Morning Ed: Labor {2018.07.11.W}


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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99 Responses

  1. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    Lb0: I tend to feel that forced open-workspace should be against the ADA or something. I am very distractable and it makes me uncomfortable to have people staring at me. I’d be waaaaaaaaaay less productive if I worked in a panopticon. (Luckily, I am in higher ed, one of the last bastions of employees having private offices)

    I’m SURE the “panopticon” aspect is partly why employers like open-plan.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to fillyjonk says:

      Yeah, partly. I was twice the stuckee representing the technical R&D staff during space planning for relocation to a different building. The main determinant in both cases was that cubicles are enormously cheaper than offices. Open space is even cheaper, but management was afraid that too many of the top performers would bail if they were stuffed into that arrangement.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I have always assumed that the “increased collaboration” stuff is all bullshit, and that this is really about some combination of the panopticon and cramming people more tightly together. And yes, were I job hunting, an open architecture work space would be a huge strike against the company. How much more are you willing to pay me to endure this?Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          A newer trend I’m seeing is a move towards no reserved space at all… companies assign workers a “zone” and they just plug-in anywhere there’s an opening. There are phone-both-like-things for temporary private thinking or calls and an (insufficient) number of “collaboration” rooms for meetings.

          Apparently on any given day, something like 15%-25% of the workforce are not at their desks… so why waste that space? You pack-up your laptop at the end of the day, then start afresh tomorrow. If you’re let-go… no offices/cubicle to deal with, just a slot in a zone that can be reassigned.

          This is for people making six-figures too.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Marchmaine says:

            This is perhaps a natural consequence of having your offices in places that charge rent by the centimeter.Report

            • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Will Truman says:

              Sure, but at least one of my Global Multinational clients doing this owns the campus and the buildings… not sure about the other two, but I think they both own as well. I’m sure it simply frees up resources in any scenario.

              When you think about it, two key tethers to a location were computer and phone… now both are mobile. Plus, new VOIP systems allow you to log-in to any phone and make it your desk phone.

              No one I talk to *likes* this arrangement, but they sorta like it better than cubicles because its easier to hide since you are not in the same spot everyday. But that creates its own set of problems. Its all very strange… I’m grateful I work out of a home office with no supervision other than a soul crushing quota and daily anxiety that explodes into quarterly fire-drills. See, some of us have it good.Report

          • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Marchmaine says:

            “hotdesking” is what I’ve heard it called. I’m sure there’s also a psychological component to doing it: subtly emphasizing to employees how they are replaceable cogs in a machine, and not to get too comfortable.

            I often wonder what open-workspace places do when confidential conferences need to be held? Do they have rooms set aside for that purpose? I regularly have to discuss confidential matters (grades, financial aid, etc.) with students and having a private office feels necessary.

            I also suspect the death-toll in an open office plan would be a lot higher given an active shooter (or similar) type incident than in a place with lockable offices. There have been a few times here I’ve protectively closed my office door when someone seemed very angry out in the hall, or when I was in alone after hours or on a weekend.Report

            • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to fillyjonk says:

              The first time I heard of something similar it was at Arthur Anderson in Chicago, where there were a few floors of unassigned offices for their CPAs. Partly, because these jobs often involved going to the client’s place of business and partly because they were more willing to allow work from home. But one would show up at the front desk and check-in like one would in a hotel, requesting a standard business office or a conference room or whatever. They went out of business in 2002, so this was quite a while ago.Report

            • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to fillyjonk says:

              There are supposed to be plenty of rooms you can reserve for group or private discussions… “plenty” seems to be a term of art.

              And, the hot-desking isn’t all open floor-plans… some zones are better than others when it comes to privacy and nooks/crannies. Prestige zones… there’s always a better zone than the one you’re in.

              I expect a university somewhere somehow will collapse faculty offices into shared space; as I mention above, the hot-desk concept doesn’t *have* to be open space, it could be shared offices (with doors even) and or semi-private nooks.

              When I was in grad school, the faculty office was more of a Professorial Shrine rather than a work-space… not that they never worked there, just that it was more of a home base for their time on campus… but much of the writing and research had already shifted to home offices (in the liberal arts, at least). So yeah, I could easily see this hitting universities at some point. Faculties are great at signally hierarchy… so the zone concept could work just fine.Report

              • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Marchmaine says:

                I know people who adjunct who have shared desks. Where essentially they use the desk for the times they have office hours, then someone else uses the desk. It’s just another way they make adjuncting soul-killing and low-status.

                When I was in grad school, the students who had an advisor (e.g., were working on a thesis/Ph.D.) had an assigned desk in their advisor’s lab (usually a large space with individual desks – so you had officemates, but you each clearly had your OWN desk. Unaffiliated/ non-thesis Master’s students wound up in what we called the “bullpen,” a large room that housed a few overflow herbarium cabinets but also about 20 desks. It seemed an…uninviting space…because the desks were arranged facing each other and they were just old-style flattop desks, so you would be staring in the face of the person across from you.

                That’s not to say the “having your own desk in a small lab” was without problems; I regularly clashed with an officemate who believed that even if you were mid-experiment, you should put everything away at the end of the day OR stay until you were 100% done with what you were working on and more than once he messed up my stuff by putting it away when I went to eat a meal….

