Your Thoughts Are Now A Commodity And They Are Being Sold

It’s much worse than you think. Think Google…

There was a time that psychologists and advertising companies worked at embedding the name of a detergent or other product in your mind so you would reflexively reach for their product on the store shelf. One of their favorite techniques was ads that mentioned the product name ten to twenty times in a broadcast commercial. It did have an impact and there was a time when people were concerned about the practice. How naive we were.

We now have to admit that the internet has taken over our lives and represents our preference to access information. Once it was newspapers, the evening news, magazines, encyclopedias and on and on, but now it’s the world wide web. Early on we thought that this was a good thing and I still marvel at what I can access on my laptop and phone. I admit it, I am addicted too but I’m becoming concerned.

The gateway to literally everything is the search engine. I can remember my son’s teacher showing me how to “Yahoo” and my reaction – it seemed a miracle. That was almost thirty years ago and that miracle has now metastasized. We’re so used to it that I don’t think we question it as much as we should, but occasionally I stumble upon something that gets my attention.

Google With Love And Hate

When it comes to the current gate keeper to information it’s Google. There are other search engine choices but Google use is about double all the others combined. As much as I am addicted to the internet I have also become addicted to Google. I prefer Android phones, my calendar is Google, I use Gmail, my TV has Chromecast and my homes wireless uses Google hardware. I transfer my photographs between devices with Google Photo and on and on but I have serious issues with their search engine.

A decade or so ago I became concerned about how Google was presenting me with search results. There were a couple of topics that I was interested in and I was well aware that there were conflicting arguments, but Google seemed to lean toward only one of the views. Often I had to go three, five or more pages into the search results to get information on the opposing argument. At the time it disturbed me to think that Google was demonstrating a bias in presenting me with results on topics involving economics, politics, science and more. An unbiased process in returning search results seemed to me a requirement for such an important “obligation”.

My hobbies are travel and photography and I combine them in producing a travel blog. I’ve been at the blog for a couple of years and will admit that I am a very small fish in a very large ocean. I’ve always believed that there were rules that provided everyone an opportunity on the web. I no longer believe that. I now believe that the process is rigged to an extreme level and much of it has nothing to do with a social causes – it’s money and it’s hidden from view.

The second largest general topic on the internet is travel (the first is porn) and there are huge amounts of money involved. If you think about it for a moment you will recognize that people book flights, hotels, cruises, tours, trains, rental cars and more world-wide, primarily on the internet. Billions of dollars are at play. In that internet travel space were a couple of sub-categories that focused primarily on supplying general travel information like Frommer’s guides, Rick Steves, National Geographic and web sites like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor.

Founded in 2000, TripAdvisor was intended to be a compilation of information from other travel sources but as an afterthought they included a feature for visitors to add a review. The site exploded and nine years later was sold to the originator of Expedia. Four years later the company split in two, partly to attempt to keep the impartiality of TripAdvisor. Today TripAdvisor is the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the space. If you are a member you get email offers for cruises and resorts along with recent articles that about travel. Responding to those articles you will discover offers from cruise companies, airlines hotels…

Here’s the issue with Google searches in this space. First you will always find the top of the results pages showing results with that little indicator that they are ADS. Okay that’s where they make money, no big deal. Next you will often discover that a lot of travel results take you to TripAdvisor and at times you can’t be sure why? Once I had the first eight results be TripAdvisor with most being a single members review without much information. Seems like something fishy here. Is Google being biased toward TripAdvisor and is there money involved?

There is something different about Google searches – Recently my travel blog had three referrals with the search term being “destinations index”. I have a number of index posts hat link to content and one is Destinations Index. It wasn’t something I planned but if you use any search engine other than Google (Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, Dog Pile and more) using that search term you will find my page at the tp of the list or at least in the top four. Us that search term on Google and it isn’t there. I gave up after fourteen pages.

If you are thinking about travel, Google is selling your thoughts to specific travel websites. Their playing field isn’t fair. There is a lot of discussion about their bias feeding you with results slanted to one side of an issue – global warming, Democratic candidates, rights to live or die, social causes… They are influencing our thoughts by what information they allow us to see but it seems they are also selling our thoughts about what we are interested in to specific companies.

