Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"If People Could Immigrate Anywhere, Would Poverty Be Eliminated?"

Interesting question. I'd suggest that the answer is yes, but it would take time - given that the best people would move to places that offered the greatest economic opportunity, creating a positive reinforcement loop for places that offer better economic policies. To a certain extent this is already happening given the effects of pro market policies.

The problem is that you'd first have to reduce or eliminate some of the entitlements that have been strangling developed countries that were created at a time when their cost wasn't nearly as much as it is today. Eligibility for benefits would need to be reexamined to make an open immigration policy more feasible. The article in the Atlantic also brings up another issue - "if you're coming from a place that has a problem, you are probably part of the problem, and if you move to a new place you might bring the problem with you."

This isn't academic given how there has been significant migration from "blue" states to "red" states which are seen as more business friendly in the US. Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit argues that "someone needs to set up a “welcome wagon” to explain to new immigrants why the states they’re moving to shouldn’t become more like the states they left". Further, Mickey Kaus notes that overly generous welfare systems can reduce the need for social integration breeding resentment and may even be a cause for terrorism (Slate via Instapundit).

More here (TheAtlantic via HN):

If wealthy nations open their borders, won't native workers lose their jobs or see their pay shrink? Not so, according to Clemens. He and his co-authors, through study of all the available economic literature, have found that decades of immigration of tens of millions of people to the United States has reduced real wages for the average American worker by fractions of a percent, if at all. Meanwhile, immigrants to the U.S. from developing countries can increase their income by 100 percent, or 1,000 percent. "Immigration is very, very far from being a zero-sum game of 'their poverty or ours,'" Clemens wrote in 2010. "Within ranges that even slightly resemble current migration levels, it is rather simply 'their poverty or their prosperity,' while we remain prosperous."

Clemens's research also challenges the notion that immigrants take away jobs from Americans. In agriculture, for example, he has estimated that for every three seasonal workers who are brought in, one American job is created across all sectors. Directly, workers need managers, and more often than not those managers are Americans. Indirectly, workers buy things, which means more Americans are needed to sell and produce those things. And yet, Clemens told me, "when a bus of 60 Mexicans is coming up from the border, nobody looks at it and says 'Ah, there's 20 American jobs.'"

But some immigration restrictionists have far bigger worries than workers losing small percentages of their salaries. There are many possible negative consequences of open borders. Naik points out that "political externalities" may be a major drawback of allowing anyone who wants to move to stable, wealthy nations to do so. Gallup polls have found that 700 million people would like to permanently move to another country, many of them from developing nations with failed political systems. If the U.S. or another wealthy nation were to see a sudden large increase in immigrants from these countries, it's possible that the new populace will vote for bad policies in their new home. As Naik puts it, some people believe that "if you're coming from a place that has a problem, you are probably part of the problem, and if you move to a new place you might bring the problem with you."

Monday, April 29, 2013

Robert Samuelson: The Twilight of Entitlement?

Colour me skeptical but hopeful - that it happens before it bankrupts us (WashingtonPost via Instapundit):

Bill Clinton has a pithier formulation: “If you work hard and play by the rules, you’ll have the freedom and opportunity to pursue your own dreams.” That’s entitlement. “Responsible” Americans should be able to attain realistic ambitions.

No more. Millions of Americans who have “played by the rules” are in distress or fear that they might be. In a new Allstate-National Journal survey, 65 percent of respondents said today’s middle class has less “job and financial security” than their parents’ generation; 52 percent asserted there is less “opportunity to get ahead.” The middle class is “more anxious than aspirational,” concluded the poll’s sponsors. Similarly, the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that only 51 percent of workers are confident they’ll have enough money to retire comfortably, down from 70 percent in 2007.

Popular national goals remain elusive. Poverty is stubborn. Many schools seem inadequate. The “safety net,” private and public, is besieged.

