Friday, March 27, 2015

Capital versus labor: "No contest"

Photograph by Max Aguilera-Hellweg

John Lanchester in the London Review of Books (The Robots Are Coming):

...Imagine an economy in which the 0.1 per cent own the machines, the rest of the 1 per cent manage their operation, and the 99 per cent either do the remaining scraps of unautomatable work, or are unemployed. That is the world implied by developments in productivity and automation. It is Pikettyworld, in which capital is increasingly triumphant over labour. 

We get a glimpse of it in those quarterly numbers from Apple, about which my robot colleague wrote so evocatively. Apple’s quarter was the most profitable of any company in history: $74.6 billion in turnover, and $18 billion in profit. Tim Cook, the boss of Apple, said that these numbers are ‘hard to comprehend’. He’s right: it’s hard to process the fact that the company sold 34,000 iPhones every hour for three months. Bravo, though we should think about the trends implied in those figures. 

For the sake of argument, say that Apple’s achievement is annualised, so their whole year is as much of an improvement on the one before as that quarter was. That would give them $88.9 billion in profits. 

In 1960, the most profitable company in the world’s biggest economy was General Motors. In today’s money, GM made $7.6 billion that year. It also employed 600,000 people. Today’s most profitable company employs 92,600. So where 600,000 workers would once generate $7.6 billion in profit, now 92,600 generate $89.9 billion, an improvement in profitability per worker of 76.65 times. Remember, this is pure profit for the company’s owners, after all workers have been paid. 

Capital isn’t just winning against labour: there’s no contest. If it were a boxing match, the referee would stop the fight...

Speaking of capitalism, Michael Lewis updates "Flash Boys" in Vanity Fair.


Bike helmets and safety

Danny DeBelius/NPR

The assumptions underlying the recent LA Times editorial on bike helmets make it impossible for it to shed any light on the subject (Require bike helmets? There's not enough safety data):

This much is obvious: Wearing a bicycle helmet is safer than not wearing one. But so far, the evidence is mixed on how much safer it is. A bill in the Legislature to mandate helmets for all bicyclists is based less on evidence of significant benefit than on the mantra that it's worthwhile if even a single life is saved.

Apparently the editorial writer didn't bother to check with State Senator Carol Liu's office on what her mandatory helmet legislation is actually about---preventing injuries, not just fatalities.

The evidence on bike helmets isn't at all "mixed'; it shows overwhelmingly that helmets help prevent injury and death among cyclists (See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this).

According to a New York City study (Bicycle Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City, 1996-2005), "Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet," and "Most fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury."

I think it's very unlikely that the state will pass Liu's legislation, but her proposal at least is based on a recognition of the problem. 

The LA Times editorial:

The intentions behind SB 192, authored by Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge), are laudable, and many of the objections raised by bicycling enthusiasts are laughable---such as the idea that mandatory helmets would make bicycling appear more dangerous and thus discourage people from trying it.

Actually, that objection by bike zealots isn't "laughable" at all, since there's truth in the claim, though they themselves are clearly in denial about how dangerous riding a bike can be. That's why Nicole Gelinas got a ration of shit when she worried about bikeshare injuries (Bikeshare customers have to bring their own helmets. Since few do, it leads to more head injuries as per the graphic above). 

And that's why Noah Budnick doesn't want to talk about his cycling accident---a solo fall that didn't involve a motor vehicle---that put him in intensive care for nine days. 

They understand on some level that riding a bike is dangerous, and they clearly think the risk is worth it. But if would-be cyclists---and the parents of children---were informed about the real dangers, converts to BikeThink would be a lot fewer. 

Instead, riding a bike is being sold by City Hall and the MTA as a green, win-win deal for everyone: cyclists get a boost in self-esteem by practicing a PC, environmentally benign transportation "mode," and the city gets cost-free help in dealing with traffic congestion.

An earlier post on bike helmets and safety.

The Snell Memorial Foundation

As the above graphic shows, most cycling accidents don't involve motor vehicles. They are "solo falls."

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