The Google information gatekeeper charges a toll and we never knew the commodity was actually our thoughts. What gave them the right? There is a possible solution – start using a different search engine (Bing even pays you money to use theirs) and you might also question using Chrome as your browser?

The Cost of Good Health (USA)

A couple of times a year I go all Network and think “I’m madder than hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”. We all know something has to change, Right? But than nothing changes, except things seem to just get worse. A few more months go by and I get mad again.

We all know what the problem is – politicians – and I don’t mean Progressive Democrats or Conservative Republicans. I mean all of them!

Here’s things I found out with just a little research:

In 1977 Bill Clinton had the only job in his entire life outside of politics. He made $12,500 a year as an associate professor at the University of Arkansas. Hell, most of us made more than that. By 1979 Bill got into politics and he and his wife made a ton of money. Today Bill and Hillary are worth about 289 million dollars.

At the time of his death in 1994 Richard Nixon had a net worth of 5.7 million dollars. Before he joined the Eisenhower ticket his Senate income was $12,000* and his legal residence was in an average, middle class neighborhood in Alexandria just across the river from Washington.

At the time Nixon appointed Jerry Ford his Vice-President, Ford also lived in an average middle class neighborhood in Alexandria.

At the time Lyndon Johnson ran for Congress in 1938 he had been a school teacher, a congressional aide and a Texas bureaucrat. His salary as a Congressman was $10,000** The Johnsons built their fortune by buying a financial disaster radio station in Texas that was loosing money because expansion was hampered by the FCC. Shortly after his wife bought the station Lyndon used his political clout to get serious help from the FCC and also got a hard to get franchise from CBS.Their estate was worth 20 million dollars in 2007.

Over the past fifty years it appears that the political class has been more concerned with being paid, by any number of means, primarily because of their jobs. The best way to get re-elected is to actually avoid finding solutions to America’s problems (the powerful and connected prefer the status quo).

Over the past twenty five years – what are the biggest problems facing America’s future?

Social Security
Congress has NOT been wrestling with solving the problem of Social Security going broke for a few decades. Here’s a fact; if you remove the earning cap so every dollar of wages and earned income pays SS and raise the retirement age by two years gradually over 5 years, the problem is solved for as far as you can project.

Health Care for Americans
Adjusted for inflation, our current cost of medical insurance and healthcare is the most expensive in history. Over one third of all Americans receive most of their health care at government expense and over half still get insurance through their employers (even though that is costing 87% more than 10 years ago). The number of uninsured has gone down by 77% in ten years while the number of underinsured has gone up by 158%***.

Every political faction has a strong position about the costs and ways of providing health care to Americans and nobody can reach an agreed solution. What they do however, is change the rules regularly, often making health care for Americans more expensive in the process. Here are the best current facts available at the end of 2018:

The country had an estimated population of 329,000,000 Americans with 19 out of every 50 Americans receiving a significant amount of their health care at government expense. They include Medicare, Medicaid, Military, both active and retired with dependents, along with Veterans in the VA system. Americans spent $810,500,000,000 for health insurance through private insurance companies either with their employment, individually or in Medicare supplemental insurance. They paid out-of-pocket another $89,964,000,000 directly for healthcare as deductible costs or outright payments.

The government actually disbursed $2,132,000,000,000 for medical care either through Medicaid, Medicare, ACA premium subsidies, the VA and the military health system plus Tri-Care (the military health insurance contract) payments. In the same year the U.S. Government took in $177,912,192,000 specifically for health care in required Medicare recipient premiums and payroll tax deductions. That means that the government takes in only 8.4% of what it spends earmarked for American healthcare. In what world does that math make sense?

If you do the math you will see that this shows $2,985,401,192,000 in total American medical costs with some estimates as high as $3,500,000,000,000 or $4,200,000,000,000. It also indicates that the Federal government is already paying between half and two thirds of all American’s medical costs.

