Friday, December 30, 2016
THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T MAKE NICE THINGS
Gone too is the iconic firm’s appliances business, which was sold to Chinese firm Haier. This is really a progression of the economic cycle. While folks like President-elect Donald Trump and financial provocateur Peter Schiff lament that Americans just don’t make stuff anymore, at a certain point, advanced economies should outsource physical work to less-advanced countries. It’s not so much a matter of ability as it is financial efficiency.
Does this writer believe that GE should also divest the jet engine business, the power generation business, and the transportation (locomotive) business? All of these business make physical things, and make substantial amounts of those physical things in the US.
The idea that manufacturing is devoid of intellectual content and hence unworthy of advanced economies is fallacious and has done serious harm–see my post Faux Manufacturing Nostalgia. Happily, this attitude has turned around substantially since I wrote the linked post..to the point that manufacturing is being practically over-romanticized…but islands of the “who needs it?” view still exist.
GE’s reasoning for divesting Appliance seems to have been centered on a desire to focus the company on business-to-business markets rather than consumer markets and, and also, I think, on a perception that these was not sufficient room in the appliance world for product differentiation and a technology edge. “Technology edge,” rightly understood, includes the complexity/difficulty of manufacturing something, not just the intellectual property embedded in the product itself. It certainly did not reflect any conclusion that manufacturing is inherently a low-value function.
It would be silly to argue that a computer programmer in a bank is a “knowledge worker” and a programmer in manufacturing is not. It would be equally silly to argue that a bank branch manager is inherently performing a more highly-skilled job than a shift supervisor in a factory, or that a first-level customer service rep for Amazon is performing a more advanced kind of work than an assembly line worker, or that an operations research expert doing inventory studies for a manufacturing firm is less of a knowledge worker than his equivalent doing inventory studies for Target. But this is implicitly the argument that many of the ‘we don’t need manufacturing here’ crew have been making.
This dismissive attitude toward a vast and complex industry which supports millions of people represents one more example of the constellation of attitudes against which many people rebelled when choosing to vote for Donald Trump.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Newgrange is an ancient structure in Ireland so constructed that the sun, at the exact time of the winter solstice, shines directly down a long corridor and illuminates the inner chamber. More about Newgrange here and here.
Grim has an Arthurian passage about the Solstice.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, sung by Enya
Monday, December 19, 2016
VIDEO REVIEW: A FRENCH VILLAGE
I’m currently on Season 5 of this series, which ran for 6 seasons on French TV. Set in the fictional town of Villeneuve during the years of the German occupation and directly afterwards, it is simply outstanding – one of the best television series I have ever seen.
Daniel Larcher is a physician who also serves as deputy mayor, a largely honorary position. When the regular mayor disappears after the German invasion, Daniel finds himself mayor for real. His wife Hortense, a selfish and emotionally-shallow woman, is the opposite of helpful to Daniel in his efforts to protect the people of Villaneuve from the worst effects of the occupation while still carrying on his medical practice. Daniel’s immediate superior in his role as mayor is Deputy Prefect Servier, a bureaucrat mainly concerned about his career and about ensuring that everything is done according to proper legal form.
Daniel’s brother Marcel is a Communist. The series accurately reflects the historical fact that the European Communist parties did not at this stage view the outcome of the war as important–it was only “the Berlin bankers versus the London bankers”…but this is a viewpoint that Marcel has a hard time accepting.
In addition to his underground political activism, Marcel works as a foreman at the lumber mill run by a prominent local businessman, Raymond Schwartz. A strong mutual attraction has developed between Raymond and Marie Germain, a farm wife whose husband is away with the army and is missing in action.
Much of the movie’s action takes place at the local school, where Judith Morhange is the (Jewish) principal and Lucienne Broderie is a young teacher. Jules Beriot, the assistant principal, is in love with Lucienne, but hopelessly so, it seems.
German characters range from Kurt, a young soldier with whom Lucienne shares a love of classical music, all the way down to the sinister sicherheitdienst officer Heinrich Mueller. The characters include several French police officers, who make differing choices about the ways in which they will handle life and work under the Occupation.
The series does a fine job of bringing all these characters–and many more–to life. Very well-written and well-acted, well-deserving of its long run on French television. Highly recommended.
In French, with English subtitles that (unlike the case with many films) are actually readable. Season 1 is available on Amazon streaming, and seasons 2-5 are available there in DVD form. MHZ Networks is another available source for the series. (Season 6, which I believe is now running in France, is not yet available in translation.)
Not to be missed.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Students clam up as soon as conversation veers close to anything controversial and one side might be viewed as politically incorrect. The open exchange of ideas that used to make courses such as Contemporary Moral Problems exciting doesn’t happen. It’s not possible to teach the course the way I used to teach it.
Also at the GE blog: The California Duck Must Die – a very good explanation of the load-matching problems created when ‘renewable’ sources become a major element of the electrical grid. Media discussion of all the wind and solar capacity installed has tended to gloss over these issues.
Friday, December 09, 2016
TECHNOLOGY AND OFFSHORING
Monday, December 05, 2016
AN INTERESTING STORY ABOUT GOVERNMENT FUNDING
If the government wants to give money to your organization, that’s a good thing, right?
Here’s a letter to the editor that recently appeared in the Financial Times:
Sir, I was raised in a Catholic orphanage, along with 800 boys and girls, pre-kindergarten through high school. It was established in 1883. I experienced none of the “abuse, neglect and trafficking” JK Rowling talks about (“Rowling shines a light on the false incentives distorting aid”, Gillian Tett, November 19). That is, until the orphanage began accepting funds from the state rather than via charitable donations from religious organisations.
Once government money began flowing in, the orphanage had to adhere to all the latest politically correct modalities then in vogue: no more dormitories, only small “cottages” of 10 with live-in grievance counsellors rather than nuns; no more in-residence classrooms — the kids now had to be bussed to the nearest school; no more football and basketball teams — everybody had to get a trophy; and no more need to work on that 850-acre farm, or to work in the kitchen, in the bakery, in the dairy, in the powerhouse shovelling coal, or in the shoe and carpenter shops — these things would be provided by state subsidies.
Knock on the door of any one of its graduates and you would find that person a veteran of the second world war, the Korean war, Vietnam, the Gulf war, simply working in the corporate world as a productive member of our society. Now, its graduates are wards of the state.
In time, the orphanage dwindled from 800 children to 80 — the rapacious after-effects of public funding. Most recently it became entangled in equal rights abuses, the legal costs absorbing scare funds for upkeep and maintenance, before finally sinking into insolvency and closure. That orphanage out on the Illinois prairie is now surely one of Rowling’s “fairy tales”.
Jeremiah Norris (Hudson Institute)
Nobody can plan the actions of even a thousand living persons, separately. Anyone attempting to control millions must divide them into classes, and make a plan applying to these classes. But these classes do not exist. No two persons are alike. No two are in the same circumstances; no two have the same abilities; beyond getting the barest necessities of life, no two have the same desires.
She was talking about individuals, but a similar point could be made about organizations.
The people who talk so much about ‘diversity’ rarely seem to understand (or at least to care) that top-down government management is a destroyer, not an enabler, of true diversity.