                I suspect one thing that will slow down the adoption of open-office plans at many universities is that most existing buildings were built with individual offices, there’s rarely funds to build a new building. In fact, in my own building, we are down two full-timers and a part-timer, and so we have three empty offices at the moment.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to fillyjonk says:

                Heh well, we should at least make a distinction between the way we treat adjuncts and grad students vs. the lowest rung of real employment.Report

              • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Marchmaine says:

                I will say in my department, when we have adjuncts, they get their own office. Our grad student TA (we only have 1 because funding issues) gets their own office as well, but their office doesn’t have a window.Report

            • Avatar James K in reply to fillyjonk says:


              I work in an open-plan office and the theory is that there are meeting rooms to have conversations in. In practice, there are rarely enough, and sometimes you need to talk to someone at their computer, so that doesn’t help.

              As for shooters, while that’s less of a concern in New Zealand, it is still a concern. That’s risk is mostly handled by having most of the building locked.

              I find open plan working unpleasant, many people have no understanding of how their voices carry, and illnesses spread like wildfire through a floor.Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to fillyjonk says:

              I often wonder what open-workspace places do when confidential conferences need to be held? Do they have rooms set aside for that purpose?

              During my gig on the budget staff for the state legislature, we had the peculiar statutory requirements that some meetings be both public and private. Public in the sense that it had to be visible from some public space that the meeting was happening. Private in the sense that the content couldn’t be revealed until, for example, the bill or amendment was actually introduced. We had two conference rooms, each with a transparent wall facing into our lobby, that were very well soundproofed. I always prepared handouts, and in some cases had to think before I put something up on the whiteboard.

              These in addition to each staff member’s own private office, with door and reasonable soundproofing.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I’m fairly new to the cubicle environment, and I can’t stand it. We’d previously been in shared offices. This move to cubicles, along with a couple of other factors such as increased telework, has really hurt our communication. We used to generally have a more experienced person share an office with a newer worker, and that encouraged the diffusion of organizational knowledge. Now, in Cubicleworld, no one talks. I’m an introvert, but I’d much prefer to be in a more open space.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Lb0: Open office kinda assumes everyone is an extrovert and eager, to some degree, to interact with others. In a way, that is true, but the strong extroverts, the ones who crave interaction most often are in sales. Or other positions that demand lots of interaction. People like me, who bend more to the introvert, are exhausted by open plans. It’s a kind of forced interaction that doesn’t allow me to get a break and recharge. Even people who are extroverted, but not strongly so, feel the effects, but instead of being exhausted by the forced interaction, are merely satisfied by it and don’t feel the need to seek it out.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      The problem I see is, how much of the average employee’s job is actually interacting with others? I work in a fairly collaborative environment with a small team of engineers on a fast-moving project, and I’d guess that 80% of my time is still spent alone on my computer.

      So 20% of the time, an open plan saves me the trouble of going to a cubicle door (with the additional cost of disturbing everybody around us because we’re all *right there*) and 80% of the time it just has me trying to work with other people making noise or looking over my shoulder.

      Were people really having trouble collaborating when everybody had a private cubicle? I don’t remember that being the case at all.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        It’s that ‘MBA Woo’* idea that people aren’t collaborating enough, and if they’d only collaborate more, magical things would happen! No one could point to anything that suggested people weren’t collaborating to the detriment of business, only that if they did it more, business would be super awesome! Probably because one company did it, and had the correct mix of super-charged extroverted Type A personalities to make such a thing sing!

        *Yes, you may use that.Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          People who have meetings for a living can talk to other people all day and say, “What a productive day!” I can see how a lack of meetings can feel unproductive to them.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          So, yes, believe it or not even I, Road Warrior Supreme, am subjected to this woo. I’m not sure if the motivation was collaboration or what, but it was decided a few years ago that drivers needed to have meetings too. So now once a week at the designated hour we’re all supposed to call into this conference call setup for a meeting with our driver manager. We rarely manage to have better than 8 or 9 out of 40 or so actually attend. Which is good because the more people that attend the longer it runs and it’s a totally useless waste of time.

          Alsotoo, around the same time it was decided that the office staff — driver managers, load planners, and customer service reps — all needed to drop what they’re doing for an hour or so to have a staff meeting. This happens mid-morning just about the time a driver is most likely to need to call in for some problem that’s above our paygrade. MBA bullshite.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

        In my experience, successful companies have a mix of people to handle the varied needs of what it takes to create and sell stuff.

        It takes extroverted Type A people to sell the company to clients, then it takes introverted bean counter types to actually do the work of creating the thing or service, then more ancillary types to track accounting, handle legal, HR.
        All of which takes wildly varying degrees of socialization and collaboration and isolation.

        Most of the “Lets collaborate to create excellence in collaboration!” stuff seems to be generated by sales management types who assume everyone has the same sort of job description they do, i.e., persuading people to do stuff.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      That article is a real piece of Slate. The “horror” part is pure editorializing—the only actual quote from Goldman Sachs is “every percentage-point increase in labor-cost inflation will drag down earnings of companies in the S&P 500 by 0.8%.”

