economics

New “Econobot” Puts America’s Economists Out of Work

Economists around the nation are buzzing about the increased value accruing to society as a result of a new invention that has made all their jobs totally obsolete.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” said Norman Frankl, former economist and inventor of the device.  “This is what the free market is all about, folks. Services which used to cost consumers into the hundreds of dollars per hour plus a full benefits package can now be had for pennies.”

Frankl’s invention, called Econobot, consists of a lifelike, anthropomorphic robot programmed to use a comprehensive economics software suite called Efficient Market. From teaching undergrads and writing multivolume treatises to delivering cherry-picked data and partisan talking points to television news outlets, Econobot can replicate every service previously performed by the nation’s economists.

“It even has a ‘rogue’ function for producing contrarian podcasts and rant-based blogs,” says Frankl. “One time I set [my Econobot] Chester to rogue, and he played a prank on some snobby professor buddies of mine, tricking them into declaring Franzia top shelf French wine after changing the labels in a tasting game.”

Econobot also aims to imitate the various lifestyles of the professionals it replaces. Depending on user-defined settings, the robot can wear everything from a bow tie, suspenders and tweed to free t-shirts it forages from festivals it just happened to be walking by. It also requires no charging, instead running on heat generated by the chemical breakdown of bulk-purchased, wholesale ramen and Kraft Easy Mac.

Just as important, Econobot is capable of performing its functions through the lens of nearly every school of economic thought in a manner Forbes magazine gushed is “just as cold and borderline sociopathic as the discipline’s most influential human practitioners.”

“I don’t care if you’re a world famous academic or the armchair economist next door,” says inventor Frankl, “This thing can do your thing, and it can do it better. Keynesian or supply-sider, pre-modern, classical, Chicago school, Neo-Ricardian, gold bug, Austrian, Marxian, ecological, feminist. You name it. And it’s all further customizable by the user. There are 100 different settings for smugness alone.”

Before Econbot, the only people with the resources to obtain top flight economic insight were large corporations, educational institutions and governments. Everyone else seeking personalized economic analysis usually had to procure the services of lesser-known, independent economists working the street corners, infomercials and blogs of America. These “indy” economists generally practiced outside mainstream economic thought, which was not always appealing to some consumers.

This increase in consumer choice is a welcome change for most of the nation’s former economists, and Econobot agrees. Indeed, the general response among the former economics community at large has been one of jubilation as the gears of capitalistic progress grind what meager livelihood and meaning they had derived from life into ash and dust. Many are even committing suicide so as not to inefficiently leech off the economy’s resources in unemployment, since they no longer possess any marketable skills and will likely be unable to find another job anytime soon, if ever.

“This is a fantastic example of disruptive innovation,” said Malthus T. May, former economics professor at the University of Chicago, while standing in line at the Cook County unemployment office. “Some great new invention just came out of nowhere and totally changed how we look at the economics industry. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that anymore. Just go down to your local Econobot retailer or one of the many websites offering free, ad-supported Econobot analysis.”

“It’s wonderful. Really, it is,” May insisted, digging through the crevices of his empty wallet. “So many people who previously could not afford the services of a top flight economist can now get exemplary economic analysis for next to nothing. Thank god Congress decided not to pass any inefficient, protectionist regulations which might have preserved my job at the cost of progress.”

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Immigration Now, Immigration Tomorrow, Immigration Forever

Who cares what color a taxpayer is so long as their money is green?

Who cares if they take a job so long as they increase the output of the economy and help generate more jobs?

Who cares what their education level is so long as they perform useful work?

Who cares what their religion is so long as they’re peaceful and law-abiding?

I’m tired of people who think our immigration policy should be to burn down the bridge their family crossed just a couple generations ago. They disgrace everything this country is supposed to stand for. I’m tired of the notion that jobs in this country are a zero sum game, that for every immigrant who comes across the border a nice, hardworking, tax-paying, apple-pie-scarfing American will lose their job.

It’s not like this country was allotted 100 million jobs back in 1776 and we have been slowly eating away at that number ever since. Increased population increases the total jobs available.

