Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Is productivity actually increasing?

I was browsing this thread on Reddit, and came across this quote (emphasis mine), which got me to thinking, and posting...

Finance is assumed to have been the driver of productivity post-stagflation, but there is a widely-held sentiment that the returns from the stock market are an illusion not based creating value. Put another way, there has been enormous sums of money produced in a series of financial bubbles based more on consumer confidence than any returns- think of the unsupported internet bubble in the 90's, or today for social media- a phenomena perhaps best epitomized by welfare-fraudster Elon Musk. Millions have been made off of investing in bitcoin, a currency which has no proven utility to date and resembles a ponzi schem. Or what about computers? What about Moore's law? To date, there has been no satisfactory evidence that computers have been used to improve real productivity. These machines support the internet and can simplify administration, but they haven't made our industrial technologies significantly faster
My world view has shifted considerably since I joined the blue collar, industrial workforce. I previously would have questioned the last sentence of the above paragraph, but now I'm not so sure.  In the making of gears, my specialty, it still comes down to making a blank, and then subtractively machining it by shaping or hobbing.  The machines and cutting tools would all be familiar to someone from the 1940s, though some of the instrumentation is a bit easier to use.

I work in a job shop, which means the quantities involved in production never exceed 1000. Mass manufacturing at scale doesn't make much of a dent at work. To make gears faster or cheaper would require new machines, and the capital outlays involved just aren't justified. It is possible to make bevel gears with 5 axis machining, but it turns out the process wouldn't be any faster, just a bit more flexible.  The return on investment isn't there.

Additive manufacturing might someday displace things, but the real inputs to the process in terms of power and materials make it highly unlikely.

These are my thoughts, I welcome yours.

No comments: