Monday, September 30, 2019

Once Again, Slow Economic Growth Is NOT Due To Fewer People

Like a bad penny that just keeps bouncing back, bad memes can do the same though they've been shown over and over to have no ballast, no support. One such meme is the one that insists our slow economic growth is because we have slow population growth. This is the most cockeyed non sequitur among countless others that infest the brains of the Neoliberal econ gurus, pundits and other gasbags.

In this case the meme returned in a recent WSJ piece:'A Hidden Risk of Slow Growth' (Sept. 21-22, p. B14) wherein we read:

"In the future economic growth is expected to be slower still. One reason why is that population growth is slipping so the pool of available workers isn't expanding as fast as it used to."

However, this is a non sequitur and certainly if those same workers are essentially being paid no more per hour than they were 45 years ago. Fiat wages, which means limited spending and disposable income - whether for a mortgage or even a used car. So it makes no difference how many more people one has, or how large the pool of available workers is, if their wages remains stagnant.   Why is this so hard to grasp?

The piece also resurrects another "reason" for current and future slower growth, but which is actually a Macguffin:

"The other reason is that improvement in productivity  - how much workers produce per hour, on average- has slowed markedly since the early 2000s."

And why is this?  Northwestern University's Robert Gordon argues, and he's correct, that by the time the digital revolution got under way- say in the 80s- the big payoff in productivity began shrinking. Meanwhile, the PC-computing payoff basically has "come and gone" dissipating by 2004, when EROEI reached below 10:1.

Energy efficiency continues to decline and yet the econ genii still can't fathom why labor productivity is in decline, nor identify the things gov't can do to slow it. For the worker himself, any such claim is taken as nonsense because he is working harder than ever and merely treading water. 

Less noted, but an equally important factor is how productivity is gauged. We are informed that labor productivity is tied to economic growth, i.e.  the GDP. The GDP in turn is dependent by nearly a 75% proportion on consumption. The growth "rate" however seems to basically be stuck at 2 percent per year and no more.

Is this all bad? And what is the root cause?  A major clue was provided over 20 years ago by authors William Wolman and Anne Colamosca  in their (1997) book,  The Judas Economy: The Triumph of Capital and the Betrayal of Work'.  Therein we learn that productivity in relation to GDP has increased more than 40% in the interval since 1973 even as wages-salaries have remained almost stagnant.

From this it emerges that labor productivity is ebbing because wages have stagnated so workers have not been able to earn enough to spend - to contribute to the 75 percent consumption part of the GDP equation.  The inherent problem then appears to be tying labor productivity to economic growth.   In a September 5, 2016 TIME essay (p. 20),  columnist Rana Foroohar reinforced this aspect by noting:

"Nobody is suggesting that productivity isn't rising because individuals aren't working hard enough. On the contrary, most economists believer the American blue and white collar workers alike are firing on all cylinders."

So what the ivory tower economists, or WSJ nabobs are really telling us when they bitch about "moderate productivity" or "labor productivity too low" is that it isn't being translated into economic growth. But that elicits the question, why not? The answer again, is because workers are not being paid enough to purchase most of the goods they make.  Unless it's via credit card debt, of course.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist or math whiz to figure out the disposable income available to those with the lower incomes (than $37,000/ yr.) would not entice them to spend on very many things - whether goods (e.g. new HDTVs, cars) or services (dining out). Hence, to avoid overstocked warehouses companies must cut production of goods. This in turn leads to a problem with aggregate demand.

Aggregate demand is composed of two parts: 1) demand generated by consumers for goods and services, and 2) the demand for investment goods. When the level of aggregate demand is high, both these components are generally equally high, and the levels of production and employment are high. On the other hand, when aggregate demand is low - or even one of the components (e.g. (1)) is very  low, then levels of production  plummet.

