Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What have I learned?

When I started writing this blog, I didn't know where it would take me.  That was good, it allowed me to learn new things as I kept writing.

I feel like I learned a lot.  So today I want to talk about what I have learned and what I still don't know.

I want to to ask you guys an important question: Why should we care?  I mean, why should we bother getting involved at all?

It's patriotic guys!! It's our civic duty.  You better go vote or the country is going to fall apart!!!

The most important thing we can do, is trying to understand how government actually affects us.  Why should we care about government?  What does it even have to do with our daily lives?

Sadly, there's not a whole lot we can do to directly change government.  What a bummer.  If you try to get involved, you may not end up influencing anything.  The one exception is local politics.  Half the time they are begging and hoping that someone will show up at their council meetings.  But instead of participating in the one place where we actually have a real voice, we run around, chasing ideas about how we're going to fix everything.  I'm criticizing myself here more than anyone else.

It's easy to think you have all the answers, but face it, we don't know shit. Imagine if you became president tomorrow.  You're probably a great person, I'm not gonna argue with that, but I bet you'd fuck up our country pretty quickly.  You might even make it onto the list that includes "great" presidents like John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, and Franklin Pierce.  There's a reason you've never heard of them.  For all you know, one of them could've been a duck.  Millard Fillmore was not a duck.  These were actually some of the presidents that helped support slavery. Their actions and policies lead to the civil war, probably the worst conflict in all of American history.

I'm not saying you would support something morally reprehensible like slavery during your instant presidency.  But if there's one thing we can learn from modern economic lessons, it's that disasters are often caused by morally ambiguous and intellectually confusing issues.  Public policy played a role in the devastating housing bubble, I talked about this in a previous post.  Incomptency or ignorance can lead to disaster just as easily as selfishness or depravity.

You know how when people watch sports, they suddenly become an expert on everything?  You're sitting on a couch, a thousand miles away, eating a slice of pizza.  You haven't played basketball competitively since your freshman year of high school.  The last time you did play, you sprained your ankle, and then went home and watched netflix.  And yet somehow, you are qualified to tell Lebron James how to do his job.

Why do we think we would be qualified to run government?  Why don't we appreciate the hard work and extensive qualifications of our politicians and leaders who work day after day to manage the country.

Let's talk about voting.  We always hear how important it is.  But what are you doing, really?  You're sticking a piece of paper in a box.  Hey guys, I know things were getting bad, but I got this.  I just voted.  Y'all can sleep easy tonight.

Then you go home with a fancy sticker.  Good job.  They might as well have given you a toy.  You never realized why the dentist stopped doing that in the first place.

Knowing most Americans, you probably put more work into picking your fantasy sports team.  You realize the word "fantasy" is in there, right?  Maybe that's how you should think about politics.  I'm sure your picks would win a congressional All-Star game.  At least you would take it seriously.

Protesting is just passively saying we want something to happen.

It's like a preteen letting everyone know how devastated they are when their favorite band breaks up.  No!!! My life is ruined without One Direction!

Voting and protesting are important.  Without them, we'd probably have an american Kim Jong Un running things.  A 28-year-old entitled manchild would be given the keys to castle one day.  The next day, it would be a crumpled mess, just like the half million dollar ferrari he got for his 16th birthday.  Here's a spoiler: The odometer never got very high, but the speedometer sure did.

Ideally, we shouldn't have to get involved much, for good reason.  That job belongs to our leaders and representitives.  We pay them to take care of this.  Let them do their jobs.  They answer for their work in the next election.  We have the power to hire and sack people.  That's about it.

But we do control an important part of the equation, and that's our own behavior.

We live in a country where most of the time, people are free to go where they want and do what they want.  There is the occassional police officer there to enforce the law, but they probably won't get involved unless you're pissing on the sidewalk or they haven't met their ticket quota.

Sometimes when we talk about politics, we inflate the importance of government.  Most of the country is not government, it's regular, non-government people, living boring, normal lives.  Going to work, going home, and then turning on Sports Center.

So do what you do best.  Look after number one first, and then take care of your house and your family.

I've explored a lot of ideas, but most of what I can say with certainty, I already knew before I started.

With minimum wage, there are 2 sides to the same coin, if the government gives you a pay raise, you'll get more money, but you may have to work harder to earn it.

I talked a lot about economics, but most was just speculation.  I did learn a couple plausible explanations for how our rules affect our work options and our pay, but again: speculation.

I tried suggesting some new ideas, but I don't know if they would actually work or be a terrible mess.  I was trying to point out that we have a lot of options out there, and we should consider more of them.  Not everything is good or evil, republican or democrat, complete anarchy or absolute tyranny.

Important Issues

What are the most important public issues?  Your list may be different, depending on your experience. But this is my list:
  • Labor regulation
  • Immigration policy
  • Intellectual property

I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions on these issues in this last post.  I've said that before, but this post is really the last one.  Keep in mind, these are just thoughts and opinions, one person's ideas.  It's a fun exercise, but nothing earth shattering or important.


I would really like to see us give individuals more autonomy and control over their own lives.  We need individual freedom and accountability, especially when it comes to how we work and how we earn a living.  That is my feeling on labor regulation.


We shouldn't pretend like we own the world or have exclusive rights to our country's land.  We are all migrants, refugees on a spinning space rock.  We can protect our borders, and have rules and a process for entering the country, but turning people away should be the exception, not the rule.  We shouldn't kick people out of the country without good reason, just because they were born somewhere else.  We should allow everyone who is inside our borders the opportunity to work.  As for government services, everyone who pays taxes should get complete benefits.  And some services should not discriminate based on status.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is a question of authority.  The question is this: What does the government have the authority to do and where does it get this authority?  Granting private business monopolies, even with fairly good justification, is a strange kind of authority to have.  I don't get it.


Copyright restricts economic activity and sharing of information for the benefit of the copyright holder.  To be fair, copyright doesn't prevent people from earning a living, but patents can potentially do just that.  Copyright actually has a lot of flexibility.  This is a good thing.  Authors can use it the way they see best.  They can use it to share things, or they can use it to help them earn money.  There may be problems with copyright, but we aren't going to fix them until we realize it shouldn't be hard to earn a living doing physical work.  We can still have time left over for creative endeavors.

Currently there is a huge threshhold between amateur and commercial creative projects.  Amateur projects get a lot less attention because of the huge gap in production quality that is made possible through intellectual property enforcement.  But amateur projects can be rare gems that are more relevant to our lives and provide more opportunities to new artists.  Without copyright, amateur projects would get a lot more attention and operate on a more level playing field.  The ability to enforce copyright may be dwindling, but media companies still make a ton of money by convincing the public it has a moral obligation to pay them for media, even if most people ignore this obligation most of the time.  Not paying for media is rude, but I don't think it's immoral.

