing instantly.

Big business, both in absolute and relative terms, has long given rise to concern over its economic power associated with the creation of combines, trusts, and restrictive trade practices. In North America, this lead to the passage of antitrust laws. Canada passed the first such legislation in 1889 followed by the US in 1890. Both were a reaction to concerns about the potential harmful effects of monopoly power in industries such as steel, railroads, petroleum and banking. Today, questions are raised about the market power of information related industries, both the hardware and software.

One example is Amazon. The firm was founded by Geoff Bezos as an online bookstore, and has morphed into a firm engaged in electronic commerce and cloud computing with a head office in Seattle. Today it is the largest internet retailer supplying almost anything that can be sold online, either by distributing the item online or arranging for physical delivery. A recent acquisition was Whole Foods.

Amazon operates internationally with retail websites in fifteen countries. Currently it has revenues of $136bn, assets of $83.4bn, net income of $2.4bn and 542,900 employees full and part time. The firm did not record a profit for seven years, that is until 2001. (Further information is available on Wikipedia).

Amazon has morphed into a type of public utility in the business of delivering goods and services, similar in many ways to the delivery of electricity, gas, communications and postal delivery services.

The Economist, Jan 20th, 2018, provides an excellent summary of the possible antitrust issues stemming from how communications technology can affect competition in a wide variety of markets. The issues concern the generation and collection of data as well as its pricing in different markets. For example Facebook and Google are responsible for 80% of news publishers referral traffic affecting how buyers and sellers interact.

These and other firms collect mountains of data as people surf the net and are able to sell this information to producers of goods and services, as well as to monitor the communications of sellers and buyers. It reveals an Orwellian world where individuals may lose their privacy. When Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 he was unaware of the technology that would emerge and reinforce his warnings.

Public policy

Do existing public policy measures address issues concerning these firms? Competition policy deals with features raised in a wide variety of markets dealing with monopolies, mergers, price fixing and a range of restrictive practices. There seems to me no reason why these measures cannot be applied to markets where information technology is used.

But in addition, the use of information technology is so pervasive in terms of communications and the internet that it has become a type of public utility. For example, businesses and homes demand connection to the internet at a reasonable cost. Today, a hotel, coffee shop, store or manufacturer would be unable to operate successfully without being connected. In this sense the technology has the features of a public utility and may need to have a policy framework similar to other utilities. Governments will certainly have to rule on the question of net neutrality.

 

The Future of Employment – a Focus on Skills

January 7, 2018

Where will the jobs be – and how to prepare for them?

The answer depends in part on where you live and what age you are. Discussion of this question can be found in numerous places, authored by governments, think tanks and universities. Here I aim to address an audience of those in high school and university, but it may have some value for those already in the work force, since a main conclusion is that there will be fewer and fewer life-time jobs and many will have to retrain and requalify throughout their working life.

The chart found at the following site graphs how 16 labour force occupations by sector have changed between 1850 and 2015 in the US.

https://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/future-of-organizations-and-work/what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages

See Part 3, Exhibit 2.

The three categories above Agriculture (-55.9%) are:

Trade (wholesale and retail)

Construction

Transportation

The twelve categories below Agriculture are:

Manufacturing

Mining

Professional Services

Utilities

Business and Repair Services

Telecommunications

Healthcare

Entertainment

Education

Government

Financial Services

Source: McKinsey and Co. 2017

 

Two obvious changes are the vast reduction of those employed in the agriculture, shown by the shrinkage of the light blue area, and more recently the reduction of manufacturing jobs (dark blue). Each OECD economy would show similar changes modified by the physical location and a number of other factors affecting the geographic boundaries and natural and human resource endowment of the economy. Canada would be much like the US, but with a greater relative importance associated with natural resources such as forestry and mining.

The shrinking share of agriculture is associated with a vast increase in farming output, and the substitution of machinery such as tractors and combine harvesters. The manufacturing and other sectors have expanded their share of employment at the same time that it has shrunk in agriculture. Similar forces are at work today with manufacturing, which with automation has increased the demand for service sector employment associated with computer and communications related service activities. A main conclusion will be that it is more helpful to examine the skills that are likely to be needed in the economy than the changing share of the employment by sector.

 

Some facts about underlying changes

Employment takes place in different sectors of the economy; the share of employment by sector changes over time, sometimes slowly and today quite rapidly.

Existing sectors, as shown in the chart, can change the type of skills required and the arrival of new technology creates the need for new skills. (When you see the word skills think of education and training now and in the future).