Experiments in Education

This is pretty remarkable - especially given market concerns over the risk of student loans offered by the US government (Zerohedge). App Academy is offering education with no upfront costs that gets paid after students get jobs (Yahoo via Instapundit):

Here’s how the tuition scheme works: Students study free-of-charge during the course’s duration. Upon gaining employment after graduation, alumni forward 15 percent of their annual base salary to App Academy, but not all at once. Instead, that sum -- typically around $12,000 for the average graduate -- is deducted incrementally from an employed graduate’s bi-weekly pay check for six months.

If a student isn’t hired within one year of completing App Academy, that student won’t be charged tuition. But that hasn’t been a problem for App Academy: Ninety-three percent of its graduates have received offers or are working in tech jobs.

According to Patel, the average App Academy graduate earns $83,000 a year – not bad for someone making a career change or who was previously unemployed. But the course is anything but easy. App Academy’s acceptance rate is less than 10 percent, and once admitted, students put in 80 to 90 hours a week in the lab.

Benjamin Franklin on Minimum Wage

From Freakonomics:

Benjamin Franklin apparently understood the notion that input prices affect product prices, which is a problem because product demand curves are not completely inelastic. Discussing a minimum wage, he noted, “A law might be made to raise their [workers’] wages; but if our manufactures are too dear, they might not vend abroad.” This is one of the best arguments against a minimum wage: in an open economy, which the U.S. increasingly will be at least partly passed on in the form of higher product prices, which will in turn reduce product demand—and eventually employment.
Particularly relevant when legally mandated wages are not a reflection of productivity.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The evolution of Capitalism: It's the Ideas that matter more than the Capital

Technology is not only reducing the barriers of entry but also reducing the transactional costs allowing firms to reach smaller buyers (and it's about far more than the economies of scale, as argued by Jon Evans in TechCrunch):

Don’t look now, but something remarkable is happening.

Instagram had twelve employees when it was purchased for $700 million; all of its actual computing power was outsourced to Amazon Web Services. Mighty ARM has only 2300 employees, but there are more than 35 billion ARM-based chips out there. They do no manufacturing; instead they license their designs to companies like Apple, who in turn contract with companies like TSMC for the actual fabrication. Nest Labs and Ubiquiti are both 200-employee hardware companies worth circa $1 billion…who subcontract their actual manufacturing out to China.

Warren Buffett has long advocated investing in businesses with “moats” around their business model. Often that moat is an economy of scale; the notion that a hundred widgets cost a dollar each but a million widgets only a dime apiece.

Obviously that doesn’t apply to software, or music, or other virtual goods. What’s less obvious is that as time goes by, and technology and interconnectivity advance, it applies less and less to the physical world as well. Industrial capacities that not long ago were available only to gargantuan corporations are today open to anyone and everyone. Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and the OpenStack providers compete to rent economies of scale for web services. Foxconn et al essentially do the same for electronics. So what happens when this trend expands into other sectors? What happens when there are Foxconns for furniture, or cars, or houses, or retail stores? And a Dronenet for transporting physical goods?

Researchers: Depressed? Sleep less

Sleep deprivation apparently elevates mood (though as I understand it, it will also kill you) (ScientificAmerican via HN).

Friday, April 26, 2013

PBS: Twice As Many Entrepreneurs Are Over 50 As Are Under 25

Why entrepreneurship doesn't naturally belong to the young (PBS via HN):

The lesson here is that ideas come from need; understanding of need comes from experience; and experience comes with age. The world may not yet be ready for your idea, but if you believe in it, keep pursuing it until one day the world is ready. It is never too late for you to innovate.

Global Austerity, Debt, Growth and Reinhart-Rogoff

It's a debate replete with vested interests so don't expect it to be settled any time soon. A number of people have been forwarding me this NYMag article "Meet the 28-Year-Old Grad Student Who Just Shook the Global Austerity Movement". The critique has been overhyped (particularly evident in the NYMag article) and those who oppose moderating the massive overspending by governments have overstepped what they see as their momentary advantage.