We live in a world where some people are desperate and starved while rich and successful media companies complain that they are being cheated by people copying their media.  Media and the arts are vital and important endeavors, but not physcial necessities.  Giving media companies the authority to enforce copy controls is hard to justify.  Media and arts can be funded voluntarily, and people aren't wronged by fans giving their work attention.  That is my take.

But fixing other economic issues is a higher priority.


If gov't wants to get involved with science and technology, they should provide bounties for creations and discoveries that benefit the public.  That would incentivize innovation.

We already have scientific research grants, but we could do something similar with other kinds of technology.  These grant programs could be expanded and improved.  Currently, scientific grants are rewarded based on reputation and promises, but if we gave out bounties for worthwhile results, that would encourage private investment in science and technology.  It would be better to give out money after someone has done the work, instead of pretending we can predict and control the progression of innovation.  Watch Neil Degrasse Tyson talk about the funding of science and exploration, that should convince you this is worthwhile.

We give businesses money for providing services, and then allow them complete discretion to use that money.  Why shouldn't we allow the government discretion to pursue activities like funding science?  It greatly benefits all of us.

The patent office is already a sizeable bureaucratic institution that evaluates technological creations.  What if it rewarded people directly for inventing something worthwhile, instead of granting them restrictive monopolies just because they did something unique?

What's next?

As for myself, I know I'm not in a position to try to represent the interests of the entire country.  That's why I want to shift my focus.

In one of my blog posts I talked about producing basic necessities.  I commented that we should give more people access to the production of basic necessities.

I'm starting a new project.  Not everyone can have a farm in the backyard or build houses, but there are simple things that we can do to provide for our needs with objects readily available around us.  I am calling this new project "Walk, Cook, Clean".  I feel those are the most accessible things we can do to take care of our necessities, improve the quality of our lives, and reduce living costs.  It's all about practical ways to save money on transportation, food, clothing, and housing.  We can take control of our personal welfare.

That's what I'm interested in right now, and it's something that will personally benefit me.  I've been working on it for a while, and now I want to share some things I've learned.

Check out my new blog if you are interested: walkcookclean.blogspot.com

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Place at the Table: The Problem with Capitalism

According to wikipedia, capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry, and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned and operated for profit.

I see capitalism as a system where private investors run companies which run the economy.  Capitalism, in many ways, is highly efficient and strongly individualistic.  The most successful individuals manage our resources because they have proven they can do it successfully.  What you earn is entirely determined by your individual level of success.

But capitalism leads us to collectively embrace behaviors that almost none of us would accept on an individual level.

The good news is, it doesn't need a lot of changes to make things dramatically better.

The bad news is, if we don't change things they are going to get pretty ugly.

Capitalism doesn't give everyone a place at the dinner table, metaphorically speaking.

Dinner is a great tradition that families have, where they gather around and share both their lives and their food.  They tell stories, talk about problems, discuss ideas, and just spend time with each other.

But imagine what it would be like if everyone had to buy their place at that table.

It would destroy the whole purpose of what Family Dinner is all about.

In a family, everyone is expected to participate and contribute, but at the same time, that expectation is adapted to each individual's needs and abilities.

As a society, we are sorta like a big family.  This family is large, has a lot of different people and ideas, but we are all stuck in the same fishbowl together, we are all connected.

This may be a loosely knit family, that allows us to express a great degree of individuality, but it still needs to have some common expectations.  One person can't be allowed to mess things up for everyone, and everyone, in a small way, needs to participate in public well being.

The problem with capitalism, is it doesn't give everyone a place at the dinner table.

Incidentally, this is also the problem with minimum wage.

Minimum wage got a lot of things right.  It said people should get paid what they are worth, not what they can negotiate for under duress.  It said that people should be treated fairly and generously, and that individuals looking to exploit labor for personal gain don't have any business running our family business.

But minimum wage got some things wrong as well.

Minimum wage says you have to earn your place at the table and it sets a fixed price tag.

It won't take much to fix minimum wage.  But we really need two concepts: Minimum wage and Minimum Pay.

Minimum wage is the amount that reasonably healthy individuals are required to earn.

If you aren't at least putting in your basic share of the work, then that is a problem.

But minimum wage still says you are required to earn all of your living.  You have to fight for your place at the table.

Often times, the people staffing our lowest paying jobs are the ones working the hardest.  They might be minorities, immigrants or targets of discrimination.  Unlike myself, they usually don't have the option of falling back on parental welfare.

When I washed dishes, I estimated that 20 hours of work would involve cleaning 2 years worth of dishes.  One year of part time work would require cleaning 100 years of dishes.  If someone worked that job for 20 years, they would need to clean all the dishes 1 person would use in 2,000 years.

The work of our lowest earners is subsidizing comfortable middle class lifestyles.

Maybe it's time we became directly involved in helping out low wage earners.  They do all the jobs we hate, and ususally because they don't have any other options.  Minimum wage is a small step in improving their pay, but we can do better.

Minimum pay is an assurance that if you do a basic level of work, we will make sure you have enough to live on.

In my proposal, you are required to earn $5/hr, that represents your chores.  But we ensure you can get paid at least $7.50/hr, that is your allowance.

Hopefully this measure will improve the diversity and quality of low wage jobs.  It will take pressure off of disadvantaged workers who are forced to slave away for a limited share of our discarded scraps.

It will give new ventures and local businesses more opportunities to compete.  It will give low wage workers a greater variety of choices without cutting their pay.

Just like the rules of the family are adapted to each individual, we can adapt our societal economic expectations to individual needs and abilities.

For those individuals who don't believe in government welfare or don't need it, they can choose to forgo receiving benefits.  In areas with higher cost of living, the subsidy starts at the local minimum wage level.

Distinguishing between Minimum Wage and Minimum Pay would allow both the state and the individual to play an important role in ensuring personal well-being.

I believe that having both a minimum wage and a minimum pay will do a lot to alleviate inequality and fix our broken system.

It is in our best interest to do so.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Milton Friedman in Perspective

Milton Friedman wrote an article titled "The social responsibility of a business is to increase its profits"

It may seem like he is encouraging businesses to neglect social responsibility and only care about the bottom line.

I think that interpretation would be a mistake.

I'm not saying his ideas are perfect, in fact, I would amend the title in the following way:

"Businesses have a social responsibility to be profitable."

You see, Friedman's concern was that people were talking about social responsibilities in a vague and poorly defined way.

Friedman's idea was that it is possible to frame questions of social responsibility in terms of profitability.  This is very different from ruthlessly pursuing profits and expecting to be an ethical institution.

Framing questions of social responsibilities in economic terms can allow institutions to be rigorous and methodical about their social obligations.

Poor application of some of Friedman's ideas(most likely promoted by Friedman himself) has led to disastrous results in our society.

Ruthless pursuit of maximum profit is ill conceived and counterproductive.  It can lead you to sacrifice long term priorities for short term gains.  Defining maximum profits is a very tricky exercise.

