Sunday, May 31, 2020

"Natural Resources & Sleeper Cells: China’s Plan For The Next 5,000 Years"

From Capitalist Exploits:
Coming out of university, I managed to catch the tail end of the so called “super-cycle”, arguably the biggest commodities boom in history fueled by China’s explosive growth over the previous decade. Six months later, along came the financial crisis and the exploration project I was working on was halted abruptly.

The next day I caught a flight home, my boss told me: “We’ll call you when there’s more money.”
10 years on… Still no call.

Several years later when a colleague invited me to come to Nanjing, a city only a few hours from Shanghai, to teach a course on mining and geology I jumped at the opportunity to get a few weeks exposure to the mainland.

After a redeye to Shanghai and a few days of ceremonials dinners containing copious amounts of baijiu, I’d settled into my apartment and was grabbing lunch at a Uyghurs noodle shop down the street. Sitting in the back of the cramped restaurant I noticed three young Africans come in and order. This was unexpected as I’d not yet seen a single foreigner in Nanjing. A few minutes later another group of African students came in and began speaking Mandarin to the server. Then another.
Later that day I saw dozens of African students on campus. Some speaking English others French, and most seemed at least functionally fluent in mandarin.

The next day I met my teaching assistant Matthew, he was from Ghana. He spoke perfect English, a smattering of French, functional Mandarin and several African languages. He had a Master’s degree and had come to China for four years to complete his PhD.

Matt and I became friends over the weeks of working together, having dinner together almost every night. Eventually I asked him: how is it there are so many African students here?
Money, he answered.

It turns out that most of the African students on campus were there on scholarship to complete a Master’s degree or PhD. They’d come from countries all over Africa, the Chinese government paid their expenses, travel, tuition and gave them enough money that most had something extra to send home to their families at the end of each month. Additionally, learning mandarin was mandatory and they were sent to a special language institutes as part of their curriculum.
Think about what that means.

When their time at University is up they go home speaking fluent Chinese, understanding Chinese culture, and having made significant relationships in the country. They return to their home country well educated and primed to rise through the ranks of businesses or Government.
“Be extremely subtle even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.” — The Art of War, Sun Tzu
I should start by stipulating that I am not a conspiracy theorist. I believe in the moon landing, I know the earth is not flat; but China is quite literally creating economic sleeper cells.

This isn’t aid. China is not providing free education out of a sense of charity. In 10 or 20 years those students, having leveraged that education, are going to rise through the ranks of society. When they’re in positions of power they’re going to make decisions on who their countries do business with.
When a Chinese SOE wants to acquire a mining asset or bid for a construction contract, who do you think they’ll talk to? They’re going to call the officials that speak their language. They’re going to partner with the local business owner that went to the same University as they did.

They’ve created economic sleeper cells that speak their language, understand their culture, and will act as allies to their business interests in resource rich, underdeveloped countries all over Africa.
Before getting angry about that, or dismissing it as absurd, think about how ingenious it is. Today the Western democracies can barely plan 4 years in advance. China’s strategy won’t bear fruit for decades it’s thinking in terms of generations, not election cycles.

The Chinese think differently about time. While the West has been the major power for a few hundred years, the Chinese view themselves as a civilization with 5,000 years of unbroken history. Western superiority, starting with the Opium Wars in the 19th century, is considered an irritating and humiliating blip on the radar of centuries of Chinese dominance (one that will soon be put right).
To put it into perspective, until Portuguese sailors washed up on their shores in the 16th century, the Japanese considered Japan “the land of the gods” and China: everything else.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” — The Art of War, Sun Tzu
China is now moving steadily to reclaim its title of global superpower, not so much by conquest but acquisition. The great folly of West has been to assume that because China is an economic powerhouse and is focused on acquiring wealth that they are essentially capitalist, albeit under the helm of a single party dictatorship.

This is wrong. China is still mostly closed. The government increasingly controls the flow of information and its market are largely managed by the state.
They are not capitalists, they’re mercantilists....MUCH MORE
HT: ZeroHedge

First posted April 12, 2018.

Bezos Backs Beacon, Brit Logistics/Freight Forwarding Finance Startup

I couldn't sustain the alliteration through the entire headline. I failed you.
From Sky News: 

World’s richest man Jeff Bezos offers Beacon to UK start-up
The Amazon chief is taking a stake in Beacon, a digital freight-forwarding and supply chain finance firm, Sky News learns.
Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who has amassed a fortune large enough to see him crowned the world's richest person, is to invest part of his wealth in a British technology start-up which wants to become a global logistics titan.

Sky News can reveal that Mr Bezos has agreed to back Beacon, a specialist in digital freight forwarding and supply chain finance.

Mr Bezos - who the Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates is now worth $143bn (£116bn) - is understood to be participating in a $15m (£12.2m) Series A fundraising, to be announced by Beacon this week.

Luring the world's wealthiest man as a backer represents a huge coup for Beacon, particularly because as the founder and chief executive of Amazon, Mr Bezos is intimately acquainted with the complexities of supply chain management....

Tuna Farming In The Mediterranean

From The Fish Site:

Time to turn around Europe’s tuna farming sector
In recent years the buzz and hype surrounding the drive to achieve commercial full-cycle tuna farming in the Mediterranean seems to have subsided. We checked in with some of the leading minds in the field to discuss the initiatives and ideas that can help bring the sector back on track.

Between 2010 and 2016, tuna farming in the Mediterranean looked like the next big thing. Until four or five years ago all the EU countries bordering the Mediterranean, as well as Turkey and Israel, had ongoing projects – from both the public and private sectors – striving to create this new fish-farming sector, as extensively discussed in the 2017 report The closed cycle aquaculture of Atlantic bluefin tuna in Europe. Currently, however, it seems that only Spain is active and moving forward, whereas there are no signs of activity in France, Greece, Italy or Turkey.

In the past, much of the sector’s motivation was inspired by the advances that the EU-funded tuna projects SELFDOTT and TRANSDOTT were making. Japan was also reporting commercial successes – with farmed-from-hatchery juveniles being marketed and accepted by a very discerning public. During those years, wild tuna stocks became heavily overfished and, as a result, strict fishing quotas were introduced. As the amount of wild-caught tuna available to be ranched was reduced, operators began looking for an alternative source of these valuable fish....

"The certificate that could kickstart a renaissance in tuna aquaculture in Europe"
As noted in 2013's "Single Tuna Sells for Record $1.76 Million in Sign of Prices to Come": 
We've been on the Bluefin beat for a few years, links below....

BBC: "What Makes Germans So Orderly?"

