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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Income Inequality: How does it create a tightening spiral?


     With the new tax "reform" in the United States in the news, the topic of income inequality resurfaces as something of interest. As will have been noticed, the way that the economy actually works is something that I find continuously fascinating. As for income inequality, just what is it? How does it begin? How does it accelerate or become less?

[Please note that the numbers used within this blog are snapshots and may be different in a different year's snapshot.]

     In the first place, there are two different inequalities within a capitalistic economy -- income inequality and wealth inequality. These are often discussed as if they were the same thing. While it is true that there is often a correlation they are not the same. Income inequality is the difference in the amount of usable income in a given period (usually a year) between different income divisions (see my blog about income groups if you are interested). Wealth inequality is the total control of capital associated with a particular division. Generally, wealth inequality is even worse than income inequality because wealth both accumulates and compounds (wealth generates more wealth).
     If we look at the following graph of income inequality in the United States:

First note that these graphs only continue up until 2007. The general trends have continued through the present year. Next, note that the increase is much higher with the top 1% than the next 19%. The bottom 80% actually indicate a DECREASE in income.
     Income inequality arises out of the difference between income and required outgo. For the lowest income groups, the amount of income is less than the required spending. This deficit is dealt with by supplements from the general tax pool and by dropping budget items that are not immediate for the family -- dental care, general medical care, and so forth. Eventually income rises to the point where the income matches what is required for spending for essentials.
     We have now reached the bottom of "middle income". This continues until there is extra income beyond essentials. This is the point at which there is actually a voluntary potential of the family being able to accumulate additional wealth. In other words, there is an amount of money that has discretionary spending possible. It could be put into savings, or invested in stocks and bonds -- or it can be spent on more expensive cars, long vacations, fancy clothes, and so forth. In the first situation, the family has the potential of raising their overall wealth (and income). This is the historic "rags to riches" story -- but it requires having enough income to have excess and the number of people in this category continues to shrink and, for better or worse, an expensive car often wins out over extra savings.
     Finally, we hit that upper income category. This is where both survival and initial spendable extra income have been exceeded. It has to be either hoarded or invested. This is complete "gravy" and has nothing to be done with except to expand it. This is where the tax laws can be written to help the vast majority who generate the income or to help those who already have more than they need.
     There is no "trickle down" -- no lower levels that make 1/4 or 1/3 of what the higher level employer makes (and then continuing on down with the next level making, perhaps, 1/8 or 1/6 of the highest level). Only a "splash over" occurs -- lots of service people employed to do things that those with excess income do not want to do themselves. (Of course, the service people are still grateful to have income.)
     So there is the summary. Those who don't have enough to survive and must be helped, those who do have enough to survive but are faced with choices on spending and often spend the additional income beyond survival, and the third category with excess that has no choice but to keep growing unless compensated for with tax laws that re-distribute the money back to the people who generate it.
     Beyond fairness, however, there are reasons why it is very dangerous to allow working capital to be concentrated in the hands of a small percentage. First, the rich are not particularly different from the poor (except where nutritional situations have caused permanent damage) -- they have a "normal" distribution of intelligence from not very to average to very smart. If the top 0.1% of the population (about 160,000 families in 2015) families in the United States have control of 22% of the nation's wealth (2015 statistics) -- that means that 80,000 families of below average intelligence are controlling 11% of the nation's wealth. Even more, the top 10% (16 million families) control 78% of the nation's wealth -- giving us 8 million families of below average intelligence controlling 39% of the nation's wealth. In other words, there is a lot of economic power concentrated in the hands of people who have no particular special quality about knowing how to make use of it.
     The second part of the danger is that, with 16 million families (out of approx. 160 million) controlling 78% of the nation's wealth, we have a situation of a capital circulation problem. If 160 million have the capacity to equally spend on goods and services, the capital flows freely. If it is concentrated in the hands of a few, it is more parallel to a tourniquet being applied to part of the body.
     We have a continued concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and the recent tax "reform" act will accelerate this concentration. We have two major demonstrations of this situation (I do not claim ONLY two demonstrations) -- the Great Depression and the French Revolution. Both were situations where income got overly concentrated in the hands of the wealthy.
We have now surpassed the point in history of the end of the 1920s and are rapidly heading to the point in 1929 where someone, who had a lot of capital and power in his (or her) hands made a mistake and started the dominos falling.
     Will this happen again? I don't know but we have few documented cases where income concentration exceeded these levels and a stable society continued. These cases were demonstrated primarily in pre-colonial Europe and an outlet existed  (unfortunately for the existing native populations of Australia and the Americas) for the poor and desperate. Where is that outlet -- that safety valve -- now?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Controlled falling: how to teach a robot to walk