For example, the agricultural sector employs fewer people today but the output of the sector has increased. Manual work was taken over by machinery such as tractors, and combines. At the same time the sector created new industries and jobs with employment rising in manufacturing, improvements in seed and cattle production and now the use of information technology. Output has grown in all sorts of ways.

A remarkable statistic shows that in 2012 the average American cow produced 22,000 lbs of milk each year compared with 5,300 lbs in 1950, an increase of 16,700 lbs per year or about four times as much a year. (I imagine a Canadian cow would be equally productive, although supply management may require it to work shorter days and take longer vacations.) With 1950 model cows, today’s 33 million Canadians could be supplied with a pound of milk per day by about just over two million cows. With today’s more productive cows, it would take about half a million cows, such has been the increase in productivity.

 Other sectors have seen a real shrinkage of employment. Horses no longer do the work of machinery so the work horse industry has declined to almost nothing, as have the people who bred horses. There is a horse industry but it is associated with equestrian events such as racing, show jumping, dressage, and circus performances.

In contemplating job opportunities look for situations of job creation and job destruction, as well as for education and training now and in the future.

 

Will technology eliminate jobs?

The lump of labour argument states that there is only so much work in an economy and that technology will reduce the need for work in the future. The facts show otherwise as argued by the “lump of labour fallacy,” namely that employment to-date shows the total amount of employment has increased over time, but the type of jobs has changed requiring different combinations of skills and development of new skills.

One difference today is that the rate of change has increased relative to most times in the past, and this has led to the need for retraining and re-education. Doctors and dentists undergo annual retraining seminars, academics do research and take sabbatical, teachers have PD days. People can train to be a nurse today, but will have to retrain to keep up to date with nursing skills. If in the future there is a declining need for nurses but an increased demand for MRI technicians then major retraining is required to operate this equipment.

My experience of training in economics and being an academic all my working life is not typical for many of those entering today’s work force. I was employed by several different universities but to teach economics in all instances. Part of my retraining came from doing research as well as teaching, including the use of online learning techniques. It was an evolving skill set that I had to learn.

 

What skills will be needed?

There is extensive research and reporting by economists and others on Future Work Skills and the education and training needed for a person to meet the likely needs. While economists and others don’t have a particularly good record of forecasting future jobs, they are better at suggesting what skills will be needed in the future, given the changes, technological and other, taking place. A focus on skills allows predictions to be made on the type of education and training likely to be needed.

 

Drivers of change – some examples

  1. People are living longer. With an older population, people may work to an older age, either full or part-time. They will have increased medical and care costs some of which can be provided by healthcare workers.
  2. Smart machines: these will be used to monitor healthcare needs for young and old persons. Security and defense are examples of other areas using monitoring techniques, such as the use of unmanned drones and security cameras.
  3. Technology now allows for massive amounts of information to be collected and manipulated in real time in areas such as medicine, security and education. This has allowed a computer to beat human chess players and win quiz games such as Jeopardy.
  4. New techniques of manipulation and communication of information has led to multimedia forms of communication. Oral, visual and written information can be created and stored for use anywhere on the planet, meaning that the footprint of an industry or occupation can be global
  5. Social media is a particular form of global footprint (Facebook, Twitter and email) where experimentation is taking place. I first used a computer in 1962. It was housed in a large air-conditioned room and processed input entered on punch cards in batches. Early portable computers weighed 25 lbs and had 64K memory. I first used email in 1989. Messages were sent and received with letters being written out slowly across a computer screen. Today we expect instantaneous receipt of the whole message together with pictures and sound.
  6. The world is connected globally so that information can be transmitted anywhere in the world that has the technical facilities. This expands the opportunities for all kinds of activity, medical, educational and other. It also allows for bad things to happen.

Hit by ideological traffic going in opposite directions – Year end 2017

December 30, 2017

I fully expect this to happen and it will affirm that many people can easily be annoyed. Start with my favourite Christmas card featuring three women on a motorbike with a sidecar. The caption reads:

“Three Wise Women would have asked directions, arrived on time, delivered the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole… and there would have been peace on earth.”

Alternative wording (mine) reads:

Three politically correct women would have ignored gender equality when forming their committee, returned the diapers because they were the wrong colour, sent Joseph out to get coffee after he had cleaned the stable….and there would be slim prospects for peace in the home.”

