Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

US politics thoughts. How to fix things.

Relatively non partisan thoughts incoming…

I was strongly against trump, he won, I’m not going into a debate about him, or individual policies, but thought I would try to articulate what I think is going wrong in the US (also the UK and Europe) and how (maybe) to fix it.

Most pundits are suggesting (I’d guess accurately) that trump won because of the disillusionment of  blue collar workers on low wages, or with no jobs. Putting aside a lot of the surrounding fluff that the campaigns were wrapped up in (personal accusations, talk of misogyny, who-slept-with-who, size of peoples hands and so on), I think it basically comes down to blue collar American workers saying that economically they are losing out and something must be done, and they are absolutely right about that, and have been for a while. Trump tapped into that, and has become president as a result, and although his identification of the problem is spot on, his remedies are absolutely wrong, and in my opinion will actually make things worse, for those very blue collar workers who see him as their saviour.

There is a fairly watchable film released way back in 1991 starring Danny De-vito called other peoples money. Its not comedy gold, but it has a very well articulated point about, bizarrely the US election in 2016. Here it is:

For people who don’t want to watch it, its basically a rant by Danny DeVito as an ‘evil’ wall street guy telling cable factory workers that fiber optics killed their industry, and the company is dead, and to deal with it. Its harsh.

It’s also true.

Fact: Kodak in 1998 employed 145,000 people worldwide. It went bankrupt in 2012. Its one of many companies that have been technologically vaporised. Facebook employs 14,495 people, almost exactly a tenth of kodak at its height, and provides a lot more than the sharing of photographs. Arguably facebook provides 10-20 times the ‘end consumer services’ that a mere photo printing company did, for 1/10 the staff. We are talking about a situation where we need 0.5-1% of the people now to do the same work in terms of providing value. And facebook lets me share a photo (for free) with the entire planet. Kodak gave me a blurry cardboard feeling thing at high cost that fades and was a fixed size (and only 1 copy).
Yay for technology.

People complain about unemployment in the US. The US unemployment rate is 4.9%. There will also be an issue of under-employment and low wages, but still…thats actually not *that* bad. When every company does a Kodak and gets replaced by a Facebook, that 4.9% will be a far off dream, a paradise that people think back to.

Technology vastly improves and transforms our lives, but its killing jobs, and replacement jobs are not being created fast enough. The BIG problem, (and here is where it becomes relevant to the US election), is that when it does create jobs it only creates very highly skilled, high pay ones. If you do not have an absolute familiarity and understanding of computers, and preferably some computer programming knowledge, engineering knowledge, or maths/science skills, the future economy is not going to work out for you.

Trumps blue collar jobs are gone. They are not coming back. Its not the Mexicans who took them, or the Muslims, its these dudes:



Stuff can be made anywhere. Trump bemoans outsourcing to India/China, but with global trade, stopping that is impossible, and walling the US off from its biggest markets will only accelerate the death of the US economy, and encourage facebook, google , apple etc to relocate outside the US. Trying to stop global trade or automation / technology is liking trying to stop the tide. The only solution for trumps voters is to find a way to be useful in the post 2016 automated high-tech economy. That means skills, that means education. (I know some people think that means universal basic income instead. Personally I’m not a fan, but thats a whole different topic).

If I had to pick one single policy that would fix the problems in the US in the medium to long term, it would be adult education. Not schoolkids, they already understand and use computers. They aren’t scared of them, they will eventually realize that they need to knuckle down and ensure they study hard enough to get a job programming or high tech engineering/science. Young people in the US are pretty tech savvy. The people who need education NOW in the US are the age 40+ blue collar workers who used to work in factories, on assembly lines, or in warehouses. They need to skill-up, NOW.

They have no money, because tech killed their jobs, so they need help, and the government HAS to step in and fix this. I refuse to believe that you cannot re-skill at that age. I refuse to believe that you cannot transition from manual work to complex tech work. When I was 24 years old I hammered rowing boats together for a living. It was the technological opposite of what I do now. I’m 47 and work as a computer programmer. Transitioning from one to the other is HARD, but it can be done.

When I wanted to learn programming, I qualified for free evening classes in C and advanced C programming, paid for by my government here in the UK. I also attended a 2 week crash course on C++, paid for by the government because I was unemployed. I also studied my ass off, spent a LOT of time in libraries and the few books I could afford, and it worked out. The government could have made it a LOT easier, but at least they did something.

Despite my hatred for him, Trump DOES know what is wrong in America, and identifying the problem is actually very helpful. Now is the time to help focus on the real long term solution, not short term knee-jerk misdirected anger.

The USA does not need a wall, it needs a program of adult education & training.



