Tag Archives: technology

An Age of Miracles and Wonders

So I was to read the Lesson in church today.

Being an old Anglican – social and cultural thank you – I prefer the old language. And, as the Lesson was Ephesians 6:10-20 which has “principalities” in it, I wanted to read from the King James Version. But we left our bible at home.

But not our smartphones.

In fact, our entire service is driven by our minister’s smartphone. He’s Bluetoothed it to the sound system and our missing organist has been replaced. For our little congregation – 12 on a good Sunday – we have everything from some git with a guitar to the Mormon Tabanacle Choir to sing along with.

Paul Simon was right.


Immigration: What Choice Do We Have?

immigration, canada, jobs, boomers

culturally neutral

It is a rather sad fact that my generation of Canadians, as Mark Steyn puts it, couldn’t be bothered to reproduce. Which leads to the grand issue of what to do about the missing babies of the Boomers given that those boomers want things like pensions, health care and the pleasures of the welfare state.

The answer which we have been given by out political elite for the last thirty years is “immigration”. Essentially, Canada will fill its baby gap with immigrants and all will be well. Last year we naturalized 260,000 people. As Frau Katze at BlazingCatFur.ca points out, that means that 3/4 of 1% of our total population became citizens in 2014. Which is, by any measure, a lot.

Obviously that level of immigration changes Canada quite radically. Various bits of culture fall away when your city is 50% Chinese. Which is not the end of the world and, for the same reason, the Vancouver Symphony goes from strength to strength. But we are rapidly running out of high end, well educated, entreprenural Chinese and Sikh immigrants. China and India are presenting huge opportunity while Canada is looking economically sluggish.

Rather than reduce immigration Canada has been welcoming immigrants and “refugees” from less dynamic cultures. Immigrants from North Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan are beginning to fill up the available slots. Is this a good idea? I’ll be looking at that in future posts. What I want to think about here are choices.

The elite refrain seems to be that if we want to maintain our welfare system, pensions, healthcare and the like we have simply no choice but to import drafts of tax serfs to make up our declining numbers. Is that true?

Here are a few ideas to extend the independence of the Boomers and reduce the need for immigrants at any cost.

  • Postpone retirement to 70 or even 75: the boomers parents are extending life expectancy rapidly. 90 is the new 70. Greater activity, a keener sense of healthy life style choices and, as Doug Coupland put it, “Vitamin D and baby asprin and (mum’s) going to live forever.” Boomers are nuts to be thinking of retirement at 60 unless they really are too sick to work. So don’t. Pushing back the retirement and pension ages saves a lot of pension money and reduces the need to bring in more people.
  • Have more children. Not something the boomers can do but our kids can and should. But to do this we need a lot of very family friendly policy. Income splitting is a cute idea but hardly a huge incentive to family formation. Big tax deductions for kids number three, four and five could help a bit. But those are governmental changes.

    What can the average citizen do to encourage a baby boom? Start with your own family. Rather than suggesting that your two precious children wait for the “right” person before they get married, learn from your own couple of marriages and recognize that the “right” person may not show up. Marriage in your twenties with kids shortly thereafter is no bad thing. If it all goes to hell, well, you are really only stuck for 12 to 15 years. But you can also grow up together. So, early marriage.

    Start training your kids early that having children is a joy rather than a burden. And teach them that there is no magic point financially or career wise when having children suddenly makes sense or is easy. Have your kids when you can and as many as you can. Telling your children this can help.

  • Where possible transfer wealth early. There are a lot of older boomers whose parents have died and left good big whacks of dough. And those same boomers are coming to the end of their mortgages. Here is a hint: offer your kids some money. And not, ideally, as a loan. An outright gift is more useful. Don’t tie it to real estate either. There is going to be a massive correction in Canadian real estate but even if there wasn’t tying a gift to what is usually a debt and endless expense is a poor idea.

    In general gifts are not taxable in Canada. So, for example, parents could give their kids enough to top up his and her TFSA’s and then an annual gift to let them max out the TSFA contribution room every year. If you do this when your children are in their early twenties they will, fairly quickly (with a balanced portfolio rather than the dumb .5% interest products offered by the banks) have a serious sum of money for the crunch years in their early 30’s. Which will give them the confidence to have kids themselves at a much earlier point.

  • Build houses and condos which can adapt to the changing needs and means of families. Everything from in-law suites to legally easy house splitting needs to be done to drive down the price of housing in Canada. Yes there is a correction coming but that does not change the fact there are many cities where housing is unaffordable. Build rental housing for families. Build up market rental housing. Encourage density. Make it possible to rent with a 1/5 of your average income rather than 1/2.