Of course, things don't quite work that way. Judge for yourself - A roundup of other articles in response:
Researchers Finally Replicated Reinhart-Rogoff, and There Are Serious Problems (HN) Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff respond (NYT)
A Study That Set the Tone for Austerity Is Challenged (NYT)
Reinhart-Rogoff reprise (Economist)
Mistakes (Greg Mankiw)

Update (April 28): Refereeing Reinhart-Rogoff Debate (Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers writing in Bloomberg). After taking the adjustment into account:

The finding remains that economic growth is lower in very-high-debt countries (see chart). It has been disappointing to watch those on the left seize on the embarrassing Excel errors but ignore this bigger picture"

Update (April 30): Investors who failed to roll over Greek debt were not scared off by an economic research paper. (WSJ):
When Germany insisted, in return for bailouts, that these countries enact tax hikes and spending cuts, it wasn't because German pols were in thrall to Rogoff and Reinhart.

In inflicting serial fiscal cliffs on itself, Washington wasn't studying Rogoff and Reinhart. It was studying the irreconcilable demands of voters who want no spending cuts, no tax hikes and no deficits.

In the sequestration accident that followed, the culprit wasn't Rogoff and Reinhart. The culprit was the desire of politicians to put off spending discipline until tomorrow—and then, dammit, tomorrow arrived.

Don't be misled because politicians are promiscuous citers of authorities they haven't consulted and papers they haven't read for what politicians would do anyway. As much as some try to invent a fierce debate between "austerians" and advocates of stimulus, the policy consensus, in fact, has been strikingly solid. Michael Kinsley nicely demonstrates in a Los Angeles Times column that even Paul Krugman and his bĂȘte noire, deficit hawk Pete Peterson, have been saying the same thing: NO to immediate fiscal stringency, YES to long-term reform.

Now if various blowhards who campaign against austerity and say they are in favor of long-run reform actually supported long-run reform, we might get somewhere.
Update (May 6): Larry Summers: Reinhart-Rogoff Debacle Shows No Policy Should Be Based 'On A Single Statistical Result' [and it wasn't] (HuffingtonPost via GregMankiw)

"How Corruption Strangles US Innovation"

Which just goes to show that despite US growth which is emblematic of the massive gains we've seen, these gains, brought about through innovation, have not come without cost or easily (HBR):

Tesla. Uber. Netflix. Most economies would kill to have a set of innovators such as these. And yet at every turn, these companies are running headlong into regulation (or lack thereof) that seems designed to benefit incumbents. The reason? The devastating impact of money in politics and how it discourages disruptive innovation among new businesses.

Why Economic Growth Matters

This graph is stunning - demonstrating how markets transformed Western civilization (from AEI):

I would boil it down to this: Respect and reward innovators and innovation. As Deirdre McCloskey has put it, the West became a business-admiring civilization and that changed everything:

What changed were habits of the lip. It’s not a “rise of the bourgeoisie,” but a rise in other people’s opinion of the bourgeoisie that makes for economic growth — as it is now doing in China and India. When people treat the marketeers and inventors as having some dignity and liberty, innovation takes hold. It was so to speak a shift in “constitutional political economy,” as James Buchanan puts the point. People agreed on the meta-rule of letting the economy go where it will. This contrasted with the earlier mentality, still admired on the left, that treats each act of innovation as an occasion to go looking for its victims. Victims there were, but they were greatly outnumbered by winners. It was ideas, not matter, that made the winners, and brought our ancestors from $3 to over $100 a day.

Ira Glass: Persistence and Creativity

I think this applies as much to innovation - that "great" doesn't happen overnight - but it takes practice. What I think it doesn't do a good enough job of emphasizing is that you have to love the practice (via SwissMiss):

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The next generation of gesture controls

Leap motion as applied to Google Street Maps - pretty cool:

Procrastination as a source of productivity?