      Forecasting the effects of macroeconomic trends on profits and stock prices is what analysts are paid to do. The wailing and gnashing of teeth were added by Slate in post-production.Report

  3. Avatar LTL FTC says:

    Lb3: Oh, like FedEx or UPS, but without any bargaining power or the in-house legal department to real the fine print? Amazon is going to treat this like large parts of FBA: strip resources from gullible would-be entrepreneurs who think they can be the successful ones amidst a sea of small operators scrapping over pennies.

    Expect a (likely unsuccessful) class action from broke amazon delivery contractors in a couple of years.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to LTL FTC says:

      That sounds about right. You can do pretty well for a while before everybody figures out they’re not making any money. But a large supply of people who don’t have the skills to calculate the full burdened cost of what they’re doing means you can do it for quite a long time.

      This is like Uber/Lyft and all the people who don’t factor in things like wear and tear on their vehicles.Report

      • My wife’s job right now is making house calls. They actually give her a rental car (by the month!). At first I was kind of disappointed because we could have used a per-mile bonus. But her car is a ’96 and we’re pretty broke right now so it’s probably better if we can expand the longevity of the car.Report

  4. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    Lb6: As the resident gear jammer I would be remiss for not weighing in here. This isn’t really anything new; for as long as I’ve been driving (20 years) the industry has had a driver “shortage” and incredibly high turnover rates. And companies never really do much to alleviate that situation. So I’m reading that article and every other paragraph has me thinking, “Yeah, well…”

    Let’s start with the pay. Standard economic theory apparently doesn’t apply or I’d be making a lot more money if they’re hurting for drivers as hard as they claim. Reality is the lifestyle sucks for most folks — it sort of suits my personality but I’m a weirdo — and that suckitude should entail economic compensation. It doesn’t. The money’s decent for blue collar work but nothing to write home about. And the way you get paid, by the mile, is sort of screwy. If driving was all you did that might be okay, but you have loading, unloading, fueling, pre- and post-trip equipment inspections, paperwork, etc and almost all of that is non-compensated even though you have to log it as working time for the DOT. Then you have to consider that creepin’ and beepin’ through heavy traffic pays the same per mile as cruising down the open road so the slow misery pays far less per hour than the easier stuff. Finally, the miles aren’t really the miles you actually drive but something called “Rand-McNally Household Goods Miles”, an industry standard table of mileage between any two zip codes. The difference varies but it’s generally 5 – 10% less than actual miles.

    So that was borderline TMI but the point is that there’s changes the industry could make to improve the situation but don’t. Mostly because “industries” don’t do things; firms do. And the business is extremely competitive so there’s a Prisoner’s Dilemma thing going on where nobody can really afford to be the first mover on making changes that are going to increase their cost profile.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Road Scholar says:

      Seems logical, given electronic logging, that drivers get paid by the odometer mile between points, and switch to hourly pay at points. And that unexpected delays at the points are laid at the feet of un/loaders.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        The technology exists now… but only sorta. The HOS (Hours of Service) logs have 4* status lines; Driving, On-Duty Not Driving, Off-Duty, and Sleeper Berth. The second status, On-Duty is what you would want to pay by the hour. The problem is that the electronic logging systems can only really detect whether you’re driving or not; it’s up to the driver to set the appropriate non-driving status. And there’s only so much a company can do in the way of monitoring what the hell a driver is actually doing at any given moment. So some drivers might pad their On-Duty time to earn more hourly pay. On the other hand, On-Duty and Driving times both count toward the 70 hours in 8 days limit so as it is now the incentive is to minimize On-Duty time to maximize hours available for driving, which is what we’re paid for.

        There really are no great solutions to this. The reigning pay model evolved from a time when the vast majority of drivers were either Teamsters getting paid by the hour, but more tightly supervised, or independents running over-the-road negotiating their own contracts on a per-load basis.

        * There’s a fifth status for guys that own their trucks, Off-Duty Driving, for using the tractor (no trailer allowed) as a personal vehicle for limited durations.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Road Scholar says:

          Adding: …unexpected delays at the points are laid at the feet of un/loaders

          That’s already done to an extent. The standard is that shippers/receivers are allowed two hours for a scheduled stop before they get charged, and I get paid, detention fee by the hour. It isn’t even close to the opportunity cost I suffer from the driving time I lose.Report

      • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        It seems that the taxicab model would work best for road mileage. Moving? (at some predetermined avg. speed) By the mile. Stuck in traffic? By the minute.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

          There’s actually no need for anything terribly fancy here. They could just pay us a set hourly rate for whenever the truck is moving at all. After all, by DOT rules stuck in traffic is still driving.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Road Scholar says:

      I noticed in one of the great trucking shortage articles, the accompanying graph showed that the U.S. has more truckers that at any time in history, up 20 percent since 2010. It doesn’t look like one of those jobs that modest compensation (monetary or nonmonetary) increases wouldn’t solve.