Do we count total profits over the lifetime of the company?  Or do we give up trying to predict the future and just focus on what we control right now?

I think both are important.  Long term priorities should focus on things that we can actually control on that timescale.  A business can't always predict consumer interest or market needs 5 or 10 years down the road.

But they can control their social impact over these longer time frames.  Are we polluting or hurting the public?  Do we have responsible and ethical business and labor practices?

If you are causing harm to others, chances are, over time someone will recognize this, and there will be negative repercussions.  That's karma.

Short term, a business should be engaged in something that the market finds worthwhile, but this isn't the only concern.

Maximizing profits is a bad idea.  Profits that are too high are often an early warning sign that something is wrong.  You don't want to be the next Enron or Lehman Brothers.

Profitability should show that you are providing a service that people value and that you are using your resources responsibly.  But if you take things too far, it no longer works.

Let's amend that title one more time.

"Businesses have a social responsibility to be profitable.  Fulfilling all social responsibilities can help maintain profitability.  For the purposes of analysis, it is sometimes possible to describe social responsibilities in monetary terms."

Edit (2015-05-24): removed inaccuracy about friedman's history, a parenthetical statement, and spelling mistakes

Friday, April 10, 2015

Low Wage Subsidy

Federal minimum wage will be lowered to $5/hr.  A federal wage subsidy of $2.50/hr will be made available immediately.

All persons earning at or near their local minimum wage will be immediately eligible for benefits.  Persons earning their local minimum wage will receive a federal wage subsidy of $2.50 per hour worked.  For each cent above the minimum earned, the subsidy is decreased by half a cent.

Under this policy, everyone currently earning the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour will be immediately eligible for an additional wage subsidy of $1.13 per hour.

Persons entering the job market at the new minimum of $5/hr will recieve a wage subsidy of $2.50, meaning their initial pay will be $0.25 cents more than what they would have earned under the old minimum.

Individuals in areas with higher local minimum wages due to higher expenses will be eligible for the same subsidy amounts adapted to the baseline of their local minimum wage.

This law will be enacted for a one year trial period, pending the evaluation of public and economic response.

Thank you, and have a great day.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Applying Econ 101 Supply and Demand Models to Minimum Wage

A few days ago, I finally realized that minimum wage actually works.  But don't worry, I still hate it.  Let me explain.

I had opinioned for a long time that minimum wage wasn't even effective, meaning that its positive effects over time were bascially none.

To the layman it may seem obvious that a guaranteed pay raise should have positive effects, but I think for the mathematician or economist this should be less obvious.  At least it was for me, being an amateur mathematician and an infantile economist.

Basically, I assumed that fancy hand waving stuff happens and then we get some good old status quo ante bellum, or actually bad effects.

A few days ago I tweeted the following:

You see, I've never actually taken Econ 101.  For all my interest and mathematical training, the most exposure I got was sitting in on my brother's Econ 101 class a few times just after my mission before I resumed taking classes.

It was fascinating and exciting, but I never went further with that subject.

But I got to see some basics like the supply and demand model.

It's not complicated, but sometimes we dismiss elementary mathematics too quickly.  Math majors are notorious for forgetting how to do arithmetic, after a certain point you are working mostly with symbols.

I didn't work this out on paper, but I went over the details in my head.

My first challenge came in trying to visualize the axes.  I kept on reversing them in my head.  Then I settled on price being the input variable and supply and demand being response functions to the price.  That resolved the axes confusion, but unfortunately supply and demand graphs are often drawn the other way, with price on the vertical axis and quantities on the horizontal axis.  It's really irrelevant, except for the purposes of visualization.

The next problem was trying to describe the most relevant constraints that would affect the supply curve.

Applying Econ 101 supply and demand models to labor pricing has several significant challenges.

One of these is the main simplifying assumption used by such models.  These models assume uniform goods, every good is essentially the same.  This is definitely not true in the labor market.

I thought I could get around this, and still have a fairly plausible model, by pretending that labor was uniform except that it had an ordering that determined employment preference.

This simplifying assumption says that one person is essentially the same as the other, but certain people will be chosen first over other people.  The most employable person would get hired first, and then the second most employable etc.

Basically, people decide first that they want to hire someone, and then they choose the most employable available person to hire.  I realize this isn't completely accurate, but it seemed like a tolerable assumption that wouldn't mess up the model I wanted to use.

The next problem is deciding what you will use for the units of labor supply and demand.

Will you count jobs, man hours, or productive output?

I ended up counting jobs and workers.  At a certain point I was concerned this might be a poor choice of units for this problem, but it turns out I was being thrown off by other bad assumptions.  Any choice of these three different units is acceptable, though they all have their own strengths and weaknesses.  It took me a while to even get to this point, because initially I didn't evaulate the question of unit choice in a methodical way.

One challenge with modeling the supply of labor is people basically take the best paying job they can get, or at least close to it.  It's not like they're holding onto reserves of gold until someone makes the right offer.  Labor is a perishable commodity, and working, for most people, is a necessity.  It almost seems like the behavior on the supply side is completely dependent as to what happens on the demand side.

Perhaps we ran into this problem because we didn't completely satisfy the condition of uniform goods.

If the uniform goods assumption truly holds, then that should mean the supply and demand curves can be modeled completely independently, I don't see any mechanism that would make them interdependent.  Both jobs and workers must be completely uniform and indistiguishable.  Otherwise, econ 101 is of limited use in this situation.

What if we just focused on unskilled labor? That seems about as uniform as you can get.

Let's start by saying there is a fixed pool of unskilled labor, the value of everyone in this pool is identical, though they may have different prices they demand for their labor.

The question then becomes, at what point do people forgo having a job because it doesn't pay enough? What is the price needed to buy their labor?

This is a pretty crappy question because most people rely on the price of their labor to survive.  It's like playing chicken with the biological constraints of survival.

In this case it's okay to do this, because we are talking about hypothetical supply curves for the purpose of economic modeling.  If we had an economic system that functioned by testing the boundaries of these curves in real life in order to optimize itself, that might present some ethical issues.

I really hate the way I sound right now. It's all so liberal, but I promise I got here entirely based on my approach to the mathematical problem.  Whether or not it's correct is an entirely different issue.

So anyway, what a lot of people say happens, is that the supply curve for unskilled labor ends up looking a little like a cliff.  It drops off sharply at the point that people can't afford to survive.  The unskilled labor pool potentially has to dance right on the edge of this cliff.  Because the constraints of survival are close to uniform, there's not much of a curve to the labor supply curve.  There is one cutoff point at which unskilled workers can or cannot accept a job.  Above this point they will say yes to anything they can get, below it, they just can't survive.

If this is true, it may be cause for some concern.

But we still haven't talked about the demand curve yet, so we can't actually say that things are bad for unskilled workers.