Maybe (Lifehacker)

Hyeonseo Lee: My escape from North Korea

A TEDtalk via Garr Reynolds:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Everything you needed to know about sleep

It's at least a really good compilation... (Medium via HN)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Things that are not sustainable...

The phrase "unintended consequences" is paired all too often with government interventions as it is here - as Danes begin realizing the problems around their social welfare system that rewards those who are unemployed even more than some who are (NYT):

It began as a stunt intended to prove that hardship and poverty still existed in this small, wealthy country, but it backfired badly. Visit a single mother of two on welfare, a liberal member of Parliament goaded a skeptical political opponent, see for yourself how hard it is.

It turned out, however, that life on welfare was not so hard. The 36-year-old single mother, given the pseudonym “Carina” in the news media, had more money to spend than many of the country’s full-time workers. All told, she was getting about $2,700 a month, and she had been on welfare since she was 16.

The Story of Sriracha

Great story about a passionate entrepreneur (LATimes via Techcrunch):

Early on, one of Tran's packaging suppliers told him, "Your product is too spicy. How can you sell it?" Add a tomato base, some friends counseled. Sweeten the flavor to pair it better with chicken, others said. But Tran stood firm.

"Hot sauce must be hot. If you don't like it hot, use less," he said. "We don't make mayonnaise here."

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Value, Monetization and Mobile Gaming

Not that I think revenues or monetization are bad things (quite the opposite, in fact). Forbes has a look at fast growing SuperCell that makes games through seemingly development decentralized teams:

Ilkka Paananen says the best way to make money in mobile gaming is to stop thinking about making money. Think about fun instead. Fighting a mild case of flu and jet lag from a San Francisco flight back home to Helsinki, Paananen says that companies that place revenue above fun (we’re talking to you, Zynga) will ultimately fail. “It really is that simple–just design something great, something that users love,” says the 34-year-old. [...]

The growth curve steepens: With daily revenue now at $2.4 million, Supercell is already at a run-rate of more than $800 million for 2013 and could reach $1 billion. That would make it more than twice the size of Electronic Arts’ mobile games division, which has 900-plus iOS apps. Supercell now attracts 8.5 million daily players who play an average of ten times per day.[...]

Most game studios have an autocratic executive producer green-lighting the work of designers and programmers. Supercell’s developers work in autonomous groups of five to seven people. Each cell comes up with its own game ideas. They run their ideas by Paananen (he can’t remember ever nixing a proposal), then develop those into a game. If the team likes it, the rest of the employees get to play. If they like it, the game gets tested in Canada‘s iTunes App store. If it’s a hit there it will be deemed ready for global release. This staged approach has killed off four games so far, with each dead project a cause for celebration. Employees crack open champagne to toast their failure. “We really want to celebrate maybe not the failure itself but the learning that comes out of the failure,” says Paananen.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Seemingly bad business ideas that turned out to be great

Cool beans (kottke via Beata).

China's Leap in Reducing Extreme Poverty

Fantastic news. From the World Bank's recent report on extreme poverty (WSJ):

About 1.2 billion people in the world lived in extreme poverty in 2010, subsisting on less than $1.25 a day. That’s down from 1.9 billion three decades ago despite a nearly 60% increase in the developing world’s population.

The total number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped in every developing region over the past three decades. About 21% of the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day in 2010. In 1981 it was 52%.

The sharpest decline came in China, where the extreme poverty rate fell to 12% in 2010 from 84% in 1981. India’s extreme poverty dropped to 33% of the population from 60% three decades ago.

Morning Giggle - Ikea's "Time for Change"

Came across this ad watching Martin Durkin's Margaret: Death of a Revolutionary (Channel4) which unfortunately isn't viewable if it doesn't think you're in the UK.

