Dati Lettura ISTAT 2013-2014

Ecco un po’ di conti (segnalate pure errori, grazie!) sui dati relativi al numero di persone che hanno letto almeno un libro durante il tempo libero nel 2013 (ISTAT) e nel 2014 (ISTAT).

Ho analizzato i dati aggregati su base nazionale, per macroregione (Nord-Ovest, Nord-Est, Centro, Sud, Isole) e per classi d’età (6-14, 15-24, 25-64, 65+).

Il calo è statisticamente significativo (secondo criteri e parametri cortesemente forniti dall’ISTAT stessa nelle note metodologiche) solo su base nazionale e per la classe d’età 25-64, non per macroregioni e altre classi di età.

Tutto sommato ANSA riassume bene la situazione, AIE invece prevedibilmente catastrofista (in parte anche ISTAT per la verità nella sua interpretazione).

Per quanto riguarda il ridotto margine d’errore del dato nazionale, si potrebbe sollevare una questione metodologica legata all’utilizzo di uno stimatore di tipo feasible weighted least squares (solita storia: stima asintoticamente più efficiente sotto condizioni di regolarità asintoticamente più dubbie), ma senza stare a perderci troppo tempo si può dire abbastanza tranquillamente che la situazione è sostanzialmente invariata.

La cosa non sorprende più di tanto dato che siamo di fronte a comportamenti “o tutto o niente” (leggo/non leggo) talmente radicati che, a differenza del numero di libri letti, difficilmente potranno subire variazioni rilevanti di anno in anno, e ancora più difficilmente tramite campagne di convincimento.

Lettori libri per regione (% popolazione regionale, 2013)Lettori libri per regione (% popolazione regionale, 2014)Volendo individuare un trend di lungo periodo, è ipotizzabile che i nuovi anziani leggeranno più degli anziani attuali, riducendo ulteriormente un divario Nord-Sud che nell’Italia digitale è già molto minore.

Lettori ebook per regione (% popolazione regionale con accesso a Internet, 2013)Lettori ebook per regione (% popolazione regionale con accesso a Internet, 2014)Bisogna “solo” attendere che la demografia faccia il suo corso.

All the Workers They Were Already Gone /3

This is the third article of a three-article series about the so-called Third Industrial Revolution.

Final article of the series, my free time keeps shrinking so I have to be telegraphic and let others speak for me.

Machines outperforming muscles has economic consequences, machines outperforming neurons has both economic and biological consequences.

We are doomed, 100% sure, but there is no reason to bitch and whine if we do not get our way.

For the artistically-minded, Nietzsche 1878:

The press, the machine, the railway, the telegraph are premises whose thousand-year conclusion no one has yet dared to draw.

For the scientifically-minded, Hayek 1952:

[…]
8.80. Applying the same general principle to the human brain as an apparatus of classification it would appear to mean that, even though we may understand its modus operandi in general terms, or, in other words, possess an explanation of the principle on which it operates, we shall never, by means of the same brain, be able to arrive at a detailed explanation of its working in particular circumstances, or be able to predict what the results of its operations will be. To achieve this would require a brain of a higher order of complexity, though it might be built on the same general principles. Such a brain might be able to explain what happens in our brain, but it would in turn still be unable fully to explain its own operations, and so on.
8.81. The impossibility of explaining the functioning of the human brain in sufficient detail to enable us to substitute a description in physical terms for a description in terms of mental qualities, applies thus only in so far as the human brain is itself to be used as the instrument of classification. It would not only not apply to a brain built on the same principle but possessing a higher order of complexity, but, paradoxical as this may sound, it also does not exclude the logical possibility that the knowledge of the principle on which the brain operates might enable us to build a machine fully reproducing the action of the brain and capable of predicting how the brain will act in different circumstances.
8.82. Such a machine, designed by the human mind yet capable of ‘explaining’ what the mind is incapable of explaining without its help, is not a self-contradictory conception in the sense in which the idea of the mind directly explaining its own operations involves a contradiction. The achievement of constructing such a machine would not differ in principle from that of constructing a calculating machine which enables us to solve problems which have not been solved before, and the results of whose operations we cannot, strictly speaking, predict beyond saying that they will be in accord with the principles built into the machine. In both instances our knowledge merely of the principle on which the machine operates will enable us to bring about results of which, before the machine produces them, we know only that they will satisfy certain conditions.
[…]

Bold emphasis is mine, the passage links the two quotations.