What does the modern demand curve for labor look like?

One of the dominant trends of the past 20, 100, 1000, or ten thousand years is using tools to increase productivity. Whoa, crazy! Demand has risen as well, but the current demand increase seems to be driven by want more than need, and there's no guarantee we can sustain it to absorb our higher productive capacity.

With geometric productivity gains, what happens to the demand for labor?  That depends on the units you use.  If your unit is productive output, it's definitely increased.  However, if your unit is workers/jobs, the demand curve for unskilled workers has simply flattened.

Demand for unskilled workers seems to be relatively inelastic, meaning it doesn't respond to price.  This makes sense, worker productivity is high, even for unskilled work, and we tend to have a fixed number of positions in our supply chains to make them work.  Using the same number of workers and machines, we can scale the output to whatever level of production might be required.

So demand for unskilled labor is inelastic, it doesn't respond to price.

It doesn't seem too complicated to say that inelastic labor supply makes workers vulnerable to price manipulation, and that inelastic demand makes countermeasures like minimum wage effective.

This has all been incredibly fun, but it's also an oversimplification, so it would be worth our effort to try to figure out what we are missing.

The biggest change from our original statements that we were forced to make is the uniformity of labor.

Every worker is different, and more importantly, the performance of the same worker can vary drastically depending on the environment in which he finds himself.  Happy workers are more productive, it's not rocket science.  Whistle while you work.

This means that the statements we made about the supply curve for labor may be inaccurate or misleading.  People have a million possible pathways for responding to changing labor prices, and what people get paid really does affect productive output.

Many people are suggesting that raising wages increases productivity, reduces theft and turnover, and improves employee and customer satisfaction.  They use this to argue for the minimum wage, but in my mind, this also confirms the view that minimum wage is unnecessary overreach, and labor supply curves really do respond to price.

Read the following:

This page perfectly states what I am trying to describe: The supply of labor is not actually inelastic.  An inelastic labor supply is the primary market property that leaves low wage workers vulnerable to wage price manipulation.  Again, understanding this requires methodical evaluation of the units of labor supply, so it's understandable that people might miss it.

Corporations may figure out policies or practices that would increase the inelasticity of labor supply, because this gives them more control over labor pricing.  However, people will unconsciously find ways to fight back.

One of these ways of fighting back has been supporting minimum wage.  But I think it ultimately works against the interest of workers in the long run.

So long as people have viable options, or create these options through natural civil disobedience, like not working as productively when you are abused or underpaid, market outcomes will reward responsible and ethical wage levels.

But the market alone is not always enough.

It is important to hold abusive individuals and corporations accountable for their inappropriate labor practices.  But minimum wage does nothing to target an abusive company versus a business that is labor intensive and has a low level of productivity.  Labor intensive businesses create more jobs, but inherently have lower pay, that is what labor intensive means.

Price protections like minimum wage can work when the demand for labor is inelastic, but is that what we want?

I am advocating that we lower the minimum wage and introduce a higher tier of wage subsidy benefits that supplement worker incomes directly when necessary.

Such a wage subsidy could be highly affordable because it supplements employer paid wages instead of paying all of someone's expenses.  The benefits go directly to the worker, not the company that employs them, unlike current wage subsidy programs.  It preserves natural market incentives because employer pay raises will increase total take home pay even while gradually reducing benefits.

It opens up entrenched businesses to competition by increasing the diversity of low wage jobs available, which is good for everyone.  Local businesses are more labor intensive and sensitive to wage price than corporate chains.  This is also what we want, because that makes them more responsive to employee needs as well.  I suggest taking a look at this article closely.

Every other aspect of the modern marketplace has increased the diversity, flexibility and quality of its offerings.  But the diversity and quality of low skilled and low pay jobs available has experienced no such improvements.  This is because we have limited our options.  If we did the same to any other product we'd experience the same kind of limitations.  High tech jobs are great and important, but they're actually less essential than the jobs that fulfill your everyday needs.

Fancy explanations cannot fix a broken, unconstitutional, and abusive policy like minimum wage.

I seriously wanted to enter the commercial unskilled job market.  I found it to be a toxic and unaccomodating place.  Instead of assuming I was broken and psychologically damaged, I decided to try to evaluate what led me to respond to my environment in the way that I did.

We need to stop shouting about how minimum wage works in our broken marketplace and actually fix our marketplace.  Minimum wage maintains the broken market conditions that make the policy effective in the first place.  It ultimately gives us a distaste for low productivity but essential job options.  If we want to disrupt corporate power, local, labor-intensive jobs are essential, and the best long term viable way to do this.  Read that last sentence twice.  It's probably the most important statement I've ever made on this subject.

Labor intensive jobs may sound like a bad deal, except when you realize that you have more control over the outcomes of your labor.  Over time you will become more efficient and can upgrade your tools and techniques, but you need the option of starting small if you want to take ownership of your own destiny.

Starting your own business is one option, but there is an entire spectrum here.  This is why locally owned, labor intensive businesses are such a great option for new and upcoming workers.  They may be tough at first and not pay a lot, but if the only person above you is the business owner, the possibility that you will be able to take over or branch out on your own is much greater, because you have observed the business management first hand.

Minimum wage forces the same constraints on these local labor intensive businesses that were designed for large, money grubbing, capital-intensive behemoths.  I feel like I am finally able to articulate my dissatisfaction with these rules.

If corporations are the only ones allowed to participate in purchasing labor, then demand for labor will become more and more inelastic moving forward.  If, on the other hand, we are all involved in employing each other, then demand for labor will have a nice gradation and path for self-improvement and advancement.

Which scenario do you want?

To stop playing chicken with the constraints of biological survival, let's focus on improving our social programs that provide direct assistance to people who desperately need it.  Let's stop trying to manipulate market outcomes in a maladaptive way.

A better profile of social programs might include the low wage subsidy program I really want to see, but it definitely involves improving programs like SNAP and housing programs.  We need to eliminate unnecessary or patronizing and presumptious obstacles.  We need to evaluate if these programs create adverse incentives.  We should integrate opportunities for participants to pay their benefits forward.

Eliminate obstacles, evaluate incentives, integrate opportunities.  C'mon people, even an unemployed neckbeard can think of that.

But what do I care?  Y'all do what you want with your country.  I'm done with authority.

Why I really hate minimum wage

This may be my last post ever on this blog.  Why?  Because I finally understand minimum wage.  No, I don't understand everything about it. I haven't found academic literature that does the subject justice.  It has been the target of a fair amount of statistical and economic research.  Just take a quick peek at the insanity that is the wikipedia article on minimum wage.  I have only read the highlights of this research, but let me tell you, I'm not really satisfied by what I've seen.  Science is hard, I can appreciate that, but I expect we'll get better, more detailed, and more conclusive research on this subject in the future.