14 thoughts on US politics thoughts. How to fix things.

  1. I agree: the West desperately needs to invest in its workforce, retrain and re-educate — but it also needs to guarantee these graduates with jobs, or else we’re back where we started.

    That said, if robots are the ones replacing these blue-collar jobs, then we should be doing everything we can to make sure these robots are located domestically. So the goal there is to make it cheap to automate factories, and incentivize companies to keep their manufacturing domestic. The “problem” is that it’s a losing battle: there will always be other countries with fewer environmental regulations, fewer safety regulations, weaker unions, less patent encumbrance, etc, all factors that make manufacturing domestically very uncompetitive. So some kind of regulating global trade is necessary, and tariffs are the “simplest” way.

    1. why is that a problem? Are people in China and India less deserving of money than people in any other country?

      1. No, they’re not less deserving of money or anything like that… but I don’t trust their governments to not exploit the rest of us if they find themselves in a position to do so. They have a huge population advantage: if they transition that into total economic dominance too, then the future of Western civilization is at stake. Which you might be all for, I guess, but I’m a bit sentimental towards it.

    2. The idea that upskilling individual workers will solve the problem is a fallacy. Worker skill is not the problem, it’s much deeper than that. The East Asian model of industrial development is a nationalist model. It requires the current generation to sacrifice for the well being of future generations. The current generation endure long hours, low wages, high consumer prices, high housing prices, low interest rates on deposits and all sorts of consumption suppression measures to allow the nation-state to accumulate capital rapidly.

      The nation-corporate-state then use those savings gotten from suppressing domestic consumption to overpay for products from Western countries with the requirement that they transfer technology and production know-how. This is essentially how they compress their development time frame. The purpose of this is to accumulate all the most advanced manufacturing know-how and reach the bleeding edge as quickly as possible, then put massive man power into R&D so that the rest of the world can never catch up. Once you fall behind, catching up is incredibly hard. The advanced manufacturers can easily undersell the less advanced ones even with higher wages because capital and technology dominates modern manufacturing productivity.

      The problem of the west is the changing ethnic composition of its population. It’s very difficult to convince the natives to suck it up for the future of the nation when you allow Muslims and third world immigrants to come in, get welfare, and outbreed the natives. Contrast the attitude of the public toward public infrastructure funding before and after the Civil Rights movement in the US. Regardless of what the laws say, if a significant portion of the country do not accept a large minority as one of “us”, then you will not have the political capital needed to make long term investments in the national economy. Domestic politics quickly degenerate into cliches of special interest groups.

      The inclusive, liberal politics of the 60s have destroyed the idea of the nation. Regardless of what the idealists say, for many of the people you need to be willing to sacrifice their present comfort for the benefit of future generations, nationalism means ethnic nationalism. I just don’t see how you can generate the political capital needed to make trade offs that benefit future generations without ethnic nationalism.

  2. adult education and vocational training is required but not sufficient (in the long run).

    some people really are not suited for high level tech jobs (try teaching game dev to kids or students – even with a self-selected group a large portion of them will just not ‘get’ programming).

    Ultimately I think in 20-30 years time even with a very educated work force there will simply not be enough work for everyone to do. And that’s fine. What’s not fine is that we are socially lagging behind tech with regards to the value of work and its compensation.

  3. I think the problem you described is a real one; and certainly seems to be a central issue in the UK / the Brexit vote, but interestingly there are some exit polls that suggests this narrative may not be the reason Trump won in the US election.

    This is only a single poll, and I don’t know the movement from previous elections but it’s certainly something I’m going to be looking for more information on.

  4. It’s pretty obvious that there are not enough jobs for “unskilled” blue-collar workers.
    It’s really not obvious that there are enough high-tech jobs for everyone even if everyone magically acquired a “high-tech” skill.

    1. True, but there sure is a lot of tech work that should be done but is not. We still dont have self-driving car algorithms sorted. There are plenty of diseases to cure. The ‘customer service AI’ field is still in its infancy, language synthesis and voice recognition are still primitive as fuck, and VR is only starting to take baby steps. Spam email defense, DDOS defence and cybersecurity are not solved problems, dementia is still detected too late, there are a host of tech ‘problems’ that need solutions, so plenty of work to do, if we can restructure the economy to make that work doable and affordable.

      1. True, but many of those you listed require much heavier math than, say, a 2d game, let alone the logic issues involved. I mean, these are people that are looking for a politician to save them, I don’t really want them anywhere near important algorithms, for fear of their else statement.


        Now, tech is going to put the vast majority of us out of work. We need to focus on items that we perceive as valuable when done by humans. Such as handcrafts, entertainment, games, art, culture, etc.