Following up on the inciting white supremacists in the post immediately below, we have another example, this time in Seattle:
Strawberry, I believe.
And the headline story from the white supremacists at the Beeb, June 1:
For centuries, Germany has been synonymous with order. So how can a rule-abiding nation also have an anything-goes spirit?
On the high-speed train gliding smoothly from Berlin to Düsseldorf, a young man started chatting to me. He eventually asked, “What are some of the cultural differences you’ve noticed between Germans and Americans?”

As if on cue, a middle-aged woman hovered over us and gave a harsh, “Shh!” with her finger pressed against her lips. She pointed to a sign of a mobile phone with a cross through it, indicating that we were in the Ruhebereich, the quiet carriage of the train.
“You must be quiet,” she said, before returning to her seat.

“That,” I said to the man sitting next to me. “That’s different.”

In the nearly four years I’ve lived in Germany, that woman’s reprimand was just one of many examples I’ve experienced of Germans strictly adhering to the rules in the name of preserving Ordnung (order). Because in Germany, as the famous expression goes, “Ordnung muss sein” (“there must be order”). In fact, this proverbial saying is so well-ingrained in the German psyche that it’s become a cultural cliché for Germans around the world, and a way of life for them at home.

In Germany, your brown bottles must be recycled separately from your clear ones. You must be quiet after 22:00. You must always obey the red man at a crossing, even if no cars are coming. And if you want to get anything done in this country, you need to print and fill out the proper forms, make an appointment, take your number and wait to be called to find out if you followed the rules or missed something in the fine print – which you probably did.

On the surface, “Ordnung muss sein” seems to be the foundation of German personal and social conduct. But, stereotypes aside, is Germany really “orderly”?...

I'm seeing financial twitter following the lead of the Minnesota politicians in putting the blame squarely on the out-of-town white supremacists. Here's some more ammo for them.
In Atlanta a Waffle House is looted:
As one commenter put it: "That's how you know they ain't from Atlanta, where they gonna eat after?"

In The Midst of The Killings, Arson And Looting In Minneapolis There's Still Time For Theater

More specifically Commedia dell'arte* in Ebony and Ivory.
There was a reason Sir Tyrone Guthrie chose Minneapolis for his namesake theater.

First we set the stage. Minnesota Governor Walz, the Mayor of Minneapolis and the state Public Safety Commissioner have all said that the rioting has either been done by, caused by, or instigated by white supremacists:
When reporters asked about rumours that white supremacists were secretly infiltrating Black Lives Matter protests and instigating violence, Mr Walz said: "My suspicions and what I've seen on this, yes. It gets worse than that. The cartels, who are wondering if there was a break in their drug transmissions, are trying to take advantage of the chaos. That's why this situation is on a federal level."
While Minneapolis' Mayor cast a wider net
Minnesota's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Keith Ellison offered up this video:
But it appears the "He's a cop" animosity expressed by the gentleman with the pizza box (pink shirt) has been resolved as they walk off, perhaps to the afterparty to enjoy a well-earned slice. (slightly messy if you carry your prop box like that)

*Key takeaways on commedia dell’arte : ensemble, improv, masks, itinerant (travellers) professional.
From Encyclopedia Brittanica:
...The commedia dell’arte was a form of popular theatre that emphasized ensemble acting; its improvisations were set in a firm framework of masks and stock situations, and its plots were frequently borrowed from the classical literary tradition of the commedia erudita, or literary drama. Professional players who specialized in one role developed an unmatched comic acting technique, which contributed to the popularity of the itinerant commedia troupes that traveled throughout Europe....
If interested, ThoughtCo has more.

And if you Google "Umbrella Man" don't get sidetracked by the Kennedy assassination 'Umbrella Man" as I did. I spent five minutes thinking "what the hell is this?"

And speaking of Google, if  Street View is telling me true, the thoroughfare the umbrella man and pizza box man are approaching from the grassy knoll in that second vid is just north of Lake Street, with the brick building on the left being the back of the AutoZone and the Target store that was picked clean, bare to the walls in the looting, across the street to the right while the third precinct is south on Minnehaha, on the right.

More to come. 

"The 'experience economy' wants to lay claim to our sense of having lived"

From Real Life Magazine, November 18, 2019:

Experience Overload
There’s no moment more significant or beautiful than the next
A reporter walks into a Lower Manhattan storefront to explore a “curious experiment in public entertainment.” He is escorted into a studio-like space bathed in colorful lights. Strange music emanates from invisible speakers as toga-wearing staff members pass out toys, kaleidoscopes, and balloons, the purpose of which remain unclear. “We are trying to overturn every entertainment convention,” the charismatic young founder of the place proclaims by way of explanation — except the bloated admissions charge, the reporter will note later.

This scene did not take place at the Museum of Ice Cream, Snark Park, 29 Rooms, or any of today’s photogenic, multisensory urban pleasure grounds. In fact, it didn’t even take place in this century. It happened in 1968, when a Time reporter went to a short-lived psychedelic happening in SoHo called Cerebrum. Like its contemporary descendants, Cerebrum was difficult to categorize but ultimately came to be described with a now familiar catch-all. “However defined — and perhaps it can’t be,” the Time reporter wrote, “Cerebrum is an experience.”

It’s often claimed that we now live in the midst of the “experience economy,” a buzzy term coined in the late 1990s to describe the lengths to which retailers and service providers must go to attract customers in a world of endless consumer choice and one-click shopping. More recently, social media has intensified this concern, as people seek out all manner of documentable in-person experiences that bolster their personal brand.

The rise of the experience economy is often framed as an economic imperative: New malls, it is believed, might be able to stave off the retail apocalypse by partnering with an “immersive experiences company” like Meow Wolf. Airbnb can program tourists’ days as well as nights by brokering “Experiences” in addition to lodging. In light of print media’s decline, Pop-Up Magazine presents stories as “vivid, multi-media experiences” in a live stage show.

These examples suggest that the experience economy represents yet another wave of technological disruption that scrambles the old economic order. But it is not simply the product of recent economic transformations or the rise of smartphones and social media. It’s a phase of capitalism that began to emerge in the late 1960s, in the milieu that produced Cerebrum. Out of new values and new technologies came a new kind of economic offering, neither “good” nor “service,” that at first gradually and then massively expanded the purview of the economy....

Saul Alinsky: Playboy Interview (1972)

The interview was published in the March 1972 issue of Playboy. Alinsky died June 12, 1972.

Via Scraps From The Loft, May 1, 2018:
Interview by Eric Norden
For the past 35 years, the American establishment has come under relentless attack from a bespectacled, conservatively dressed community organizer who looks like an accountant and talks like a stevedore. According to The New York Times, Saul Alinsky “is hated and feared in high places from coast to coast” for being “a major. force in the revolution of powerless people — indeed, he is emerging as a movement unto himself.” And a Time magazine essay concluded that “it is not too much to argue that American democracy is being altered by Alinsky’s ideas.”