After 2 years of blogging, I finally have a basic understanding of how minimum wage affects the economy.  I also appreciate the spectrum of political and philosophical views of its legal, social, and economic purpose.

I'm not an expert, I've just reached the point where I am personally satisfied with my understanding of the policy.  Not that I wouldn't mind learning more, but it won't be a priority for me going forward.

Some people may ask: Why minimum wage?  The short answer is I am unemployed.  Minimum wage is one of the only government policies that directly affects me.  I don't earn money, I don't pay taxes.  I rarely drive, and only buy stuff from the grocery store.  All my life I have been taught about the principles of hard work and self sufficiency.  These things are important.  But I am a young person, trying to find my place in a world where hard work doesnt seem to guarantee results.  I'm not the only person facing these challenges.

For the purpose of nonbrevity, I'm going to tell a detailed story now.  You should probably just skim over it.

A personal story

This story is told most dramatically and accurately by my college transcript.

In sharing this transcript, I am not doing so casually or flippantly.  I feel it is an important part of my story and I want to share that story, both with friends and family and with the public.  There's stuff in here that I could brag about, and there's stuff that might be considered embarassing.  That's not the point.

I realize that it is easy to fake these kind of things, but I'm not trying to prove anything.  My motivation is sharing my personal story.  People who know me will be able to make connections with specific parts of this transcript.  For me, every entry on that page is a unique and detailed story.  Not everyone cares about every detail, but the transcript as a whole creates a clear trend that emphasizes parts of my history that I want to share.

There may be copyright issues related to publishing this.

I want to draw your attention to specific details.  Look at my first year and my AP scores.  Wasn't I a bright and dedicated student?  I did pretty well.

October 2005 I left on an LDS mission for two years, came back home, and resumed my studies.

My academic performance was still excellent.  At least at first. . .

Over time the letters on my report card got much more diverse and colorful.  How great is that!

My first big challenge was a course called Advanced Programming Concepts, CS240.  The first day of class the professor told us a third of us would fail.  We aren't some scrubs who have never written a line of code!  We're veterans with at least 2 semesters of college level programming.  Who does he think he's talking to?

The course has several programming projects, and a large one near the end. The professor tells us to expect to spend at least 40 hours on the big project, but some of us may take more than 100 hours.  Due to the abstract and rigorous nature of programming, there is a wide disparity in productivity levels for different programmers.

Before that class I always thought of myself as a quick and efficient programmer.  I even won a speed programming competition hosted at the school.  CS240 taught my I was wrong.

I probably spent 60 hours on that project before throwing in the towel.  This is in addition to spending a significant amount of time on the other projects for the class, and taking an intense timed 3 hour programming exam twice.  3 credit hours doesn't do it justice.

That class was a gateway to the Computer Science major.  You couldn't take any upper level course until you passed.  I prioritized it above all my other classes, and all my grades suffered.

Trying to optimize your allocation of time when you are falling behind in school is a hard problem.  You always have to give up something to work on something else.  Some people respond by dumping all their time into their school work, and neglect to take care of themselves or relax on a regular basis.  Other people respond by being fatalistic, giving up, or doing the bare minimum.  Initially I took the first approach, but over time, the second became my go to option.

I hadn't experienced this before.  Sure, I had to work hard in school, but I had never fallen behind, not since sixth grade when I didn't do any homework.

This put me on tilt and the same scenario repeated itself with other classes.  In CS312, algorithm analysis, I got the high score or tied for the high score on every written test, but only completed one or two of the projects.  Got a D-, which doesn't count as a major credit.

The second time I took the algorithms class, I completed half the projects, more than before, but still not enough.  This time the class was more competitive(tougher teacher), and my tests scores were less outstanding, but still good.  I got a D+.  Barely below passing.

It's not that the projects I finished were done poorly, they were done well.  I just made bad design decisions several times that meant I had to restart the whole thing.  My creativity and love of the subject were hurting me.  While most people leaned heavily on the TAs to know exactly how to implement details correctly, I made a lot of mistakes and had to redo things from scratch.

My second time taking that course was a real blow.  I talked to the professor once at the start of the semester, explaining how I was retaking it, because I understood the material well but struggled to implement the projects in a timely manner.  I talked to him again in the middle of the course when it was clear I was repeating the same disaster as the last time around.  He said that the only thing I could do to mitigate the project workload was apply for disability status.

I seriously considered it.  Did I have an attention or time management problem?  There was an instance where I had face planted on concrete after trying to jump over a rail to circumvent walking down three steps while exiting a crowded theater.  I wasn't knocked out, but I could've had a concussion.  The next day I had gone into work and tried to program like normal, but I didn't feel the same.  After a couple days everything was back to normal and nothing lost.  That was about a year previous, was there some connection?

In the end I decided not to apply for disability status.  This was challenging material, and the problems I was working through were legitimate.  Someone is not disabled because they require extra time to master the application of advanced algorithm analysis.  I might have cognitive or mental health issues, but I didn't feel they were significant, which would make diagnosis more difficult and confusing.  Ultimately it would take time away from what I wanted to be doing.

The double failure in the algorithms class prompted me to switch majors.  I didn't want to switch just because I was incapable.  If I wanted to do CS, I should forge through it, whatever it took.  But Math seemed like a more general purpose degree with a greater diversity of future options.  I was inspired to study computer science out of curiosity, a desire to learn the subject matter.  I am very happy with what I learned.  But moving forward I should base my choices on career considerations.  Math would still allow me to be a programmer, but also present many other options that excited me.

I met with a counselor and reviewed my graduation path.  CS is a long major while Math is a short one, so the switch would add only a semester.

After the switch I did much better.  I learned that actuarial science isn't my thing, even though I found it fascinating.  I loved abstract algebra, and a short time later I got a job as a research asssistant to a mathematics professor in the computational number theory group.  That group studied group theory, among other things.

Despite the improvement, my performance in school was never the same. I had severe senioritis and a little bit of arrogance.  I attended my graph theory class only a few times.  The first day the professor said he knew nothing about graph theory, but it was ok because he knew how to read.  He was one of those entertainer types and the class was mostly Math Ed majors, not us "serious" math majors.  I had been a TA for a CS class that focused on graph theory and discrete mathematics.  In my research work we had worked on the hadwiger nelson graph theory problem.  The professor said your grade on the final is your grade on the course, so I bailed, only to return triumphantly for the final to claim my credits.  Oops. The final tested theorems that I had no familiarity with, I gave myself insufficient time to study, and I barely didn't pass.  The teacher was the kind who gave out a lot of favors and bonus points, so my lack of attendance didn't help.  When you're a slacker, college grades can quickly become a crap shoot.  The grading is always so different.  But that particular failure was completely my fault.

College is a fantasy world where you slave away for letters on a page with no direct monetary value.

But you also learn a lot, dramatically improve your career earning potential, and have a great experience, so it's worth it, right?