The irony is how appropriate the ad is, given the thesis of how Thatcher democratized ownership with the UK the sale of council flats (Wikipedia), and the privatizations of British Steel, British Petroleum, British Airways, Rolls Royce and water/electricity utilities through the 80s.

As a side note, it defies imagination how there are some who now claim that the financial crisis of today was the result of Thatcher's audacity in believing that the poor should have the right to buy the homes they lived in. Anyway, rant over, watch Ikea's ad running in the UK for a giggle:

The World Bank Considers Scrapping/Crippling "Doing Business"

It's the one thing that they clearly do right. And therefore there are those who want to destroy it (CSIS):

For ten years the World Bank’s Doing Business report has shone a spotlight on the complications of official regulation for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and records the written rules that governments make for SMEs. The facts are summarized in indicators that are comparable across countries and allow them to learn from each other. The focus on the complex area of regulation has supported reform all over the world—stronger protection of property & contracts and less complicated procedures. Importantly, this is reform spurred without large aid payments.

At the same time, indicators that can be compared across jurisdictions have made it possible systematically to study the effects of rulemaking. For the first time, impact evaluation can be considered for some regulatory reforms to isolate the effect of reform. Mexico was the first case, where different states at different times improved the ease of setting up businesses. States that reformed saw business registration increase as well as formal job creation. Competition spurred businesses to improve. Prices fell, creating benefits for consumers and employees. People are now more likely to succeed on the basis of rules rather than connections. The reforms give the Mohamed Bouazizis of this world a stab at success.

The very punch that Doing Business packs has prompted opposition. From the beginning several governments were unhappy. A typical initial reaction is anger and denial but the very unease stirred by Doing Business has led to reviews of problems and ultimately reform efforts. It has been a productive tension for citizens; every year over 200 reforms are recorded by Doing Business with over 2,000 logged in ten years. Apart from Venezuela and Zimbabwe, no country has made life harder for business under the measures captured by Doing Business. As an Indian newspaper put it, the politically optimal way to deal with the report is to “trash it in public and implement it in secret.”

Yet criticism persists. The new World Bank president, Jim Kim, has established a commission to review Doing Business and make recommendations for its future. All options are on the table. Critics claim the data are not robust, the relevance of the data for reform is questionable, and the rankings direct reform efforts to the wrong priorities.
There are few words that appropriately express how absurd I feel this is.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Patton Oswalt: "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

After today's attack in Boston, a sentiment that deserves repeating (theAtlantic via Instapundit):

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Entrepreneurship ain't just for the young...

It's not exactly a new revelation, but more studies are showing that the average age of entrepreneurs is rising (FT):

But while teenagers make good newspaper headlines, what usually gets ignored is that it is actually their parents’ generation – or people such as Crippen – who are the most active in terms of creating new companies in the US today. Take a look at the data. The Kaufman Foundation (which is dedicated to tracking entrepreneurship) recently analysed the age profile of entrepreneurs and discovered that 34 per cent of them were aged between 35 and 44 and 29 per cent between 45 and 54. Just 18 per cent were under the age of 34 – the same proportion as those over 55. “Entrepreneurship is concentrated among individuals in mid-career, ie between 35 and 44 years of age,” writes Dane Stangler, a researcher at Kaufman.

Admittedly, in some sub-sectors the profile is younger: an MIT study of its graduates, for example, suggests that there are a lot of Zuckerberg wannabes in the computing world; the majority of IT entrepreneurs tend to be in their twenties, and overwhelmingly men. However, what is really notable is that if you look at all sectors of the economy, the age of entrepreneurs seems to be rising, not falling. Back in 2004, a study from the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics found that the “bulge” age for entrepreneurs was 25-34, and this was echoed by other research in the 1990s.