The argument is very simple and straightforward, if the human species were not affected by delusions of grandeur it would have already been common scientific knowledge since ages.

Probably we would not have even started building machines in the first place if we were not affected by psychological self-deception though.

Falli Economici / Episodio #1 / Esercizio

Recentemente mi è stato chiesto di sintetizzare in italiano il contenuto di questo articolo tedesco svizzero (btw non capisco un’acca di tedesco).

Premesso che la qualità è nettamente superiore alla media del giornalismo economico italiano, ne approfitto comunque per inaugurare la nuova rubrica Falli Economici.

Di seguito la sintesi italiana più o meno fedele dell’articolo (in realtà ho aggiunto un paio di migliorie), economicamente parlando ci sono tre errori da ammonizione e uno da rosso diretto.

Suggerimento: l’errore da penna blu è una vera e propria fallacia (ragionamento scorretto ma apparentemente logico), i tre errori da penna rossa invece sono uno di carattere finanziario, uno di carattere storico e uno di carattere commerciale (facile da beccare per gli street smart, ma anche per i book smart con un minimo di elasticità mentale).

Eventuale soluzione solo al terzo tentativo sbagliato, tentativi multipli da parte della stessa persona contano sempre uno; eventuale menzione d’onore a chi ha tempo da perdere per trovare le mie due migliorie (suggerimento: ho spiegato causalmente due considerazioni puramente descrittive nell’originale).

Iniquità e inefficienza del Quantitative Easing (QE)

I principali beneficiari delle politiche monetarie di riduzione dei tassi d’interesse e di espansione dei bilanci delle banche centrali sono i trader, istituzionali o individuali, e gli enti del settore bancario e pubblico.

I primi hanno capito che la tattica di trading più semplice e profittevole è anticipare gli interventi espansivi e restrittivi delle banche centrali per cavalcare i conseguenti rialzi e ribassi dei mercati azionari e obbligazionari.

I secondi sono soggetti con continua necessità di rollover del debito a breve termine (il settore bancario a causa dell’attività strutturale di trasfromazione delle scadenze, il settore pubblico per la prassi storicamente consolidata del deficit di biliancio), nonché primi prenditori nella sequenza temporale del meccanismo di trasmissione della politca monetaria al resto dell’economia privata.

Il piano della Banca Centrale Europea prevede l’acquisto di titoli del debito pubblico dei paesi dell’eurozona per un ammontare pari al 250% delle emissioni nette totali durante il periodo di attuazione del piano, ovvero all’acquisto dell’intera emissione di titoli (Grecia esclusa) e alla monetizzazione di una parte significativa del debito pubblico già emesso.

Gli investitori più attenti ed esposti ai fondamentali economici esprimono invece crescente scetticismo sull’efficacia di tale misura, sottolineandone gli uni gli effetti distorsivi su prezzi di mercato gli altri gli effetti poco significativi su crescita e inflazione al di fuori del settore finanziario.

Il meccanismo di trasmissione della politica monetaria sembra incepparsi al momento della traduzione dell’ampliata base monetaria in credito bancario a imprese e famiglie.

Minori tassi d’interesse e maggiore liquidità a monte del meccanismo di trasmissione della politica monetaria non corrispondono necessariamente a minori tassi d’interesse e maggiore liquidità a valle, probabilmente a causa dell’elevata rischiosità percepita dei teorici prenditori finali (imprese e famiglie) da parte del settore bancario.

Crescono i dubbi anche su durata e sostenibilità dei benefici dell’altro canale di trasmissione del QE: il deprezzamento valutario.

Nonostante la congiuntura favorevole dell’andamento al ribasso dei prezzi di materie prime e petrolio, che compensa l’apprezzamento valutario delle importazioni, il deprezzamento dell’euro favorirà le imprese esportatrici solo nella misura in cui la loro specializzazione produttiva risponda alle richieste della domanda estera, in una fase congiuntarale problematica dell’economia mondiale.