      That said, the local newspaper had one of these stories, colored with interviews with local truckers. One of them said that some firms are offering some more attractive deals that he was going to take advantage of, but they are not as good as stated and truckers need to read the fine print. (By “take advantage,” I mean that the trucker either didn’t expect the compensation to last, or he was only willing to take such work for a short period)Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to PD Shaw says:

        Many companies seem willing to pay a one-time signing bonus (poaching bonus?) but seem remarkably reluctant to meaningfully raise the basic mileage pay.

        The non-monetary stuff however… I have to give my company props on the efforts to keep drivers happy about hometime. I live sorta out in the boonies and if they can’t find suitable freight (something going the right direction with some extra time on it) they will often authorize me to take an empty trailer 350 miles to get to the house for scheduled hometime. I don’t get paid for the miles but they also eat the fuel, so I’m reasonably happy on that account. It also helps that I’m a senior driver they can count on and they would really prefer to keep me around.Report

  5. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    Lb3: Seriously? This is an obvious sucker bet: Amazon ramping up the “independent contractor” model, in the sense of not being bothered with stuff like wages or benefits or workers comp insurance.

    Even if I am wrong, and this isn’t a case of Amazon being evil, but of Amazon being lazy, it would be very foolish to commit your financial health to Amazon not simply squishing you in a moment of inattention. I have been following the self-publishing writers crowd. This has evolved into ebooks sold through Amazon. There are other platforms, but Kindle is well on its way to marginalizing them. So you have a bunch of writers, a few doing very well, depending largely or entirely on Amazon’s ebook marketing model du jour. Whenever Amazon shuffles things around a bit, as it does fairly frequently, there are panicky reports of writers’ incomes being cut to a fraction of what they had been. There is a mad scramble to adjust to the new environment, with some succeeding and some not.

    So that last mile gig is at best Amazon testing the waters. They could decide to discontinue the program tomorrow, and too bad for anyone who has invested in building a company around it. Or they could let you build your business, then cut you off, retrieve those leased vans, and offer your employees the job. More likely, they will alter (not renegotiate) the terms when the annual contract expires, squeezing you a little bit more each year.

    The linked article quotes an Amazon VP telling how wonderful the program is for the contractors, and one contractor nodding in enthusiastic agreement. Were CNBC engaging in an act of actual journalism, they would have sought out other contractors to find what they said, when promised anonymity.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      This is pretty much the model for (just about) every chicken we’ve eaten in the past +/- 15-years.

      Just Tech catching up with the business practices that hollowed out ruralia. At some point, we realize that the penny we saved is the penny we didn’t earn.Report

    • Your first paragraph seems more analogous to Lb9 than Lb3. This is more attractive in that it sounds more like a franchising opportunity than an Uber-like gig.

      You’re right about the risks of having a single customer, though. We’ll see how it pans out.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman says:

        I don’t see a lot of space between “individual working gigs entirely dependent on Amazon” and “small business owner whose business is working gigs entirely dependent on Amazon.” The main difference is that the small business owner has more skin in the game and has employees depending on him, so inasmuch as there is any space, Lb3 is worse.Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Besides what everyone else said why is CNBC more of a PR outfit than actual business journalism?

    The whole thing reads like a love letter to Jeff Bezos. That isn’t journalism. That is spin.Report

  7. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    Lb6: I appreciate the obligatory caution that raising truckers’ wages will put the economy into a death spiral. Should we take this as an admission that the free market does not work?Report

    • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      Yeah that’s a head-scratcher. It’s on par with the people who maintain that raising the minimum wage will cause the price of a burger to double and put all the fast-food joints out of business.

      Driver wages are a major component of trucking cost structure but not nearly all. And transportation costs are in turn only one of several cost factors for the companies we service.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Road Scholar says:

        I thought the argument was that the minimum wage going up would result in more automation and put the cashiers out of a job and the cooks would require bachelor’s degrees in Food Preparation Technology and make more than minimum wage but that’s okay because they’ve replaced four or five workers.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Jaybird says:

          There have been a number of arguments over the years, some worse than others.

          In any case my point stands. Increasing driver pay by some reasonable amount most certainly would not cause a recession. It would just change distributions by a negligible amount. (And in a morally salutory way I might add. But then I would say that.)Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Road Scholar says:

            How far away from self-driving trucks are we, do you think?Report

            • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Jaybird says:

              Far enough off that I’m not particularly concerned for my job security. The whole self-driving vehicle thing feels a lot like fusion power to me; perpetually ten years or so away.

              I do believe that before I’m forced to retire that the day will come that I can maneuver a truck onto a freeway and push a button to put it into fully automatic mode. I doubt it will go much further than that for quite a while.Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Road Scholar says:

                I wrote a piece a few years back expressing skepticism of the claim that fully autonomous cars are just around the corner. I’m not sure when I wrote it, as it seems to have disappeared, but it was probably about three years back. I got pushback in the comments. A lot were the usual “human drivers suck!” which is true but irrelevant, and “a lot of smart people are working on this, so it will inevitably happen” which is often how things work, but also often not.

                I have been seeing just the last few months a rise in articles in the tech press about the unsolved difficulties. Given that the tech press is for the most part cheerleaders and press release transcribers, this strongly suggests that their sources are shuffling their feet and looking at the ground. None of which surprises me. All the rah rah coverage had a distinct air of “we’ve solved 95% of the problem–how hard can the last 5% be? hah.