"How politics has shaped the growth of Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul"

For reference the next time a politician in the West wishes they could force decisions through like they do in China - compare the economic sustainability and vibrance of Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing (CityJournal via ChinaLawBlog):

One finds the most striking evidence of how politics shapes the new Asian megalopolises in the differences between Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and China’s leading cities. After all, the Korean and Chinese cultures are similar. Both are founded on the hierarchical Confucian philosophy; both have been influenced by Buddhism. But Seoul is democratic, and the political debates of an open society have profoundly influenced its development. China’s cities, by contrast, reflect the autocratic and corrupt rule of the Communist Party. [...]

Shanghai is a “costly facade to maintain,” confesses Yan Hansheng, its deputy mayor for finance. The city’s primary financial resources are still its traditional factories, owned mostly by the government, which continue to grind out steel, cars, and textiles. These industries, located west of the city center, remain hidden behind the costly facade; few foreigners ever travel that far. To protect Shanghai’s gleaming appearance further, the government also keeps tight control over the population. Officials view the peasant migrants who work menial jobs in Shanghai as a stain on the Western-oriented city and prevent them from living there or sending their children to local schools. To live permanently in Shanghai, one must be born a Shanghai citizen. (The mother transmits citizenship—a system in effect throughout China.) There are some exceptions, based on merit—holding a university degree helps—or on securing a fake identity card. All other migrants who work in Shanghai, though, must return by night to the shantytowns or shoddy workers’ dormitories at the city’s periphery, far from the cosmopolitan city center.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Staying Motivated by Finding Meaning in Your Work

I get the sense that most of us don't take enough time to consider the value we provide for those around us and how this fits in with what we see as our "purpose" in life. Dan Ariely's TED talk on finding meaning and staying motivated (TED via LifeHacker):

SurveyMonkey's CEO on Culture

FirstRound via HN:

Corporate culture isn’t your company’s ping-pong table. It’s not your catered lunch. It’s not the posters you tape onto the office walls. A real culture is the cumulative effect of productive relationships among employees. Those relationships can take years to develop. And they don’t always work out.

"Crowdsourcing Economics"

An interesting way to fund useful research... though on the other hand, given there's real commercial value for this research, you'd think there would other be viable alternatives (Freakonomics):

The typical household in rural Africa is “off the grid.” With no electricity, such households spend a significant fraction of their income on kerosene for lamps. Yet for about $20, they can buy a solar light, which provides a superior source of light and charges their cell phones. (Yes, cell phone use is common, even in rural households with no electricity; they simply walk to the nearest town and pay to charge their phones.) Given that the light pays for itself in about 6 weeks and lasts for about 3 years, purchasing one seems like a no-brainer. Yet few households have done so. These intrepid economists are trying to figure out why, and want to see whether the barriers to adoption can be overcome in a profitable way. In order to do so, they are running controlled experiments in rural Ugandan villages using various combinations of incentives and financing arrangements.

It’s a terrific and important research question. The only barrier is that they need funding for their research. So they’re trying something new: crowdfunding.

Trading off between Social Impact and Financial Results?

Acumen Fund's Blog cites Linda Rottenberg, CEO of Endeavour who argues (HBR):

“If you want to scale impact,” the headline booms, “put financial results first…[and] when tradeoffs must be made, prioritize financial goals over social ones to maximize the long-term sustainability of the business.”
In a way, this is the flip side of Simon Sinek's comments. Acumen Fund Blog notes a similar reservation that I have on the quote.

To be fair, Linda expands - from HBR:

We found that those who prioritized financial goals over social ones were more likely to grow their social enterprises and achieve greater impact. We also discovered ways to build business models that reduced friction between commercial and social goals, thereby smoothing the path to growth.
The revenues generated from a firm come from the social need that a firm meets. In general, profit comes from better resource allocation - arbitrage and innovation. The idea that either financial or social goals need to be "moderated" is just a false dichotomy - all enterprise is social enterprise.