Think about it. We’re afraid of China, why? Because they have such a massive population it gives them greater potential economic and military power than us. They have more people to work in their factories, more people to pilot their fighter jets, more people to think up new technologies. The only reason the US is ahead at all right now is because its economy and military are more developed. Because, mostly by an accident of history, we got a head start. It’s not the inherent wonder of the Constitution, Jeffersonianism or whatever other religion you subscribe to. Wake the fuck up. There is nothing special, holy, divinely-inspired or secret about the success of America. We have a government and culture that are relatively more supportive of economic progress and innovation than other nations, but we can’t rely on that forever. We can only win the development battle for so long when we have 1/3 the population of our rival.

Oh, but they tookerjobs!!!

Sure, I get your point. In the short term it increases competition. But when Bjorn immigrates here from Iceland and takes a job, he provides more value to the country, our country, than he is paid for. Employers agree to hire employees because they get more value from the employee’s services than they are required to pay the employee. This is the essence, the foundation, of the whole concept of employment. Businesses aren’t charities giving people jobs because it’s a nice thing to do. If employees didn’t create more value than they took, the employer would soon go under. I’m not denying there are jobs where lazy people get away with doing practically nothing, but a good employer will generally route out and fire those people and if it doesn’t eventually the market will put that company out of business (or should without intervention).

There’s really only one legitimate reason to limit immigration: lack of physical space. That is, if the country is so overpopulated that it doesn’t have the geographical area to accommodate more people without substantial difficulty. America is not even remotely close to this. Have you ever gone on a road trip out West? There are places you can drive a hundred miles without seeing so much as a house (or, lesson learned, a gas station). This country could have five times its current population and be fine. Consider this, the population density of Europe is 72.9/km2. China is 145/km2. What, on the other hand, is the US? A measly 34.2/km2. Of the 242 sovereign and dependent territories in the world, it ranks as the 180th most dense.

Closing our borders to new immigrants and hunting the illegal ones within our borders is as unnecessary and wasteful as it is cruel. Besides all the productivity, tax revenue and consumer spending we miss out on, we also waste billions in taxpayer money funding a bloated federal agency to police the border with our browner neighbors (or is it just that the border with Canada is so big we can’t afford quality enforcement?) and to root out illegal immigrants already in this country. And not only that, we lose enormous amounts of productivity putting those current citizens to work as border patrol agents and immigration officials when they could be working on more useful occupations.

Oh! Oh! But those illegals broke the law! Do we really want people willing to break our laws living in our country?!

Sigh. Besides the fact that this argument is a little circular, it’s also horribly myopic. You don’t know what it’s like to be that desperate. I guarantee most self-righteous, anti-immigration Americans would have done the same thing in the “illegal” immigrant’s position. Undocumented immigrants are willing to risk their lives in the incredibly hazardous, life-threatening process of illegal immigration. Most Americans have no concept of what that sort of desperation feels like. And besides, why wouldn’t you want someone that hungry for America in this country? They’ll appreciate it so much more and work so much harder than some lazy, fifth-generation, middle-class brat like me who has angrily complained about such first world problems as having to have a roommate in my college dorm or having to walk the half mile to school because mom wouldn’t buy me a car and I didn’t feel like getting a job.

And in any case, who really cares if they broke that law? It’s just a pretext against amnesty. Unlike people, not all laws are created equal. Illegal immigration is about on par with jaywalking in my book, and at least jaywalking has a rational basis for being illegal.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking now. But what about felons and terrorists who could come over our borders and blow up our buildings and steal our 50” flat-screen, high-def televisions and get our kids addicted to the drugs? The drugs!!!! You want to let them in, too?! Okay, okay, fine. No. They don’t sound too good, and I’d be willing to keep attempting to keep them out. All I’m really saying is there should be a legal avenue for immigration open to anyone and everyone who wants to come here and put themselves to productive, legal labor. Personally, I think our border is too big and porous to ever keep out terrorists and criminals no matter how much money we blow on border patrols and fences and drones and Directors of Homeland Security, but if you want to try I guess I don’t really care. That’s at least rational.

