Thursday, September 1, 2011

Our Self-Serve Economy

Thanks to the popularity of the Internet and the high price of gasoline, 20% of all retail sales (by dollar amount) can now be made without interacting with a human being. This isn't even counting the new self-checkout lanes at grocery stores.


Our automated self-serve economy isn't exactly churning out new jobs. Big shocker.

Source Data:
U.S. Census Bureau: Retail Trade
St. Louis Fed: All Employees: Gasoline Stations
St. Louis Fed: All Employees: Nonstore Retailers
St. Louis Fed: All Employees: Retail Trade


getyourselfconnected said...

Great post!

Troy said...

"big box" retail is also "helping" here.

first they came for the steelworkers, but I was not a steelworker so I did not say anything. . .

Stagflationary Mark said...


So many dots. So many ways to "connect" them.

It would be nice if the conclusions of just some of the dot connecting would point to future prosperity.

Depression = automation + high employment + high debt

Stagflationary Mark said...


first they came for the steelworkers, but I was not a steelworker so I did not say anything. . .

then they offered toy horses made in China, but since they were free we wheeled them inside the castle?

Troy! What have you done! ;)

fried said...

SElf-check, o how I hate you. If I am in a store, esp. a big box store with self check-out, I refuse to use it. I would rather stand in line. Folks need jobs, any job sometimes, badly, and this is a small thing I can do.
If a store has only self-check out, I refuse to buy, and before I leave, I ask for a manager, so I can tell them why. I can't get any friends to see the point, though, they are sure I am simply being a Luddite.

Audrey said...

Great post!
I think the Texas drought might be another small addendum to your nifty depression equation.

Stagflationary Mark said...


I admire your spirit. Unfortunately, you are competing with the prisoner's dilemma.

It is in my own personal best interests to use the speediest lane available to me (to defect). It is in our collective best interests to allow a human worker to help me.

So what wins out in the end?

Prisoner's dilemma

If we assume that each player cares only about minimizing his or her own time in jail, then the prisoner's dilemma forms a non-zero-sum game in which two players may each either cooperate with or defect from (betray) the other player. In this game, as in most game theory, the only concern of each individual player (prisoner) is maximizing his or her own payoff, without any concern for the other player's payoff. The unique equilibrium for this game is a Pareto-suboptimal solution, that is, rational choice leads the two players to both play defect, even though each player's individual reward would be greater if they both played cooperatively.

In the classic form of this game, cooperating is strictly dominated by defecting, so that the only possible equilibrium for the game is for all players to defect. No matter what the other player does, one player will always gain a greater payoff by playing defect. Since in any situation playing defect is more beneficial than cooperating, all rational players will play defect, all things being equal.

I have brought this game theory up many times in the past. It applies to much of our economy. What is good for us individually is not necessarily good for us overall. Sigh.

Stagflationary Mark said...


Yes, that would seem to be an improvement to the equation.

Depression = automation + high employment + high debt

Great Depression = automation + high employment + high debt + dust bowl

Stagflationary Mark said...

Oops, that should say high unemployment instead of high employment!

Audrey said...

Yep, there you go.
I see in Phoenix they have had dust storms this year, so you are right on.

Stagflationary Mark said...


Every good movie needs a sequel.

Great Depression II = automation + high unemployment + high debt + dust bowl + miniplexes

The Times of India: Now, multiplex experience at a 'miniplex'

How do you make a multiplex affordable? Make it smaller and call it a miniplex. Simple.

fried said...

It is in our collective best interests to allow a human worker to help me.

I understand your parsing the individual vs. collective good. But in this instance, with workers rights and even work itself being automated or eliminated, I preserve my individual good by acting for the collective good. In this small instance, no self-checkout.
I read this and think how ant-like is my resistance to the larger economic forces bearing down on us.
But, it's what I can do.

tj and the bear said...

Why Unemployment is About to Surge

Stagflationary Mark said...


You are certainly taking a stand. I have to commend you for that.

China's Restraint vs. Federal Reserve's Restraint

Note the last chart within.

You are the data point that attempts to resist the overpowering force.

Stagflationary Mark said...

tj and the bear,

Did I mention lately that I am bearish on job creation?

I am!

fried said...

Great charts. Iirc, didn't the man who stopped the tank get dragged away later by security forces? His image remains, but he has vanished.
So will I. Eventually. But not today.
Resist self-checkout. We can take aim at self-serve buffets next.

Stagflationary Mark said...


I'm the economy's worst nightmare.

My girlfriend is unemployed and all I seem to do is embrace the decline.

Here's an example of my self-service.

I worked out on my own stair stepper (no gym). I drove my car a grand total of 50' (to move it into and out of the garage so I could get the mower out). I mowed the lawn. I fixed myself a meal. I blogged for free. I fixed myself another meal. I plan to play a few video games and watch some TV. I might even read a used book at some point.

I'm like your antimatter counterpart. I can't even get myself into the path of the tank, unless that tank is on the Playstation, lol. Sigh.

And lastly, you'd think that with all the video games I play that I could support the economy that way. Not really.

I'm not easily bored. I'm 200 hours into Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice. I've been playing it for a few years off and on. It never really ends unless you want it to.

Bonus maps and characters can be accessed after the final boss is defeated, at which point an epilogue chapter opens. The player may choose to continue to the extra maps, or to replay the entire game with stronger characters as in previous titles. From within the epilogue, many extreme challenges await hardcore players under various circumstances, from maxing out characters to the millions, to defeating the final secret boss.

To the millions is almost an understatement!