                Big rigs going from one depot right off the freeway to another? Sure. I believe that, though I wonder about crossing the Rockies in the winter. It is the fully autonomous car pulling up to the curb where I am standing and taking me wherever I want to go that makes my eyebrow rise.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Jaybird says:

                Wow, almost exactly three years ago to the day. I would say three years is more than “around the corner” ago, so everyone who said that has to drink a shot.

                (I’m inclined to claim that some of the stuff being talked about won’t happen in my lifetime, but I want people to drink a shot when I die for only the right reasons)Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to PD Shaw says:

                The word “corner” doesn’t appear anywhere. Can’t speak for anyone else, but my own comments hold up. Nothing since has changed my position. My predictions have always been on the conservative side, so maybe others had more aggressive ones.Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman says:

                With regard to “just around the corner” and the hype market, I have seen “in five years” claims from big name CEO types. I’m not sure the earliest was quite five years ago, but we are getting close. In the real world, Lyft has announced fully driverless taxi service in Las Vegas. It is not clear if this is fully driverless with a “safety driver” or fully driverless as in fully driverless. In any case, it turns out that this is only offered along certain routes that avoid bike lanes and complex intersections. In other words, it is one step up from a parking lot shuttle. I suspect that the “five years out” standard will be a constant, like controlled fusion.Report

              • Ahhh, I don’t think we’re five years out. But I also don’t think it’ll be forever five years out. If I’m laying down a marker, it would be that by 2030 or maybe 2035 people will with rare exception safely be able to read books in the car and within ten years of that people won’t need to be in the car at all.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Will Truman says:

                I wasn’t being serious, but the short-term position seems to circulate around Uber-boosterism, because they are hemorrhaging money and are dependent on convincing investors that technology would eliminate labor costs. If Uber is truly in front of developing this technology, that’s probably a setback in itself.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:

                Uber makes the most noise about being in front, but it’s not.Report

              • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

                I remember that piece. My position on this hasn’t changed. FSVO of eventually, sure. But this is a lot harder problem than the cheerleaders realize or are willing to let on. There’s a holistic nature to the situational awareness required to do something like driving that’s impossible to capture in any rules-based system. So the general problem will remain unsolvable without near-human level AI.

                But a simplified subset of that problem is tractable and probably fairly soon. Freeways are remarkably consistent nationwide in their construction, markings, and signage. And everyone is going the same direction at modest relative velocities (aside from the asshat that thinks he’s a NASCAR driver). Pedestrians, bicycles, and animals led, driven, or ridden are prohibited. So the situation is a lot simpler than the general case. And there’s a huge productivity gain potential in a truck that can ply the freeways while the driver naps. And that’s how good it has to be; requiring an operator to be alert and ready to assume control is worse than useless.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

          The argument that anything over the minimum wage will be automated is one of the more powerful arguments in favor of a UBI, or at the very least, a massive government program of job training and placement.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            I think it’s worse than that. Anything *AROUND* the minimum wage will be automated. Stuff above the minimum wage is probably safe.

            For now.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

              I think I have mentioned here that I see the white collar professions like doctors, lawyers and architects/ engineers as the next wave to be deskilled or automated.

              Mostly because of the high return on investment.

              What we know from robotics is that even the physical things that are simple for a human- like walking, stacking boxes and opening doors- are wickedly difficult to do with software.
              So the cost of roboticizing a $8/hr burger flipper is pretty high, but the payoff is not.

              But the mental tasks that we professionals do is amazingly conducive to algorithms.
              Analyzing large sets of data, scanning databases, finding patterns and assessing probabilities is what the machine will do, leaving us with the soft skills of human interaction.

              If you can get an algorithm to make medical diagnoses or design structures for a rate of say, $150/hr, you can pay a “doctor” or “engineer” much less to meet with the patient/ client and facilitate things.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                The high return on investment will spur the research and development, but I’m not certain that the R&D will be more fruitful in the short-to-middle term for such things as drivers, fruit/vegetable harvesters, butchery, mining, and so on.

                We’ll eventually automate lawyering. But not before we automate sales.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

                But not before we automate sales.

                Like lawyering there’s lots of layers to sales (a certain amount of lawyering has already been automated – esp. around discovery)… but yeah… I’m watching them trying to crack that Sales nut from the inside. But sure, point of sales automation is already showing higher sales than humans asking, “would you like fries with that.” I guess its just a matter of where you start and where the diminishing returns start to hit.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

                There will always be *ONE* human in the shop. Maybe two or three. That guy who repairs the machines will be in high demand. Probably command a pretty penny.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

                It gets a little more complicated in B2B sales.

                There SaaS is putting pressure on sales for the easy stuff… they still need us for the complex non-complying stuff, and to negotiate the deals that break the pricing models… plus even SaaS doesn’t always work the way people think/want/hope it should…plus the intangibles.