BYU's tuition pricing is amazing, it's definitely a great deal.  On the other hand, if you end college with no career and tons of debt, that's basically a sham, so the value of college depends on what you get out of it and how much you pay.

I made two big mistakes at this point in my college career.  I don't regret these mistakes, and I might repeat them given the chance, but the outcomes weren't great.

My first mistake was not having clear direction in my education path.  Your first couple years, sure, derp around, learn stuff about yourself.  But in the last half of college you need to focus on getting where you want to be next.  If you aren't 100% sure that's okay.  Plans change often.  You'll be able to make new decisions when you are presented with new opportunities.  But have a specific plan that you follow as a default, even if you are interested in other options.

In my position, I could've worked hard to find an off-campus job, intially part time or as an internship, that could've become a full time job opportunity.  Don't do something you hate out of obligation, but be proactive and practical.  I quit my programming job after working that and my research job in parallel for several months.  My research job would've been a great option had I been committed to graduate school, but I was undecided.

My second mistake was to stop going to church while attending BYU.  When I stopped attending, I still believed everything, but I was disillusioned and frustrated.  In LDS scripture, there is a passage about experimenting on the word, basically saying you can't know until you try.  I had always applied this as a way to motivate me to be diligent and obedient, but this time I decided it was unobjective to only apply this principle in one direction.  All my life I had attended church, and worked hard to do what was expected of me.  I had probably missed the same number of Sundays as years I had been alive.  If there was any chance that my belief was only due to experience and bias, I wanted to be able to say I had given the alternative a fair chance.

My last year at BYU I attended church only a few times.  To anyone who knows how ecclesiastical endorsements work, this is a big no no.  Former LDS are not eligible to attend BYU.

For more details, you can read about BYU's policies in their honor code on the following page:


This page states specifically, "Former LDS students are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement (See Withdrawn Ecclesiastical Endorsement below)."

My plan was to graduate before my endorsement ran out.  But I failed a couple classes and then withdrew spring semester to complete my last 3 courses through independent study online.

After spring semester, my endorsement had lapsed.  I completed philosophy through independent study, but I knew they wouldn't let me actually graduate without renewing my endorsement, even if I finished my other courses.  If I were to initiate the endorsement process, that could've led to unintended consequences.  I had failed to proactively plan the timely completion of my coursework necessary in order to avoid the great day of judgement.  Double oops.

The fact that I had conclusively decided I no longer believed the Book of Mormon, Joseph's Smith's teachings, or even the bible, meant that the endorsement process would be difficult if I was honest.

I had already told my family how I felt, so going along with it in an agnostic kind of way would've been hypocritical.  You can certainly get away with this and finish your BYU degree.  I didn't want to try.

In an endorsement interview, if I expressed my views honestly and completely, things would not have gone well.  Worst case, it might have ultimately led to what is called a "Court of Love".  This is the church's final disciplinary process for members.  From what I have heard it is an intense and thorough interview involving a panel of church member judges.  To maintain your membership, you have participate in this interview, and talk about the personal matters that have jeoparadized your church status.  I had a tough time in one on one interviews with a bishop already, talking with the same candor to a group of several church leaders would've been hard to deal with.

I don't know much about the church's disciplinary process, I have tried to avoid it.  It is scary and intimidating.  If I had tried to renew my endorsement and failed, that would have led to an update of my status in BYU's IT systems.  I have some familiarity with this because I worked there for almost 2 years.  I understood how a new update to my status in their computer systems would make it impossible for me to transfer my college transcript to another institution.

Eventually, I did get my transcript sent to UVU, applied to school there, was accepted and ready to matriculate.  My Dad and other family members genorously offered to help pay tuition, despite other disagreements.  I decided to decline this offer for a couple reasons.  I didn't feel ready to commit myself to a practical career path, and I didn't want to feel further obligated to family if I failed once again to complete my schooling.

All of this probably makes me sound like an entitled jerk, and I admit, there is truth to that.

This is where things get interesting.

Just after my last semester attending BYU, my best friend and I took a road trip to Mexico.  This may sound like an extravagent expense for someone who wasn't currently employed, but all together it probably cost me less than $200(except for the now $600 speeding ticket I got).  We stayed mostly with my family, in Vegas and LA, and stayed one night at a hotel in mexico.  Total it was a five day trip.

We chose Mexico because we had both learned to speak spanish on our respective LDS missions.  We had both served in different areas inside the U.S. but wanted an opportunity to visit another country, interact with the culture, eat some good food, and practice spanish a little bit.  It was a great trip, but also a real eye opener for me.

I had been to Europe once in high school, England and France, and before that I had visited Canada once and Mexico once on family trips.  So total I have been outside of the U.S. four times in my life.

That may not sound like a lot, but having the opportunity to travel internationally is a real privilege.  We get used to our local way of life and unconsciously assume that people have the same perspective and life experience that we have.

When I was younger, I recognized that another country or language was foreign to me, but I didn't have the maturity to appreciate all the ways that our society, laws, culture and economy affect day to day living.

I got a sense of that on this road trip.

LA feels like a utopia built in the 80s for the 80s.  So many freeways everywhere, hollywood, great beaches and mountains, amusement parks, and so much traffic and sprawl.

It's a great area, very beautiful, but it seems weird in some ways as well. Very 80s.  I wish I had a better way to describe its weirdness, but that's all I got.  I had been there plenty of times before, but noticed that the most this time around.

The drive from LA to San Diego is longer than I expected, and there's actually fairly empty space in between.  We took the 5 which has a beautiful view of the ocean all the way down.  We stopped once at rest stop on a cliff edge overlooking the ocean which was overrun by begging squirrels.

San Diego is a very different city from LA and definitely a border town.  It's beautiful as well and it has its own vibe.

Driving south on the freeway out of San Diego towards Tijuana you can definitely tell that something is different.  I remember there being fewer and fewer cars approaching the border and also fewer places to divert and go somewhere else.  I felt a building suspense like I was on splash mountain before the fall, to use a California analogy.

When you cross over into Tijuana, you know you are in Mexico.

San Diego isn't the nicest town in the world(except downtown, where it actually is).  It has some areas that are poorer and more run down.  We got lost and ended up driving through a lot of San Diego looking for a place to exchange our money.  Like any US city, it has parts that are nice and parts that are less nice.  I'm sheltered, I get it.  San Diego may be a little crummy, but it is no preparation for Tijuana.

I don't hate Tijuana.  It seems like a great city with a unique personality.  But it's amazingly rundown.  Some of the roads are unimaginably terrible for your average Estadounidense.  The most alarming thing was seeing the slums on the sides of hills.

I have seen pictures of crowded slums in India, but it's completely different when you look off the side of the freeway and see vast communities of squatters.