For an additional $5,000 each for every remaining American, you will cover 100% of every American’s medical costs. That is half the total American average per person cost of medical care and significantly less than the average privately insured American currently pays for insurance and healthcare.

If you think this doesn’t add up – that’s the whole point.

When politicians claim we cannot afford to give everyone universal healthcare are they aware that we already supply it to well over 1/3 of Americans?

When they claim that universal government healthcare will save money through efficiency are they aware that currently government cost for healthcare is almost 50% more per person than what private insurance and care costs, including out-of-pocket?

When politicians claim that we can’t afford to give everyone Medicare, are they aware that:
1. Medicare recipients pay monthly premiums?
2. Medicare has a co-pay requirement?
3. Medicare has a supplemental private insurance option?
4. That some Medicare supplemental private insurance has no associated fees?
5. That the most expensive age category for health care in America is people over 65?

Additionally, why does 21% of the population on Medicaid cost 577 billion dollars while 14% on Medicare (with a co-pay) cost the government 700 billion dollars?

* $12,000 in 1953 if adjusted for inflation would be $103,000 today. In 2018 a Senators salary was $174,000
** Adjusting for inflation $122,000 in 2018
*** Calculated on the base cost of insurance and the amount of out-of-pocket expenses as a relationship to household income.

Note: This information was gathered from dozens and dozens of sources. Often you will find a wide disagreement on actual numbers. For instance, the range for total American healthcare costs goes from 3.21 trillion dollars to 4.3 trillion dollars. By adding up all healthcare payouts I could identify, I came up with under 3 trillion dollars ($2,985,401,192,000). Some numbers are easy to find as the Social Security Administration provides detailed accounting annually while others are almost impossible, like insurance companies payouts, but one has to include that those payouts do not exceed total premium income.

Employment Today & Tomorrow

America of yesterday is not coming back…

An original essay

Authors Note: This essay was written three years ago and while economic conditions in America seem to be improving there is nothing to suggest that the ideas explored here are not likely to become reality.

It is a natural part of the human condition to resist change. Most of us are comfortable with our current circumstance and look fondly back at the way things used to be. The good ole days may not be as good as we remember but an unknown future can actually be terrifying. Nobody understands this better than politicians and many have built their careers selling us nostalgia and fear.

There is a new populist progressive movement in America. The progressive economic philosophies of liberals are resonating with a big chunk of the voting public that see progressive populism as a better alternative to the reckless capitalism that they blame for the 2008 financial crash.

Here’s the problem: Capitalism was not the cause of the 2008 crash but was actually forced into being a participant. Government social and economic policy set the stage for that recession while business tried to find profit within these forced policies. Afterwards the politicians blamed it on the bankers and capitalism. One of the causes was politicians and bureaucrats thinking they could provide for greater home ownership if they lowered interest, flooded the economy with easy money and forced banks to lower their loan standards. Now progressive’s economic philosophy is focused on another ineffective idea stuck in the past: the rebuilding of American manufacturing.

“We must rebuild American manufacturing and rewrite our trade agreements so that our largest export is not our jobs,” expounds one politician. A major Democrat talking point is a plan to restore the economy and it puts the problem squarely at the loss of American manufacturing jobs.

The problem unfortunately is not the exporting of jobs so much as jobs being replaced by automation. Unsurprisingly, restoring America to its factory-based foundation is a major part of the Democrat economic plan (as well as more than a few Republicans). And while there are some indications in recent years that there may be some resurgence in American manufacturing it probably won’t be providing many new jobs.

These positions are understandable because many of us remember the era of American manufacturing from which many of our parents and grandparents made good incomes. But it’s also wholly unrealistic to expect American manufacturing jobs to return. We can’t go back in time.

In the 1950’s, at the height of the factory economy, manufacturing accounted for almost a third of America’s GDP. By 2010, that number had shrunk to 10 percent. Employment in manufacturing peaked in 1979, when nearly 20 million Americans worked in the sector; today, just over 12 million American jobs fall into the “manufacturing” category and that number has been shrinking steadily while the countries population has grown by almost fifty percent.

The return of the American manufacturing job is a dream. It looks back to an America in which a basic education and a willingness to work meant a guarantee of a steady job, where a family could live a comfortable middle-class life, and the bread-winner could retire at 60.