A legal, quota-less avenue to immigration is what I really want and what the USA really needs. The American Dream is not just for Americans. The American Dream is everyone’s dream. I want to be the America we lie to our kids about. It’s supposed to be the city on the hill, the shining beacon of human potential shouting to all the world’s citizens that they deserve better, that if they work hard and play fair they can have a life worthy of their contributions to society. The sooner we realize that the sooner we can stop wasting money on yet another hopeless American war.

The Tipping System is an Asshole Subsidy

I am a good tipper. I generally tip around 25% regardless of the quality of service. Only on rare occasions of exceptionally bad service have I tipped less, and even then it’s usually 15%. Never have I not tipped. This is all to say one thing: I am a sucker. I am doing my part to perpetuate a system that, in essence, exploits nice people like me. I am helping to ensure that all the douches, the self-righteous pricks and the cheapskates of America continue to have their meals partially paid for by the more generous. Well I for one have had enough. I say it’s high time we end tipping by demanding restaurants pay servers what their service is actually worth and letting them adjust their menu prices accordingly.

The main problem with the tipping system is this: it effectively lets generous people subsidize the meals of assholes. How does it do this you ask? Well, at restaurants the meals are priced based on how much it costs to prepare the meal plus a little chunk of profit. Costs to prepare include everything from the cost of food to indirect expenses like rent. A large part of these costs include money paid to servers for their services—or at least it would be if servers’ full wages were paid for directly by the restaurant. The thing is in most American restaurants, where tipping is the norm, servers generally get a small, below-minimum wage salary because it is anticipated that customers will pay them tips for their service which will bring their pay up to something reasonable. The end result of this is that because restaurants don’t have to pay their servers as much, they also don’t need to charge as much for the meals as they would if they paid the entirety of a server’s salary. Simply put, tipping is factored into the price of a meal. So when you don’t pay a tip, you’re effectively not paying for a part of the meal. Of course restaurants themselves don’t care much about this because it all evens out in the end. They just care about the average. However, since I am the rube bringing the average up, I care about this very much because I am effectively subsidizing the low tipper’s meal.

I know, I know. What about when the server deserved a bad tip because they gave bad service? My answer is: so what? The service was rendered. The money should be paid. You don’t pay the slow cashier less than a fast cashier. A secretary’s take home pay for the day doesn’t depend on how thorough her meeting minutes were. It’s not like service quality is just going to fall apart if people can’t tip. If that were true this whole country would fall apart because most people don’t work on tips. Employers can still discipline underperforming employees, as is the case in the vast majority of occupations. If a server doesn’t do the job to their employer’s standard, they should be fired. Simple as that. It is not the customer’s place to be judging the quality of service. It’s an inherent conflict of interest when the person judging performance also stands to benefit financially if they give a negative review. How would you feel if your boss, in negatively assessing your performance, were allowed to dock your pay and then pocket that docked pay for himself? Does that sound like a fair system?

In any case, most people don’t tip based on the quality of the service. They tip based on the type of person they are. My cheapskate friends will usually still tip like shit when they get good service and then use bad service as an excuse to tip poorly. Servers know this and know in most cases that going the extra mile isn’t going to get them anything extra. Sure, there are times when I’ve seen friends leave an uncharacteristically good or bad tip because the service was exceptional or terrible—I’ve done this myself—but those are rare cases, few and far between and not frequent enough to shape server behavior or be worth the cost of subsidizing dicks.

I realize tipping is a cultural thing and unlikely to end any time soon given the large quantity of assholes benefitting from it, particularly not from one post on a poorly read blog. But still, screw tipping. I’ll keep on doing it until restaurants start paying their servers a flat rate because I don’t think the servers should be punished for a crappy system (and seriously, if you’re one of those pricks who leaves a card about how you’re against tipping as a tip, you’re pretty much what’s wrong with humanity), but I’m not going to be happy about it.