Lynx, trade politics, a super swingin’ slice of Kelly Roll, and a bit of pop psychology re JOMO

July 12th, 2018 at 9:11 am

Trade policy has been really interesting of late. I get into the economics of what I think is going on here and here. The first piece makes the argument that Trump is fruitlessly and fecklessly trying unscramble the globalization omelet. The second takes on–with help from a great, new Susan Houseman paper–the incorrect but pervasive notion that the increased pace of labor-saving technology is responsible for manufacturing job loss.

I don’t get into the politics of trade in these pieces because I can’t clearly figure it out. Yesterday someone asked me, “where are the Democrats on trade policy right now” and I hemmed and sputtered until he walked away. For years, a large flank of D’s have opposed trade deals they judged to be unfair to workers and consumers, warned about China’s mercantilism, and recognized the downsides of imbalanced trade. Now, a reckless, chaotic president is sharing some of that airspace, though, at least as I argue the case, doing so in ways that are unlikely to help.

So, tricky politics, but perhaps there’s an opening here. Think of Trump as a dry run. Voters wanted someone to do something about globalization’s downsides, and they threw the dice with him. If, as I strongly suspect will be the case, he and his policy team’s incompetence fail to deliver the goods, the demand for better policy will still be there, perhaps even stronger than before. Thus, the smart play for the opposition party is to be ready to hit the ground running with an agenda that might actually…you know…work!

I have numerous favorite jazz pianists: Red Garland, Herbie Hancock, and perhaps the most hard swinging of them all: Wynton Kelly. I’ll be shocked and disheartened if this little jam of his–Kelly Roll–doesn’t get you poppin’ your fingers and tappin’ your toes. Every measure here is high-octane, but check out his trickerations at 1:19. If I could do that, I’d never open another damn spreadsheet.

There’s and old jazz legend that during a recording session, Miles Davis leaned over to drummer Jimmy Cobb and said, “I wish I could swing like Wynton.” Cobb supposedly responded, “I wish you could too.” Chilly.

Allow to swerve wildly out of my lane for a moment and reflect on FOMO and JOMO, as I think they’re fundamentally important. That’s “fear of missing out” and “joy of missing out.” Many of us experience the former, which keeps us tethered to our smart phones, mindlessly scrolling through mind-numbing input at great cost to our connection to family, nature, attention span, and true enjoyment of the moment.

Here’s yet another article about the importance of detaching from this destructive cycle, but I often find that articles like this, while spot on re prescriptions, miss a fundamental part of the diagnosis.

Again, apologies for playing psychologist, and someone who knows what they’re talking about should feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m convinced that what’s at the heart of FOMO, and the reason smart phones, social media, email, and all the rest of it are so deeply addictive is that we’re almost all of us insecure people, many of us profoundly so.

The builders of the technology recognize and tap this weakness by dolling out rewards that signal to us that we’re more interesting, important, and necessary than we fear we are. In this model, each “like,” re-tweet, email, text, etc. is self-affirming, a tiny, little message that we’re more worthy than we thought.

And, of course, the obverse is true: every lack of e-confirmation confirms what we already deeply suspected: no one’s interested in our lame-ass existence.

If I’m right, promoting the vital importance of JOMO without getting at this root problem will fall on deaf ears. We’ll understand the need to detach in our conscious mind, but our much more powerful, cloying, self-effacing, “please love me!” (i.e., retweet me) brain will brush any JOMO insights aside and we’ll be scrolling until the battery runs out or we’re brain-dead, whichever happens first.

In other words, detaching from self-worth and your alleged importance and value in the eyes of others is an absolutely necessary precondition for detaching from technology. Without the former, we’ll never accomplish the latter.

OK, back to inflation, interest rates, productivity….and my twitter feed.

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