Should We Be Interested In 'Saving' Any Industry?

from the forward-or-backwards dept

We hear it all the time, whenever anyone talks about an industry being “destroyed” by new technologies: “how do we save x industry?” where “x” can stand for “recording” or “news” or “movies” or whatever. We saw it just recently when a professor wanted to “save” the newspaper industry by changing copyright law in ridiculous ways. It’s also why we jokingly called our last event “Techdirt Saves* Journalism.” The whole concept of “saving” an industry is so preposterous, which is why we wanted to mock it with the title of our event. I was reminded of this when reading this recap of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) event, where Dan Gillmor was quoted saying:

“I’m not even slightly interested in saving the industry.”

And it got me thinking about understanding the mindset of “saving” an industry more deeply. The truth is, whenever anyone seriously (not mockingly) refers to “saving” an industry, invariably, they’re really talking about saving a few legacy companies in that industry from whatever disruptive innovation is shaking things up. It’s never actually about “saving an industry,” because the “industry” almost never actually needs to be saved. The industry may be in the process of being changed (often radically), but that’s not the same thing as needing saving.

What’s telling is that, through all of this, you almost never hear start-ups talking about asking for help trying to “save the industry” that they’re in. That’s because they know “the industry” is just fine, and in all of the upheaval there’s really tremendous opportunity. So, anytime anyone talks seriously about “saving” any particular industry, challenge them on what they really mean, and see if they’re actually just talking about saving a few companies, rather than saving an actual “industry.”

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Comments on “Should We Be Interested In 'Saving' Any Industry?”

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Re: Jest

Ah!! You jest about an issue of “conflict of interest” that exists in a lot of industries (1) Keeping the revenue stream going. versus (2) conclusion, closure or change. The medical, legal, and several others are mixed in the middle of this “conflict of interest”. But they don’t discuss it often. Seems like a well kept-obvious secret. “Perpetually treat the symptom, or create a permanent cure.” “Tell the client that it is a 100 to 1 shot, or advise him to litigate.”


Well, I don’t mind if they find ways to save the industry via free market capitalistic means, but when they start going to the govt for saving that’s when they’re asking for free market distortions and an industry that survives off of free market distortions that come at a cost to the consumer and society at large. Free market capitalism is exactly about letting obsolete industries die and new industries replace them, not about allowing obsolete industries to survive off of government regulations. Sadly, many big businesses that endorse free market capitalism survive off of government distortions.

John Gardnersays:

Imagine if we had saved the horsebuggy industry when cars became commonplace?

An industry should save itself through innovation. If it can’t, then it should die and those resources be reallocated in a more efficient manner. As usual, any time the gov interferes in the market, it creates huge inefficiencies. That’s not what we need.



Imagine if we hadn’t stepped in to ‘save’ GM and Chrysler? something like 3 million more people out of work and Ford probably dies too since their manufacturers also do GM/Chrysler parts.

And then our last really big manufacturing industry goes completely kaput. We need a large manufacturing base for national security.

While ‘saving’ an industry is generally a bad thing, sometimes its worth it for other tangential reasons.


Re: Re: Re:

I’d say it’s safe to say that GM, Chrysler & Ford represent a pretty significant portion of the ‘US’ auto industry. Yes, Honda, Toyota and others have some manufacturing here, but in comparison me thinks the US companies are far larger in the US.

The ‘industry’ would have gone on just fine as you say. But the workers in that industry would face massive upheavals that likely cost millions of job losses over the short term.

As others have posted, the US auto companies were victims of largely self inflicted wounds. (I’ve never purchased a US made vehicle in my 20 years of auto buying experience…mostly due to quality and mpg issues of the US cars)

So it may be nice and well to say GM should have gone the way of the Dodo, but until something else came along to take its place, there was going to be very significant hardship that spread throughout the economy.

If you dispute that, please do so, but saving GM and Chrysler was the right thing to do given the state of the economy as a whole.


Re: Re:

I can only wish. I’m not sure why you think GM and Chrysler were special. Should we not have to switched to electric lighting because it put the candlemakers out of a job, or switched to cars because it put the carriage drivers and buggy whip makers and blacksmiths out of a job, etc.? But because you live now, we must prevent a temporary unemployment period for everybody in the country?

The bailout of GM and Chrysler was incredibly unfair especially for Ford(and other car manufacturers); it was deprived of a fantastic opportunity to gain market share, which is precisely what the free market offers as an incentive to innovate and be efficient. Instead, the government warped those incentives and prevented all manner of healing from occurring, such as the restructuring of GM’s contracts and replacing management with somebody better. If GM had been allowed to fail, worst case scenario is that it would have been liquidated and put to more efficient uses elsewhere, while there would have been no significant effect on unemployment beyond the immediate short term.

And the U.S. is doing just fine with manufacturing – we’ve simply morphed to producing higher level items in general, such as silicon. In fact, check out how far ahead we were in 2004 in value added by manufacturing. And national security has absolutely jackshit to do with our current manufacturing capacity anyways.


Re: Re: Re:

“And the U.S. is doing just fine with manufacturing – we’ve simply morphed to producing higher level items in general, such as silicon.”

Exactly, and allowing the failing auto companies to fail will allow for us to transfer some of the resource (labor and property) previously used for the auto industry to other industries that we do better at and to do better in those industries and advance.


Re: Re: Re:

You do realize that if GM went out of business, the vast majority of Ford’s suppliers would have gone out of business with the loss of GM’s orders right?

It’s not a simple transfer, Ford wouldn’t have straight up bought GM plants and kept them running. The GM workers would have pretty quickly hit the unemployment ranks and stayed there as Ford possibly ramped up production. How many of those people would have to move to find the Ford jobs? More and more costs associated with not doing it, make the short term bailouts worth the money.