     Every part of growing up is a miracle in its own way. However, if you happen to be an engineer or a computer scientist, you may find yourself looking at your child in a somewhat different way than most parents. Every act is a matter of "how did they do that?" Or, a matter of "I didn't know they couldn't do that originally".
     Learning to walk is a gradual process. The first part is a matter of figuring out just how to control those wonderful muscles on purpose. For fortunate babies, they have a working nervous system and all of the appropriate muscles are there but that doesn't mean that they pop out into the world ready to do a 100-yard dash. Think of a control room with hundreds, or thousands, of unlabelled switches -- each of which cause a muscle to respond in some way. How do we use an electrical switch box which has lots of unlabelled switches? Try them out and see what they do. (And then, perhaps, label them after we notice their effects.) For a robot, this is a bit simpler as there is a specific control register (or bit within a register) that causes a specific servo-motor to work.
     Now that the child knows what muscle connects to each impulse (and I am not going to try to pretend that I know just how this really takes effect), she (or he) has to practice. This may entail kicking dad in the face a few times and laughing or hitting brother in the nose. Strength is developed as the muscles are exercised. And a special sense (not always fully present in autistic children and others) called "proprioception" starts to be better known. Proprioception is also sometimes known as "body sense" or "kinesthetic awareness". No matter what you want to call it -- it allows us to know just where our body parts are. Is my finger extended? Is my leg bent? This is important if we want to apply the right muscle at the right time.
     For a robot, this has to be done in different ways (although, once again, I do not claim to know just how body sense works within a human). One dominant method is to keep track of relative position. This works like the cursor on a screen -- when the system is powered on, a specific point is considered "home" position and the cursor is moved relative to that position. The same can be done with any servo-mechanism between the limits of its movement. However, it must start at a known location and there cannot be any exterior limit on the movement (which would cause a need for recalibration). Other methods are possible but require more active sensors (and, thus, are more expensive).
     Two more requirements exist for easy movement. These are the ability to know how hard a muscle is pushing against something (the floor, for example) and how fast it is moving. The human nervous system makes use of tactile feedback to determine how hard the muscle is straining and the body sense to know how fast it is going. With a robot, a feedback loop using torque measurement may allow the robotic arm to hold an egg -- or to crush it. Speed is determined by the rate of change of movement -- how fast position changes versus and internal clock.
     With these four aspects -- ability to move, knowing where the parts are, knowledge of amount of force, and knowledge of speed -- coordinated movement is possible. Early programming of robots tried to imitate the specific movements of human muscles within their ranges of motion. It is possible to do it this way provided that there is complete control of the environment. Nothing in the wrong place, no unexpected alterations in the footing or the locations of other relevant objects. Consider a factory line with fully repetitious movement and behaviors (until a part sticks or parts run out or a dog runs into the factory ... or) and one can relatively easily see a robot taking over the factory job. In fact, many of the jobs taken over so far have been of this nature. 100% replacement is not possible because of the many exceptions that can take place and which requires more flexibility to handle -- but a considerable reduction in human staff is possible.
     But we were talking about walking weren't we? Could we use the same methodical programming to teach a robot to walk? Barely possible but, once again, only within a highly controlled environment.
     Imagine that child learning to walk. They stretch. They pull. They start becoming caterpillars on the carpet while they both strengthen and practice their muscles. Finally, they pull themselves up. And fall down. And go up. And fall down. Then they are able to stay standing up -- but hanging on. Then they let go. And fall down. And so on.
     This is a type of programming -- but not "linear" programming. This is not "do A, followed by B and then C". It isn't even exception-handling programming "do A, followed by B, then D if condition C else do E". This is neural programming. Sequences are attempted and then, based on results, discarded or modified or increased. A goal has been set and if enough sequences are tried then, at some point, success will be reached.
     Note that a new item has now been added -- a goal. In order to have a goal there must be a way to determine if you have reached that goal. For a child that is emulating other people who are walking. For a robot, it is necessary to have goals that can be specifically quantified -- expressed as numbers -- against precise targets. For walking that might be obtaining a certain height, directional velocity, and stability. Note that balance, for a human, is obtained by the feedback from the inner ear. Tools, such as gyroscopes, are available to both help maintain, and recognize loss of, stability. Laser positioning devices can be used to indicate height. Global Positioning System (GPS) information can be used for large-scale movement for direction and a combination of position and speed tracking can be used for shorter distance velocity calculations. I am sure that other tools also exist.
     For a child, they see others walk -- and those others encourage them (and protect and guide) -- and they go through a seemingly never-ended process of trial and error. They train parts of their brain and nervous system such that the thought "walk" indicates a complex series of changes, movements, and activities. I shudder to think of trying to program that linearly.
     A robot can learn in the same manner but they have to have ALL of the correct tools -- servo-motors, proper range of motion, torque feedback, auto-recognition, or storage (with its likelihood of losing calibration), of movement, and so forth. As long as they have a goal against they can match their efforts, they can keep trying combinations until they succeed. However, there is a "secondary" aspect of this type of learning -- to keep the "winning" processes and discard the "losing" processes. Humans do this (in some way that I cannot explain) but robots have to do it also. In many ways this is even more difficult because it is unlikely that the next attempt will be EXACTLY like the one in which they previously "won".
     As a note, other types of activities can be approached in the same manner -- trial and error measured against a goal. But the less physical the more difficult the definition of the goal.
     #robotics,#AI,#NeuralProgramming

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Climate change and refrigerators: transfers of energy


     There is presently a mass of very cold air settling down over much of the Eastern coast and Northern (or the eastern 2/3 of the Northern) states of the United States. There have been shifts in the Arctic air mass before and there will be ones in the future. In itself, not that big of a deal although many people need to be extra careful with the unfamiliar conditions -- and, of course, the homeless need extra special care. This gets lots of headlines. What does not get headlines is the extra HOT weather occurring primarily in the Southern and Southwestern states of the United States.
     Ten years ago (or so) -- before the oil companies starting admitting that they had known about climate change for years -- there were lots of elected officials in the U.S. Congress trying to still keep business from having to change their daily protocols concerning energy. One such elected official brought in a snowball as a visual aid -- which got a big laugh -- although it actually had no relevance to the global situation.
     Why didn't it have any relevance? Let's start off with a more localized energy system -- a refrigerator (or air conditioner). A refrigerator cools off what is inside. Perhaps you have even felt tempted (or actually did it) to try to go inside the refrigerator when the room was too warm. But, have you reached around to the back of the refrigerator? It is hot there (be careful). The process of expanding and compressing the refrigerant gases within the tubing inside (nowadays, usually hidden) and the back of the refrigerator is a transfer of energy. Cooler inside, hotter outside. The same situation exists with an air conditioner -- the exit spot at the outside of the cooled location will be quite warm.
     On a global scale, what we have is more heat (primarily solar, some geothermal, and some direct combustion from old stored sources) being trapped than is being released. There is a balance of heat trapped and released. The primary location where the heat is stored is within the oceans.
     When we talk about climate change we are talking about what changes will happen all over the world. When we talk about global warming we are talking about the net balance between heat trapped and heat released. This can be most easily, and directly, measured by the ocean water temperature. This thermal balance is an indicator -- the precise effects are more difficult to determine because there are so many different factors interacting.
     The most immediate direct effects concern the heat sinks -- the oceans. Life in the oceans has adapted to a fairly small range of temperatures and steady, periodic, shifts. The coral ranges are showing huge, immediate, damage. The growth and patterns of plankton and other sea life is shifting. There are possibilities of current shifts -- which would more directly affect coastal land masses.
     But what about that snowball? What about that Arctic mass of air coming down? Note that an increase in the ocean temperature -- the indicator of thermal balance -- is a direct indicator of how much ENERGY is contained within the weather ecosystem. The more energy, the more activity. Stronger and more frequent storms. Stronger winds and different shifts of thermoclines (the water layers). Harder, faster, more energetic -- on balance hotter but with colder aspects at times also.
     One of the great positives of humankind is our adaptability -- and our ability to make use of tools and mechanisms (pyramids of tool usage) to be able to live in places where other species would die off before being able to adapt. However, this current shift is happening so rapidly that relocation and adaptation will push us harder than ever before. (It will also probably cause needs for shifts in disaster management and private versus public insurance situations).