Più che a semplici attriti nella circolazione siamo di fronte a vere e proprie deviazioni del flusso dell’accresciuta liquidità, con pesanti e discutibili effetti redistributivi ormai evidenti tanto agli addetti ai lavori quanto all’opinione pubblica.

All the Workers They Were Already Gone /2

This is the second article of a three-article series about the so-called Third Industrial Revolution.

Pick up where we left off:

In the next article of the series, I will try to suggest that, in developed countries, people have already been provided permanent income support, in a very Freudian and Calvinist-guilt-free way but still…

The recent article Work Is Bullshit: The Argument For “Antiwork” by Adele Peters comes in handy (well, just a few points, I strongly disagree with the interviewed: hard-working people are a bless, poseurs are the real issue):

[…] A fascinating essay by U.K.-based writer Brian Dean argues that we need to reframe the idea of work itself […]

is the idea of the virtuous “hard worker” anachronistic? Dean writes about how the concept grew in Puritan times and never really went away. […]

“Society seems to be in denial over this, to a large extent,” Dean says. “So, we see the persistent belief that we can achieve ‘full employment.’ Rifkin showed empirically that this is nonsense, unless we create a lot of make-work, i.e., work for the sake of working. And that’s what, as a society, we seem to be doing. Everywhere you look there are stupid, pointless (and probably environmentally destructive) jobs.”

[…] Dean supports the idea of unconditional basic income—a system in which society pays everyone enough to meet basic needs, so we can all spend our time doing something that truly fulfills us. […]

Despite very straightforward economic theory suggesting that direct monetary income support is the most efficient (“these God damn food stamps don’t buy diapers”) and least distortionary welfare measure, historically nation states even dismissed most proposals for voucher programs and preferred a mix of direct public provision of services, subsidies to otherwise uneconomical private entities and creation of regulatory agencies.

Why? Let us behave as a corrupt politician. Nothing wrong with politicians, just worst-case scenario, which is always wise to consider.

First, I can provide you much more than direct monetary income support, I can give you a good job: social status and no more Puritan guilt. I own you.

Second, I am a God-like economic entity: I can shape competition and innovation in whatever industry my intellectuals and pundits are able to label as strategic.

Third, I know plenty of private economic information. “I got pennies for my thoughts, now I’m rich.”

Enough said, not my fault if this corrupt-politician scenario sounds familiar to you.

Digital Publishing OPML

Here you are DigitalPublishing.opml, an OPML file with the news feeds of a number of thematic blogs (English and Italian) to stay up to date with what is happening in the magic world of digital publishing.

feedly is a good news feed reader. Once subscribed, import the OPML file: Add Content > Import OPML (bottom of the page).

OPML and news feeds are XML files: the OPML file lists and links to a series of news feed files, that are automatically updated each time a new article is published and contain its title, URL and, sometimes, a digest or the entire hypertext (according to the blog owner’s preferences). A news feed reader allows to import OPML files and display the content of news feeds.

Please, feel free to share other sources (especially non-Italian and non-English) in the comments, so I can add them to the OPML file. Currently in DigitalPublishing.opml:

The one and only scientific definition of Profit

Me reading articles about Amazon unprofitability:

image

Due to the unpredictable nature of medium-/long-term investment in a dynamic economy (i.e. real life), the one and only scientific definition of profit is in a sense both more subjective, being based on expectations of market participants, and more objective, being readily observable at a given point in time, than pseudoscientifc profit computed in income statements based on arbitrary assumptions:

[…] convert goodwill into bona fide market values. […] this is exactly what every profit-seeking plan attempts–the conversion of purely subjective values, which are not exchangeable, into market values that are generally recognized and readily transferable.

[very precious and underrated undisclosed personal source of mine]

Now the Internet is a safe and healthy place, I can finally get asleep.

Mycroft: This is a chullo. The classic headgear of the Andes. It’s made of Alpaca.
Sherlock: Nope.
Mycroft: No?
Sherlock: Icelandic sheep wool. Similar, but very distinctive if you know what you’re looking for. I’ve written a blog on the varying tensile strengths of different natural fibers.
Mrs. Hudson: I’m sure there’s a crying need for that.