In the course of nearly four decades of organizing the poor for radical social action, Alinsky has made many enemies, but he has also won the respect, however grudging, of a disparate array of public figures: French philosopher Jacques Maritain has called him “one of the few really great men of this century,” and even William Buckley, Jr., a bitter ideological foe, has admitted that “Alinsky is twice formidable, and very close to being an organizational genius.” He was preceded by his reputation on a recent tour of Asia, where he was hailed by political and student leaders from Tokyo to Singapore as the one American with concrete revolutionary lessons for the impoverished Third World.
Not bad for a slum kid from the South Side of Chicago, where he was born on January 30, 1909. After working his way through the University of Chicago, Alinsky attended graduate school for two years, then dropped out to work as an Illinois state criminologist. In the mid-Thirties, as a side line, he began to work as an organizer with the then-radical C.I.O., in which he soon became a close friend and aide to John L. Lewis. Then, in 1939, he phased himself out of active participation in the labor movement and into the role of community organizer, starting in his own back yard — the Chicago slums. His efforts to turn scattered, voiceless discontent into a united protest aroused the admiration of Illinois governor Adlai E. Stevenson, who said Alinsky’s aims “most faithfully reflect our ideals of brotherhood, tolerance, charity and the dignity of the individual.” In 1940, Alinsky elicited a generous grant from liberal millionaire Marshall Field III, who provided funds to establish the Industrial Areas Foundation, which has remained Alinsky’s primary base of operation. Throughout the next decade, with Field’s financial backing, Alinsky repeated his initial success in a score of slum communities across the nation, from Kansas City and Detroit to the barrios of Southern California.
In the Fifties, he turned his attention to the black ghetto, and again began in Chicago. His actions quickly earned the enmity of Mayor Richard J. Daley (who, while remaining firmly opposed to Alinsky’s methods over the years, recently conceded that “Alinsky loves Chicago the same as I do”). He also redoubled his travel schedule as an “outside agitator.” After long but successful struggles in New York State and a dozen different trouble spots around the country, he flew to the West Coast, at the request of the Bay Area Presbyterian Churches, to organize the black ghetto in Oakland, California. Hearing of his plans, the panic-stricken Oakland City Council promptly introduced a resolution banning him from the city, and an amendment by one councilman to send him a 50-foot length of rope with which to hang himself was carried overwhelmingly. (Alinsky responded by mailing the council a box of diapers.)

When Oakland police threatened to arrest him if he entered the city limits, he crossed the Bay Bridge with a small band of reporters and TV cameramen, armed only with a birth certificate and a U.S. passport. “The welcoming committee of Oakland police looked and felt pretty silly,” Alinsky fondly recalls. Oakland was forced to back down, and Alinsky established a local all-black organization to fight the establishment.

By the late Sixties, Alinsky was leaving most of the field work to his aides and concentrating on training community organizers through the Industrial Areas Foundation Training Institute, which he calls a “school for professional radicals.” Funded principally by a foundation grant from Midas Muffler, the school aims at turning out 25 skilled organizers annually to work in black and white communities across the nation. “Just think of all the hell we’ve kicked up around the country with only four or five full-time organizers,” Alinsky told newsmen at the school’s opening session. “Things will really move now.”

He was right — if his subsequent success as a radical organizer can be measured by the degree of opposition and exasperation he aroused among the guardians of the status quo. A conservative church journal wrote that “it is impossible to follow both Jesus Christ and Saul Alinsky.” Barron’s, the business weekly, took that odd logic a step further and charged that Alinsky “has a record of affiliation with Communist fronts and causes.” And a top Office of Economic Opportunity official, Hyman Bookbinder, characterized Alinsky’s attacks on the antipoverty program (for “welfare colonialism”) as “outrageously false, ignorant, intemperate headline-seeking.”

Perhaps the one achievement of his life that has drawn almost universally favorable response was the publication of his new book, Rules for Radicals, which has received glowing reviews in practically every newspaper and magazine in the country. To show his staff exactly how he felt about all this unaccustomed approbation, he called them in to say, “Don’t worry, boys, we’ll weather this storm of approval and come out as hated as ever.” It provided Alinsky with some consolation that the book provoked a hostile reaction in at least one major city — his own. The Chicago Tribune greeted the publication of Rules for Radicals with a lead editorial headlined “ALINSKY’S AT IT AGAIN” and concluded:

“Rubbing raw the sores of discontent may be jolly good fun for him, but we are unable to regard it as a contribution to social betterment. The country has enough problems of the insoluble sort as things are without working up new ones for no discernible purpose except Alinsky’s amusement.” To which Alinsky responded: “The establishment can accept being screwed, but not being laughed at. What bugs them most about me is that unlike humorless radicals, I have a hell of a good time doing what I’m doing.”

To find out more about why Alinsky is doing what he’s doing, and to probe the private complexities of the public man, Playboy sent Eric Norden to interview him. The job, Norden soon discovered, was far from easy: “The problem was that Alinsky’s schedule is enough to drive a professional athlete to a rest home, and he seems to thrive on it. I accompanied him from the East Coast to the West and into Canada, snatching tape sessions on planes, in cars and at airport cocktail lounges between strategy sessions with his local organizers, which were more like military briefings than bull sessions. My first meeting with him was in TWA’s Ambassador Lounge at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. He was dressed in a navy-blue blazer, buttondown oxford shirt and black knit tie. His first words were a growled order for Scotch on the rocks; his voice was flat and gravelly, and I found it easier to picture him twisting arms to win Garment District contracts than organizing ghettos. As we traveled together and I struggled to match his pace, I soon learned that he is, if nothing else, an original. (Alinsky to stewardess: ‘Will you please tell the captain I don’t give a f— what our wind velocity is, and ask him to keep his trap shut so I can get some work done?’)”

“Nat Hentoff wrote last year, ‘At 62, Saul is the youngest man I’ve met in years,’ and I could see what he meant. There is a tremendous vitality about Alinsky, a raw, combative ebullience, and a consuming curiosity about everything and everyone around him. Add to this a mordant wit, a monumental ego coupled with an ability to laugh at himself and the world in general, and you begin to get the measure of the man.