Re: Re:

While I’m somewhat tempted to agree with you, let’s have a look at the reasons for the bailouts of GM and Chrysler again.

In GM’s case it’s fairly easy to tell or see what happened in the last 20 years. The quality of the end product went down the toilet, by and large, which meant that potential customers, both individuals and fleet buyers, looked twice before purchasing and often went elsewhere. They built and promoted the hell out of gas guzzlers which didn’t hurt until the price of fuel went through the roof again and then it did. They were glacially slow in decision making and reacting to the market.

Chrysler hasn’t quite decided what it wants to be when it grows up. That’s half it’s problem there. It’s had one “hit” in the last two decades, the PT Cruiser, and nothing else of note. Daimler’s ownership was a bit of a disaster.

Ford, on the other hand, from the late 90s till now aggressively addressed it’s problems with quality, style, model selection and so on. Now it’s turning a profit and you’d be hard pressed to find a better built or engineered vehicle.

All had self-inflicted cost issues which they’ve addressed if not solved under government pressure finding the UAW and CAW much easier to deal with than they imagined on these issues. (Hint to employers. Open the books, don’t plead poverty — show it and the unions will react much more pleasantly than you think.)

Parts suppliers also serve manufacturers such as Honda, Toyota, Volvo and other auto makers not normally seen as North American though they build here so if GM or Chrysler went down Ford would have survived nicely.

That leads to this: don’t confuse the auto industry in North America with The (no longer so) Big Three because it hasn’t been that in quite some time. If they’d died, unlikely, the jobs would have appeared elsewhere as other manufacturers would have taken up the slack because their domestic markets would have grown.

On a personal note, late last fall I bought a new pickup. The order I looked at them was Ford, Dodge, GM, Toyota, Honda. Honda dropped out almost immediately because I didn’t like the look or practicality of the vehicle, Toyota was/is overpriced which left the Big Three. With GM I wasn’t impressed with the Siverado’s build and fit though I admit to looking at it with a jaundiced eye which left Ford and Dodge. All other things being equal, and they were, the decider was safety and one other thing — which trucks were still out there on the road and being used as work trucks after, oh, say 30 years. More Fords than you can shake a stick at, a good representation of Dodges though nowhere near as many and you can’t see a Chev or GMC out there much more than 20 years old more than likely 10. Ford got the deal on safety and the fact the I just liked the model I got more than any Dodges I saw.

What I’m saying is that the automotive sector didn’t need “saving” as much as GM and Chrysler did. If they’d gone belly up the market would have ensured that something took their place. More than likely Toyota, Honda, Ford and maybe Volvo, to name but 4 companies as well as, I suspect, a North American based company out of the ashes of GM and Chrysler.


Re: Re: Re:

All had self-inflicted cost issues which they’ve addressed if not solved under government pressure finding the UAW and CAW much easier to deal with than they imagined on these issues. (Hint to employers. Open the books, don’t plead poverty — show it and the unions will react much more pleasantly than you think.)

Better idea, get rid of the unions. There was a time when they were needed, and, like the dinosaurs, their time has passed.


Re: Re:

and then these people turn around and proclaim, “free market capitalism, free market capitalism” when what they really mean is free market capitalism for them to do what they want with no regulation, free market capitalism in ways that prevent the government from doing anything to help citizens, yet government protectionism for big corporations.


Re: Re:

You have forgotten to consider the effects of this policy on not just one group, but all groups. That was the classic economic fallacy pointed out by Henry Hazlitt.

By bailing out GM and Chrysler, yes, we have retained those people their jobs. However, doing so comes at the expense of everybody else. For all the other consumers, who could have bought more products, have less money to spend, meaning employment will now be smaller in other areas of the economy than it could have been (since consumers now have less purchasing power). The number of jobs ‘saved’ by bailing out X are equally offset by losses in other areas of the economy.

Many people forget to analyze the effects of an economic policy not just for one group, but for all groups. The reason for this is simple: People have a hard time considering products and services that never came to be in the first place, as a result of a new economic policy. Doing so requires a greater amount of visualization and intelligence.

Moreover, the net effect on the overall economy is negative, since productivity has decreased and resources have been forcibly allocated to an inefficient industry.


Re: Re: Re:

The number of jobs ‘saved’ by bailing out X are equally offset by losses in other areas of the economy.

Unless you actually have facts to back that up, this assertion is at least as speculative as the reasoning leading to the bailout. I don’t know the numbers, but when considering all the ancillary businesses that would be damaged or wiped out by GM and/or Chrysler going out of business, it may have been better to bail them out. How much would we have spent on unemployment benefits if we had not done so? What would the effect be on wages across the economy if we had that much higher unemployment?



People should remind themselves that industries before have collapsed a life ccontnued forward. One of the more recent has been the American steel industry. Much of the demand has shifted to overseas maekets where workers are willing to work fo less pay leading to cheaper steel.

Similarly, the music industry, among others has been in a value bubble that has been increasing exponentially over the past several decades. Going back to a time before the ‘recording industry’ really bagan in the late 1800s, musicians were usually employed at a day job and performed nights or employed by an opera house and performed for plays and musicals. The hobbyist musician was lucky to make much of any money but the drive wasn’t fo profit, it was for pleasure. The orchestral performer was paid per performance or sometimes salaried. The poblem began when the market for recordings began t


Re: Steel

“Much of the demand has shifted to overseas maekets where workers are willing to work fo less pay leading to cheaper steel.”

Surely you mean must of the supply has shifted, right?

By and large it had nothing whatever to do with the workers that markets moved off shore as much as it did with the reality that steel makers in North America never reinvested in their businesses to update and modernize plants something the Japanese did and still do. Chinese plants are brand spanking new with all the bells and whistles. Same for plants in India.