All the Workers They Were Already Gone /1

This is the first article of a three-article series about the so-called Third Industrial Revolution.

Nouriel Roubini has recently shared his views about “whether demand for labor will continue to grow as technology marches forward” in Where Will All the Workers Go?, an op-ed column for Project Syndacate.

Contrary to the (once?) common economic belief that robotics will affect only manufacturing employment, Roubini correctly points out that even highly-skilled service jobs are at risk of technological disruption.

[…] a patient in New York may have his MRI sent digitally to, say, Bangalore, where a highly skilled radiologist reads it for one-quarter of what a New York-based radiologist would cost. But how long will it be before a computer software can read those images faster, better, and cheaper than the radiologist in Bangalore can?

[…] will we still need so many teachers in the decades to come if the cream of the profession can produce increasingly sophisticated online courses that millions of students can take? If not, how will all of those former teachers earn a living?

[…] by transforming how services are provided to the public, the e-government trend can offset the employment losses with productivity gains.

However, he runs into a common economic pitfall when he defines recent technological advances as “capital-intensive” (thus favoring those who already have financial resources) and “skill-intensive” (thus favoring those who already have a high level of technical proficiency).

Actually, recent technological advances are capital-saving: a few decades ago, not even the richest man in the world could command the computational power and the mass storage that, today, I can command with a few hundred bucks.

Since practically every kind of information can be digitally encoded, computationally manipulated and electronically transmitted, from an economic point of view we are not just talking about bits, we are talking about less physical capital, real stuff: paper, trucks, buildings, machinery, gasoline, etc.

This fact also explains why an incredible and historically unprecedented amount of research and development has been undertaken by small companies (the now-mythical startup garages) and not by giant incumbent firms with huge financial endowments.

Furthermore, it may sound counterintuitive but technological progress has never been skill-intensive: technological progress is all about embodying human knowledge into capital goods.

A very quick and simple example should do the work: only a fool could label earlier generations of low-level computer programmers as less skilled than current generations of high-level computer programmers.

If current generations of high-level computer programmers are able to deal with very complex and relevant problems is not because they are more skilled than earlier generations of low-level computer programmers, exactly the opposite: the superior knowledge of earlier generations of low-level computer programmers is now embodied into very complex, but not-so-expensive, capital goods, so that it is easily available to less skilled current generations of high-level computer programmers.

Current generations of high-level computer programmers are less skilled and need less capital (go back to the sixties and try to buy a mainframe with your monthly salary…) than earlier generations of low-level computer programmers, but they are also much more productive because they can build upon the superior knowledge embodied into more recent capital goods.

If you think thoroughly about the history of professions and sciences, you will notice that this is a general and well-known truth: we are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants.

In the short run, it is not a historical novelty that technological progress is deflationary and employment-depressing: its contribution to economic development has never been full employment, it has always been fostering entrepreneurial activity (new goods, new production methods, new markets, new sources of supply, new organization forms) that in turn drives the rise in income and the wealth and political power redistribution into different hands.

The fact that winner-takes-all effects are at work is also quite encouraging, it implies that entrepreneurial profits are still among us: as long as the law of category (“If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category that you can be first in.”) still holds, there will be loads of different competitions and winners.

IMHO, the real question that we should ask ourselves is: why now? Why did it take the Internet for economists to notice and discuss the “Third Industrial Revolution”? I will stick to Roubini’s own examples:

  • It did not take the Internet for telemedicine to be competitive with more labor-intensive medical practices. Why do developed countries lag behind developing countries in this field?
  • It did not take the Internet for distance learning to be competitive with more labor-intensive educational practices. Actually, it is not “the cream of the profession” that is producing “increasingly sophisticated online courses that millions of students can take”, it took an ex-hedge fund manager. Why is it so?
  • It did not take the Internet for governments to achieve greater efficiency and transparency through ICT (see non-internet e-government). So why all the buzz now?

Roubini concludes that, eventually, it might “become necessary to provide permanent income support to those whose jobs are displaced by software and machines.”

In the next article of the series, I will try to suggest that, in developed countries, people have already been provided permanent income support, in a very Freudian and Calvinist-guilt-free way but still…