The takeaway is that population increases will not solve the slow economic growth issue, nor will making workers push harder.  What is needed is much higher wages - basically a living wage (I reckon at least $25.00/ hr.) so citizens can afford a decent roof over their heads, adequate food, and access to medical care that doesn't bankrupt them.  But because the Neoliberal financial system views these as having too exorbitant  a cost  via -a vis capital it will never implement them - or allow a politician to be elected who might (say by raising taxes).  

The result? There will never be higher economic growth than 2.0 percent.  In addition, the primary index for inequality, the Gini coefficient, will continue to increase - as it has just recently (from 0.482 to 0.485).  The reason is that the Neoliberal system has zero interest in implementing the changes that could reverse its direction, i.e. Bernie Sanders 8 % tax on wealth. 

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Future Shock and Decision Fatigue - Are They Really One And The Same? How To Deal With Them

Image result for brane space, besieged brains
Never mind the incessant, infernal chaos and toxic memetic emissions  emanating from Trump world, we can't allow that detritus to dominate our waking lives.  As functional and conscious humans we all have other things apart from Trump and his denizens to task us mentally, emotionally.   Namely, that from the first minute any of us awakens each morning, our brains are already overwhelmed with too much stimulation.   We're basically saddled (by evolution) with brains still more attuned to identifying predators on the savannah as opposed to adjusting to the cacophony of a modern city with its congested traffic, lack of green space, and noise.

In addition,  each day we face an overwhelming number of choices: Whether to exercise or not, how long if we do, what clothes to wear, what breakfast to eat, which tasks to prioritize and so on.  To make matters worse, we’re constantly bombarded with notifications from our  digital devices—emails, text messages and phone calls—as well as disparate information on the web.
It’s no wonder we’re exhausted at the end of each day. Our brains are constantly multitasking and working 24/7 without a break.  That was not how evolution designed them, and it will take another 100,000 yrs. at least to get to that phase.
This condition of maladaptation  is what author  Alvin Toffler in his 1970 bookFuture Shock" referred to  as "over choice ".   Too many choices, especially in media, diluting any collective attention to one thing, one show, one event.  A Wikipedia item references:

"The phenomenon of overchoice occurs when many equivalent choices are available.Making a decision becomes overwhelming due to the many potential outcomes and risks that may result from making the wrong choice"

The basic assumption is that humans are rational agents and, when offered a set of choices - say for a product- will end up making the optimum one. But in an excellent book entitled The Paradox of Choice, the author showed this isn't the case and when humans are offered a surfeit of choice they punt! They either don't make any purchase, or they opt for the first one that comes to mind or the item most prominent in their field of vision.
Alvin Toffler himself wrote, in terms of "decisional overstimulation" (pp. 326-27):

"When we combine the effects of decisional stress with sensory and cognitive overload, we produce several common forms of individual maladaptation. For example, one widespread response to high speed change is outright denial.The Denier's strategy is to block out unwelcome reality. When the demand for decisions reaches crescendo, he flatly refuses to take in new information. Like the disaster victim whose face registers disbelief, the Denier too, cannot accept the evidence of his senses. ..

A second strategy  of the future shock victim is specialism. The Specialist doesn't block out all novel ideas or information. Instead, he energetically attempts to keep pace with change - but only in a specific narrow sector of life. Thus we witness the spectacle of the physician or financier who makes use of all the latest innovations in his profession, but remains rigidly closed to any suggestions for political, social or economic innovation.

A third common response to future shock is obsessive reversion to previously adapative routines that are now irrelevant and inappropriate.  The Reversionist sticks to his previously programmed decisions and habits with dogmatic desperation... The more change threatens from without the more meticulously he repeats past modes of action.  Shocked by the arrival of the future, he offers hysterical support for the not so status quo, or he demands, the glories of yesteryear.

The Barry  Goldwaters and George Wallaces of the world appeal to his quivering gut through the politics of nostalgia....The middle-aged, right wing reversionist yearns for the simple, ordered society of the small town, the slow paced social environment in which the old routines were established."