“And yet late at night, in a Milwaukee motel room, his face was gray, haggard and for once he showed the day’s toll (three cities, two speeches, endless press conferences and strategy sessions). A vague sadness hung around him, as if some barrier had broken down, and he began to talk — off the record — about all the people he’s loved who have died. There were many, and they seemed closer at night, in airport Holiday Inn rooms, sleeping alone with the air conditioner turned high to drown out the roar of the planes. He talked on for an hour, fell abruptly silent for a minute, then sprang to his feet and headed for the door. ‘We’ll really f— ’em tomorrow!’ The race was on again.”
Norden began the interview by asking Alinsky about his latest and most ambitious campaign: to organize nothing less than America’s white middle class.
* * *
PLAYBOY: Mobilizing middle-class America would seem quite a departure for you after years of working with poverty-stricken black and white slum dwellers. Do you expect suburbia to prove fertile ground for your organizational talents?
ALINSKY: Yes, and it’s shaping up as the most challenging fight of my career, and certainly the one with the highest stakes. Remember, people are people whether they’re living in ghettos, reservations or barrios, and the suburbs are just another kind of reservation — a gilded ghetto. One thing I’ve come to realize is that any positive action for radical social change will have to be focused on the white middle class, for the simple reason that this is where the real power lies. Today, three fourths of our population is middle class, either through actual earning power or through value identification. Take the lower-lower middle class, the blue-collar or hard-hat group; there you’ve got over 70,000,000 people earning between $5000 and $10,000 a year, people who don’t consider themselves poor or lower class at all and who espouse the dominant middle class ethos even more fiercely than the rich do. For the first time in history, you have a country where the poor are in the minority, where the majority are dieting while the have-nots are going to bed hungry every night.

Christ, even if we could manage to organize all the exploited low-income groups — all the blacks, chicanos, Puerto Ricans, poor whites — and then, through some kind of organizational miracle, weld them all together into a viable coalition, what would you have? At the most optimistic estimate, 55,000,000 people by the end of this decade — but by then the total population will be over 225,000,000, of whom the overwhelming majority will be middle class. This is the so-called Silent Majority that our great Greek philosopher in Washington is trying to galvanize, and it’s here that the die will be cast and this country’s future decided for the next 50 years. Pragmatically, the only hope for genuine minority progress is to seek out allies within the majority and to organize that majority itself as part of a national movement for change. If we just give up and let the middle classes go to the likes of Agnew and Nixon by default, then you might as well call the whole ball game. But they’re still up for grabs — and we’re gonna grab ’em.

PLAYBOY: The assumption behind the Administration’s Silent Majority thesis is that most of the middle class is inherently conservative. How can even the most skillful organizational tactics unite them in support of your radical goals?
ALINSKY: Conservative? That’s a crock of crap. Right now they’re nowhere. But they can and will go either of two ways in the coming years — to a native American fascism or toward radical social change. Right now they’re frozen, festering in apathy, leading what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation:” They’re oppressed by taxation and inflation, poisoned by pollution, terrorized by urban crime, frightened by the new youth culture, baffled by the computerized world around them. They’ve worked all their lives to get their own little house in the suburbs, their color TV, their two cars, and now the good life seems to have turned to ashes in their mouths. Their personal lives are generally unfulfilling, their jobs unsatisfying, they’ve succumbed to tranquilizers and pep pills, they drown their anxieties in alcohol, they feel trapped in longterm endurance marriages or escape into guilt-ridden divorces. They’re losing their kids and they’re losing their dreams. They’re alienated, depersonalized, without any feeling of participation in the political process, and they feel rejected and hopeless. Their utopia of status and security has become a tacky-tacky suburb, their split-levels have sprouted prison bars and their disillusionment is becoming terminal.

They’re the first to live in a total mass-media-oriented world, and every night when they turn on the TV and the news comes on, they see the almost unbelievable hypocrisy and deceit and even outright idiocy of our national leaders and the corruption and disintegration of all our institutions, from the police and courts to the White House itself. Their society appears to be crumbling and they see themselves as no more than small failures within the larger failure. All their old values seem to have deserted them, leaving them rudderless in a sea of social chaos. Believe me, this is good organizational material.

The despair is there; now it’s up to us to go in and rub raw the sores of discontent, galvanize them for radical social change. We’ll give them a way to participate in the democratic process, a way to exercise their rights as citizens and strike back at the establishment that oppresses them, instead of giving in to apathy. We’ll start with specific issues — taxes, jobs, consumer problems, pollution — and from there move on to the larger issues: pollution in the Pentagon and the Congress and the board rooms of the megacorporations. Once you organize people, they’ll keep advancing from issue to issue toward the ultimate objective: people power. We’ll not only give them a cause, we’ll make life goddamn exciting for them again — life instead of existence. We’ll turn them on....

HBR: "Why Economic Forecasting Is So Difficult in the Pandemic"

From the Harvard Business Review, May 18:
The coronavirus pandemic has introduced extreme uncertainty into nearly every aspect of society. Will health care systems hold up? Will scientists develop a vaccine? Are essential workers safe? When can regular employees go back to the office? The answers to these questions — when there are answers — seem to change daily. And with each change the stock market (and our hopes) rises or falls.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, we’ve seen pervasive uncertainty manifest in a sudden and massive divergence in macroeconomic projections. For example, in early February, the spread among economic growth forecasts for Q2 in the U.S. was 3.5 percentage points according to FocusEconomics data. By April 29, the most optimistic forecast among the 28 institutions in our weekly coronavirus survey saw the U.S. economy contracting 8.2%. The most pessimistic projected a huge 65.0% contraction — a spread of 56.8 percentage points — with an average of -31.4%. While most institutions expected a rebound in Q3, some saw further declines. And in Q4, although all economists projected growth of some form, forecasts ranged from a minimum of +1.1% and a maximum of +70.0%. The spreads observed in recent weeks are by far the widest recorded since we started covering the U.S. a decade ago.

Looking at countries with a longer time horizon, the current forecast spread among analysts is far larger than at any point during the past 20 years, and significantly above that seen during the height of the financial crisis — the last period of extreme, prolonged global uncertainty. For example, during the 2008 financial crisis, both Brazil and Mexico saw the spread for annual GDP forecasts widen to close to six percentage points, before returning to under three for most of the 2010s. The percentage point spread is now well over seven percentage points.

Why So Much Divergence?
The short answer to why there is so much divergence is because no one knows for sure what is going to happen. Digging deeper, three key factors are causing forecasters particular difficulties.
First, the economic impact and speed of policy changes have never been higher. In normal times, most governments can be relied on to at least attempt to encourage economic growth and preserve employment. Today, however, they are deliberately provoking recessions to save lives, and containment measures are crushing domestic activity. Simply miscalculating the end date of a nationwide lockdown by a couple of weeks throws annual GDP forecasts completely off-kilter.