                What I have seen (and rejected offers) is using the sales team for the initial (i.e. Hard) sale… then pulling everything in-house for less expensive “Customer Success Representatives” to manage the growth. Even at my company where we have a hybrid approach to post-initial-sale growth; I can say with numbers to prove it that the “sales guy” is still better than the CSM at helping the customer use our solution(s) to solve their problems… at the end of the day, we just understand the nexus between the customer’s business and our technology better than a guy on a phone in Austin.

                There’s probably even a model where inefficient SaaS/CSM adoption over time is still cheaper (bracketing the risk of losses to competition) than having Sales bridge that gap…but we haven’t gotten there yet. Plus, intangibles.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

                I don’t like all of this talk of “intangibles”.

                Let’s quantify them. Make a checklist.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m told by our CMO this is a start.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

                Team Bruise!

                We’ve a local college radio station here in town that had student-made commercials bumpering the songs and the shorts from the Ad Council. Until recently, the student-made ads were *AWFUL*.

                Recently, however, a bunch of go-getter students said “NO! WE MUST HAVE PROFESSIONAL BUMPERS!”

                And now the radio station sounds like every other radio station.

                I miss the ones where the students would uptalk and mispronounce words and stumble their way through reading off of a piece of paper…

                All that to say: if we can teach the machines to add strategic flaws? Our gooses are cooked.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:


                My big takeaway from reading is that what we humans consider “high skilled” versus “low skilled” doesn’t map to “difficult to automate” to “easy to automate”.

                And the most difficult thing to automate are human interactions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                It’ll be like fast food prep. You’re not going to *ELIMINATE* humans being back there.

                But instead of 6-7 minimum wage workers, you’ll have one guy with a Bachelor’s in Food Preparation Technologies making 3-4x more than minimum wage.

                Maybe we won’t *ELIMINATE* sales, but we can have one guy overseeing a half dozen kiosks making 2-3x what one salesman used to make. He can have a Master’s degree!Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                Again, possibly.
                But where are all the television repairmen nowadays?
                How much do copier repairman make?
                When a PC fails, what highly paid technician comes out to service it?
                When a supermarket scanner fails, do they repair it, or replace it?

                One of the big advances in technology is to make things disposable, where “repair” means either buying a new thing or at a minimum, unplugging a part and replacing it.

                And I agree, the kiosks will need someone to facilitate the humans.
                Given how our society is structured, I am envisioning that person as akin to the ATT sales girl.

                That is, young, attractive, female, deferential and nonthreatening. Her job goal is to disarm the customers and ease them into a “yes” to whatever supersize sales goal is the order of the day.

                And, again, given how our society is structured, she will understand that every day there is a fresh crop of younger, blonder, thinner, perkier women itching to replace her.Report

              • Avatar Maribou in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “How much do copier repairman make?
                When a PC fails, what highly paid technician comes out to service it?
                When a supermarket scanner fails, do they repair it, or replace it?”

                In my town, 15-30 bucks an hour, similar to what I make (and have available to me to make) with a master’s degree.

                They don’t come out in person to service it but they do service it, either over the phone or through shipping it back to the company or the geek squad or whatever. Some of those guys don’t make a lot of money. The guys at the top of those tiers do. (And if your computer belonged to the city gubmint or the air force, a highly paid technician *might* come out to service it, in fact in the latter case they might fly one in.)

                Locally it’s a 50 / 50 case.

                It’s not even that I disagree with you in the long haul but your examples don’t give me a lot of confidence in your predictive powers.Report

              • I think I have mentioned here that I see the white collar professions like… engineers as the next wave to be deskilled or automated.

                I finished my Masters in a tech field in 1978 and went to work at Bell Labs. It is simply amazing how much of what “engineers” did has already been automated. My scavenged laptop — literally rescued from a trash bin — has a batch of free software running on it that does in minutes what used to take hours/days/weeks.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Yes, because there is actually very little of what we do that is the truly intuitive, uniquely human right brain stuff.

                Most of what follows that is left brain craftsmanship, of assembling the output from a finite series of possible choices.

                And computers are astonishingly good at these massive menu trees or branching choices and consequential outcomes.

                And since this is done outside the realm of the physical, things like muscle memory and sensory input and judgement are irrelevant.

                The algorithm knows exactly how tight Robert Pirsig’s motorcycle bolt needs to be.Report

              • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                We (I mean professors/instructors at my uni) regularly get told in the “pre-semester seminars” we’re required to attend that computers are coming for our jobs.

                Or, rather – that the future is ONE superstar teacher being videoed and their class being disseminated as a MOOC and the rest of us will work as (presumably gig-economy, independent contractor) “graders”

                I don’t know why they feel the need to do that to us before the fall semester starts. Maybe it’s to make us more accepting of “no pay raises for the past dozen years and increased duties” bit. Maybe it’s that the person who gives this lecture every year really gets off on depressing the profs. Maybe they have an investment in a robotic-teaching company.

                I don’t think quality education can be done that way, certainly not lab or field classes, but then, if the robots come for the lab-tech jobs and if there are apps to ID plants and birds and stuff, maybe scientists are no longer needed?

                It’s enough to make me run away to the mountains and throw pottery for a living (and hope there are enough hipsters who still want artisanal mugs)Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to fillyjonk says:

                I wonder how hard it would be to write an algorithm that automates university administration.