The GOP's real problem with Immigration

Doing too much rather than too little - that it's not living up to its small government principles when it comes to immigration (Reason via Instapundit). It's also perhaps part of the reason for the appeal of more immigrants towards the Conservative Party in Canada:

So how do Republicans manage to alienate nearly every minority? By applying limited-government principles very selectively. During the last 50 years the GOP has opposed welfare handouts, racial preferences, and multiculturalism. Yet the Party of Lincoln has looked the other way when the government has oppressed minorities through racial profiling, discriminatory sentencing laws, and, above all, immigration policy.

America’s immigration laws are an exercise in social engineering that should offend any sincere believer in limited government. They strictly limit the number of foreigners allowed from any one country, largely to prevent America from being overrun by Hispanics and Asians.

The result: Highly skilled foreigners from India and China have to wait up to two decades to convert their temporary work visas (H1-Bs) to green cards or permanent residency. During this time, they can’t change jobs, and their spouses can’t work. But they have it good compared to low-skilled Hispanics.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Privatization of Roads and Highways

Interesting (but long - it's a full 1h37m and at times seemingly politically impractical but comprehensive) look at the case for the privatization of roads and highways from Walter Block (via Instapundit whose Glenn Reynolds is also a moderator/panelist of the talk):

Poverty is a Policy Choice

The good news, is that there's been an improvement but Africa remains one of the most difficult places in the world to start a business (HuffingtonPost):

Most Sub-Saharan countries made doing business easier over the past year, but the African region is still the costliest and most complex in the world for entrepreneurs, the World Bank said in a report Thursday.

In its annual ranking of 183 countries, the bank found 36 of 46 Sub-Saharan African nations improved their business environment in the year through June 2011, the highest number since the study began nine years ago.

"We were very excited about Africa's improvement," said Mikiko Imai Ollison, one of the authors of the report. "Obviously, Africa has a lot to catch up on. It's the region with the weakest legal institutions as well as the least efficient procedures."
Of course this also represents an opportunity. Where are the not-for-profits or even for-profits that help other entrepreneurs affordably and quickly get through the red tape? That could be revolutionary for building entrepreneurship in Africa.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Simon Sinek: "Purpose Can Not Be Rationalized"

Simon Sinek via Swissmiss:

Because a true sense of purpose is deeply emotional, it serves as a compass to guide us to act in a way completely consistent with our values and beliefs. Purpose does not need to involve calculations or numbers. Purpose is about the quality of life. Purpose is human, not economic.
It's too bad that we're conditioned to think that altruism and money are incompatible. In posting this, Simon Sinek tells the story of how he is choosing not to work with an organization whose values are not consistent with his.

It's too bad because I'd entirely agree with him except for that last bit. To be human is to be economic. Where purpose isn't "economic" suggests that the purpose is by definition a self serving one and has no value to others - but with alignment (given the example that Sinek gives), comes real satisfaction.

This isn't about sacrificing your values but being true to them. It sometimes means difficult tradeoffs, choices and yes, even costs in the short run - but as an altruist, in the long run, I tend to believe that doing the right thing tends to also be the profitable one.

Tyranny, Taxi Medallions and the Train of Disruption

Technology strikes again as a power for democratization. A reminder that governments rarely let go over power easily - particularly given entrenched interests and what we'll call regulatory capture (Pricenomics via HN):

A number of mobile phone apps, however, are replacing taxi dispatch services and allowing anyone with a car to become a taxi driver without needing access to a medallion. Increasingly, if you want to become a taxi driver, all you need is a car and an app that tells you where to pick up passengers. [...]

The ride-sharing economy started conservatively with Uber allowing anyone to call a black town car via its app. That quickly led to companies like Sidecar and Lyft, that let anyone with a car act as a taxi driver and hybrid services like InstantCab that lets taxi drivers and community drivers both get fares. These companies and their products are called “ride-sharing” apps.

