On numbers

Numbers give us a false sense of security. We think that the numbers must mean a lot and once we see something get a higher number it is almost automatic that we start producing more of that thing to get more of that number. Hit blockbuster movies, YouTube video counts, salary statements, the lottery and on a more local sense, this very post. When numbers are used for optimization in matters involving a more aesthetic sense, things start looking sterile and factory produced. Think of generic Netflix shows, TV news, movie stars fading in oblivion because of formulaic choices and mines depleted with all that was in and around them destroyed. This reliance on numbers translates into the pursuit of the infinite which is anything but what we are.

Optimization in the economic sense involves looking back at a particular sequence of events and making them better to get a statistically better output in the future. This always assumes that there is a load of back data to fall onto otherwise this assumption falls onto pure fortune telling. We are so used to seeing numbers being advertised to us, manipulated and varnished they determine our choices as a consumer and a rational actor. Our current society also rewards this mass dependence on numbers, never before in history has such computing power been available to humans that is able to glean over trillions and trillions of streams of data trying to find patters and future predictions. The agencies that submit themselves before the numbers are the ones that find themselves haloed in the chronicles and cultures of capitalism.

This calculative prowess has also permeated into our psyche, we think like a data amassing program: collecting, tracking, measuring for efficiency and optimizing. The results for this are everywhere, what we eat, how much we run, how much we work and how much devote to every little minutiae that can be fracked and traded about our lives. Headlines get repetitive, porn becomes saturated, all the choices we're presented with dizzy us to the point where we know that there is no pleasure without the products we seek but there's no pleasure with them either. This optimization is at work in every act we do — studying, working, planning way ahead into the future. What this statistics does to us is to reduce us to less than what we are, making us solely focused on the limited supply of money we are all in the hunt for.

It's crazy how the need for increased profitability has changed the US.

The easiest way to do this is to raise prices, but consumers & retailers react poorly to this, and will move to your competitor if they haven't yet raised prices. So, instead, you need to reduce costs.

The easiest way to reduce costs is to reduce the size of the product. What had been 18oz is now 17.75oz. What was 17.75oz is now 15oz. But consumers catch on.

Next you reduce the cost of ingredients. Switch to cheaper produce, like Budweiser has. Negotiate better deals with your suppliers (which forces them to do things such as what's in this list.) And maybe you do less R&D, figuring that the products you're putting out there are good enough.

At some point, you've hit bedrock without completely destroying what your product was. So now you have to look elsewhere. First, they stagnated wages. When your sales increase more than you raised salaries, you've increased profitability.

Of course, it turns out that employees don't like not getting their bonuses, or having their annual performance bump be less than inflation, and they find new jobs. So now you're losing your best people, and they're taking years of knowledge of your business out the door with them. Solution? Layoffs! Let the lesser people go.

Technology makes this easy. People can work harder, longer. You give them laptops, so they have no reason not to work from their couch at night. You offer them email apps for their phones (which you stopped providing), so now they can respond to emails 24/7. Each employee now has the responsibility of 1.5-3 employees of several years past. They're working more, and ultimately less happy and less strategic than when you had more people, but you're paying for fewer people, so profits!

You hit bedrock here at some point, too, where you're at the fewest people you can have to run your business. What's next? Attorneys! That was where businesses went. What do you really get out of your attorneys? All they do is tell you “no.” So you cut back on their retainers. This led to there being more students in law schools than new legal positions. This led to the average length of time to become a partner going from 7 years to 12 years. This led to there being a huge amount of attorney positions not on partner-track. Being an attorney became a pretty bad career choice for most people.

But even then, you still need lawyers, so you cut back as much as possible. What's next? IT! They don't make us any money, they just cost us money! Oops, now we just had a data leak. Oh, well.

And, lately, they've turned to ad agencies. “Why are we paying people to make sure someone knows our products exist!?” Expecting more for less, meaning the 25 year old overseeing their digital presence is working 70 hour weeks, because they're the only one staffed.

In the long run, chasing profits has meant cutting back on every step. Fewer employees making less money at the company, at its suppliers, at its attorneys, at its ad agencies, etc. One company I worked for cut back on cleaning, first by outsourcing janitorial work, then by removing the waste bins at every desk so that we had to use communal ones (meaning there's less for the outsourced janitors to do), then by reducing the days the janitors came in from 5 to 2.

This means that the disposable income for every one of those former roles is reduced, meaning less money to buy these products in the first place.

And this doesn't even get into the lunacy you see happen with some PE buyouts, like Simmons decimating employee pension funds. Or Huffy bike going from a US company that manufactures in the US to a US company that manufactures in Mexico to a US company that manufactures outsources manufacturing to China (after selling their machinery to Chinese factories) to a Chinese company that manufactures in China.

Where does the money go? Well, shareholders, which are usually banks owned by billionaires. And to the c-suite, which often have golden parachutes into the 8 and 9 figures. Basically, making the super rich even wealthier. Because that money is not going to the janitor now coming in 2 days a week. It isn't going to the senior manager now doing the job of his laid-off associate, and the job of his laid-off director. It isn't going to the attorney doing doc review in a basement. It isn't going to that 25 year old running their entire $2.5M digital ad spend. It isn't going to the IT partner being asked to keep their data safe on a shoestring budget. It isn't going to the factory employee that makes their packaging. It isn't going to the kid stocking their products on Walmart shelves. The dollars we're spending to buy those products are going to the people making $10MM a year and above.

This is also a matter of our consciousness, these numbers have been so prominently around for the last few hundred years or so, people lived shorter and had lesser expectations from the life around them – their life itself was part of something bigger than what they could understand. Today we have an answer to everything and the possibility to know that there is no answer to some things. We have become hyper aware and there is no mysticism in the way we view things. Being poetic or romantic is a hapless tool against a calculative world, everything must have a value, every action, interaction is a path towards a transaction. It is a world of keeping with appearances to go wherever the money takes you. In cities, enclosed in small flats and eating from cans and praying for the arteries to line the insides proper for a few more years.

If the only pursuit of mysticism is something that is created by man then it is a boring life to live. It shows that as a collective we are a narcissistic species, unable to worship anything but ourselves. Five hundred years down the line our fears will go into history with explanations that seem to avoid us now. Yes, for most parts we have not been asked if we want to live here, we just are and it is only animal to exist without thinking. The aping for more and more, regurgitating the planet through ourselves we appear like rats in pursuit of their own lives. And in numbers and hunger we are like these rodents, look at our numbers, look at our progress. Is this group masturbation progress? The laws, the cultural expectations, our thought are limited by who we are and it is vital to acknowledge it more than we do now.

The managers, billionaires, politicians, advertisers, editors, content creators, god men, purveyors of truth and righteousness, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, vegetarians, climate change deniers, fascists, pacifists, comedians, actors, musicians and this entire hive mind of human bullshit including me can go fuck ourselves. Knowing that there is no meaning to anything is a huge power if we can acknowledge it but first, we have to ditch those false gods and their idols because the numbers means nothing if there is no-one to count. If everything matters then nothing does and the opposite also applies. To know it all amounts to nothing shows us sensitivity to the little pockets of beauty we are surrounded with everyday and all we need to do is to stop counting.

(Credit for the quoted part – u/BeamerTakesManhattan)

#economics #IncomeInequality #happiness