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Fight, Flight, or Pause; Beyond Instincts


     Most people know the cliché/proverb -- prepare for "fight or flight" when they are confronted with an unexpected or fearful situation. A surge of adrenaline prepares the body for a quick, immediate response. If you round a pass in the woods and come face to face with a bear then those choices are probably good ones (pulling out a can of bear spray also hits a high mark). An oncoming avalanche probably gives you only one choice. There are even situations within the urban setting where the instinctual responses still may be good -- an unexpected car running a red light and across the crosswalk or a flower pot coming down from an upstairs window.
     In modern life, the options of fight or flight are often not sufficient for the situations in which we find ourselves. For example, the situation of driving on the highways and within the streets of a city or a town -- this is prone to generating great stress. Someone cuts in front of you and forces you to go into defensive driving mode. Someone is in a car behind you, at an intersection, and starts honking. Does your adrenaline start moving through your body? Probably. Should you fight or prepare for flight? Not really an option.
     Fight and flight don't work well while you are sitting surrounded with 4,000 pounds of metal and plastic -- the use of those options is often called "road rage" -- and that is not constructive. What can work? Nothing. Or, to put it more explicitly -- pause, calm, let it be. Sometimes, I find myself starting to replay scenarios in my mind. "They didn't see me when they moved over". "They can't see what I can see and they think the intersection is clear when it isn't." Perhaps, I may even reach the point of recognizing potential personal responsibility for the situation. "I may have been tailgating the person in front of me and I know the person behind me was tailgaiting and there might not have been enough space for them to safely merge."
     My contemplation of the other person and the situation, of course, might not start off quite as constructive as what I listed above. I might start by thinking what an inept, inconsiderate, socially maladroit, ignorant person they are -- or whatever short version may happen to be your favorite. I have yet to meet a perfect driver -- or be able to be one. No one is always able to ignore distractions or be able to see 360 degrees around them at all times or to anticipate strange, illegal, or other types of unexpected actions from pedestrians and cars around them. This is sometimes hard to remember when the event is occurring.
     What do you do when you are face-to-face with a person that gets your adrenaline surging? There are two variations on the situation. In the first, there is someone available to mediate -- a police officer, a neighbor, a store security officer, a manager. In the other, it is just you and the other person. The two situations are basically the same -- and almost identical if people are not willing to accept, or make use of, the potential mediator. This process is usually called "conflict resolution". The following principles are often considered to be part of conflict resolution (I add number 0 because I think it is often overlooked).
  • 0. Pause. If you are confronting a situation or a scenario where it is not possible, or advisable, to directly work with another person, this may be your only possible initial response. There may be times when it is not necessary to have a reaction. Relax, pause, evaluate, let it be.
  • 1. Listen to the Other Person Actively. Listening is not the same as hearing. (For the deaf, seeing is not the same as paying attention.) If you are preparing a response before hearing what they say, you are not listening. Take notes if you are concerned that you may miss a point you want to address. Be ready to echo things that you think you have heard -- they may not have meant that at all.
  • 2 Think Before Reacting. Once you have listened and taken notes, it is time to think about what was said -- and what you believe you heard. Find out if what you heard is what they meant. Expand on areas in which you need more details.
  • 3. Attack the Problem and Don't Attack the person. An easy trap for some to fall into but name calling doesn't help matters. It really means that you don't have a rational, logical response -- that is, they have won. Best outcome is that you both go forth from the situation as better acquaintances (maybe even friends) with the possibility of mutually solving matters about which you disagree. That cannot happen if you attack them.
  • 4. Accept Responsibility. Blaming doesn't help. In a traffic accident where both vehicles are moving, it is rare for 100% of the responsibility to be with one person -- at the very least being more aware to make better defensive moves or better allowance for hazardous conditions. Assumptions often cause problems because each person looks at things from their own unique viewpoint and history.
  • 5. Use "I" Statements. You don't know what they feel, or think, or meant. They are the only one who knows that -- and all feelings are appropriate for them. "I was angry when your car moved in front of me and I was scared I wouldn't have enough time to stop". "I felt angry and disrespected when you talked about the idea I had just mentioned to you before the meeting and you didn't tell anyone that I had the original idea." You know your own feelings and thoughts -- but you only know what is externally observable about the other person (and, even there, no one is omniscient).
  • 6. Look for What is in Common. Is there something that you can agree on with the other person? Even if it is not all you would like, it may be a beginning from which you can do more later. Concentrating on differences is not likely to help. Everyone is different and unique. A common goal may have more than one way to be approached.
  • 7. Focus on the Future and What Can and Needs to be Done. Where do you go from here? Do you have need for a future discussion -- weekly meetings? Have you achieved a common understanding that is sufficient for the time being? Is there even a need to reach a common understanding -- are you heading off in different directions and there is no real need to settle anything further?
     At one time, the "fight or flight" choices from the experience of an unexpected situation were sufficient. It is no longer sufficient -- and, in many cases, can be quite counter-productive. Decide what you want to achieve but, in the meantime, pause and consider unless in immediate physical danger (then thank goodness for the instinctual response).


