Sir, Productivity is not, as you claim, “the puzzle that baffles the world’s economies” (editorial, May 30). It is caused by low investment, which is essential to make technology effective. Productivity is not lower in China than in the US because good technology is unknown but because the capital stock is much lower. Equally US productivity does not reflect the use of the best technology. The average company is less productive than the best and cannot catch up without more investment.
This is from the LSE’s Tirthankar Roy and can serve as an appetiser of sorts to our talk at Camp Alphaville with Nandan Nilekani, Mihir Sharma, Facebook’s Richard Allen and author and critic Brett Scott about so-called tech colonialism and the fun that was Free Basics (a proposal by Facebook to give limited access to a number of websites for free) being shut down in India.
It’s broad stuff but you’ll see why we’re highlighting it:
Let me start with a statistical parallel. If we divide Indian GDP into three segments – agriculture, government, and private enterprise outside agriculture (industry, trade, transport, and financial services, mainly) – we observe that between 1900 and 1947 there was impressive growth in private enterprise, and inertia in agricultural income and the government. After the economic liberalisation of the 1990s, that is, between 1990 and 2016, there was again much faster growth in non-agricultural private enterprise than in agriculture and the government. In the middle decades of 1950-1990, when India followed a deeply protectionist and insular policy, private enterprise moved relatively slowly.
What was similar between the colonial times and the post-reform years? The answer is openness.
Last week Donald Trump, in his usual provocative manner, called out Amazon.com for having “a huge antitrust problem”.
Leaving aside Trump’s tendency for headline-grabbing theatrics, the real question is: does he have a point?
We think yes. In fact, we think he probably didn’t go far enough. After all, it’s not just an Amazon issue. It’s a FANG complex and beyond issue.
And we’re not the only ones. In the last week Joseph Stiglitz has knocked it out of the park in terms of articles lamenting the scale of monopolism today. On Friday in the Guardian, Stiglitz noted for example: Read more
Unless you work in the tech sector or the VC funding world, chances are you won’t have heard of the “minimum viable product” approach.
But trust us, investors, you really need to know about this if you’re to make smart investing decisions in the tech-loaded future of blockchains, IoT and artificial intelligence. Especially as it’s another in a long line of approaches originating in techland being exported into mainstream business on the presumption that what works in tech must work everywhere. Read more
Spend too much time with people of a certain social class in certain cities, and you get the impression the tech industry is taking over the entire economy. Technology firms are certainly among the world’s most valuable — Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple are just the ones starting with A — but their impact on the aggregate US economy is actually quite small, at least according to the official statistics.
We were reminded of this after reading an interesting feature in today’s FT on the Israeli tech sector’s growing ambitions. (The country has been successful at producing small companies that get bought by larger American and European firms, and is host to research labs and offices for multinationals keen on employing local talent, but is now keen on creating some industrial champions of its own.) One passage from the article was particularly striking: Read more
Can’t satisfy humanity’s desire for nice houses, good quality jobs, leisure, pastures green, holidays and generally all the stuff that makes life worth living?
Well, why bother trying?
Thanks to virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR respectively) the economic problem can be solved the Matrix way: a.k.a. rendering the search for a better life redundant by ensuring those who can’t afford the good life here in the physical plane can be born directly into a simulacrum. A prison of their mind if you will. All the more effective if you don’t tell them they’re in it in the first place. Read more
At the FT’s 125 forum on Wednesday night, Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair spoke with the FT’s editor Lionel Barber about topics as far ranging as philanthropy, AI, climate change and management.
But if there was one core takeaway from the evening’s discussion it was Bill Gates’ adamant stance on the pace of innovation, which he described as currently taking place at its fastest rate ever. All this, he suggested was leading to a “supply-side miracle” with hugely deflationary consequences for the global economy as a whole. (A truncated version of the interview is now available here.)
Institutions like Carbon Tracker have proved that reframing collective action arguments in dollar cost terms can be highly effective at mobilising the world’s top asset holders to take action.
In the case of climate change, asset holders took note when the associated risks were presented as a carbon bubble threat on the basis that fossil fuel assets aren’t really wealth if they can never be burned (at least not if we’re to spare the planet from life-threatening climate change) .
But, it turns out, there may be another equally effective way of framing the argument. Read more
If you ever needed proof that California-based techies live in a bubble of self-deluded superciliousness, where (to their minds) nothing of any value ever happened until Silicon Valley or Ayn Rand ideologues came along, look no further than the following article from Techcrunch posted this weekend.
As the opener paragraphs report (our emphasis):
Money is pouring into fintech. In 2014, global investment in financial technology startups spiked to more than $12 billion. That’s three times what it was just a year prior, according to Accenture. There have also been some huge funding wins this year. Most recently, zero-commissions trading app Robinhood announced $50 million round and financial education site NerdWallet attracted $64 million in funds. Those are big, headline-grabbing numbers.
Details of the hottest, most secretive bitcoin start-up in Silicon Valley have finally been revealed by chairman and soon-to-be CEO Balaji Srinivasan of 21 Inc in a post on Medium. They are, by and large, exactly what FT Alphaville reported them to be. Cold sharp summary: Bitcoin mining devices in toasters.
Calling this a simple internet of things play, however, would be lazy. To really put the audacity of Srinivasan’s vision into perspective one first has to go back in time to the days of the early internet. Read more
Paul Donovan, economist at UBS, is perplexed by cyclically abnormal levels of capital spending relative to borrowing costs in key western economies.
All the more so given that the sluggish capital spending story is also being accompanied by a significant increase in the number of businesses.
Since these two facts don’t logically tally up, what exactly is going on?