I have to admit I get tired of workers getting the blame for this and that (code for unions, far too often) while mostly it was aging plants and a lack of innovation from the companies themselves rather than overpaid or lazy workers. Both union and non union plants in North America have gone down so “workers” hasn’t been the problem. Cost per unit because of old, outdated plants was much more the problem.

The companies that still make steel in North America, and there are more than a few of them, are the ones who reinvested in plants, became nimble and able to shift product production in specialty products at the relative “blink of an eye”. There’s actually no one better at that kind of thing as Americans and Canadians, the border doesn’t really exist for steel any more than it does for automotive products, regardless of the pay of the “workers” so we’re world beaters as far as those products are concerned. North America is also the leading economy in terms of recycling and reuse of steel.

So yeah, bulk steel production has moved off shore but the value added steel industry still exists here. Maybe not so much in Pittsburgh and Hamilton, ON anymore but it’s still here. But bulk steel is a commodity now whereas specialty steel is where the real money is.


Re: Re: Steel

I enjoy how you don’t see the connection between unions and “aging plants”.

As someone who has been in a union, I can safely say that they are almost useless, with a few notable exceptions. The problem with unions is simple – when they start they usually have goals like, fair wages, safe working conditions, and improved working conditions (eg. paid sick time, vacation, etc.). Once those goals are achieved, the union has no real reason to exist.

Unfortunately, in order to achieve those goals the union forms a hierarchy with group leaders, negotiators, secretaries, treasurers, and maybe even a president. At that point, the union exists to support the continued existence of the union and thats when it all goes to sh!t. Now the unions goals become, protect workers jobs (at all costs – it doesn’t matter if they sleep on the job, they’re in the the union), protect the hierarchy of the union (I will be president forever), etc.

Also, read up about the unions at some of the “Big 3.” The UAW is notorious for creating a work environment that involves drugs, prostitutes, etc.


Re: Re: Re: Steel

Missing the last part of my post.

Basically the unions help to create a scenario where “improvements to the plant” are virtually impossible. Equipment can’t be upgraded or automated because it would take away jobs. They can’t “become nimble” because that might require changing shifts or modifying the production levels which would change the highly structured work environment the union has negotiated (everything from pay rates to potty breaks, in some unions you can’t even change the time a person takes their 15 minute break without union approval).


Re: Re: Re: Re: Steel

Funny how the experience is different, often, in different plants as for as how the work force is organized, isn’t it?

The union plants in Canada did the exact opposite of what you’re portaying and for a while it worked, the plants were “nimble” but were still hopelessly outdated and they’re gone.

There’s one thing missing in your rant about workplace organization and that’s the employer had to agree to these conditions, most of which were in place prior to unionization occurring, thanks to a fantasy known as “scientific management.”

My point is less how the workplace is organized (union or non union, work rule obessed or not) it remains that as long as the formerly big steel companies made money hands over fist for years while the dominated the world industry with out a penny of reinvestment. What clearly illustrates that point is that both union and non union plants and companies went down.

It’s equally true that as the industry has reappeared it has done so in specialty areas, in brand new plants and new work processes (heaven forbid we call them rules anymore!) whether the employ union workers, non union or a mixture. And it’s thrived.


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Steel

In my experience the capacity of unions to mess things up is vastly exceeded by the ability of senior management to destroy a perfectly good company by a combination of misplaced self belief and stupidity.

Ferranti (twice!) and GEC (UK) spring to mind in this regard.

Blaming the unions is the last refuge of incompetent managers.

Remeber all the power that unions ever have is given to them by management. Often it is junior management – looking for a quiet life by letting the shop stewards do their jobs for them (UK rail and motor industries). Sometimes it is senior management – using the unions that exist across an industry as a tool against weaker competitors ()UK print unions).

Remember one thing – whatever goes wrong is always the management’s fault.


Re: Re: Steel

Ouch, yes that was definitely an absent minded mistype. I did in fact mean supply has shifted over seas. Unrelated to this scenario however, I would also stand by my statement and say demand has shifted largely overseas as well to more quickly developing Asian nations.

The point I believe you’re trying to make is that the steel industry never really died in America and that makes my analogy false. However, while I failed miserably to link the steel analogy into my comment better, I actually knew most of what you have explained here. The fact is, the steel industry was at one time the leading industry in America and is now just a shadow of its former self. It is most definitely true that American steel is still produced today as well. You mention, “…steel makers in North America never reinvested in their businesses to update and modernize plants…” This is a key aspect to why the music industry has and will continue to fail. They have refused to reinvest in a better stronger infrastructure that compels consumers to want their products. Instead, they have dug their heels into the ground and refuse to progress forward with innovation and entertainment that consumers are currently demanding.

The RIAA is trying to drive people to think that music will cease to exist if the ‘music industry’ is allowed to fall which is a blatant lie and historically incorrect when you compare it to something like the steel industry in America, which continues to thrive, albeit on a smaller scale, after having fallen so hard previously. This was the connection I was trying to make between steel and music.

“So, anytime anyone talks seriously about “saving” any particular industry, challenge them on what they really mean, and see if they’re actually just talking about saving a few companies, rather than saving an actual ‘industry’.”

I would say very few of them even care about whatever industry they are trying to save.

What they are worried about saving usually ends up being their own jobs.



Had the Romans been more interested in preserving the silphium (one of the first effective contraceptives) industry rather than maximizing profit by over-harvesting it free-market style we might not be in quite the pickle we are in now with a massive population squandering scarce resources.

Also note that free-market outsourcing of their defense industry led to the sacking and fall of Rome. Or would you argue that free-market capitalism demands dark ages?


Re: Silphium

I’d go look at your history again. Rome no more had a free market (no ancient economy did) than Stalinist Russia or Maoist China did. Rome’s bureaucrats controlled, as best they could in the time, production of most everything Rome itself needed and to hell with the rest of the Empire. Everything was aimed at feeding, housing, watering and weaponry that Rome needed.