    

Saturday, November 18, 2017

May the Circle be Unbroken: full cycle cost analysis


     There are a lot of circles, or cycles, in life. The "Circle of Life" which moves between birth to death back to birth. The "Carbon Dioxide" cycle has CO2 arising from combustion (burning) of materials and then being trapped by living plants to strain it out of the atmosphere but providing the possibility of going back to the atmosphere when the "storage" is burned. Number three is a more "macro-" (big picture) view of recycling and reuse (as talked about in my other blog The Houseboat Philosophy). A fourth (which is the primary focus of this blog) arises from manufacturing. There are others.
     Manufacturing starts with a plan. The plan is based around a finished product. In order to complete the plan, there is a need of a list of components. Each component may be composed from individual parts, and the parts will be created from some original resource. Beyond the list of components, there is assembly/manufacturing, and then sales and distribution.
     The parts that occur between the harvesting of the raw materials and the sales and distribution are typically considered a "normal" aspect of business. A company may outsource (farm out, sub-delegate or sub-contract, etc) parts of the work but all of the parts, whether done directly by the company or not, are part of a "normal" manufacturing process. For many companies, this is the end of their process. However, it is not the end of the cycle. A cycle does not complete until everything is back to the beginning (though rarely EXACTLY the same for the next cycle).
     What does an incomplete cycle look like? With the CO2 cycle, we are seeing the effects right now. More absorbers (plankton in the ocean, trees and other plants on the land) are being displaced while historical (fossil fuels and some current biofuels and other combustibles) "fixed" carbon dioxide is being released into the air.
     In the case of a manufacturing cycle, the direct effect of not completing the cycle is pollution. If the company does not take care of it -- making it part of the product cost -- then it is taken care of by the taxpayers. This is a prevalent form of corporate subsidy -- and part of the reason why environmental laws and protection agencies are needed to prevent some corporations from offloading their costs to the general population.
     What methods are used for handling pollution? Recycling is certainly one method. Containment is another. Unfortunately, ignoring it is another common method which causes other, less direct, costs for health and medical treatment and loss of productivity for farmers, fisherpeople, and others who work within the global environment to produce food or provide recreation. Reduced fishing yields, enormous islands of plastic in the ocean, and a hazardous cycle of needing increasing amounts of pesticides/herbicides/insecticides to maintain crop production levels act as hallmarks of improperly handled pollution.
     In 1900, there was probably more pollution produced per person than there is now. However, since the population was approximately 1/5 of today's population, the total amount of pollution was less. Pollution was more concentrated around industrial areas. This created "dead areas" but, outside of the industrially concentrated sections, nature could largely handle the edge conditions and there were still areas which were able to be self-sustaining. With today's population and the spread of urban areas, there are few areas where nature is able to keep up with the demands upon the ecology.
     If a corporation is to sell products according to a full cycle cost analysis, then all must finish (for the single cycle) in as close to an original condition as possible. That extra cost is added to the price and the company takes on the responsibility for taking care of the pollution and side-effects of harvesting resources. Otherwise, the general populace pays the cost via taxes and deterioration of health and the environment. In either case, the cost exists.