One point to consider, Donovan notes on Tuesday, is that capital spending by and large is associated with replacement investment. For new businesses this usually takes the form of start-up capital spending instead. Read more
A no-brainer funding opportunity for Apple? Or…, alternatively, a sign of things to come: corporates replacing petrodollar and sweatdollar sovereigns as the key accumulators of trade surpluses in the global economy, and issuing debt in a bid to sterilise the effects of too much liquidity on capex they can’t control?
If it’s the latter, we should beware of Andrew Keen’s concerns about the perils of a winner-takes-all tech economy, where a handful of geeks inadvertently become the new masters of the universe, thanks to their cunning monetisation of things Tim-Berners-Lee-types would never have dreamed of rationing to the great tech-ignorant. We’ve dubbed it Silicon Valley’s “god complex” before. Read more
The FT’s Gillian Tett reports from Davos that the Powers that Be may finally have noticed how — while they were busy regulating the banks — the technology companies quietly moved into what was once their unregulated turf.
Via Wednesday’s Davos dispatch:
Large technology companies will experience the same collapse in reputation as banks have endured in recent years unless they rapidly change their policy approach, business leaders cautioned in Davos. Their warning was directed at the influential heads of technology companies, such as the Silicon Valley giants, who were told they needed to recognise that self-regulation will not be sufficient to stave off mounting public alarm about issues such as privacy.
“Self-regulation, no matter what you do, is just not going to be good enough [for tech companies],” said Paul Achleitner, chairman of the supervisory board of Deutsche Bank. He pointed out that a self-regulatory approach had been previously employed by banks — but notably failed to quell a political backlash against their over-reach.
… and the capital hole (economic flaw) at the heart of all cryptocurrency schemes is exposed, we thought we’d uncharacteristically look at what was actually good about the phenomenon of Bitcoin. Read more
Last Thursday the below snapshot of techies panhandling for funding on the side of the street hit Valley Wag:
This came a few days after the WSJ reported that Bill Gurley, the Benchmark Capital investor who backed Snapchat and Uber warned that in Silicon Valley these days “no one’s fearful, everyone’s greedy, and it will eventually end.” Read more
One discussion we didn’t get the chance to follow up on at the time, but which we think is worth coming back to, related to the speed of technological development, and how the invention of quantum computing systems and artificial intelligence could soon pose a serious risk to global cyber defences.
The speed of technology change makes the challenge of security an issue. Michael Trevett, senior information risk owner at the UK government’s Cabinet Office, in a networking lunch on risk management in a world of fast-paced technological change, posed a series of questions about how organisations could cope with the speed of change. If technology improves so rapidly, identifying what is important and protecting that rather than everything might be helpful, he said.
John Komlos of the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich proposes in a new paper that ‘creative destruction’ has become devastating, not just destructive:
the destructive power associated with Schumpeterian creative destruction has increased markedly relative to their creative component, in contrast to previous epochs. Creative destruction’s gentle winds have mutated into cyclones of destruction.
Thus, our sense of well-being will probably not keep pace with even the slow economic growth being predicted by Gordon, Summers, and Krugman. While the economy will be growing, albeit slowly, we predict that our sense of well-being will be mysteriously lagging well behind.
– Our economy needs investors like Mr Zorin. California welcomes him with open arms.
– May I quote you on that, Mr Howe?
– Certainly. Is there anything else I can tell the Financial Times?
The dialogue is from A View to a Kill, in which James Bond — a la Roger Moore — poses as an FT reporter “James Stock” to figure out whether tech billionaire Max Zorin is simply a savvy microchip entrepreneur or a megalomaniac eugenicist with a plan to takeover the world.
The Bond cannon provides a few other characters who, as we’ll explain below, no longer seem quite so fantastically fictional. Read more
On a morning which saw London grind to a halt because of a two-day strike by Transport for London workers protesting the closure of ticket offices (that is, due to automation)…
FT Alphaville was invited to participate in a panel debate about the implications of technological progress on jobs and labour, organised and hosted by the think-tank Resolution Foundation.
(Though to be fair, the tube strike didn’t seem to impact attendance and almost all of us arrived on time.)
Chairing the event was Channel 4 News’ Faisal Islam. Joining yours truly among the panelists was economist and author Diane Coyle, of Enlightenment Economics, Alan Manning, Professor of Economics at LSE and Michael Osborne, machine learning expert and associate professor at Oxford University. Read more
It’s worth noting, first off, that Gordon’s paper was relatively backward looking. It arrived at its conclusions by taking trends prior to 2007 and projecting them forward, largely ignoring the 2008 crisis that occurred. It also measured innovation in terms of dollar denominated growth. Read more
Nanex, the market analysts who like to create visual representations of the markets, have animated half a second of trading activity in Johnson & Johnson stock. The results are quite intoxicating to watch:
If you submit to theoretical physicist Geoffrey West’s urban development theories, then you’ve probably aware of the idea that humanity is set to face a critical crunch point soon enough (if not already). And by crunch point, we mean — either humanity throws everything it’s got at speeding up technology to ensure its resource consumption-to-population footprint becomes manageable, or we wither away.
(The Roman Empire, by the way, is perhaps the best example of a civilisation which failed to make the next great technologically leap to the carbon age and did actually wither.) Read more
2.) Multiple choice test to decide your condescending lede!
Question: When a fake (hacked!) Associated Press tweet about a White House attack moves the stock market down, then it recovers really fast — but maybe not making anyone much money — this is a referendum on the credibility of:
Love him or loathe him, Robert Skidelsky’s prose always makes for a good read.
His latest offering comes by way of Project Syndicate and relates to the issue of robots and the rise of automation. To what degree are we really approaching a leisure society and how best to respond to the changes afoot? Read more