From a military perspective Rome didn’t fall because of outsourcing their defense “industry” than they did by loose discipline, the employment of too many mercenaries who had no real interest in defending Rome itself, Rome’s complete inability to respond to “pagan” (in the ancient sense rather than popular sense today) and “barbarian” adaptations of new or improved technology and the simple reason that it was costing far too much money for Rome to continue to hold onto everything.

And we tend to forget that when Rome itself fell the Empire continued to exist for another thousand years in the East with the capital city of Constantinople by and large because they did make military adaption, were more efficient administrators and, to a small degree, the adaptation of an early form of something we’d recognize as free markets.


from they need to save themselves dept...

Every industry needs to try to save itself instead of whining to governments to save them. You want to save your industry do something innovative and don’t do it at outrageous costs, if all industries thought about end users or consumers they wouldn’t be in the trouble that they are in. Look at the movie industry they are trying to save themselves with 3D, is it going to work? I don’t know but I can tell you at least they are trying something…


Where is this ride going to end?

I have blogged in the past about the incredible advances in disk storage as a function of price. In 200, you could get for $100 a hard drive that could hold about an hour of HD Video.

Today, you can go out and buy for 100 dollars a hard drive that can hold 16 or so days of HD video.

By 2020 that same $100 (not adjusted for inflation) you will be able to by a Hard Drive (or equivalent technology) that will hold 15 YEARS of HD video.

Obviously, the same tech can hold far more music or literature since video is about the most storage consuming format we have for content (with the possible exception of some video games).

The point is that one of the limitations of current tech that favors Content Providers is that we have never had the storage to keep all the content we have accessed in the past. Think Video recorders or DVRs. You have to flush these systems because the storage gets full.

In the future, the storage isn’t going to get full. One access, and you have no reason to flush it from the system. You want to watch it again, go ahead. No need to go back to the Content Providers. Want to take someone’s complete library of past viewing? Bring it over! You will have space to hold it!

But the content industries are not the only industries that are going to fall at the hands of technology.

We will have automated vehicles. Cars, Buses, and Trucks will drive themselves, park themselves. Parking garages downtown? Forget it. Have your car drop you off, and go find someplace free to park. Who will really need a Taxi once your car can just drive home after dropping you off at the airport? Your car can go pick you up as well!

The Trucking Industry will be radically restructured. The shipping industry might shift away from Fed-X and UPS in favor of crowd sourced shipping solutions unless they radically restructure themselves as well.

Voice recognition is cutting into call centers, and it is only going to cut more. But Voice recognition is going to cut jobs out of retail as well. How many people do you need to take orders once computers can do that better?

A vast number of industries and jobs exist simply because we cannot automate and distribute physical products and processes in the real world the way we can automate the distribution of information and processes in the virtual world. As technology advances, many, many industries are going to be “lost” or at least so radically restructured as to be unrecognizable today.

What am I saying? The idea that we can “save” industries is one that needs to be rejected absolutely.

At the same time, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that ANY Industry or ANY job is ultimately safe from the same relentless progression of technology.

The next few decades are going to be an amazing ride.


Re: Where is this ride going to end?

“Voice recognition is cutting into call centers, and it is only going to cut more. But Voice recognition is going to cut jobs out of retail as well. How many people do you need to take orders once computers can do that better?”

Also they will not speak with a barely understandable indian accent.


Re: Re: Where is this ride going to end?

Of all the things he talks about voice recognition is by far the hardest thing to do and get right. In the English speaking world considering that a person from the countryside in Yorkshire or Cornwall has problems being understood by other English speakers as do people from some areas of the United States and Canada. Then there’s the Caribbean, Australasia, Africa and all the ESL people from the rest of the world. (Chinlish or Japlish anyone?) THEN take into account local slang that a native English speaker has a chance of figuring out when it’s heard in context. I don’t know of a “successful” voice recognition program that can do all of that or one that can understand more than a few words spoken in preprogrammed phrases in the correct accent and delivery.

Anyway, these days the accent at the other end of the phone is more likely to be Phillipine than India. Call centres in India are getting too expensive cause people with actual brain cells can make more money, more easily elsewhere in India now. 😉

Re: Re: Re: Where is this ride going to end?

Actually discussed some of the pitfalls of voice recognition software in Echelon:

“But if the congruent character malfunction was a serious impedance for software designed to interpret the written word, programmers generally agreed that it made automated voice recognition software a downright impossibility. You could multiply all the common fonts in type written language several times and not come close to the amount of accents, colloquialisms, and minor inflections that regularly occurred in everyday human speech. How would a language recognition program, somewhat adept at discerning the intricacies of the written word, make similar differentiations between modulated speech patterns? The answer was that it couldn?t.

Take a relatively simple sentence: Can you all make it to the party tonight? Now transform that sentence phonetically using different regional colloquialisms. A young man from Boston could say it, and it would come out Can yah all make it tah the pahty tahnight? Or an aged woman from Southern Texas: Kin ya?ll make it to der perty tonaht? Even failing to take into consideration the difference in syntax and other machinations that existed in entirely different languages, those differences made speech to data programming seemingly impossible.”


Re: Re: Re: Where is this ride going to end?

I agree that voice recognition is virtually impossible to get right … at the moment … but technology is advancing at an incredible rate.

I think the post had more to do with technology making business models obsolete than it did with specific implementation. For example, I could easily imagine retail stores moving to RFID (or something like it) making the need for cashiers redundant.

As for customer service and call centers, I think as web technology improves people will move to more of a self service model with maybe a “person” you can chat with for help. At first the person will be some 2nd world labor, but eventually they will have searching algorithms so that 98% of the time your question can be answered by a machine (GoogleLite, but 100 times better than Google today because we’re talking the future).