                Judging from how they treat you, human relationship skills certainly don’t seem to be necessary.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to fillyjonk says:

                In Boy Scouts, they stress teaching the boys how to be leaders.

                Part of that is to have one boy selected to run the group.
                Invariably, the boy assumed that leadership was merely barking orders at the other teenage boys, who would then promptly spring into action to eagerly obey his commands.

                [Ron Howard voice]
                That approach was never as effective as they imagined it would be.

                Leadership and training is one of the most complex of all human endeavors, a subject that has occupied the minds of politicians and military officers and organizations for millennia.
                Armies, kingdoms and empires have risen and fallen as a result of the ability or inability of large groups of people to accumulate knowledge, cooperate and pass it on to each other and succeeding generations.

                That anyone imagines that it can be accomplished by a disembodied talking head is..precious.Report

              • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                All the ….. what is sometimes termed “emotional labor”….that we do. That can’t be automated.

                The big joke is we boast on how many First Generation students we have, and how many students from underprepared backgrounds. Which are PRECISELY the students who need high-contact, low class size, face-to-face type classes if they are to succeed.

                But the idea that online education is “cheap and efficient” has been so wholesale sold to some people…..I refuse to teach online but I don’t know how many more years I can do that. I am hoping it is at least 11, after which I could retire with a full pension (if rather crappy health insurance until Medicare kicks in after about 5 more years)Report

              • Avatar Pinky in reply to fillyjonk says:

                Why do quasi-visionaries predict future automation? Because it’s safe. Senior staff not understanding individualized skills is pretty much the norm. After a certain point, this kind of talk only provides confirmation that the management is out of touch. Don’t let it bother you.Report

              • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Pinky says:

                Well, considering we had an admin who complained the students didn’t know how to shake hands, and that we should teach them those and other “soft skills”…..I tend to suspect rumors of our jobs’ demise is somewhat exaggerated.

                (But really? They were also hinting we might teach them table manners. Obviously the admins have never seen half of us eat.)Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

                Truly, it beggars belief what automation has done when it comes to engineering. I remember classmates and profs telling me I was wasting time learning to write code and the algorithms behind simulation software because such things would always just be flashy tools, but engineers would still do the real work. I even had senior engineers telling me that at Boeing.

                Most of what I do today is build sub-tools so engineers don’t have to learn how to fully use the main tool we sell, because it allows customers to spin up an engineer faster.Report

      • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Road Scholar says:

        Trucking is important work, just not important enough to pay more? Since you mention fast-food joints, they appear to be adopting innovative Silicon-Valley techniques to retain employees:

        Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is leading a coalition of 11 Democratic state attorneys general, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, seeking information about “no-poach” agreements meant to block employees from leaving one fast food franchise to work for another franchise in the same chain.

        The attorneys general say 80 percent of fast food franchisors have no-poach agreements.

        The attorneys general have sent a letter to Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Little Caesars, Panera Bread, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Wendy’s seeking copies of franchise agreements by Aug. 6.


      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Road Scholar says:

        Trucking companies somehow manage to handle increases in fuel costs, so…Report

  8. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    Lb8 & Lb9: The first is just the law-degree version of the second. Lawyers doing gig work is nothing new. It is what they do when they can’t get a real job. It is noted neither for its lucrative compensation nor its desirable working conditions.Report

  9. Avatar Aaron David says:

    Lb3 – This a version of what I was account managing in Logistics a decade ago. Long story short, a pharmaceutical distro company needs to make deliveries but doesn’t want liability, trucks or drivers. So, they hire a third party (my company) to be the go-between for a tech company that can provide electronic records of each delivery and sub out delivery drivers at (for my DC) six cross-docks. All of that to keep costs down, with me to be johnny-on-the-spot to answer questions and glad-handle everyone. So, I kept a spare cubicle in their office, not quite Lb0 but close enough for me, along with my actual office a mile away at the closest cross-dock. It was often like herding cats, what with each driver wanting to work some version of his own schedule which was at times contrary to the contracted approximate delivery times.

    So, in relation to Road Scholars comments on Lb6, we often had difficulties with the pharma company getting the product to their own dock at the main DC in a timely manner, causing FTL delays which the contracted class A’s wanted compensation for but said pharma company didn’t want to pay, citing the pay model Road talks about.Report

    • I’ll second @aarondavid here on herding cats when it comes to drivers. Having worked as a dedicated driver manager and later as in operations, there is a tremendous amount of time and effort that is spent on coordinating and, frankly, convincing those folks to buy in and stay on program above their wants. It’s never ending, and that was with company drivers it’s even more challenging with contractors. Now I’m the kind of warped personality that loves the organized chaos and pace of cross-docking freight and making all the pieces work, but it’s a challenging thing. To cross the streams a bit, this is part of the reason the Amazon story from Morning ed is talking about them not only doing the flex with individual contractors but looking to set up “mini” last mile contractors. Its smart business, the more local control the more reliable and Amazon does have to get involved in overhead or sticky things like personnel management.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        I think the biggest hassle with the model I worked in was getting anyone to take responsibility. Too many cooks. But, on the flip side, no Teamsters, which is another reason things like this happen.Report

        • Tangential, but I recently audiobooked the Bad Blood book on Theranos. One of the weird things about it is how it threw in fascinating tidbits for context and then moved on and I’m like “Wait, what?!”