    For this to happen government just needs to step back a bit. Upzone a little, perhaps create a few tax shelters for rental housing. But the goal is not cheap housing per se, rather the goal is family formation.

  • Use technology in place of people. A lot of the jobs “Canadians just will not do” should not be done at all by anyone. From self cleaning toilets – already done in Japan – to robotic floor cleaners and fast food “servers” there are lots of jobs which can and will be done by robots. Pushing that sort of technology will reduce the need for more immigrants.

    So will the IT driven revolutions in ordering (see Uber/Amazon) and transportation. Self driving cars and trucks are going to change a lot of how we do business. Again, this is going to displace – probably forever – a lot of people. So plan for that now by reducing the number of people we are importing.

    In 2011 371,000 women worked as retail clerks in Canada. 316,565 worked as administrative assistants, 260,190 as cashiers and 184,720 as general office support workers. Call it million jobs. Men: 285,050 retail clerks, 253,385 truck drivers, 138,435 material handlers, 112,125 food counter attendants and 100,190 store shelf stockers. Call it 800,000 jobs. If robots and IT capture 10% of those jobs per year over the next decade there will be 1.8 million less jobs to be filled. (stats here)

    We could worry about this or we can embrace it and adjust our immigration requirements accordingly.

If you actually look at those numbers seriously and, instead of 10% use 5%, you’ll see that 900,000 low skill jobs are going to get eaten by robots and IT over the next decade. 90,000 a year. Now, look at the naturalized Canadian number for 2014 again 260,000. If half our new citizens are entering the labour force that is 130,000 new workers per year in an economy which will be shedding 90,000 jobs per year. Does that make any sense at all?

I’ll be returning to this over the next year but the next time someone tells you Canada has no choice but to accept whatever immigrants it can attract, at least think about some of the choices we actually do have.

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Missing the Boat

#RIMM sinks.

Which is too bad.

In the real world a little Canadian company came up with a brilliant way of communicating. (I hated the thing but it worked.) And then it sat at the top of the heap for, more or less, a decade.

Then Apple moved its cheese.

And, instead of crushing the iPhone Rim assumed that its none to interesting messaging system would continue. Hello, my email is gmail. Which needs a smartphone. Which left RIM out in the cold.

Like Nokia.

Stuff happens really fast. There is no room for legacy. People change their phones every 18 months. Snooze, loose.

We move on.

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“The [robotic] technology proposed appears to allow cutting and sewing at costs LESS THAN in China,” according to Softwear Automation’s website. “There is only one basic innovation required; that the metric of motion should not be meters or inches but rather thread count in the fill and warp directions.”

Success could spell out huge disruptions for workers as robots continue taking over human jobs in manufacturing and other industries. Low-paid workers in developing countries stand to lose out the most in this case, but U.S. workers won’t gain much, either. Still, U.S. businesses could once again regain a foothold in the garment industry and win back a share of international trade. mother nature network via the prof
The direct substitution of machines for men (and women) has been going on for a couple of centuries but we still really do not have much of a handle on its implications or its economics.
Propose for a moment that you can robotize clothing manufacture. What would be left is building the robots and the buildings in which they would function and then designing the clothes themselves and the fabric and doing routine maintenance on the ‘bots.
So while the clothes produced would be very cheap indeed there remains the question of who could actually afford to buy them?
This is an increasingly troublesome question as various working and middle class jobs fall of the table. Economically, from a Canadian or American perspective, a Vietnamese seamstress is pretty much the same as a robot. However, from her perspective, she is at least making some money which she will spend on goods and services of some sort.
Robots don’t spend money.
Now, various economically savvy types will suggest that the robots’ owners will make tones of money which they will spend. Perhaps. It depends on whether those owners are public companies with lots of shareholders who actually consume stuff, or if they are tightly held companies with very few owners who have a lot of money to spend…buying more robots.
And the economically savvy will also point out that the clothes made by the robots will be really, really cheap. Well, so are the clothes made by our Vietnamese seamstress. Making a t-shirt cost 10% less is not going to make it vastly more affordable to people who essentially have no income.
Trade economists talk about comparative advantage and Marxists mutter about the ownership of the means of production; but underlying such conversations is the assumption that it is, as a practical matter, impossible to directly substitute capital for labour in its entirety. The evolution of robotics is making that ever more possible.
Thinking hard about the implications of labour replacement devices and their impact on how we allocate income is something we should be doing right now. Before a robot comes up with a solution which makes sense for, well, robots.
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