Moreover, bills which generally endure months of parliamentary ping-pong are being rushed through legislatures in days as governments and central banks race to respond to the rapid advance of the virus. Many governments have adopted emergency powers allowing them to rule by decree. What’s more, the fiscal and monetary stimulus being announced to palliate the downturn dwarfs that seen during the financial crisis. For economic forecasters, keeping up with the constant flurry of measures and correctly incorporating them into models poses challenges....MORE

And Now: Giant Technicolor Indian Squirrels

From Smithsonian Magazine:

Yes, Giant Technicolor Squirrels Actually Roam the Forests of Southern India
The colorful creatures can measure up to three feet long from head to tail and weigh in at around four pounds....MORE

Saturday, May 30, 2020

"Tea and capitalism"

Topics of abiding interest, links after the jump.
From Aeon:

The China tea trade was a paradox: a global, intensified industry without the usual spectacle of factories and technology
Dutch merchants were the first to import tea leaves into Europe in 1609, but by the late 1700s it was the English East India Company, backed by state monopoly, that came to dominate what became known as the ‘Canton Trade’. During its 18th-century golden age, tea symbolised Chinese civilisation’s preeminent standing in the world. The European aristocracy and bourgeoisie fetishised it as a distinctively Asian commodity, the latest in a broader fashion for exotic art, porcelains and silk from the Orient known as chinoiserie’. Tea symbolised the material grandeur of the venerable celestial empire, which the younger European powers admired and sought to emulate.

Over the course of the 18th century, the average English family quintupled its consumption of tea, mixed with sugar and milk, and profits skyrocketed. Demand for tea was so powerful that it fuelled the creation of a British-centred world market, and its taxation accounted for one-tenth of the Crown’s revenue, underwriting the British expansion into South Asia. As the East India Company’s auditor-general declared in 1830: ‘India does entirely depend upon the profits of the China trade.’

The British could offer little in return that Chinese merchants wanted to buy. So, by the late 18th century, British colonial officials began to smuggle Indian opium into the port city of Canton (now known as Guangzhou). When the Daoguang Emperor, who ruled from 1820 to 1850, attempted to enforce a longstanding prohibition on the narcotic, British officials and traders declared war under the banner of defending liberty of trade. The lopsided British victory in the first Opium War (1839-42) inaugurated what is known today in China as the ‘century of humiliation’. Put simply, tea helped launch the British empire while also setting into motion the long decline of China and the Qing dynasty. Only with the rise and victory of the Communist Party in 1949, the nationalist lore goes, could the original shame of military defeat and colonialism be redeemed.

China had been cultivating the tea plant for more than 1,000 years – a wondrous product of nature painstakingly perfected by artisanal masters. England, however, came to the contest with iron ships, powerful artillery and the backing of the world’s first industrial revolution. For scholars of European empire and modern Asia alike, it’s typically at this point in the story – with the rise of the West now firmly established – that the Chinese tea trade recedes from view.

But, in fact, the post-Opium War tea trade has some important things to tell us about the history of capitalism. Looking beyond the North Atlantic world, in the tea districts of 19th-century China in particular, modern capitalism continued to develop, flexible and globally oriented in character. Even in the Chinese hinterlands, we find the accumulation of capital dependent neither upon spectacular technological innovation nor particular class relations, but instead manifest in a new social logic of global competition. After all, the Chinese treaty port system implemented after the First Opium War didn’t spell the demise of the tea industry but its expansion.

During the rest of 19th century, tea exports climbed even faster, as buyers from continental Europe and the United States joined the British. By the early 20th century (the time of the first systematic surveys), the tea trade continued to employ more people – peasant families, women, children, seasonal workers and porters, spanning rural villages and treaty ports – than any of China’s early urban industries. In response, rival industries emerged in colonial India, Ceylon, Japan, Taiwan and the Dutch East Indies. Just when most histories turn their attention elsewhere, the Chinese tea trade was growing larger than ever, with ever-deeper overseas entanglements.

The Chinese tea trade actually represented China’s entry point into global capitalism. Tea was traded, directly and indirectly, for Patna opium, Peruvian silver, Caribbean sugar, English textiles and Burmese rice. Such activity constituted the first truly global division of labour, powered by the regional specialisation of colonial-world cash crops – or, as W E B Du Bois put it in his book Black Reconstruction (1935): a ‘dark and vast sea of human labour in China and India, the South Seas and all Africa; in the West Indies and Central America and in the United States … spawning the world’s raw material and luxury – cotton, wool, coffee, tea …’ This global division of labour also reshaped the Chinese countryside in dynamic and novel ways.

For much of the 20th century, Western experts viewed China as a precapitalist society. They typically equated ‘capitalism’ with industrialisation and innovation, spectacular benchmarks such as coal-powered engines, steel factories and advances in chemical and mechanical engineering. These technological breakthroughs distinguished the ‘West’ from the ‘rest’, and it was their absence in China – and much of Asia – that marked it as ‘precapitalist’.....

The Great British Tea Heist: Or How England Stole the Secret, Discovered a Fraud and Created the Modern World
Why the World Only Has Two Words For Tea
"Christopher Hitchens And George Orwell’s Ironclad Rules for Making a Good Cup of Tea"
Watch Out Mary Poppins: The World's First Tea Brewing System Utilizing Machine-Learning Algorithms Has Received Pre-Launch Seed Funding (plus a Princess Rap Battle)
"'Tea cartel' formed to boost profits"
Mary Poppins Triumphs: Thousand-Dollar IoT, Bluetooth and WiFi Enabled Tea Kettle Company Folds
"East India Company: The Original Too-Big-to-Fail Firm"
Shipping: It Wasn't Just the British: Americans Making Money Off the Opium Trade
Invitation to Tea at the Financial Times 

"Inequality and Instability in the Time of COVID-19"

If economically advanced societies tend not to have civil wars, and they don't, what on earth is going on in the U.S.A.?
More tomorrow but for openers we'll visit Stanford's Walter Scheidel, last seen just yesterday in Review: "The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century".
From Inference Review, May 18, 2020:
The current pandemic is likely to increase inequality in the short term. It has already exacerbated existing inequalities of opportunity and outcome.1 In terms of physical well-being, COVID-19 has opened up a gap between those able to work from home and those exposed to potentially infectious strangers. Disadvantaged minorities in the US are experiencing higher case fatality rates. With respect to income and financial security, the burden of lockdowns and distancing has been very unevenly distributed across different sectors of the economy. In April, average hourly private sector wages in the US rose almost 5 percent simply because so many lower-paid workers had just lost their jobs.2 Younger workers have been disproportionately hurt. And school closures and the shift to online instruction have separated students with access to broadband internet connections and dedicated computers from those without.

All of this has widened multiple fault lines within society: not only between the financially stable and those living in precarity, but also between white-collar and blue-collar workers, between different ethnic and racial groups, and between the generations. Given the severity of the economic downturn, these amplified inequalities are likely to persist.3 If investment portfolios recover while employment lags, these gaps could grow even further.

These developments stand in marked contrast to the equalizing consequences of some of the greatest epidemics of the past. The Black Death is the most famous case, a plague pandemic that struck Europe and the Middle East in the late Middle Ages. It killed so many people—perhaps as many as one in every three Europeans—that labor became scarce and surviving workers commanded higher wages and came to enjoy higher living standards. At the same time, propertied classes suffered as demand for the land they owned fell and operating costs rose. Similar leveling processes occurred in the great plague pandemic at the end of antiquity and in the massive outbreaks of smallpox and measles that the arrival of the Spanish conquerors inflicted upon the indigenous population of the Americas.4

Today, these dynamics no longer apply. Even in the worst-case scenario, mortality from COVID-19 will be dramatically lower than on those previous occasions. No labor shortages will ensue. Modern technology stands ready to curtail workers’ bargaining power. Even if mortality were much higher (as it might be in a future pandemic), automation and AI would help offset contractions of the human labor force. For these reasons alone, we ought to steer clear of facile analogies between past pandemics and the present crisis.5

This is not to say that history offers no lessons at all. In the longer term, COVID-19’s impact on inequality will be critically mediated by policymaking, just as it had been in the past. In the wake of the Black Death, political power relations determined both workers’ ability to bargain for better conditions and the elites’ ability to resist such demands. As a result, actual outcomes varied by country. The same logic applies to modern societies: in the end, policy choices will have a greater influence on the distribution of resources than the pandemic as such.6

The current crisis opens up political space for redistributive reform that ensures access to healthcare, cushions workers from underemployment and precarity, and may revive more progressive taxation to finance mushrooming deficits. One might conjecture that in the absence of effective relief measures, the economic fallout from the crisis might destabilize the social and political order. This in turn could prompt more radical and possibly violent challenges to plutocratic privilege.
But just how likely is it that the pandemic will bring about leveling by either peaceful or violent means? The risk of disorder merits attention because in the past, the most violent ruptures were often the ones that reduced inequality the most. Next to the worst plagues, these events included the collapse of states, which took down elites, the two world wars, and the great communist revolutions. Nothing even remotely comparable is on the horizon.7

Even though some commentators have already raised the specter of coming social unrest, the historical record speaks against such scenarios, at least as far as high-income countries are concerned.8 No society with an average real per capita GDP of more than a few thousand dollars has ever experienced societal breakdown or civil war.9 The Great Recession of 2008 did not trigger domestic conflict: anti-G20 summit protests and the Occupy movement in the US remained utterly inconsequential, and even Greece avoided major strife in the face of harsh austerity measures. In both Europe and the US, violent crime continued to decline....
...MUCH MORE (come for the exposition, stay for the footnotes!)

Soooo...Where Are We At With Social Distancing? (Oligarchy, Xenophobia, & Soul-Crushing Surveillance: A Lively Look At the Lost Decade Ahead By Varoufakis)

From Project Syndicate:

"America’s Never-Ending Battle Against Flesh-Eating Worms"

Meanwhile in Florida, May 2020....
From The Atlantic:
The Florida Keys are a place where deer stand next to children at school-bus stops. They lounge on lawns. They eat snacks right out of people’s hands. So when the deer began acting strangely in the summer of 2016, the people of the Keys noticed. Bucks started swinging their heads erratically, as if trying to shake something loose.

Then wounds opened on their heads—big, gaping wounds that exposed white slabs of bone. Something was eating the deer alive.

That something, lab tests would later confirm, was the New World screwworm, a parasite supposed to have been eradicated from the United States half a century ago. No one in the Keys had ever seen it. If you had asked an old-time Florida rancher though, he might have told you boyhood stories of similarly disfigured and dying cattle. In those days, screwworms found their way into cattle through any opening in the skin: the belly buttons of newborn calves, scratches from barbed wire, even a tick bite. Then they feasted.

Screwworms once killed millions of dollars’ worth of cattle a year in the southern U.S. Their range extended from Florida to California, and they infected any living, warm-blooded animal: not only cattle but deer, squirrels, pets, and even the occasional human. In fact, the screwworm’s scientific name is C. hominivorax or “man eater”—so named after a horrific outbreak among prisoners on Devil’s Island, an infamous 19th-century French penal colony in South America.

For untold millennia, screwworms were a grisly fact of life in the Americas. In the 1950s, however, U.S. ranchers began to envision a new status quo. They dared to dream of an entire country free of screwworms....

That's quite a dream there bucko.

I too have a dream, also at the Atlantic:
[Read: The ‘golden death’ bacterium found in a rotten apple]
Okay, maybe more like a nightmare but.... gold.

In All Fairness: Professor Gellman Looks At Imperial College Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson And His Covid-19 Model

Over the years we've visited Columbia Uni's Prof. Gellman a few times. You may remember him from such hits as:
Andrew Gelman on the Economics Profession.
Taking on the Nobel Prize Winner: An Update On That "Middle Class White Guys Are Dying" Report
"Big Oregano Strikes Again"
Elon Musk Frenemy Peter Thiel is writing another book!
And the headline story from Columbia's  director of the Applied Statistics Center via his personal blog, Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, May 8:

“So the real scandal is: Why did anyone ever listen to this guy?”
John Fund writes:
[Imperial College epidemiologist Neil] Ferguson was behind the disputed research that sparked the mass culling of eleven million sheep and cattle during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. He also predicted that up to 150,000 people could die. There were fewer than 200 deaths. . . .
In 2002, Ferguson predicted that up to 50,000 people would likely die from exposure to BSE (mad cow disease) in beef. In the U.K., there were only 177 deaths from BSE.
In 2005, Ferguson predicted that up to 150 million people could be killed from bird flu. In the end, only 282 people died worldwide from the disease between 2003 and 2009.
In 2009, a government estimate, based on Ferguson’s advice, said a “reasonable worst-case scenario” was that the swine flu would lead to 65,000 British deaths. In the end, swine flu killed 457 people in the U.K.
Last March, Ferguson admitted that his Imperial College model of the COVID-19 disease was based on undocumented, 13-year-old computer code that was intended to be used for a feared influenza pandemic, rather than a coronavirus. Ferguson declined to release his original code so other scientists could check his results. He only released a heavily revised set of code last week, after a six-week delay.
So the real scandal is: Why did anyone ever listen to this guy?
I don’t know. It’s a good question. When Ferguson was in the news a few months ago, why wasn’t there more discussion of his atrocious track record? Or was his track record not so bad? A google search turned up this op-ed by Bob Ward referring to Ferguson’s conclusions as “evidence that Britain’s political-media complex finds too difficult to accept.” Regarding the foot-and-mouth-disease thing, Ward writes, “Ferguson received an OBE in recognition for his important role in the crisis, or that he was afterwards elected a fellow of the prestigious Academy of Medical Sciences.” Those sorts of awards don’t cut much ice with me—they remind me too much of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences—but maybe there’s more of the story I haven’t heard.

I guess I’d have to see the exact quotes that are being referred to in the paragraphs excerpted above. For example, what did Ferguson exactly say when he “predicted that up to 150,000 people could die” of foot-and-mouth disease. Did he say, “I expect it will be under 200 deaths if we cull the herds, but otherwise it could be up to 2000 or more, and worst case it could even be as high as 150,000?” Or did he flat out say, “150,000, baby! Buy your gravestone now while supplies last.”? I wanna see the quotes.

But, if Ferguson really did have a series of previous errors, then, yeah, Why did anyone ever listen to this guy?
In the above-linked article, Fund seems to be asking the question rhetorically.

But it’s a good question, so let’s try to answer it. Here are a few possibilities:

1. Ferguson didn’t really make all those errors; if you look at his actual statements, he was sane and reasonable.
Could be. I can’t evaluate this one based on the information available to me right now, so let’s move on.
[Indeed, there seems to be some truth to this explanation; see P.S. below.]

2. Nobody realized Ferguson had made all those errors. That’s true of me—I’d never heard of the guy before all this coronavirus news.
We may be coming to a real explanation here. If a researcher has success, you can find evidence of it—you’ll see lots of citations, a prestigious position, etc. But if a researcher makes mistakes, it’s more of a secret. Google the name and you’ll find some criticism, but it’s hard to know what to make of it. Online criticism doesn’t seem like hard evidence. Even published papers criticizing published work typically don’t have the impact of the original publications.

3. Ferguson played a role in the system. He told people what they wanted to hear—or, at least, what some people wanted to hear. Maybe he played the role of professional doomsayer.
There must be something to this. You might say: Sure, but if they wanted a doomsayer, why not find someone who hadn’t made all those bad predictions? But that misses the point. If someone’s job is to play a role, to speak from the script no matter what the data say, then doing bad work is a kind of positive qualification, in that it demonstrates one’s willingness to play that role.

But this only takes us part of the way there. OK, so Ferguson played a role. But why would the government want him to play that role. If you buy the argument of Fund (the author of the above-quoted article), the shutdowns were a mistake, destructive economically and unnecessary from the standpoint of public health. For the government to follow such advice—presumably, someone must have been convinced of Ferguson’s argument from a policy perspective. So that brings us back to points 1 and 2 above....

Professor Gelman's most recent Covid-19 related post is today's "'The good news about this episode is that it’s kinda shut up those people who were criticizing that Stanford antibody study because it was an un-peer-reviewed preprint. . . .' and a P.P.P.S. with Paul Alper’s line about the dead horse

"Politics Without Politicians"

Watching the politicians in American cities you start to wonder why are they in power? Who needs 'em, they don't even fix the potholes.
So we'll lift this piece back up from the link-vault, reflecting on those bucolic days of, oh, February:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the very people who most want to run things are the last people who should be allowed to do so.

Okay, maybe not universally acknowledged, maybe it's just me. And apologies to Jane Austen.
From the New Yorker
The political scientist Hélène Landemore asks, If government is for the people, why can’t the people do the governing?

Imagine being a citizen of a diverse, wealthy, democratic nation filled with eager leaders. At least once a year—in autumn, say—it is your right and civic duty to go to the polls and vote. Imagine that, in your country, this act is held to be not just an important task but an essential one; the government was designed at every level on the premise of democratic choice. If nobody were to show up to vote on Election Day, the superstructure of the country would fall apart.

So you try to be responsible. You do your best to stay informed. When Election Day arrives, you make the choices that, as far as you can discern, are wisest for your nation. Then the results come with the morning news, and your heart sinks. In one race, the candidate you were most excited about, a reformer who promised to clean up a dysfunctional system, lost to the incumbent, who had an understanding with powerful organizations and ultra-wealthy donors. Another politician, whom you voted into office last time, has failed to deliver on her promises, instead making decisions in lockstep with her party and against the polls. She was reëlected, apparently with her party’s help. There is a notion, in your country, that the democratic structure guarantees a government by the people. And yet, when the votes are tallied, you feel that the process is set up to favor interests other than the people’s own.

What corrective routes are open? One might wish for pure direct democracy—no body of elected representatives, each citizen voting on every significant decision about policies, laws, and acts abroad. But this seems like a nightmare of majoritarian tyranny and procedural madness: How is anyone supposed to haggle about specifics and go through the dialogue that shapes constrained, durable laws? Another option is to focus on influencing the organizations and business interests that seem to shape political outcomes. But that approach, with its lobbyists making backroom deals, goes against the promise of democracy. Campaign-finance reform might clean up abuses. But it would do nothing to insure that a politician who ostensibly represents you will be receptive to hearing and acting on your thoughts.

The scholar Hélène Landemore, a professor of political science at Yale, has spent much of her career trying to understand the value and meaning of democracy. In recent years, she has been part of a group of academics, many of them young, trying to solve the problem of elected democratic representation—addressing flaws in a system that is widely believed to be no problem at all. In her book “Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many” (Princeton, 2012), she challenged the idea that leadership by the few was superior to leadership by the masses. Her forthcoming book, due out next year and currently titled “Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the 21st Century,” envisions what true government by mass leadership could look like. Her model is based on the simple idea that, if government by the people is a goal, the people ought to do the governing.

“Open democracy,” Landemore’s coinage, does not center on elections of professional politicians into representative roles. Leadership is instead determined by a method roughly akin to jury duty (not jury selection): every now and then, your number comes up, and you’re obliged to do your civic duty—in this case, to take a seat on a legislative body. For a fixed period, it is your job to work with the other people in the unit to solve problems and direct the nation. When your term is up, you leave office and go back to your normal life and work. “It’s the idea of putting randomly selected citizens into political power, or giving them some sort of political role on a consultative body or a citizens’ assembly,” said Alexander Guerrero, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers who, in 2014, published an influential paper arguing for random selection in place of elections—a system with some precedents in ancient Athens and Renaissance Italy which he dubbed “lottocracy.” (It’s the basis for his own forthcoming book.) In open democracy, Landemore imagines lottocratic rule combined with crowdsourced feedback channels and other measures; the goal is to shift power from the few back to the many.