        And maybe we don’t get a universal basic income, but a universal basic job, in which government created a giant public works program, in combination with education, that provides a universal basic income as a startup income for those type of “work.”

        And maybe also for work on Open Source software projects that would otherwise go undone.

  5. Programming and IT jobs really aren’t for everyone, Trump would make a bigger impact on unemployment if he started a few giant public works projects, like politicians did during the Great Depression.

    Google tells me it took 500,000 people to build The Great Wall of China, if Trump fulfilled his promise to build a wall between Mexico, and went a bit further to also build a wall between Canada. That would employ a lot of people!

    So if China’s wall is 5,500 miles long. Mexico’s border is 1,989 miles, and Canada’s border is 3,988 miles long.

    The new walls could create 600,000 new jobs!

  6. Cliff, regarding education….
    i think there are possibly too many graduates and too little jobs for them. H1-B graduates are preferable for many employers like facebook beacuse they are grateful and they can cherry pick the best.
    Then there is the gender/equality studies type who seem to want to spew anti-white male vile stuff around and one can only wonder what this is supposed to achieve, except division.
    Third Level education is now an industry which needs large numbers of people coming through their doors, not all of who should go there, or whill get their dream job upon completion.
    Personally, the best qualified people I know have the passion of the interested amateur…

  7. Wrong. Robots / tech can’t do carpentry, lay pipe, pour concrete, wire a building or myriad other trades. These jobs pay very well in the USA for those with the requisite skills. President Trump has stated he intends to embark on extensive infrastructure projects. Skilled tradespeople, many of them, will be required and employed in these ventures. I’m over 40 and have worked in the tech industry (software development) for 25 years. Educating the “ignorant masses” who voted for Trump in the ways of technology is not the answer; we need more trade school graduates. We also need the lazy, self-entitled millennials to get off their asses and actually *work*. Also, this is the USA, not Europe, and your thinking isn’t effective in our vast tapestry.

  8. Hey Cliffski! Here’s my semi-hot-take on it.

    This graph will be the foundation of my argument:

    I’m not sure what it is like in Britain, but here in America we have been been becoming more educated and more productive for the last 40 years and gaining almost none of the rewards from it. That is the fundamental problem, and it will not be changed (in any positive way) by gaining more degrees or technical education. In our current climate it will just continue to drive the productivity graph upwards, while not having any significant effect on worker compensation. I would argue that what we have in the US is not primarily a problem of technical education or productivity, rather our problem is in how we direct and distribute our resources.

    Ok, that is the thesis. A few supporting examples and further thoughts from that:
    1) There’s nothing inherently high paying about tech jobs. We programmers are subject to the same laws of supply and demand as workers in any other profession. In your own arena, the Indiepocalypse provides a fine example of what I am talking about. Once the supply of programmers gets large enough relative to demand, the wages for them will tank, just like in any other field. And there are plenty of examples of this happening in other high tech fields, where you have enormously intelligent and educated grad students slaving away for $20K-$40K per year.

    2) Even given a large supply of educated workers, it will not help us if they are not directed towards useful causes. For example, it would be nice if we could develop new anti-biotics to prevent the next pandemic/allow us to perform basic surgery without killing 50% of the patients from infections. But, where is the profit in that? It turns out that there isn’t much. So instead we see pharma companies focused on, I don’t know, whatever Big Pharma is focused on. It seems to mostly be on buying up and re-packaging existing medications to squeeze more money out of people.

    3) (more controversial) Say that we programmers succeed, and computers and robots swallow everything. By all rights this should be a blessing, our path into a Star Trek world of replicators and human flourishing. However, given our current configuration it would be a curse. All it would mean is that the vast majority of the population no longer has anything of value to trade, is no longer needed for the economy to continue to perform, and are simply not needed for oligarchs to continue to get what they want. I would posit that in such a world, the vast majority of us would be treated about as well as horses were after the invention of the steam engine. If you want a picture of such a future, imagine people like this man on top of you, forever:

    I have no solutions to any of this. =) But I think it helps at least to identify the problem, and I feel like many of the current arguments about race, SJWs, political correctness, education, and millenials are distractions (intentional or not) from this real issue. Thoughts?

    1. I agree with you that its a vast simplification to say only adult education is needed, and yes, we definitely need a re-organisation of the way the economy works in order to prevent concentration of wealth and the dilemma of nobody earning enough to pay for even the robot-produced output. However, I do think that higher levels of education and skills are a part of the solution 9a part that other elements depend on) and more crucially, educating people takes time,. so its the most time critical part of the equation. There are no simple answers, but its depressing that most modern politicians cannot even see whats causing the inequality/unemployment problem.

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