I have heard numerous people talk about how glad they are to be an American, how we have freedom, how they went to Mexico and they saw it was terrible and they never want to leave this country again.

That is not what I felt at all.  Crossing the border from the U.S. to Mexico was not about leaving a good place for a bad one.  It was more like leaving a fantasy amusement park and entering the place where that park deposits all its trash.  The alarming transition was more the fault of the U.S. than it was the fault of Mexico.

Mexico is a beautiful place.  I love it.  Ensenada was interesting, a cruise ship town where half is a beautiful tourist trap and half is crowded housing and poverty with a smell that doesn't leave.

If you travel to a tourist area of Mexico, it's not hard to see they are dealing with international issues involving the United States.

Northern Mexico has significant problems caused by the drug cartels thanks to US drug policy.

The more you get away from the influence of the US, the fewer problems Mexico seems to have.

That was my take at least.

Noam Chomsky seems to agree.  He has talked a lot about how the US foreign policy negatively affects the rest of the world.  I embedded a video of one such lecture in an earlier blog post.  Check it out.

Without this travel experience, I'm not sure I would understand what Mr. Chomsky was talking about.


I get back home, we had a great trip, we only got lost in San Diego, not in Mexico, even though we had no GPS and only a crappy computer-printed map.  We weren't kidnapped by a drug cartel, so it was good deal.

Over time, my perspective on what I saw on that trip further fueled my disillusionment and rebelliousness.  I didn't know what to think of everything I saw at first, but I began to develop those perspectives I just described to you.

I feel terrible about rejecting 2 significant forms of accepted authority in the space of two years.  First I rejected the legitimacy and authority of a church that I had enthusiastically supported my whole life.  Then I rejected the legitimacy and authority of the United States socioeconomic system.  Practically speaking, this just meant I was quickly becoming a stubborn and lazy perpetual dependent.  That's how I handled it at least.

The way I have treated myself and my family has been unfair and inappropriate.  But for some reason, I can't bring myself to engage in a serious job search, whether that be a career oriented job or just any kind of employment.

I have applied for a few jobs here and there over the past three years and had a few interviews.  Not surprisingly, this has turned out to be insufficient.

Perhaps my bad experience with church authority and BYU policy has soured my taste for rules and pushed me down the libertarian dark side.  Whatever the reason, I am now the epitome of your ostensibly omniscient fedora wielding trilingual neck beard, except the only fedora I wield is linux.

A new beginning

The rebellious energy of my rejection of social authority focused itself on a specific target: minimum wage.  I didn't see it coming.  It sneaked up on me unsuspectingly.

I was just chilling with some married friends in a hot tub like any devout single person, sprawling myself out unabashedly while trying to get the courage to break the ice with any honor-code bending swimsuit clad hotties that crossed my path.

Somewhere in conversation my friend's wife started talking about the place where she worked.  She mentioned how they always had so much turnover in their dishwasher position.  I was coming up on 8 months not employed (I had been trying to "incubate" my own "startup"), so I might as well try to get a job, if all it took was a casual comment with some friends in a hot tub to get the ball rolling.

"I wouldn't mind washing dishes."

This idea caught on, as one might expect, and before we went home we had agreed that she would help get me an interview.

We did this, and the next monday, I believe, I had an interview.  It was fairly brief, but like any interview, I was asked some seemingly oddly irrelevant questions.  "Where do you see yourself in five years?" To which I replied something like "running my own software startup".  This is actually a semi-relevant question, but not all of them were so relevant.  Job interviews are weird, but they have to get to know you somehow.  At the end, the interviewer didn't seem fully convinced, but I think the great reference pushed me over the top.  He offered me the job.  He then mentioned the relevant documentation and paperwork they needed before they could hire me, to which I replied, "Hey, I have a recently expired passport." "That'll do."

My Dad had dropped me off at the interview, and I told him I would walk home.  In some ways I try to be as unentitled as possible to compensate for my dependency.  If I really wasn't entitled, I would have walked the 5 miles both to and from the interview, but this isn't Africa, so don't expect too much.  On the way walking home I ran into an old college roommate of mine who was also a programmer.  What serendipity! Except I walked all the way across Provo so the chances of seeing some former acquaintance of mine were actually pretty good.  This is my stomping ground after all.  Anyway, we started talking.  He started talking about promises and futures, I think some java-esque language, not really my cup of tea, though the functional parts seemed pretty cool.

I mentioned that I had just got a job, except when he heard that I would be dishwashing at a local cafe, he just laughed.  I owned it, and he wasn't being insulting or anything, you'd have to know him.

I enjoyed working at the cafe initially.  My friend's wife, who I consider my friend as well, was great to talk to and had a contagious positive attitude, though everyone admitted the job sucked and the music got really old after a while.

But my first week was her last.  After she quit, I felt no social obligation to save face or work through things.  I had had some pretty cush jobs recently, with completely flexible hours, good pay for a student, and almost no oversight, so I wasn't acclimatized to long shifts of standing and being continuously engaged, even if it was only 5 or 6 hours at a time.

I wanted to keep working, I really did.  I liked the work at first, it was refreshing to be doing something.  But somehow the monotony and constant demand of the work quickly led me to resent it.  I had worked a custodial job once, and I recalled the same crushing and mentally exhausting feeling, but in that instance it took three months to emerge, instead of a single week.

I knew, or at least I told myself, that I couldn't work that job any longer than 3 months.  I did some rough estimate calculations like I usually do, and I realized that if I wanted to move out, 3 months of work would only cover 4 months of rent and expenses.  What a bummer.  If I moved out I would basically have to keep working the whole time until I got a new job.  Hopefully the next job would be better.

I guess that's what I should've done.  For as intelligent as I often present myself to be, I can also be pretty stupid sometimes.  I have a friend who always reminds me of this.  I didn't really think about the possibility of continuing to work that job only until I got another one.  All I saw was what was immediately in front of me.  I guess I was blinded by my newly discovered libertarian rage. Yes Luke, give in to hate.  Join the Dark Side.

I only worked there 2 weeks.  And that was that.  I haven't had a job since.  I've spent a lot of time complaining on the internet, not surprising for someone in my position.

Now that you've heard this great story, I have some amazing materials I want to present to you about about the welfare of your soul. jk. flashbacks, that's all.

But seriously, like... I still hate minimum wage.  Washing dishes, I realized that I hated the constraints of the job much more than the actual work:  Show up everyday, exactly when you're expected.  Work continuously on one task for this precisely fixed amount of time so we can run a fast food franchise that pretends it isn't fast food, because we use dishes which is so amazingly eco friendly (it actually is, for eating out, but cooking at home is better).

I had spent 4 years of my life studying machines, computing machines, but I was not ready to become one myself.

I convinced myself that maybe if I had more flexibility in the wage I accepted, then I could find an employment relationship that I found reasonably tolerable.  So off to the internet I went, to embark on my crusade.

