Hidden Dependencies

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As we slog through the pandemic in America, as I see things change, it makes me realize the hidden dependencies in the economy.

Let’s talk commutes.

Sure, we supposedly hate commutes. An hour this way, an hour that, catching trains, and so on isn’t fun. Sure we try to maximize our time while we read books or see friends after work, but it’s not enjoyable.

But as we work from home, we’re changing the economy. We also know that won’t be temporary for many of us as the benefits outweigh the costs, meaning these changes are permanent.

But what could go wrong? This is good right, where we can avoid using cars and timeshift, and so on? Sure it, is, but it’s going to have quite the impact.

I first became aware of how I didn’t see the impact of more work from home when someone joked about audiobooks. They wondered if there were less sales of them as people weren’t commuting as much. Sure it was funny . . . until you thought about it.

Then I had to wonder.

Next, I saw people in the Bay Area being worried about work from home becoming more permanent. Why, I wondered, would they worry about that? Wasn’t this better?

Then you realize how much of the economy relies on us to be going into work elsewhere than our homes. The people renting office space. The restaurants near our offices. All the services that are involved from construction to janitorial services.

How much of our economy depends on a commute?

Soon I was thinking about other things affected by commutes. Audo services and public transport. Taxis and office supply companies. So many businesses get money if not outright depend on commuters.

We’ve temporarily rearranged a surprising large chunk of the economy, which would be radical even without the Pandemic. But it happened, and it’s going to be for awhile, and for some of us it’s permanent. If we don’t want it to be more devastating than it is, we need to seriously assess business, cities, commutes, and more – as a country and as cities and as communities.

This was a humbling realization and one that I am still processing. This change, this shift, was right under my nose and I missed it. For all of us trying to figure careers and economics and the like it’s important to remember the filters we have in place.

What else are we missing?

Steven Savage

COVID-19, Lessons Learned, Work from Home

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

There’s going to be plenty to say, write, and learn from the horrors of COVID-19. This is about the good things we’ve supposedly learned, and the unexpected sides of these “good findings.”

See, it’s easy for us to learn from the bad things, because the bad things hammer their lessons home – we have to actively learn to avoid them (and we do). It’s also easy for us to look at the good things and learn from them because, hey, we like the good things. There’s a problem with the good things, of course – we miss their impacts.

See, the good things, have impacts. The good things still make changes. The good things, if we actualize them and apply them, still change the world, and we might not be ready for change.

There’s a lot we’re learning from the COVID-19 shutdowns and changes and so on. Often I see talks about the good things, so let’s talk about their unexpected impacts.

Let’s talk working From Home. COVID-19 has forced a lot of people to work from home, and that has led to the conclusion by many (myself included) that we can work from home more, and probably should.

The benefits are, of course, obvious, and are often repeated like some kind of mantra. We can save commute time. We can reduce pollution. We can change up our hours. We can reduce land use and rethink our work arrangements. You get the idea.

The thing is if we maximize what we learned, if we truly move to “Work from home when possible” and apply its benefits, then it’s going to make a lot of changes in our lives. Changes that will alter the world, and give us new ways to screw up.

Let’s dive into those.

CHANGE IN PUBLIC TRANSPORT: If you’re like me, you’ve wished for better public transport in your area – and mine is better than many. Work from home might be nice, but how’s that going to affect public transport, how it’s funded, and how will that affect people that can’t work from home?

CHANGE IN TRANSPORTATION METHODS: People will in theory drive less. Which could affect car sales, car maintenance, gas station sales, and the like. You’re going to see subtle economic changes and unsubtle ones people missed.

CHANGE IN RELATIONS: Work from home means seeing some people less and some people more. Relations among co-workers, friends, family, and people we interact with will alter. We’re probably not ready.

CHANGE IN REAL ESTATE PRACTICES: Less people going to work means less people using buildings for work, means changes to real estate prices, practices, and zoning. There will be vast changes in value, maintenance, and what land is used for if we do more Work From Home.

CHANGE IN EMPLOYMENT FOR FACILITIES: Your office building or wherever you work has janitors, maintenance people, receptionists, perhaps even a cafeteria. When more people work from home, what happens to those jobs? To those people? Work from home in much larger levels could put people out of work.

CHANGE IN TECHNOLOGY: If you’re working from home more, that means having the tech to do so – the computer, the internet, the cell phone, the security, etc. Will this create new jobs, alter existing ones, and eliminate others – well, yes. If you do tech support and tech setup your life will change if we work from home more.

CHANGE IN SCHEDULES: Think you’d work the exact same hours in an age of work from home? Almost certainly not. That’s going to change relations, plans, schedules, support hours, and more. Is everyone ready for new schedules even if they supposedly save time?

NEW RELATIONS: Working from home means you’re interacting with a new group of people. You’re going to different restaurants, seeing different people, making new relations. You might not be ready for that especially as other relations are changing.