In the last two paragraphs, I'd say Toffler nearly 50 years ago nailed the identity of the white nationalists of today, or one of the Trumpies, declared acolytes of the Dotard.    They disdain and hate the arrival of migrants,  of immigrants because in them they are seeing the arrival of a brown and black future. And they can't handle it.    Hence, as Toffler follows on "instead of adapting to the new he becomes more and more divorced from reality as he does so."
Extrapolating from Toffler's work we are actually looking at a more complex form of decision fatigue.  The future is here in the sense it arrived with too many choice offerings which now overwhelm our brains almost to the point of paralysis.  The future -shocked citizen tries to take it all in: driverless cars, AI systems taking jobs (even of CFOs and newspaper columnists),  robots recruited for work in nursing homes (in Japan now),  cashless stores and the prospect of totally digital money within 10 years (WSJ, Thursday).  But the effect is to cause the saturated brain to recoil in consternation and confusion.   
In a nutshell, the more decisions we make in any given day, and the more novel information we attempt to absorb, the more mental energy we use up. Worse,  the lower the quality of our resultant decision-making. In a manner of speaking, we end up like one of Toffler's stock future shock caricatures: The Denier, the Specialist, or the Reversionist.
So is there a mode of escape from incessant overload, from overchoice? Is there a strategy to avoid decision fatigue? If that is the word.
The answer is simple: If we find we make too many decisions on a daily basis, then the rational strategy must be to pare them down.  First, by prioritizing the critical ones over the also -rans, and second, by avoiding overstimulation and over engagement.  As an example of the second, when scanning through emails I delete 95% of them in the first pass. NO reading, no parsing, no need to see if anything is really a phishing email. I just delete, delete, and delete.  Since most are begging for political donations or other requests for money, or adverts, then they automatically assume lowest priority and are dispatched to the cyber dustbin.    

As for prioritizing critical tasks over less critical or less urgent ones, that's easy.  My first priority each day is my mathematical physics book, now 99 percent completed and only needing a few tweaks. After that is reading the newspapers: NY Times, WaPo,  Wall Street Journal, Financial Times etc. to catch up on the defining events of the day. Next is writing a Brane Space blog post,  but that importance will always vary day to day, i.e. depending on how much attention the previous post (or posts) received. If the interest (gauged in reads)  was relatively low, the next post will go on the back burner.  So perhaps not be written until the afternoon, or even the next day - or later. If at all.

The best way then to protect our brains from decision fatigue and keep energy levels high throughout the day is to drastically reduce the number of choices we’re faced with on a daily basis. By getting in the habit of prioritizing tasks this is simplified. In the simplification process it is always important to remain aware of decisions of low import, say which cereal you're going to buy today - if any - and how mulling too much over these merely dissipates mental energy. Don't do it.
The fewer decisions we make, the better our decision-making and the more energy we’ll have to focus on what truly matters to us. I have found- without overthinking all of Toffler's  future shock nuances  (i.e. reversionism, specialism etc.)  that this works for me. I also suspect it will work for anyone else if they genuinely make the effort to reduce choice (decision)  overload - which then leads naturally to reducing information overload. 

See also:

by P.M. Carpenter | September 28, 2019 - 7:07am | permalink

Friday, September 27, 2019

Spherical Harmonics Applied To Electric Potential

To review, the term spherical harmonics  derives from the simplest type of geometry (the sphere) which can be applied to boundary value problems of potential theory.  Hence, applied to everything from soap bubbles, to balloons and  even the Sun.  The important and distinguishing aspect is that the relevant functions are encountered when using systems of orthogonal curvilinear coordinates.  The relevant spherical equation will then have a form similar to:

å ¥ m=     (C m   r m   + D m r  - (m+1)   )  P m  cos q )

Where by orthogonality:

ò 1  -1    P n P m    d m   =   {0,    n    m

                                             { z/ z n + 1,  n =  m

Where P n   and P m   are solutions to Legendre’s equation.  As noted by N.N. Lebedev:   “by  spherical harmonics we mean solutions of the linear differential equation”[1]:

[(1 – z 2 ) u’ – 2 zu’ + [n  (n + 1) -   m 2 / 1 – z 2 ] u  =  0

Where z is a complex variable, i.e. z = x +iy, and   m  ,  n are parameters (not constants) which can take real or complex values.