But that America lives only in the past and no amount of political promises can bring it back.

Now, admittedly there has been a recent modest resurgence in domestic manufacturing on the order of thousands of jobs, but true growth requires tens of millions. And with automation making more inroads every day, it should be very clear that the work that once fueled industrial America will soon be done by machines (2014 is a record year for sales of robots).

In 1915, only six years after opening its factory the Ford Motor Company employed 80,000 workers that produced 600,000 cars. In addition to its own employees Ford was directly responsible for another 120,000 jobs through direct component suppliers, and that doesn’t even count the increased workers in materials supply companies. Because of ever increasing wages, Ford made Detroit one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Strong shoulders meant good wages. In contrast, today Google with a larger market cap than Ford, employs less than 20,000 people. While Ford used large amounts of materials and almost twelve man hours to build a car, today Google uses almost no materials and virtually only fractions of seconds of labor to deliver many of its products and services.

Everywhere in the new economy virtual products and electronic services are sold and delivered with no materials or human labor involved. In the recent past, just to produce and deliver a book, a factory with a large work force, had to print and bind it, box it and ship it to retailers (again that doesn’t even consider the workers making paper and ink, composing the pages and making negatives and printing plates). Labor was a part of the process at every step right up to a clerk ringing the sale. Today books are uploaded to a server where thousands and thousands of buyers select and pay for the book and download it without any direct human labor at all. The same is true for music, movies, magazines, video games, software, apps, and dozens of other items.

One aspect of this new economy is that entrepreneurs and corporations no longer need to share much of the retail price with large work forces by paying wages. This alone is a significant contributing factor in the growing divide between the middle class and the wealthy or income inequality as the political class calls it. Not only is the marketplace become digital but manufacturing, distribution and sales are becoming automated. Robots are the future in a much larger way than most people are aware. People who always thought their jobs were secure are being displaced. Years ago telephone operators were automated out of a job, tomorrow it will be bus drivers. In the years to come it’s likely that professional jobs could be in jeopardy as computers are applied to much of the work preformed by accountants, lawyers, even doctors. The fact is that this process of computers taking hours away from professional, white-collar workers has been going on for a number of years already.

While costly, machines eliminate ongoing labor costs, don’t need to sleep or take vacations, and are easy to replace. There can be no argument that we have already entered the age of automation from which there is no return. One study sees the loss of almost another 50% of U.S. jobs over the next 20 years, and that’s all jobs! A study by Boston Consulting Group sees over a 20 percent decline in manufacturing employment in the next decade, all because of robots. They also forecast a significant increase in manufacturing output and efficiency. Additionally automation will replace ever-increasing numbers of non-manufacturing jobs. Fast food employees, retail clerks, drivers, warehouse workers, the list is endless and the major force behind all this is the cost of labor versus the expense of automation. In most face-offs labor looses.

Oddly enough another major talking point of progressive politicians is raising the minimum wage to ever-higher levels. They preach that everyone is entitled to a “living wage” and business should be required to provide it. As should be obvious by now this will become another major motivation for businesses to further automate. The cost benefit analysis is simple and irrefutable and progressive politicians are lying for their own short-term gain when they promise higher minimum wages.

The robots are here, or will soon be here. And chances are, your job may well become theirs.

That’s why manufacturing is simply not a viable, sweeping, long-term solution for the problem of America’s shrinking, struggling middle class, no matter how good it sounds in progressive political slogans. There is no undoing technological innovation.

But all this doesn’t predict inevitable doom! America doesn’t need manufacturing to thrive. GDP tripled during a drastic reduction in the manufacturing workforce from 1970 to 2010, at the same time the population increased by almost a half. In fact, American GDP increased roughly 20 percent from the end of 2001 to March of 2013, despite virtually no increase in hours worked and jobs created, an increase in productivity brought on largely, if not primarily, by automation in the workplace.