Cheekily, if you hail a ride using one of these ride-sharing apps, the payment is called a “donation.” This sort of seems like a made up legal loophole that can justify any behavior (“Officer I wasn’t paying for sex, I was making a donation!”). But for now that’s one of the ways ride-sharing apps nominally get around local regulations that restrict who can be a taxi.
It's a good article and one that can't help but make you a bit mad if you aren't one of the few who own taxi medallions. Read the whole thing.

The distinction between being "pro-business" and "pro-markets"

It's one I wish those who were pro-markets would make more often (Yahoo via Instapundit):

During Jeb Hensarling's first congressional bid, a man at a campaign stop in Athens, Texas, asked the Republican if he was "pro-business."

"No," the candidate replied, drawing curious stares from local business leaders who had gathered to hear him speak, a former Hensarling aide recalled. "I'm not pro-business. I'm pro-free enterprise." Associated Press Rep. Jeb Hensarling

Now, more than a decade later, that distinction has Wall Street on edge. The new chairman of the House financial services committee wants to limit taxpayers' exposure to banking, insurance and mortgage lending by unwinding government control of institutions and programs the private sector depends on, from mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to flood insurance.

Banks and other large financial institutions are particularly concerned because Mr. Hensarling plans to push legislation that could require them to hold significantly more capital and establish new barriers between their federally insured deposits and other activities, including trading and investment banking.

Ayah Bdeir@TED: Building blocks that blink, beep and teach

A cool idea. Democratizing electronics:

Monday, April 08, 2013

Down with the Minimum Wage, Up with Minimum Income

Not a new idea. But an idea whose time has hopefully come (FinancialPost):

The alternative to the minimum wage is a minimum income: paid not by employers, but by the state.

The minimum wage is typical of so many bad policies, in so far as it attempts to solve a distributional problem — some people’s incomes are too low — with an instrument designed for a very different purpose. Wages are a kind of price: their role is to connect buyers and sellers in the market for labour in such a way as to ensure there are no shortages and surpluses. Stop them from doing that, and shortages and surpluses you will get.

Fixing wages and prices in this way isn’t an example of Big Government; it’s rather what I call phoney small government. Part of its appeal is that it appears less interventionist than the alternative, as proposed by that early economist Robin Hood: Take from the rich and give to the poor. But it isn’t. It’s just less effective. Pass a law demanding that employers pay each worker a higher wage than they’d prefer to pay, and they have an easy (and perfectly legal) way to avoid it: hire fewer workers. Whereas the Canada Revenue Agency is rather harder to get around.

Social obligations should be socially financed. As a collective ideal, distributional justice is ill-suited to being pursued through markets. That’s not what they’re for. Let us stop shunting our responsibility off on others. In place of the minimum wage, let us fix a minimum income.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Innovation in its many forms

I see a visit to Pizza Hut in my near future. (Wired via Instapundit):

It’s an industry that Americans pioneered and continue to dominate. Homegrown brands are expanding throughout the developing world. The uniform customer experiences they provide are triumphs of industrial engineering and efficiency systems management. And they are constantly spending money to create and introduce new products.”

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Can Computers Replace Teachers?

It's 20 minutes well spent for anyone interested in teaching/education policy - a good overview highlighting some of the successes in blended learning (Reason.tv):

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Best Trust Busters

From Fred Wilson:

Monopolies aren't great for society. So we have trust busters in government whose job it is to keep the monopolies in check. But they don't do that so well. And our government is pretty good at handing monopolies out. Just look at the cable industry.

A few entrepreneurs in a garage. Or a few hackers on the Internet. They are the best trust busters of them all. Look what open source Linux did to Microsoft. They put a dent in a machine that the government could not. And look at what Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber did to the medallion owners in San Franscisco. They got cabs on the streets when the government could not.

Massive innovation doesn't just happen in Silicon Valley

I post this as I chomp down on Kettle Chips from Costco, which is unfortunately *not* paleo compliant (via Greg Mankiw):

Tuesday, April 02, 2013