As in the case of solar oscillation modes for a spherical configuration, see e.g.
and wave vibrations for an atomic system, like the 1-electron atom,  we can use spherical harmonics for electric potential situations.

Consider  a spherical volume for which we wish to find the potential  V(r,  q  ) if r = 1 and if the upper half of the sphere is charged to potential V o   and the lower half is at potential 0.

We write for the potential, i.e. in terms  of a series of orthogonal functions:

V(r,  q )    =      

å ¥ n=0    (A n   r n    B n /  r n+1   ) (C n P n  cos q +

 D Q n   (cos q)

And:   D n   =  0,  so that:

V(r,  q )    =      
å ¥ n=0    (A n   r n    B n /  r n+1   ) (C n P cos q ) 
Then inside the sphere (r < a):
   B n   =  0
V(r,  q )   =  f(q) = å ¥ n=0    A n   r    P   (  cos q )    
To determine  A n  :
 A n  =   (2n+1) / 2  ò 2p o    f(q) P   ( cos q )  sin q dq  
A n  =    ò 1  -1    f(cos -1   m) P n  (m) dm
Outside the sphere (r >  a):  A n  =     0

V(r,  q )    =  å ¥ n=0    B n /  r n+1    P n   ( cos q )      
If r = 1:
V(1,  q )    =  å ¥ n=0    A n P n   ( cos q     
Then: A n  =    
(2n+1) / 2  ò p o    cos q sin q dq        =
(2n+1) / 2 ò 1  -1   m P n  (m) dm
å¥ n=0   [ (2n+1) / 2 ò1  -1   m P n  (m) dm] r n P n   (cos q )      
 The preceding is based on the use of Laplace’s equation:
Ñ 2   V  =  0
Which in spherical coordinates becomes:
1/ r 2  / r (r 2    V/ r  )  
+ 1/( r 2 sin q)   / q (sin q   V/ q)  + 
1/( r 2 sin q   2 V/ j2     =  0

Which  equation may be separated by letting:

  V  = R  (r) Q (q)F( j)  

Analogous to the variables separation for the hydrogen atom wave function, e.g.

  y  = R  (r) Q (q)F( j)

(see e.g. Sec. 4 in the post:  Introduction to Quantum Mechanical Operators (Pt. ...   )

Two of the ordinary differential equations which result are:

1) d 2 F / d f 2    =   - m2  F    
2)d2 Q / d 2 q  + cot q (d Q / d  q )
+ (a2  -  m2/ sin2 q ) Q = 0  

For which the constants  a2  and - m2   may be real or complex.  For (1) when m is an integer  F  is periodic with a period  2 p  as we saw with the analogous  equation for  the hydrogen atom.  We call (2) the associated Legendre equation.
 Suggested Problems:
1) A Spherical electromagnetic wave front exhibits a mode featuring an associated Legendre polynomial that can be described:

P m     (cos q ) =  - 3/ 2  sin q (5 cos 2  q  - 1 )

If m =   1  and  ℓ = 3, show that the function is accurate.

2)Write the full Laplace equation in spherical coordinates for a homogeneous medium with magnetic permeability m  ,  permittivity e, , conductivity, s    and frequency w.

3) For the case of an  electromagnetic  system for which the associated Legendre equation applies, rewrite it if the constant  a2  is  real  and also has the form:    a2    =  n(n + 1)
  In your equation let x = cos qsin2 q = 1 – x 2   and    d/ dq  = - sin  q d/ dx .

[1] Lebedev, N.N.:1972, Special Functions and Their Applications, Dover Publications, p. 161.