     What other circles, or cycles, are important within your life? What happens if the cycle is interrupted?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Hocus Pocus: The Distance Between Magic to Science


    Arthur C. Clarke, famous science fiction and science fact writer, once said that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".
     Although stories told about witches primarily exist from what is, in the West, often called "the Dark Ages", the underlying problem continues to exist. Someone -- especially a social loner who is doing something not considered "normal" -- has knowledge and experience beyond that of others. If it is useful, they may be allowed to exist to be used by others. That is, they allow it to be used until something bad happens and they use the target of their fear and ignorance as a scapegoat and attack them.
     Hanging on my waist, I have a device that has computational power much greater that that of a 1951/52 UNIVAC that occupied an entire room 65 years ago. If you took that same smartphone and presented it in the town of Salem, Massachusetts 325 years ago, you could look forward to being on the non-preferred side of the Witch Trials.  However, if you took the smartphone back to 1952, most of the technology would be totally unexplainable. Depending on your audience, they would declare it to be an amazing fake, a stage device, or -- yes, magic. Very few would believe that it was real but you most likely would not be subject to being burned at a stake.
      Science consists of building upon previously discovered knowledge. Any jump in knowledge is typically met with suspicion. Einstein's theory of general relativity was a jump in understanding. It took years to be accepted and the "in-between" steps are still being proven even unto this day (2017 Nobel Prize being given for detection of "gravitational waves"). Leonardo Da Vinci was sufficiently wise to keep most of his ideas and discoveries isolated within his journals. His public face was largely concerned with his works of art for the Church and the rich. Since it didn't happen, we cannot know for certain, but I suspect that if he had succeeded in building, and demonstrating, a functional flying machine it would have had, at best, very mixed reactions from the Church and public.
     The split in perception between science and magic works both directions. Something that would be considered "commonplace" within current society (even if really understood by only a small subsection of the people) would be considered "magic" in the past. When people envision things in the future, it is often classified into "science fiction" UNLESS it is some ability or behavior that does not have an obvious basis in current science. Flying cars are science fiction. Functional "spells" are magic.
     Current, scientifically acceptable, spells are called algorithms. They piece together various simple instructions into logical frameworks and decision networks and come out with a "game App" or a "streaming video App" or a "communal workspace App". All of these would have been considered magic in the past. I will make the guess that there are a lot of things, about which we speculate as magic, that will also become commonplace in the future. In order for applications (Apps) to work, however, the convenient microcomputer/smartphone must also be present. Will it be true that, in order for Harry Potter's spells to become valid that some other foundation device must be created?
     What ideas of the future would you classify as magic? Do you see scientific paths to have them realized? What ideas would be the most inexplicable if sent to the past?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Economic Interconnectivity and Big Data