I had some false starts and some terribly written articles.  But over time I had small successes as well.  I had an opinion piece published in my local paper about the respective roles of local and federal government with regard to wage regulations.  No one in my family showed much sympathy for my political views at first, but when that showed up in print I recieved some positive comments from relatives.

It has been a long and arduous journey, but really only long, not arduous, it's been mostly video games and tv watching.

But now, I feel I have arrived.  I thought I would see if I could share this detailed and revealing story to wrap things up.

I guess this wasn't the last post.  I have one more describing the math I did to reach my final conclusions about minimum wage.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Minimum wage prevents economic innovation

Have you heard of Moore's law?  Building better computers is all about being smaller, faster, and more efficient.  Every 18 months, approximately, the number of transistors you can fit into the same space cuts in half.  This is amazing.

In the past, our economic systems were very different then they are today.  The very first economic systems were probably tribes that would share resources to improve chances of survival.  Some people are good at hunting, others are good at gathering.  When you hunt together you can kill one large animal and split it between all tribal members.  If  you were hunting alone it would be more difficult to catch your prey and most of the meat would go to waste.

Tribes are a social structure/economic innovation that gave humans a great advantage.  I'm not sure exactly when in our history they were first created, other animals have social organizations as well, but without tribes, humans would have never been so successful.

Over the years we have seen many more economic innovations.  Trade.  War.  Marriage.  Farms.  Government.  Taxes.  Money.  Roads.  Treaties.  Contracts.  Feudal systems.  Slavery.  Abolishing slavery.  Factories.  Joint Ventures.  Mechanization of labor.  Supply chains.  Socialism.  Education.  Unions.  Free email.

All of these significantly changed the economic landscape.  Some of them were bad: slavery, and others were good: socialism.  Some of these innovations were creative and universally empowering, while others were about power, control, or oppression.

I personally feel like our modern world is poised to see economic innovations similar to what happened with Moore's law and the computer revolution.  The industrial revolution was all about inventing and organizing in order to find better means of production.  We dramatically improved productivity by developing new tools, and organizing ourselves in order to maximize productivity.  Factories were organized so that individuals could maximize their efficiency, by repeating the same simple task repeatedly, reducing downtime and transition time.  Improved transportation and trade allowed us to organize global trade and production to take advantage of each region's unique resources and advantages.

What will the next economic revolution look like?  I believe it will involve 2 things.  The industrial revolution was about increasing production, but our next revolution will be about decreasing consumption.  The industrial revolution was about centralizing labor to improve coordination and productivity, but the next revolution will be about decentralizing production in order to create freedom, independence, and flexibility.

Our ability to produce already far outstrips our consumption needs.  We will continue to make productivity innovations.  Many of these innovations will be dramatic, but I'm afraid we are facing diminishing returns.  At a certain point, falling prices stop mattering.

Right now the ZTE zinger at Walmart is a smartphone that costs $20.  It is no longer impressive to say that these devices have more computing power than we used to go to the moon.  It probably makes more sense to compare such a device to the computers of the late 90s early 2000s.  The $20 smartphone has modest specs and performance, but the utility of this humble device far outstrips even the most expensive personal computers from 15 years ago.  This is because of the technological environment into which it was born.  The $20 smartphone can browse the web, send and receive email, send and receive text messages, hold gigabytes of information, take digital photos, work as an mp3 player, connect to bluetooth devices and keyboards, hold a fingernail size card that increases its storage by up to 32 gigabytes.  It can browse the web, you can buy ebooks and games directly from the device.  You can publish low quality videos to Youtube.

I don't know about you, but in the year 2000 most people were happy to type up a document and print it or send email, maybe play starcraft, oregon trail, or sim city.

At what point do lower prices stop making a difference?  At what point do we start realizing that a finite budget is not the resource limiting what we can do?

Let's look at our budgets for a moment.  What is cheap and what is expensive?  As I just finished explaining, computers are cheap.  What else is cheap?  Food is cheap.  Try making a living growing vegetables in the backyard.  I know it can be done, but it's not easy.  What is expensive?  Houses are expensive.  Cars are expensive.  Health care is expensive.

We all understand how technology innovations made computers affordable, powerful and amazing.  But for some reason, it's hard for us to imagine these same kind of innovations affecting other parts of the marketplace like housing or healthcare.

I firmly believe that dramatic innovations that will reduce the baseline cost of housing, transportation, and healthcare by orders of magnitude are on the horizon.

But we need a change in how labor works.  It is overdue and sorely needed.  What happens when we have labor regulations that mandate that we produce the equivalent value of 2.5 smartphones every day?

I don't know, but it's not good.  I don't want more money.  I don't want lots of money.  I want independence and flexibility.

If we want to speed up the decentralization of production, we need to be able to fall back on the old way of doing things.  Decentralization isn't just about 3d printers and independent youtube channels.  It can involve any technique that gives us greater economic independence.  Some of these techniques may require more technology, but others require less technology and more self sufficiency.  In the early days of the Western United States, people lived this way out of necessity.  I'm not saying that we completely revert to the old way of doing things, but we can integrate aspects of the old way of doing things with aspects of the new way of doing things.

I haven't been employed for 3 years now, but I have repaired clothes and backpacks for myself and family members with nothing more than a needle and floss.  10 minutes later I am pushing changes to an open source software library on github that enables 3d drawing in web browsers on very limited performance computers.  I spent 2 years only washing my clothes by hand, but during the same time I used a computer and 3d CAD software I wrote myself to sketch plans for a carpentry project(this).  That is the kind of flexibility I am talking about.

I have very modest needs.  I am trying to embrace new economic models.

I want to use another analogy.

Nanotechnology is an exciting area where a lot of our current technology improvements are coming from.  This video explains something that people might commonly misunderstand about nano technology.  It might seem like very small structures can't be very strong.  But that's not true.  Small structures are some of the strongest.  Strength is determined by shape more than it affected by scale.

Economically speaking, quality of life is not about income alone.  It is about the ratio of income to expenses, and what we can afford at a particular ratio.  The obstacles to a low income, high quality of life are not only technological.  There are marketplace obstacles as well.  The market is bad at accommodating low income lifestyles because we have forbidden those kind of lifestyles with the minimum wage mandate.  The legal mandate reinforces a social stigma that further inhibits innovation and accommodation. Perhaps without this mandate we would have the flexibility to create high quality low consumption lifestyles.  We would have more choice of where we worked, for how long, and what we did.  More people could walk to work instead of driving.  There would be more and better housing available for low income individuals because they would be more trustworthy, reliable, and there would be a larger market.  We could design neighborhoods and communities that focused on walking or biking instead of driving.

That is certainly what I want to see.  Minimum wage forbids me from living that kind of lifestyle.  It forces me to support corporate power and accept inflexible employment relationships.  I don't want $7.25/hr people.  Please just let me be.