I agree that our sudden and rapid adoption of technology will require the creation of a new type of culture; a culture that is based on change, the unexpected, and disruption. I’m think (and hope) that our new culture will actually eliminate concepts like “disruption”. How can you disrupt something that is constantly in flux, never the same for longer than absolutely necessary.


Re: Re: Re: Re: Where is this ride going to end?

I hate to tell you this that the first store that starts to use RFID that I shop at will lose my business right there and then.

That said, he does say that technological change does create new pitfalls and opportunities. And it is highly disruptive. My trade, for example, has moved from being primarily manual to overwhelmingly mental in the 35 years I’ve done it. I’m now what you call a knowledge worker or techologist. Mind you the manual part of the job is still there and still necessary but it’s not the whole thing.

Voice recognition, as I said is an order of millions of times more difficult to handle with rule based programming, and all of it is at one stage or another, because human language like the creature that uses it changes contanstantly.

English, in spite of efforts to enforce such things as “proper” grammar and “real” words changes yearly on an order of half a million words, according to the OED, a few of which stay in use long enough to actually get included in the global edition. Slang changes more frequently and often. The list of definitions for words in English lengthens daily. Inflection changes meaning. Word order changes meaning sometimes drastically. In English, in comparison to Romance languages and the Germanic languages from which it came, word order is of ultimate importance because you can change meaning in ways those languages can’t by a combination of word order AND inflection.

English speakers handle all this with ease. I’m not sure a computer can when part of the inflection, in English, may also be the tone of voice and the expression on the speakers face.

Take a simple phrase. Two one syllable words which can drastically change meaning depending on how it’s said and the tone of voice and expression. “Fuck you”. Beyond that I don’t think I need to point out that if it’s said with a smile and light tone of voice it means something else than said another way. Emphasize the first word with the smile and light tone of voice it’s light joking banter. Said the same way with emphasis on the second word it’s still in the same ball park but often as a warning the listener they’ve gotten to close to crossing a line. Things are ok but it’s still time to back off a little. Said with an angry tone of voice and with the emphasis on the second word you’ve definitely cross the line Expression has changed to angry but is still several steps from hostile. Said louder and still angrily with the emphasis on the second word the expression is likely to be angry bordering on rage. Said with emphasis on both words sound is more rage filled bordering on hostile and you need the clue of facial expression to fill it on. Loudly with emphasis on both words a native English speaker knows full well that either the fight is on or it’s time to apologize and slink off. The expression is the last factor here if it’s rage and hostility then there’s usually not much choice in the matter unless you grovel.

Worse are languages in the Chinese group of languages including Japanese where inflection and darned near everything including meaning with facial expression filling in what’s left over.

Have a storage medium the size of the moon to store all that always changing data on?

At the moment, as I said, voice recognition technology is barely able to understand small phrases said with flat intonation in “standard” English (whatever the hell that is) and not much else.

I don’t think that will change in my lifetime or that of my child’s.

The problem is that humans are comfortable with natural language not constructs that program designers would need to impose. That’s been reinforced repeatedly over time, particularly with English speakers who resent and repel almost all attempts to standardize the language. Humans are, bless us, irrational and emotional not logical results of if/then/else constructs.



Regardless of the reason Rome fell, the dark ages show what happens when you don’t bother to save any industry. Sometimes an industry seems outdated and fades away, then 50 or 100 years go by and we find that we have to rebuild lost industries from scratch. At the very least we should carry the knowledge of every industry forward, even if only in a museum.

So looking at the newspaper industry; Anyone can gather facts and write a story, but if nobody does a “Good Job” then the skills of an actual investigative reporter will be lost and the space will be filled with a bunch of hacks and their consumers that don’t know what a “Good Job” actually is anymore.

Unfortunately, there are many important trades that are being less valued by society than entertainment. So some idiot flapping a biased opinion about the news makes 100 times more than the person who actually broke the news. It’s just one example of many poor choices we make as a society. Another good example would be our choice of foods.


Re: Re:

“the dark ages show what happens when you don’t bother to save any industry. “

Elaborate, exactly what does a lack of government protectionism have to do with the dark ages and prove that more government intervention would have helped anything.

“then 50 or 100 years go by and we find that we have to rebuild lost industries from scratch.”

It’s called innovation. The old industries die and so they get replaced by newer, more efficient, better ones. The old industries weren’t doing good and so, yes, people should build new and improved ones from scratch. It’s better than allowing a failed industry to continue via govt protectionism. The govt shouldn’t reward the failures, it should allow the free market to reward the successful and allow the failures to die.

“So looking at the newspaper industry; Anyone can gather facts and write a story, but if nobody does a “Good Job” then the skills of an actual investigative reporter will be lost”

What skills, newspapers have no such skills. You’re trying to save those with skill in favor of those without skill? How does that even make sense.

and exactly what makes the newspapers more skillful than others, especially those who are experts in their field who focus on discovering the truth underlying specific topics vs journalists who are mostly too uneducated about much of what they discuss or investigate to even know what questions to ask or where to look?


Re: Re: Re:

Newspapers were the medium, reporters were the industry. If you’re talking about the “printing industry” well I can debate that one as well, but “newspapers” existed to report the news, and this usually meant following a story on the street. I’ll grant that newspapers no longer do this, the good reporters have moved to other mediums. Unfortunately the other mediums don’t lend themselves to in-depth reporting. These days the magazines are breaking stories, but soon they will be gone as well, and CNN rebroadcasting Twitter isn’t what anyone should be called reporting.

Today people are reading blogs for news. Some people may even mistake a blog like this one for news. It isn’t.

“Perhaps this is a good reason why anti copy laws shouldn’t last 95+ years, so we can actually store the knowledge in hard drives and keep it around in databases and on our computers before it disappears.”