To illustrate this consider the following observation by economist Milton Freidman: “When the United States was formed in 1776, it took 19 people on the farm to produce enough food for 20 people. So most of the people had to spend their time and efforts on growing food. Today, it’s down to 1% or 2% to produce that food. Now just consider the vast amount of supposed unemployment that was produced by that. But there wasn’t really any unemployment produced. What happened was that people who had formerly been tied up working in agriculture were freed by technological developments and improvements to do something else. That enabled us to have a better standard of living and a more extensive range of products.”

Of course, these sorts of events mean plenty of pain for millions of workers. That is a very real thing. But only in recognizing the reality of coming innovation and automation can we help future generations adapt.

There is no denying that at one time factory jobs and the manufacturing sector were critical fuel for America’s economic growth. But failing to realize that the world has changed in profound ways, and expressing the naiveté necessary to believe we can turn back the hands of time, is unbecoming of our leaders and that includes conservatives.

We need to recalibrate our thinking. The good middle-class jobs are or will soon be far removed from assembly lines. They hopefully will reside somewhere but it is difficult to say where. And the unvarnished truth is that ever increasing dollars will likely fill the pockets of the new entrepreneurs who will own the computer and software companies, or the manufacturers who own the robots. The new elites in our society will be these entrepreneurs, programmers and robotics engineers.

Avoiding disaster and insuring progress requires planning for the inevitable future: an economy rooted in engineering, information technology, and computer science, not the jobs of yesterday that are never coming back. But there also needs to be intelligent thinking and discussions on how to deal with massive job dislocation along with new ways of providing social and economic support to those impacted families as well as how to fund these programs. Our current system of education, regulation, welfare and taxation are simply not up to the challenge of the coming new world. We need to formulate a set of policies that provides for the new job dislocations and losses, doesn’t use the tax code to just punish and confiscate wealth, and also recognizes that governments cannot just tax and print their way to a financial solution.

Entitlements like Social Security and Medicare have a long tradition with strong popular support but that isn’t enough to protect their future solvency. Greatly expanded social safety nets seem important now but they could very likely be critical in the future. Unfortunately the current policy of funding these programs with borrowed money is dangerous and cannot continue.

Formulating and adopting new ideas will be difficult but they could also be virtually impossible if progressives and conservatives don’t stop playing politics with our nation’s future. Of course it will be difficult to tell people that the world they have known is dying and radical changes are necessary, but if the political class doesn’t start soon it may soon be too late.

Progressive notions of economics and government are stuck in the past. Socialism and communism have demonstrated over and over again that they are not a system that fosters innovation and economic growth, but rather usually lead to economic collapse. Unfortunately for conservatives the miracle of free markets and capitalism are entering a new era and already sowing the seeds of an unequal, technology based, oligarchy. While it is possible that the current economic crises is only a transitional one, it will none the less be serious and likely displace millions upon millions of workers. Clearly new thinking is necessary but it also requires us to set aside many of our long held beliefs and notions.

There are already visionaries talking about answers to these many challenges. Perhaps government could invest and become a non-voting shareholder in many of the nations companies, using dividends to finance necessary social programs. Or maybe government should loosen its hold on real estate and resources and become a partner in land use for mining, recreation and commercial development. It also might be possible for new “New Deal” type work programs where individuals find purpose and are made partners in redeveloping and cleaning up neighborhoods and cities. There is still much that people can do to make themselves productive members of society but it requires new thinking from government, business and social organizations.

As Ray Kurzweil, futurist and director of engineering at Google, said recently:

“You can point to jobs that are going to go away from automation, but don’t worry, we’re going to invent new jobs. People say, “What new jobs?” I don’t know. They haven’t been invented yet. Sixty-five percent of Americans today work at information jobs that didn’t exist 25 years ago, two-thirds of the population in 1900 worked either on farms or in factories… We’re constantly inventing new things to do with our time, but you can’t really define that because the future hasn’t been invented yet.”

But rest assured, we must rise to the challenge and invent our brave new world. That’s progress, and it is coming — whether progressives and conservatives like it or not “The Times They Are a Changing”.

Come senators, congressmen

Please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway

Don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt

Will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside

And it’s ragin’.

It’ll soon shake your windows

And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan