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San Francisco | 2019–09–30 | In SF, between Dropbox Work in Progress event and Box Boxworks. Some other meetings. Busily catching up on writing after being under the weather for a week.

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It’s odd to be back in the neighborhood where I lived half-time for four or so years, Soma. So much turnover. So much vomit on the sidewalks.

Living almost ten years in Beacon NY, a small town on the Hudson, has changed me enormously, and it’s when I travel I realize how deep that change goes. I’ve seen a few friends here, but I have drifted away from the tech scene for a long time.

I guess my spin with SF was a superficial attraction, like meeting a mysterious stranger at a dance party. Once the confetti is swept away and the pulse of tricky glamour fades in the hard light of dawn, it doesn’t add up to much.

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I am enjoying all the Asian food here, though.


Stories

The White-Collar Job Apocalypse That Didn’t Happen | Ben Casselman looks back on the prediction of many economists that millions of white-collar jobs would migrate overseas. In fact, many of those jobs stayed in the US, but moved to lower-cost regions:

A widely covered 2007 study by Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economist and former Clinton administration official, estimated that a quarter or more of jobs were vulnerable within the next decade. But many companies discovered that labor savings were offset by other factors: time differences, language barriers, legal hurdles and the simple challenge of coordinating work half a world away. In some cases, companies decided they were better off moving jobs to less expensive parts of the United States rather than out of the country.

“Where in retrospect I missed the boat is in thinking that the gigantic gap in labor costs between here and India would push it to India rather than to South Dakota,” Mr. Blinder said in a recent interview. “There were other aspects of the costs to moving the activities that we weren’t thinking about very much back then when people were worrying about offshoring.”

In his 2007 paper, Mr. Blinder scored occupations on a 1-to-100 scale based on how easily they could be sent offshore. Bus drivers and electricians scored near the bottom. There is pretty much no way to do that work from afar. On the other end of the spectrum were computer programmers and telemarketers — jobs that in many cases were already being sent overseas.

In a follow-up paper released Friday, another economist, Adam Ozimek, revisited Mr. Blinder’s analysis to see what had happened over the past decade. Some job categories that Mr. Blinder identified as vulnerable, like data-entry workers, have seen a decline in United States employment. But the ranks of others, like actuaries, have continued to grow.

Over all, of the 26 occupations that Mr. Blinder identified as “highly offshorable” and for which Mr. Ozimek had data, 15 have added jobs over the past decade and 11 have cut them. Altogether, those occupations have eliminated fewer than 200,000 jobs over 10 years, hardly the millions that many feared. A second tier of jobs — which Mr. Blinder labeled “offshorable” — has actually added more than 1.5 million jobs.

But Mr. Blinder didn’t miss the mark entirely, said Mr. Ozimek, who is chief economist at Upwork, an online platform for hiring freelancers. The new study found that in the jobs that Mr. Blinder identified as easily offshored, a growing share of workers were now working from home. Mr. Ozimek said he suspected that many more were working in satellite offices or for outside contractors, rather than at a company’s main location. In other words, technology like cloud computing and videoconferencing has enabled these jobs to be done remotely, just not quite as remotely as Mr. Blinder and many others assumed.

Especially when US companies have kept most salaries basically flat for 30 years. Now have them work at home with no benefits, and it’s better than sending the customer support call center to the Philippines.

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Kickstarter To Workers and Project Creators: Drop Dead | Nathan Robinson is the editor of Current Affairs, and he skewers Kickstarter for their rabid anti-union activities. Current Affairs is moving from the platform along with a long list of other union supporters.

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The Dangers of Hiring for Cultural Fit | Sue Shellenbarger unpacks the dangers of ‘cultural fit’:

Employers often aim to hire people they think will be a good “cultural fit,” with attributes that will mesh with a company’s goals and values. But their efforts can easily veer into a ditch where new hires all look, think and act alike. That’s bad for anyone who cares about an office with a mix of races, genders and points of view.

“What most people mean by culture fit is hiring people they’d like to have a beer with,” says Patty McCord, a human-resources consultant and former chief talent officer at Netflix. “You end up with this big, homogenous culture where everybody looks alike, everybody thinks alike, and everybody likes drinking beer at 3 o’clock in the afternoon with the bros,” she says.

I remember meeting some VCs years ago, and being struck by how many had played lacrosse at Dartmouth. As I recall, they didn’t have many big exits.

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Maybe We’re Not All Going to Be Gig Economy Workers After All | Neil Irwin takes a hard look at the mess in the gig economy platforms and ends with this:

Business has been on a multidecade campaign to shift more economic risk from its balance sheet onto its work force — through de-unionization, routine use of layoffs, outsourcing and the use of independent contractors.

The gig economy was supposed to be the apotheosis of that shift. It is a form of capitalism that is brutally efficient. It can work well for people seeking a little extra cash. But it has major drawbacks for those who want a solid, predictable income and some protection from the ups and downs of the economy — or for employers who need a reliable, collaborative work force.

As the gig economy matures, it is becoming clear that every trend has its limits.

And there is a mounting backlash in progressive circles against shifting economic risk onto the workforce, in part because it serves to increase economic inequality, but also since externalizing that risk from business means that the public sector — taxpapers, ultimately — will be left holding the bag.


Quote of the Day

Political questions are far too serious to be left to the politicians.

| Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times


Elsewhere

Bezos’s Washington Post Licenses Its Publishing Technology to BP | Arc is a competitor to Automattic Wordpress, and Vox Chorus.

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Automattic raised $300M from Salesforce Ventures in a series D round at a $3B valuation. 34M of the world top 10 million websites run on Wordpress, up from 22% in 2014. Automattic also owns Tumblr.

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Climate Risk in the Housing Market Has Echoes of Subprime Crisis, Study Finds

Banks are shielding themselves from climate change at taxpayers’ expense by shifting riskier mortgages — such as those in coastal areas — off their books and over to the federal government, new research suggests.

The findings echo the subprime lending crisis of 2008, when unexpected drops in home values cascaded through the economy and triggered recession. One difference this time is that those values would be less likely to rebound, because many of the homes literally would be underwater.

In a paper to be released Monday, the researchers say their findings show “a potential threat to the stability of financial institutions.” They warn that the threat will grow as global warming leads to more frequent and more severe disasters, forcing more loans to go into default as homeowners cannot or would not make mortgage payments.

“We’re talking about a loss that’s going to be borne by United States taxpayers,” said Amine Ouazad, a professor in the department of applied economics at HEC Montreal and one of the paper’s authors. He added that with between $60 billion to $100 billion in new mortgages issued for coastal homes each year, “we’re not talking about a small number.”

Uh-oh.