Absolutely correct.

“uhm… you must be talking about yourself.”

Good one, pat yourself on the back. No go read the blogs to learn about your “facts” …


Re: Re:

Wrong. Couldn’t be more wrong.

“the dark ages show what happens when you don’t bother to save any industry.”

Huh? Let’s have a look at this, shall we, the technologies available to Rome continued to exist in Western and Central Europe for some time after the last group of “barbarians” to angrily visit it decided all it was good for was sacking and leveling.

Western and Central Europe quickly fractured into small, often tiny, Kingdoms which couldn’t support the “industries” if they’d wanted to, which they often did. In short, while Rome had over extended itself and bankrupted itself paying for wars on credit, the size of the western empire still supported such industry.

The common thread here is that all that was lost when Rome itself fell and the “barbarians” took over.

Part of the Roman Empire fell. The western part. The Eastern Empire continued to exist and, largely, prosper for close to another thousand years and develop and extend the technologies and markets the west couldn’t or had forgotten because they were of no use anymore. They continued trade with asia and the far east as they had for centuries before. As Islam rose Byzantium traded knowledge and with them as well. After western “christians” sacked Constantinople in a crusade, Byzantium exported what written Greek culture it had left east with Islam because they no longer felt it was safe with them. (Seriously compressed, btw).

“Unfortunately, there are many important trades that are being less valued by society than entertainment.” This has been true, I suspect, since the dawn of human kind. We crave entertainment and distraction from the grind of daily life. The more technically proficient and wealthy we become the more we seem to need it and seek it out.

Keep in mind that we are not creatures of economics, economics is a creature of humanity. Should we vanish off the face of the earth tomorrow so would economics. Hard science wouldn’t, it would grind on as it alway has. Social “sciences” including economics would vanish with us.


Re: Re: Re:

“The Eastern Empire continued to exist and, largely, prosper for close to another thousand years and develop and extend the technologies and markets the west couldn’t or had forgotten because they were of no use anymore.”

This was my point. Specifically the last dozen words of that sentence. The technologies no longer made sense for those people, so they forgot them. In the modern world the same would be said for outdoor survival skills had we not a community keeping those anachronistic skills alive today.


Steel pt. 2

Accidentally submitted; continuation.

The real problem began when the market for recordings was valued unrealistically high.

Artists, being the source of the product were originally considered more powerful than those recording and selling the material but as time continued, artists became smaller and weaker in the realm that would become the RIAA. Today, we have an industry bubble that has been blown up to an unsustainable size and the market no longer monetarily values it as greatly as it once did. We also have the big name producers of music and the big name recorders of music complaining that they aren’t making enough money.

The problem hasn’t ever been music piracy. The ‘problem’ has always been the internet and the ever increasing exposure to smaller artists who often play music for their enjoyment rather than profit, demanding less money from their fans.

It’s easy for the RIAA to demonize piracy as the culprit to their demise but they are their own enemy, self righteous and unforgiving in their pursuit of ever larger profits. A market is only viable for as long as the consumer base is willing to support it. Once that base goes away or shrinks then it time to be forward thinking or to find another job. I don’t hear the numerous indie artists bitching that they have a 9-5 while they play on the side. Get with the times or die like the steel industry.


Re: Steel pt. 2

“The problem hasn’t ever been music piracy. The ‘problem’ has always been the internet and the ever increasing exposure to smaller artists who often play music for their enjoyment rather than profit, demanding less money from their fans.”

While the smaller artists and the abundance of non label artists does play a big part in the fall of the record labels. The bigger picture is three fold. The first being that there is alot more to entertain us than their used to be. Texting, cell Phone, e-mail, gaming, blogging, farmville (ick), surfing the net, etc. The second is that the record labels had a rising level of resale on products (records, 8 tracks, cassettes) that wore out due to planned obsolescence. The third was the changes in storage media, records, then 8 tracks, then cassettes, then CD’s, then the mp3. The mp3 is the end of the line, it never wears or looses sound quality, it never needs to be replaced.

As a side note. Most people when they have a hard drive crash and loose all their music infringe and redownload it because of the cost and there is no lost music replacement from the labels. That leads them to continue to infringe. Right now we are at a point where singles music sales are still rising (slightly) but that will end and turn down over the next year or two as hard drives wear out and the disruptive curve slides up through the age groups.



The buggy-whip / car thing is always trotted out as an example, and it’s a good one. But what about railways? Railways seemed like buggy-whips for a while – why bother to save them when there’s a better way to travel (car) that offers more freedom?

But then, a hundred years (or two) later, it turns out that the whole car thing is based on a falsely low “price” for oil. (Is that a negative or a positive externality, I forget). So, in retrospect, it might not have been such a good idea to let all those railways die, and tear up their tracks for mountain-bike paths.

This is probably the exception that proves the rule, so to speak, because in general I think I agree that industries shouldn’t be “saved”.


Re: Railways?

You need to distinguish between saving an industry and saving the functionality that an industry provided.

The car replaced some of the functionality of the horse – but not all – my family has three cars -and one horse.

Part of the functionality of the horse was not utilitarian transport but the pleasure of riding (or so the female half of my family tell me).

Part of the functionality of the railway was replaced by the car – but not all. Railways are faster than cars over long distances, more comfortable for the traveller, and occupy a smaller footprint in urban areas. Modern cities cannot function without urban rail transport – and so it has to be provided by the state/city – since it is a natural monopoly.

Note however that the thing we save is the indispensable functionality – not the “industry”.


Re: Railways?

There’s a reason that Railways aren’t as advanced as some in other countries.

It’s constantly subsided by the US. Every year we give more and more money to the train system when they could innovate to compete with cars and airplanes.

Remember, as soon as the commercial plane was built, the train industry ran to Congress. As they now do every year…


Re: Re: Railways?