To many Americans, such a system will seem viscerally alarming—the political equivalent of lending your fragile vintage convertible to the red-eyed, rager-throwing seventeen-year-old down the block. Yet many immediate objections fall away on reflection. Training and qualification: Well, what about them? Backgrounds among American legislators are varied, and members seem to learn well enough on the job. The belief that elections are a skills-proving format? This, too, cancels out, since none of the skills tested in campaigning (fund-raising, glad-handing, ground-gaming, speechmaking) are necessary in a government that fills its ranks by lottery.

Some people might worry about commitment and continuity—the idea that we are best served by a motivated group of political professionals who bring experience and relationships to bear. Historically, such concerns haven’t weighed too heavily on the electorate, which seems to have few major reservations about choosing outsiders and weirdos for important roles. If anti-institutionalism has become a poison taken as a salve, then maybe it’s the institutions that require adjustment. Landemore’s open-democratic model purports to work with the people as they are, with no reacculturation or special education required—and its admirers describe the idea as being durable, sophisticated, and able to channel populist sentiment for good....

Last posted May 9. See also May 9's "Governance Systems: Who Should Be King?" with added Whamalamabamalama!!
"Detox democracy through representation by random selection" 
We are fans of randomness....

The Joy of Randomness: Central Bank Strategy, Management Technique and Stock Selection
Profiting From Random Strategies
Can Information Rise From Randomness?
Should You Just Give Up And Trade Stocks Randomly?
Joys of Noise: Technologies that Rely on Randomness
Think a coin toss has a 50-50 chance? Think again.
Randomness: "A Drunkard’s Walk in Manhattan"
Attention Managers, You Can Improve Corporate Efficiency by Randomly Promoting Employees
That last piece of research was awarded Harvard's own Ig Nobel prize in 2010.
Ya see, ya got your complex systems and ya got your chaotic systems and then ya got your complex-chaotic systems like weather or the economy or the stock market and when you endeavor at those levels of sophistication you realize:...
There may be issues.

Dilbert random number generator

'Shrooms: "Fungal Lightning"

“Japanese researchers are closing in on understanding why electrical storms have a positive influence on the growth of some fungi,” Physics World reported last month, with some interesting implications for agriculture. 
These electrical storms do not have to be nearby, and they do not even need to be natural: “In a series of experiments, Koichi Takaki at Iwate University and colleagues showed that artificial lightning strikes do not have to directly strike shiitake mushroom cultivation beds to promote growth.” Instead, it seems one can coax mushrooms into fruiting using even just the indirect presence of electrical fields.

As the article explains, “atmospheric electricity has long been known to boost the growth of living things, including plants, insects and rats,” but mushrooms appear to respond even to regional electrical phenomena—for example, when a distant lightning storm rolls by. “In Takaki’s previous studies, yield increases were achieved by running a direct current through a shiitake mushroom log. But Takaki still wondered—why do natural electric storms indirectly influenced [sic] the growth of mushrooms located miles away from the lightning strikes?”

Whether or not power lines or electricity-generation facilities, such as power plants, might also affect—or even catalyze—mushroom growth is not clear.
For now, Takaki is hoping to develop some kind of electrical-stimulation technique for mushroom growth, with an eye on the global food market.
[Image: Nikola Tesla, perhaps daydreaming of mushrooms; courtesy Wellcome Library.]


"A Brief History of the Gig"

A Day In A Factory Circa 1905

From Delancey Place:
Today's selection -- from The Baldwin Locomotive Works, 1831-1915: A Study in American Industrial Practice by John K. Brown.
At a point when America's manufacturing prowess led the world, one of its preeminent factories was Baldwin Locomotive Works in North Philadelphia. Here we see a typical day in the massive Baldwin factory in 1905:
"As the industrial age gathered force and momentum during the nineteenth century, the steam locomotive came to symbolize the new agencies of technology, commerce, speed, and power that reordered Western society and marked the most fundamental changes ever in humanity's lot on earth.

... [J]oin the throng on the way to work in the Baldwin plant early one morning in October 1905.
"Just before the starting whistles blow out at seven A.M., Baldwin's day shift of over ten thousand men hurries through the teeming streets of Bush Hill, an industrial district rendered in brick and soot, crowded with factories, railway lines, coal yards, and worker tenements. The men split up into separate groups, heading for the different shops of a factory spread out over twelve city blocks where the six thousand workers of the night shift are ready to lay down their tools. Upon arriving, the day men will begin work on any of the approximately 450 new locomotives that on this morning are at varying stages of completion in Baldwin's regular production schedule.

"From the foundries to the erecting shop, workers in eight skilled trades and scores of specialties apply their talents to engines ranging from little 4-ton electrics to massive 150-ton steamers. Baldwin foundry. Boilermaking has the potential to be a real bottleneck in the production schedule. All parts entering into a boiler come from outside suppliers, so most of the steel plates, flues, staybolts, piping, gauges, and insulation do not arrive at Baldwin until the fifth week of the production schedule. The firm allots weeks five and six to the massively labor-intensive process of fabricating boilers, which can reach 40 feet in length and weigh up to 43,000 pounds even before the flues are added.

To make each boiler in this two-week period, Baldwin allots four shops and over three thousand men on two shifts to the task. They employ powered tooling wherever possible: plate planers, drillers, punchers, and rollers that accommodate sheets over 20 feet long, as well as overhead cranes, hydraulic presses, and power riveters. Notwithstanding these tools, the work remains notably labor-intensive, and the firm must rigorously subdivide tasks to stay on schedule. Each stage has its own specialists: markers, drillers, rollers, flangers, riveters, chippers, and caulkers, many requiring helpers.

Working in small groups that are paid piecework rates, the men hurry from plate to plate and machine to machine. The work is rushed but cannot be slapdash. Boilers under pressure are notoriously lethal, and Baldwin's customers often send inspectors into the plant to ensure that construction of their orders complies with railroad standards. The boiler shops are not as noisy as one would think. Huge hydraulic presses do most of the flanging work -- making steam domes, for instance -- while much of the riveting is accomplished by large hydraulic riveters rather than the brute-force hammering of the past.

"While the boilermakers shear, roll, punch, flange, press, and rivet steel sheets as if they were paper, over five thousand machinists turn to precision machining operations. Baldwin's machine shops are scattered across seven city blocks, with the two major shops on Broad Street occupying four- and six-story buildings. Since the machinists must await the products of the foundries and smith shops, today they are working on orders in weeks six and seven of the production schedule....