Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thursday Links

  • Above - continued decline of retail trade in Europe.
  • Vaunted venture-capital fund Kleiner Perkins has lost money on its green-tech investments.   I think probably this bet will be a winner eventually, but, as a sage investor friend once told me "Being right too early is just as bad as being wrong".  Making this kind of portfolio pay is going to take stronger government action to even up the playing field between renewables and fossil fuels (which don't currently pay their externalities of wrecking the global climate).
  • One for the Annals of Unnecessary Innovations.
  • How the town of Dryden, NY banned fracking and has so far made the ban stick in court.  I live in Dryden, and Marie McRae, mentioned in the story, lives just up the road from me.  I think the story underplays a bit the influence of Ithaca/Cornell in Dryden; the western part is very heavily influenced by commuters and I think it makes the town quite a bit more affluent and progressive than a typical rural upstate town.
  • Another computer scientist concerned about what automation is doing to the economy and the middle class.
  • It'a a good time of year to do an energy audit of your house, if you didn't already do so.  
  • The paradigm seems to be shifting away from austerity.  If more expansionary thinking were to take hold, particularly in Europe, it considerably raises the odds of an oil price shock in the next few years.
  • Return on equity for oil and gas producers in the US (2011/2012).  Pure oil producers did ok (not fantastic) with about 12% ROE, but pure natural gas producers were losing money hand-over-fist.  So US natural gas prices were unsustainably low, but US oil prices (ie mainly WTI probably) were roughly where they needed to be.


Glenn said...

The glow in the dark plants may not be necessary, but I find the funding and organizing methodology intriguing. Research is going to be done differently in a less wealthy society, this may be one route.

Adam Schuetzler said...

The glow in the dark plants are an idea to replace streetlights. I don't know how much energy is used per year on that sort of lighting, but in any case it can hardly be called "useless".

That said, I would perfer if we replaced most streetlights with darkness. Darkness, like silence, is a natural good that we seem to have forgotten has a value. Seeing the stars is kinda nice, too.

On Jaron Lanier - he's basically pointing out the obvious, which is that the middle class is being hollowed out as the work is devalued, and an elite class is solidifying in IT. He wants to avoid it but I don't see how we can. Service economy labor makes up the bulk of the economy now - and it is very hard to survive on the wages from that (especially since the wages of the "entry level" jobs have been pushed toward minimum and "climbing the ladder" has become increasingly hard). As many articles online point out, there are now people with BA degrees behind the register at McD's. "Underemployment" is the term. But those jobs pay barely enough to keep up with bills. Minimum wage, in many if not most places, is not enough for food and rent (so it's subsidized with food stamps).

In reality, IT already produces an elite. Salaries for IT professionals are extremely high compared to other jobs which require special knowledge and skills. Mechanics and plumbers aren't making as much, translators aren't making as much, etc. Not to mention the sheer number of millionaires in California due to Silicon Valley. I actually am teaching myself how to program partly for this reason - I would much rather be in the elite than be left making $10 an hour doing "customer service".

I do wonder how to fix this - a truly decent minimum wage would help, but if you replace most of the cashiers with machines ("self-checkout"), than in the end what are you left with?

EBrown said...

I live in a rural upstate NY town that banned fracking. We are not a bedroom community for a wealthier metropolis. About 50% of the towns in our area have banned fracking one way or another.