Actually the truth is quite the reverse of this. The advanced rail systems exist in cou8ntires where the system is run by the government – eg France. The reason for the collapse of railways in the US can be traced to commercial monopolistic behaviour by the oil companies in the 1940’s who wished to undermine the (then coal fueled) railway system to increase demand for oil.

They bullied the railway companies into switching overnight from steam (then a mature and efficient technology in which America led the world) to diesel too early and far too quickly. The required capital expenditure undermined the railways finances and they have never recovered. (This was always part of the oil companies plan to switch to road transport – which burns more oil.)

The French on the other hand continued to run steam locomotives on some parts of their system for another 20-30 years whilst progressively electrifying their network. Then they were able to switch almost seamlessly to advanced rail technologies so that by the early 80s they led the world.

Re: Re: Re: Re: Railways?

Europe’s high-speed rail revolution may spread to U.S. | Philadelphia Inquirer | 08/08/2010: “In Europe, national governments and the European Union are pouring billions of euros into high-speed rail networks that are to almost triple – from 3,800 miles today to 11,000 miles by 2025. High-tech new tracks are traveled by ever-faster trains, with the latest generation designed to make trips of 620 miles in three hours.

In Asia, a similar boom is under way in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and, especially, China. China has more than 6,215 miles of high-speed rail in operation or under construction.

‘This is what the rest of the world is doing,’ said Robert Yaro, an urban planning professor at the University of Pennsylvania and president of the Regional Plan Association, a New York-area research group. ‘We’re behind not only France and Spain and the U.K. and Japan and China and Korea, but now Morocco and India and Vietnam are building high-speed rail. This is what we have to do.'”


Re: Re: Railways?

“more money to the train system when they could innovate to compete with cars and airplanes.”

Just a minor point here, though I’m no defender of railways. Car/truck transportation out competed rail, in many cases. because the roadbed that they used was “free” while railways paid for theirs maintenance and all.

Well we do pay for our roads and highways in our taxes remember that there’s an unholy screech when jurisdictions propose tolling those roadways or part of them to pay for a part of the maintenance or construction costs. Rail pays for it all themselves.

As for continental Europe after World War II there was precious little left of public or private highways and railways in Germany, France, The Netherlands, Italy, Greece, The Balkans or Poland and Czechoslovakia. The occupiers and governments of the day got to build new and better of both. North Americans built roads, the English neither built roads or upgraded rail and we know about what happened in England by the 1960s up the that awful woman Thatcher. Japan got the same advantages as continental Europe because they got hammered from the air as well.

In some respects the United States is playing catch up now in terms of passenger rail. (Canada never will, sadly, until we’re forced into it.) Like interstates it’ll be expensive but, I rather suspect, in the end, it’ll be worth it.

Until recently the notion of trains competing with air would have been laughable but with recent improvements in rail bed and laying technologies as well as efficiencies in electrified rail for inter city use it’s quite possible.


The buggy-whip / car thing is always trotted out as an example, and it’s a good one. But what about railways? Railways seemed like buggy-whips for a while – why bother to save them when there’s a better way to travel (car) that offers more freedom?

There are MANY industries – that just really aren’t needed anymore. Not that they didn’t have quite a need at some point but… TV Repair for instance. There’s still a few that will be repaired, but it’s so cheap to get new ones now… All but the newest are usually tossed.

Lead Pipe industry is another one.
Lead Paint production.
Tubes for Car Tires.
Pony Express.
Wooden Ship Building.
Cannon Ball manufacturing.

As technology changes, we must adjust. Even the music industry has played a large role in making technology was it is today. Aren’t they whining about the loss of 8-Track, Vinyl Records, and Cassettes too?

Why can’t they innovate some. It’s a gold mine waiting to be tapped, but they are still panning for gold in the creek, rather than buying heavy mining equipment and tunneling..

Google and many others prove this.


absolutly... not!

Humanity has always progressed forward, sometimes in leaps and bounds other times at a snails pace. But always forward! Forward thinking.. progression.. reasoning..

When flying cars arrive don’t you expect to see the decline of the automobile, paved roads…

When teleportation is a reality will not the airline industry dissapear?

With the advent of lighter cars, better mpg, more creature comforts did not the cars of yesterday become scrap to the common commuter?

Who here still uses a STARtac cellphone? Why not? Because we have Blackberries, iPhones, Droids, Evo’s etc. We let go of the past, the outdated.

Have we not always sought out newer TV’s, computers, cars, cellphones, houses, etc … BIGGER BETTER FASTER! The next generation of anything comes out and we want it. Then why are we even thinking about letting these aged burdens weight us down?

What if I create a new and blossoming industry call “fiddle-faddle”. We create things, wonderful things. But soon trouble hits and the industry is falling… down … down .. down. Save us! We create wonderful things! Save our industry!

WHY SHOULD WE? You failed to provide adiquitly, effectivly, with cost affordability. You can not keep up and must be cut off for the better.

If a leg can not be saved, it is infected and useless, does a doctor not amputate it? Or does he spend 5x the amount of time, medicine, money and surgery trying to fix it. There are wonderful advances in prostetics.. a replacement. The leg dies off and is replaced with something newer and better.

/end rant…


Imagine if we hadn’t stepped in to ‘save’ GM and Chrysler? something like 3 million more people out of work and Ford probably dies too since their manufacturers also do GM/Chrysler parts.

What the Japanese car makers left America?

When the TV manufactures died in the 80’s millions lost their jobs?

I don’t think it was about jobs, that was just the excuse, I believe the government got scared that a basic industry could be handed over to other countries and they could find themselves without leverage to deal with problems later.


Public vs Private

You should NEVER use public law to protect (or “save”) private industry.

