The U.S. economy is booming. So why are tech companies laying off workers? (Gerrit De Vynck, Danielle Abril and Caroline O’Donovan, February 3, 2024, Washington Post)

The continued cuts come as companies are under pressure from investors to improve their bottom lines. Wall Street’s sell-off of tech stocks in 2022 pushed companies to win back investors by focusing on increasing profits, and firing some of the tens of thousands of workers hired to meet the pandemic boom in consumer tech spending. With many tech companies laying off workers, cutting employees no longer signaled weakness. Now, executives are looking for more places where they can squeeze more work out of fewer people.

“We’re going to continue to be careful on what we invest in, and we’re going to continue to invest in new things and new areas and things that resonate with customers. And where we can find efficiencies and do more with less, we’re going to do that as well,” Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said in response to a reporter’s question during a Thursday media earnings call.

“That is the way the American capitalist system works,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “It’s ruthless when it gets down to striving for profitability and creating wealth. It redirects resources very rapidly from one place to another.”

The liberation of wealth creation from labor is Man’s greatest achievement.


Has the Great Upshift arrived?: Another strong quarter for US productivity growth is far from conclusive. But it’s also a super encouraging sign. Let’s enjoy it. (JAMES PETHOKOUKIS, FEB 1, 2024, Faster, Please)

[T]he US Bureau of Labor Statistics today released the 2023 fourth-quarter result for nonfarm business sector productivity, and it was pretty good — again. Productivity rose by a better-than-expected 3.2 percent during the final quarter of last year and was up by 2.7 percent on a year-ago basis. Even better, productivity growth has now increased at a rapid pace for three straight quarters, including 4.9 percent in Q3 and 3.6 percent in Q2.

Given both the advances in artificial intelligence/machine learning, which emerged before ChatGPT in 2022, and similarly strong productivity numbers in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, it’s certainly worth contemplating whether we’re seeing the start of a (hopefully sustained) period of elevated productivity growth. Which would be totally awesome for several reasons.

For starters — and this is the thing that’s top of mind for most people, including Wall Street — strong productivity growth has contributed to a “Goldilocks” scenario where inflation has declined even as the economy has continued to grow.

…as labor and energy costs trend towards zero.



Jewish Israelis, however, see things differently: 95% of Jewish Israelis believed the Israeli military had used either the “appropriate” amount of force or “too little” force in Gaza, according to a mid-January 2024 poll. That’s 95% support for a plausible genocide:

Polling data from the Agam Institute suggests that some 60% of Israeli Jews oppose allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza. That is, 60% of Jewish Israelis believe all 2.2 million people in Gaza should die of dehydration and starvation.

Israel’s problem is not its lunatic fringe, as Gideon Levy said earlier this week, “Israel’s problem is its mainstream.”


Texas border showdown is far-right magnet, hate trackers warn (Arelis R. Hernández and Hannah Allam, February 2, 2024, Washington Post)

EAGLE PASS, Tex. — A motley crew is gathering here this weekend: militia-style groups invoking 1776 and the Civil War. Christian nationalists praying for the chance to confront evil. Racists stoking fear about the “replacement” of White people. Election deniers, anti-vaccination crusaders, conspiracy theorists.

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And, at the center, a prominent Republican figure whose fiery rhetoric acts as a magnet.

Right-wing extremists are dusting off the blueprint for the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol and using it to rally support for their cause du jour: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s showdown with the federal government over border enforcement. Monitoring groups warn that Abbott’s posturing, like Trump’s “Stop the Steal” effort, heightens the risk of political violence as supporters converge on Eagle Pass, a frontier outpost of 28,000.

Where’s Janet Reno when we need her? The hard part of fighting insurgencies is getting them to cluster and these guys are making target-acquisition easy.


The Trump-Biden Consensus on the Economy Is Bad for Business (Michael R. Strain, 1/30/24, Financial Times)

Donald Trump and Joe Biden differ in many important ways, but both reject the broad consensus that largely governed economic policy in the decades before Trump’s 2016 election — one that is generally supportive of business and in favour of free enterprise. This is bad for businesses, workers and consumers.

Take free trade and industrial policy. Senior officials from both administrations have explicitly argued for abandoning the international economic order built after the second world war in favour of a new consensus that relies more on government planning and less on market outcomes.

But Trump and Biden’s break with the past goes beyond protectionism. Ronald Reagan chose to use his last speech as president to praise immigrants. “We lead the world,” he said, “because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation.” Trump, in contrast, charges immigrants with “poisoning the blood” of America. Biden, though much less extreme, has surprised his supporters by not being friendlier to migrants and the businesses that rely on them.

Of course, opposition to immigration comes naturally to Democrats, who view the migrants as labor competition, for Republicans it’s disgraceful.


How to decarbonize 85% of all industry using today’s technology (Loz Blain, February 01, 2024, New Atlas)

The industrial sector is responsible for about 25% of global CO2 emissions – or about 9.3 billion metric tonnes per year and growing. But a team at the University of Leeds says we don’t need to wait for magical new tech to clean most of it up.

In a new study published in the journal Joule, the researchers went through a range of different industrial sectors looking at the available options for decarbonization, their emissions reduction potential, and their technology readiness level (TRL) – a measure of how close a given technology is to being ready for widespread mass adoption.

They found that even if only medium and high-maturity options (TRL 6-9) were used – primarily involving carbon capture and storage (CCS), and/or switching fuel to hydrogen or biomass – most industrial sectors are already in a position to cut an average of 85% of emissions.


Reconsidering Chevron Deference: Implications for Tech Policy (Daniel Lyons, February 01, 2024, AEIdeas)

As AEI Senior Fellow Adam White recently explained, one byproduct of a strong Chevron Doctrine is regulatory uncertainty. Every four to eight years, the White House changes hands, bringing new agency officials that often use Chevron to undo the work of their predecessors. The whipsaw effect of such changes can be economically disruptive and at some point erodes fundamental rule of law values.

Broadband regulation could be Exhibit A in support of White’s point. In 2005, the Supreme Court upheld a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision that broadband is an “information service” subject to light-touch regulation under the Telecommunications Act, rather than a “telecommunications service” subject to Title II common carrier regulation. But a decade later, the FCC changed its mind, reclassifying broadband under Title II to justify its net neutrality rules—only to reverse itself again in 2018 by a new FCC determined to repeal those rules. In each case, Chevron mandated that courts defer to the agency’s decision, even though this means endorsing the idea that the same statutory language meant the opposite of what it meant a few years ago. Unsurprisingly, after a change in administration the new FCC is poised to change its mind yet again later this year.

One might think it a perk that agencies have the flexibility to shape doctrine in response to political feedback. But presidential elections are noisy signals. Is a vote for Joe Biden expressing a specific desire for strong net neutrality rules, as opposed to immigration reform, worker rights, or simply a distaste for Donald Trump? It’s hard to draw definitive conclusions about voters’ views on specific policy questions.

And the resulting instability imposes significant costs on society. Regulatory uncertainty chills investment: Shareholders are less willing to invest capital in new networks if a changing legal environment casts doubts on their expected rate of return. Wireless companies may be reluctant to explore cutting-edge innovation like network slicing if regulators could limit its usefulness going forward. And consumer protection waxes and wanes, sometimes inadvertently, as when the FCC’s Title II classification stripped the Federal Trade Commission of authority to apply privacy rules to broadband providers as it does the rest of the economy.