          One of the tidbits is that unionized movers in Silicon Valley are run by the mafia.Report

          • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Will Truman says:

            Interesting! I am not too surprised once I think about it though.Report

            • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Aaron David says:

              I tend more often than not to be naive about those sorts of things but I thought that mob-run moving was kind of common knowledge…Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to fillyjonk says:

                I know a guy who went to accounting school in, I think, Indiana. One of his classmates was really smart: the obvious star of the class. But when the time came for getting jobs, the smart guy was going to work for an industrial laundry. My guy was flabbergasted. Smart guy was qualified to go work for a big city hot-shot firm. Why was he dinking around with a penny-ante job? Smart guy circles around the matter for a while without success, and finally in exasperation explains that he comes from a mob family, which owned the laundry. They needed an accountant they could trust, after all… so here he was. As my guy tells the story, the reaction from the teacher and the rest of the class was to roll their eyes at his cluelessness, as they had figured it out on their own long since.Report

  10. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    When open offices became the rage in office planning, it was shrouded in the jargon of egalitarianism, in the same era after the 1960s cultural upheavals when loosening hierarchies and informality was considered the same as actual egalitarianism.

    So it isn’t a coincidence that the apogee of open offices is the tech culture where the CEO wears ripped blue jeans and sneakers, and everyone calls everyone by their first name.

    But of course it is just the simulation of egalitarianism. The hierarchy of class and power is made all the more powerful by being hidden, because then it can’t be held accountable.

    In the open office, there are always places for confidential conversations, which are about money and power. Who is being hired, or fired; how much money is changing hands, and in which direction.

    When power is cloaked in egalitarianism, it creates the illusion of inevitability because the machinery of competition is hidden like the ropes and gears of a stage play. Instead of a visible and understandable system of hierarchy, the informal structure becomes power politics.Report

    • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      And I wonder, when an employee is escorted to one of those “confidential rooms,” is there a dead-man-walking vibe in the rest of the workspace? I’d get mighty worried if I saw other team members being escorted off for a “talk”Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to fillyjonk says:

        In the open office I worked at, the parking lot was commonly used as a confidential meeting space.

        That is, through the massive glass wall in full view of everyone out in the bright sunlight, as if on stage, you could witness the silent movie of someone being promoted, disciplined, fired, or of two conspirators plotting some petty office maneuver.

        Even more corrosive was the effect of overhearing oblique references to off hours meetings and dinner parties between aggressive strivers and management.Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to fillyjonk says:

        (we use our confidential room in our department *also* for meetings and for people to just hang out there and eat or study when there’s nothing going on, precisely to do what we can to avoid it having that vibe, @fillyjonk , so I think you are spot on with that.)Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      @chip-daniels Our recent renovation at my workspace was headed up by architects that were very gung ho (at higher-ups’ direction) about open-plan-everywhere, because collaboration is the wave of the future, etc. And their power assumptions (and those of our higher-ups, their clients) were *very* clearly laid out in who had offices, who didn’t, how much cubicleness was allowed in the offices (a good thing in this case, compared to pure open) etc etc.

      Fortunately for us, we’re already highly skilled collaborators so we were able to negotiate something more workable and breathable. But you could still guess how much people get paid by the type of office space they have / share.

      (My job basically consists of being interrupted every five minutes so I don’t personally have much stake – I like an open plan because it makes it easier for me to see or hear when someone should be interrupting me for help and isn’t, speaking of panopticon – but boy did it get frustrating speaking up for other employees who *do*, and for having *some* private space somewhere in a department where we have to have confidential conversations on the regular, and being told I was “being selfish for wanting my own office” and I needed to be more open-minded. Eventually we got past that. But it took so darn much effort, for no good reason. And that was with me not even *wanting* my own office! If we hadn’t had middle-range higher ups who did understand, and had our backs, I’d probably be sharing a structureless “office” with 20 other people right now.Report

      • Avatar jason in reply to Maribou says:

        Our campus added a new building several years ago. The top floor is mostly offices, but there’s a big room with a cubicle farm. My former boss (comp director) forced us all (the comp teachers–full time, non-tt) to move there (this was part of a childish fight between her and the department chair). The room has plenty of windows, yay natural light, and nice views, so that’s nice. This isn’t understatement as most of the campus buildings were built in the sixties to apparently look like a prison.
        The cubicles are spacious for cubicles, and we’re rarely all there at the same time due to varying teaching schedules and office hours. But the one person who doesn’t have an inside voice is a problem, especially since she feels the need to narrate her own life: “I’m going to teach now” “I have to make copies” etc.Report

  11. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Lb4: Like all right populists, Trump is a flaming hypocrite. He demagogues against all immigrants in general and the most vulnerable immigrants in particular as stealing American jobs and that he has an American first policy. Yet, he makes an exception for his businesses for many reasons but mainly because he knows that immigrants would be cheaper and less likely to unionize.Report