One of the joys of growing old is to say things that will irritate people; another is to ignore warnings about what to drink or eat. So here goes:

  1. As a result of a recent hospital stay, it is clear that positions requiring a range of skill levels (doctors to cleaning staff) could not be staffed without encouraging some level of immigration. The same is true for employees in shopping malls and fast food outlets. One public policy issue is how to integrate newcomers into Canadian society and what is reasonable to expect from them.
  2. A prime issue is making sure that non-French or English speakers get language training. Without it employment opportunities are minimal except to live and work in a ghetto where their native language is spoken. Young arrivals who enter the school system will quickly adapt linguistically and act as interpreters for their elders.
  3. Newcomers need to be made aware of Canadian values…. this is where it gets interesting. At this time of year there are many summaries of what Canadian society looks like after 250 years as a nation. One I found interesting was penned by Jonathan Kay (read especially the last two columns on page NP2 of the National Post for Dec. 20, 2017)

“Will Canada come to regard itself as a sunny forward looking, pluralistic democracy that champions a generous social contract on a colour-blind basis…or a guilty grievance-infested patchwork of racial communities perpetually publishing angry manifestos and living in the shadow of bygone horrors?”

The latter gets the most public attention because angry people with grievances make the news, sell papers and attract eyeballs. Examples of social harmony don’t make headlines or tweetable epithets. One example, I suggest, of a well-functioning multicultural society is New York City, population 8.5 million. The country, state and city have no overt multicultural policy. The citizens from all over the world just get on with doing their jobs and living their lives. At least up to 2017, this has worked well. In contrast, Canada has a closely defined multicultural policy at least at the federal level, unfortunately ill-formed and implemented.

  1. Those seeking to evaluate existing Canadian multicultural objectives carefully avoid asking the difficult questions. Gilles Paquet is an exception in his Deep Cultural Diversity (University of Ottawa Press, 2008)
  2. An associated puzzle is why there is no discussion of the overall desired size of Canada’s population. Immigration acts as a tap for the flow of people into the population bath tub. Does Canada need to open the tap? If so I would like to see the rationale. Countries like Norway and Switzerland with smaller populations and land area have remained prosperous with small populations – for Norway 1990 and 2017 – 4.2mil and 5.3mil; for Switzerland 1990 and 2017 – 6.1mil and 8.5mil. In a sense Canada is similar size-wise in that almost all immigrants want to live in urban centres such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. These cover a far smaller area than either Norway or Switzerland.

What happened in 2017 and what might happen now?

December 24, 2017

My favourite Xmas card for 2017 reads,

“Three Wise Women would have asked for directions, arrived on time, delivered the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole….and there would have been Peace on Earth.”

 

Overwhelmed by news coverage of the Trump presidency, I think we have lost sight of what actually happened which is a precursor for trying to figure out the future.  I suggest that Trump is like the head of a nasty boil beneath which resides a lot of infectious puss resulting from some unpleasant causes. It could kill you but can hopefully be treated.

What follows may be an oversimplified explanation, but here goes. Since becoming selected as Republican candidate, being elected and governing for a year, Trump has managed to grab the headlines with outrageous comments and behavior. If anyone else had done this they would have been crucified politically and in the press. Trump manages to change the channel when public indignation is stoked. He is an artiste at managing the press. He is more clever than mad.

So far the president’s support is rock solid with 30-35% of the US electorate. Some are traditional Republican voters, while others probably supported Bernie Saunders and may not have voted for Clinton. The Saunders followers felt and still feel that Washington is a swamp and Trump’s boast to drain it remains attractive to them.

The 30-35%, or a portion of them, feel that they have not shared in the economic growth of the past decades. Growth has seen significant structural changes in the economy, such as the loss of manufacturing jobs and their replacement by a combination of outsourcing and growth of service sector jobs associated with rapidly evolving communications technology. At the same time, some groups have managed to shape the rules of the business game, through such things as tax breaks, subsidies and protectionism favouring certain investors and sectors. In turn, these favoured ones finance political campaigns and keep the swamp well infested.

Responsible for all this are the acts of previous Democrat and Republican administrations, which have shaped the policy infrastructure to the benefit of their traditional supporters. What we observe and experience today is the result of an evolving social, political and economic backdrop. Trump is the focus of this scene. But without him the same underlying forces would be at work leading to some probably unwelcome outcome.

Can there be a positive future given these events? Probably, but this depends on the sturdiness of the of the American political system over the next three years. Trump will have left some unexploded mines on the political battlefield. He will have governed by signing executive orders (Obama did the same thing in his second term with a Congress controlled by Republicans), and by making judicial appointments of people favouring his political views. In this sense Trump is here to stay by leaving a lasting mark on American society. It will take time and leadership to redirect the ship of state.

Seasons greetings to all.