On the other hand if there is some large scale functionality that you really cannot do without then it will effectively have to be run by the government since it will have to be bailed out if it goes wrong. In those circumstances it is better to run it from the government – under democratic control – rather than via the market.In my opinion the following fall into this category: defence, law enforcement and, in modern societies, healthcare, education, water supply, sewage and refuse removal, power supply, retail and business banking (but not investment banking) plus possibly urban public transport.

Sometimes it also makes sense for the government to intervene to limit the human cost of sudden changes in the market. GM probably falls into this category. Market efficiencies are all very well – but you really do not want people to be homeless and/or starving at on their altar.

Good point

I started reading this expecting to disagree. I think that journalism is incredibly important and that it will be unfortunate if some form does not survive. But we’re starting to see that journalism has evolved and adapted in some very creative ways and that it seems that some form will inevitably survive… even if the decades-dominant institutions reliant on print die out. I even think those institutions will stay around. But instead of getting the NYT or WaPo on our doorsteps, they will become better suited to cover local news nationwide and incorporating other strong aspects of the web.

Thanks for the post.


Is it not worth saving ANY industry?

Might have been worth it to try and save the Bison-hide industry in 1872. By not having the hunters kill every last bison they could find, until there were almost none left.

As a whole this post is too market-forces positive in my opinion. There are other concerns in a society than “do or die”. Sometimes a market can become disrupted through forces outside of the industry’s own control, and it becomes necessary for the state to intervene to not have undue damage done in a transitional phase. Such an example was the car industry in the US when the housing bubble burst. Now, GM and Ford and the lot were obviously mismanaged prior to that event, and in trouble already, but nonetheless it does seem like it was worth it at the time to ensure these huge companies didn’t die entirely, as they are now back in the black again.

Certain industries also have an strategic importance over and beyond their “competitiveness” and impact on employment and profitability. The food industry is one such. That is why countries all over the world give their farming industry subsidies. They don’t want all of their food sources to be entirely in the hands of other people and countries. That’s probably worth a thought too.

So the answer is – yes, sometimes it CAN be worth saving “an industry”, even if the prevailing market forces would have such an industry die off.


Might have been worth it to try and save the Bison-hide industry in 1872.

Perhaps, but not for the sake of the industry. The bison hide industry is defunct, and we’re just fine. We use cowhide now. The bison, on the other hand, could have used some protection, but that’s a totally separate issue.

Now, GM and Ford and the lot were obviously mismanaged prior to that event, and in trouble already, but nonetheless it does seem like it was worth it at the time to ensure these huge companies didn’t die entirely, as they are now back in the black again.

Again, you’re talking about protecting companies, not an industry.

Certain industries also have an strategic importance

It’s a good point. You have to be careful though, because powerful interests will ensure that they get on the list of strategically important industries that need government protection. Even if they’re something that needs no protection at all, such as… oh, I don’t know, movie studios.


I always have a hard time with this one. While I don’t believe that any industry deserves to be saved, I’m less certain about how you allow an industry to die gracefully.

I think the bailout happened for two basic reasons. 1) A lot of Americans are scared, either by 9/11, or the rise of Atheism, or the increased influence of the church in politics, or whatever crazy “big fear” happens to be gripping them at the moment. 2) Too much change has occurred over the last 20 years for many Americans to feel safe.

When you combine fear and the feeling of being unsafe people become very irrational and you start to hear things like this: “GM can’t die, we have to save the Big Three or the terrorists have won.” “Oh Lordy, yesterday I was driving to the supermarket and a Liberal was waving a sign about how God is dead when my car broke down. I wanted to ask him for help but I wasn’t sure if he was a Muslim so I just made a run for it. Now I need to buy a new car and GM is going under! Help me government, I won’t have anything to complain about if you don’t spend my money fixing the auto industry!!!”

Vash the Stampedesays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Steel


I worked at a Ford Plant during shutdown as a millwright and on the trim line during production so I can safely say you are completely WRONG.

During shutdown huge swaths of the plant were reconstructed to be more efficient and add automation. For the union workers still there they would load up your job as much as humanly possible.

Have you ever even been to an automotive production plant? You obviously have no idea what you’re talking about so please leave keep your ignorant garbage to yourself.

Re: Re: Re: Railways? To: Richard, #64, Aug 20th, 2010 @ 12:14pm

Airlines were specifically subsidized by air forces, and specifically by those branches of air forces which specialized in devastation attacks against cities. There were elements of the United States Air Force which did not quite approve of 9/11, but considered it a logical thing to do– to someone else. Here is an exchange I had with the Australian aviation historian Brett Holman a few years ago, about the ambiguous relationship of airliners and bombers. Very often, airlines were started with surplus military aircraft, bought on the cheap.

This applied elsewhere, of course. When Gavin Maxwell (see his Harpoon Venture) decided to go into the commercial shark fishing business in 1945 in Northwest Scotland, he bought a surplus Royal Navy patrol boat. His harpoon gun used modified components from an Oerlikon 20mm anti-aircraft cannon. That was simply the way of things: if you wanted to get something done, you found some war materiel you could scrounge, at ten cents on the dollar.

Sometimes government money can move more quickly than the free market

China to Invest in Electric and Hybrid Vehicles – “Beijing said that over the next three years, 500,000 energy-efficient vehicles would reach the market each year and that more-efficient vehicles would soon account for 5 percent of passenger car sales in China. This year, analysts expect vehicle sales in China to reach about 17 million.”

Re: Sometimes government money can move more quickly than the free market

Sometimes government money can move more quickly than the free market

I don’t believe anyone has ever said otherwise. Of course the gov’t can move faster than the free market. The problem is that it often moves INCORRECTLY. History is littered with examples of gov’t sponsorship of an industry that moved too fast — against what the market wanted, causing gov’ts (and through them, society) a ton of wasted money.

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