     The world economy is a huge set of interconnections. One type of job depends on other types of jobs; if a job type disappears it is likely to affect many other job positions. Scarcity of resources of one type can affect the prices of many cascading products. If the world does shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, new jobs will appear and old ones will change or go away.
     The interconnectivity also causes great fragility as the world gets larger and there are more dependencies. Imagine, if you can, people waking up tomorrow and deciding that the Internet is no longer of interest (I can easily remember when it didn't exist) -- how many products would no longer have a market, how many people would no longer have a job, how would it affect others (advertising, for example -- and printed newspapers might surge back into dominance)?
     Once upon a time, I was interviewing with Google and, as part of the telephone interview, we discussed potential projects and interests. I put forth the idea that, since Google was well designed to integrate knowledge and had such massive data storage and access, they would be well able to create an economic model of interconnected occupations and salaries. At this point in time, I would like to also add in products and localized market prices.
     Why bother with any type of tool? Why not just make the change and see what happens? The main advantage of such a tool is to have a better ability to forecast the effects of policy changes. What really happens if minimum wage is increased to a living wage? What happens if the illegal immigrants who are largely responsible for hand harvesting of our fruits and vegetables are kept away -- what will be the effects on produce prices, truckers, grocery stores, and so forth? What jobs are affected if private transportation is minimized and public transportation maximized?
      Such a project would be impossible if every individual, unique job, discrete part, and location had to be tracked. Luckily, items can be aggregated -- 500 Blue F-150 trucks should only have a quantity value change over 1 Blue F-150 truck (but, at the same time, there needs to be a way of describing Red F-150 trucks without having a fully different item). There is a lot of work to be done and it would still be a difficult project but certainly within the capabilities of many of the larger data handling companies -- Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, ... What would be the Return On Investment (ROI) for such a project? It's really difficult to know but it would be a valuable service/project that should be of use to governments and businesses around the world.
     I would suggest architecting such  a project as an iterative accretion of data. Start with something relatively small -- a loaf of bread. The loaf of bread has a set of occupations associated with it -- baker, packers, delivery people, stockers, advertising, payroll, Human Resources, etc. It also has a set of ingredients -- flour, yeast, filtered water, possibly milk, salt, and so forth. Each ingredient has an amount which acts as a ratio of strength in the links to the bread. Each ingredient has its own delivery and production chain which each have associated costs and value. It would be considerable in itself but the greatest value would be the fact that it is still small enough to be thrown away. New links and new data structure values will be discovered to be needed as the database develops. Now do it over (iterate) with those better values and links. Do it again if needed. Now add butter to the bread and continue on.
     There are also usability concerns. The bread company may start off selling only white bread and then add rye bread -- each with their own percentage of sales. How does one substitute recipe ingredients? How do you change the dependencies and the ingredient ratios? What happens if a problem ruins the rye crop for the year? If modelling an auto, how easy is it to change the model from gasoline to electric? Not only is there a substitution of an "ingredient" but the interconnections to suppliers, dealers, raw materials (batteries, possibly lithium) change. The model must be able to be changed easily because modelling the existing situation may be interesting but comparisons are what gives the most value.
     How would you address such a problem? What do you see as specific practical benefits from such an economic model? Is there some subset of such a model already in existence that could be used as the core of expansion? How are unpaid people incorporated into the model, recognizing that the system falls apart without them -- even if they are not considered to be part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or a paid occupation?
     While I find the project fascinating just from a theoretical basis, I keep finding more and more potential uses as I consider the matter.