Retail jobs dying in the US

Tom General Leave a Comment

Distressing reading, and coming to the UK real soon now if not already.

At the high water mark, there were about 5,000 malls in the United States, and there are now 1,100, at least 400 of which are expected to close in the next few years.

This means a lot of jobs. Forget manufacturing as a job driver (they’ll likely all be robots or exported anyway). Renewables might cover some of the losses, but not enough.

there are 17 times as many retail jobs as jobs in automobile manufacturing, 100 times as many retail jobs as steel jobs, and 210 times as many Americans working in retail as in coal mining

And we were all complicit in making this happen.

When housing prices were skyrocketing around the turn of the century, Americans did not use all that new wealth to pay down household debt or start high-tech enterprises in their garages or anything like that: They monetized that equity and bought gigantic televisions. …

… Retailers and developers responded by building new shops and strip malls, taking advantage of millennial-era cheap money to leverage the hell out of themselves in the quest for growth and volume. They loaded themselves up with debt that is perfectly bearable when profit margins are 11 percent but deadly when they’re 7 percent.

And the final devastating piece of the puzzle means we need to find easy to access low cost jobs for the people who won’t be entrepreneurs and bankers. Or set up a minimum income, but that’s a different debate.

But the decline of retail will mean fewer stores and fewer starting jobs at those stores, constricting the path from unskilled hourly worker to richly remunerated manager. Fewer people will have the opportunity to learn and to demonstrate those basic elements of personal accountability — keeping a schedule, making peace with difficult customers

On a positive note, 80,000 hours has some intriguing guidance: do something good in your career. And there’s a nice summary of what distinguishes some of the highest-paying jobs around:

the pitch for data scientists from Silicon Valley is: “Come work here, you can build advertising models and pretend that you’re saving the world,” while the pitch for data scientists from Wall Street is: “Come work here, you can build trading models and not have to pretend that you’re saving the world.”

Source: Retail Jobs & Malls Decline Nationwide | National Review

Neuralink – Elon’s new thing

Tom General Leave a Comment

(Note The Wait but Why article is a super-long read, so store it up for a travel day.)

Summary: Elon Musk works to a simple if audacious formula. Nudge the whole world to be better placed to survive the future by finding a sector with a business model to drive innovation now that will help us migrate to the best bet in that sector.

Energy: use sustainable energy. Business model: make cars that are so good that in a decade all major manufacturers have electric cars in production or development.

Space: we need an exit from our plant. Business model: work out a way of sending stuff into space that makes it cost-effective to colonise Mars.

AI: we need to merge with it rather than let it run amok. Business model: improve the brain machine interface quality and bandwidth so that we can merge with AI.

Read the Wait but Why article for all your geek needs. It is (as always) wonderful.

The only piece that didn’t quite gel for me was the discussion of transmitting our thinking brain-to-brain. I can see that allowing someone else to ride my inputs would be amazing (e.g. experiencing sky-diving without doing it). I am not sure that I think with the same clarity / quality / bandwidth / structure as I receive from my inputs. I don’t think of a bunch of roses and see a full-optical-input bunch of roses. It’s something else. Doesn’t stop it being interesting to transmit, but it will be different than anything we’ve experienced (mainly because thinking is so opaque to each of us individuals to begin with).

You can also read some thoughts about what Neuralink would mean for the current crop of tech titans.