CHANGE IN DWELLING: Is your current house, apartment, etc. suited for Work From Home? Would you move to a better area? How many other people are going to make changes to their dwelling, how will property values change, how will policies of apartments change? More work from Home alters everything.

Look at the above. Imagine if we worked from home more and all the sheer alterations it would make to our lives, our relations, and our economy. If we apply all the lessons on Work From Home from COVID-19, it’s going to be yet another series of dramatic changes.

But we’ll be applying these lessons in the wake of a pandemic.

Steven Savage

A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: Economics

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Let’s get to know more about the setting of my upcoming novel, A Bridge To The Quiet Planet.  It’s out late this fall but you can find out about the world now . . .


Economics isn’t the dismal science on the worlds of Avenoth; it’s taken quite seriously. When you’ve got sorcery, super-science, and the gods running around it really helps to know what won’t destabilize your economy.

Economics is considered a science similar to statistics, analysis, and forensics – it is about understanding how things work for the sake of improvement. Economics tend to be very workaday, often specialized, and very dedicated – it is not a “sexy” profession.

The major goal of economics is seen as better understanding of how things work and making it better. Many an economist with ambition will pitch a plan to a town, ward, district, or even a Great City to try and implement. Some will succeed – though few seem to go into politics, preferring to be more of an advisory role. Considering the often verbal politics of the Government that’s probably wise.

There are no real economic philosophies as we would think of them in our world – many points of culture and civilization are considered not up for debate. For instance, regulation of toxic substances or the need for strong economic representation of professionals int the forms of guilds and unions is considered normal. What does exist is hundreds if not thousands of proposals, ideas and theories to tweak this or that.

It’s a lot like diet – people know the general outline of what’s healthy, but there are debates over the best food, proportions, and the like.

A few universal elements of the economy of the human worlds of Avenoth:

Marks: Marks are the common currency, maintained by The Government. The term is a shortened version of the term “Mark Of Trade,” an old way people would mark the value of items in different currency. Marks usually come in waterproof paper bills, with coins for single Marks, and fractions of them (half-Mark, Quarter-mark, and Decimark). A thousand Marks is usually called a Kilomark or K-mark.

A Mark would be roughly equivalent to just under two dollars in America 2018, though prices are hard to translate.

City Wealth Funds: Each Great City maintains a Wealth Fund, a large pool of money used to promote economic wellbeing. This can take the form of everything from zero-interest or no-payback loans, grants to promising students, and investment seeking payback in other businesses. The Great Cities also invest in each other’s cities, businesses, colleges, and other ways to seek benefits for their citizens – and this opens up yet another route for complex politics.

Guilds, Unions, and Professional Associations: Almost anyone who has a profession is part of one or more professional group. These groups, recognized by ancient charter and slow-but-inevitably-evolving laws, provide support for various professionals with both social bonding, training, and economic support. They also act as power brokers, giving people economic leverage, which is both accepted, but is yet another area of complex politics that citizens navigate.

Guilds and Unions, especially, provide retirement and economic benefits to their members. The Great Cities appreciate this since it ensures people are taken care of.

Benefits: Citizens of Avenoth who are under The Government (which is about 60-80% of them) are provided with certain benefits as citizens:

  • A public education up to and including college. An educated population is a cornerstone of civilization.
  • Health benefits. Obviously a healthy population is a stable one – and considering the amount of biological weapons unleashed during the War, and new diseases from other worlds, it’s needed for survival.
  • Welfare. The society in general provides a lot of welfare benefits, but they vary from Great City to City and planet to planet. For instance on Gellitar food and housing is free.
  • Retirement benefits. Though retirement is a nebulous term in the culture, it is generally figured that past a certain age it is desirable to slow down. Plans are provided by a mixture of The Government, The Great Cities, and professional associations – usually meaning a financial advisor needs to get involved.
  • Maintenance of the Network. Cities work hard to maintain a good part of the network and public access is free to all. Some people pay for boosters or additional security.

Taxes and Fees: Taxation is part of Avenoth and is seen as one paying to support their social structures. People often pay government taxes, City taxes, Ward or district taxes, and there are membership feels to guilds or unions. There is no single tax filing day – taxes are reviewed quarterly. Obviously this keeps many an accountant in business.

Electronic Commerce: Electronic commerce has been known for over five decades, and in piecemeal ways before that. Its best to say it’s been secure for a decade. However, people have adjusted to it slowly and there are those who refuse to use it in any form to this day. Some electronic commerce is thus paid for upon delivery or done by other means.

Forensic Accountants: The term Forensic Accountant refers to people who unriddle financial and economic issues, often after disasters, crimes, and historical discoveries.

Banks: Each Great City has its own Bank, and many Unions, Guilds, and the like run smaller Banks or Credit unions. Banking is highly regulated because of the potential for abuse, thus this arrangement is generally considered a positive. There are only two “non-localized” Banks that operate broadly and they are watched with great suspicion as banking is seen as being open to abuse.

Banks are considered more like a public service than a business venture.

– Steve