Sunday, April 26, 2015

"Do Strong Religious Beliefs Stifle Innovation?"

According to one paper, yes (WSJ). I'd be curious to see if the particular religion plays a role:

The relationship is apparent when plotting the percent of the population that describes itself as religious against a population-controlled measure of patent applications filed by a country’s residents.

The relationship broadly holds up when the authors make adjustments for differences in gross domestic product, rates of higher education, population and other variables. So it’s not simply a matter of more religious countries being poorer or having fewer resources, Mr. BĂ©nabou said in an interview.

“We’re not making strong claims as to what is causing what,” he said. “The pattern is there and people can offer their own explanation to the pattern.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Twelve economic concepts every graduate should know

Short and sweet (BusinessInsider). From the speech given by Nobel economist Thomas Sargent to graduates of Cal-Berkeley in 2007.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

As Moore's Law turns 50, the revolution is only beginning...

WSJ via Instapundit:

Moore’s Law is creative destruction on steroids. It regularly fosters the next wave of entrepreneurial opportunities made possible by the latest jump in chip performance. It can be blamed for much of the 90% mortality rate of electronics startups.

But because the usual graphic presentation of the law is tamed by the format into a nice shallow line, we don’t get to see the awesome power of the raw curve—which, like all exponential lines stays shallow seemingly for a long time, then suddenly curves almost straight upward in a vertiginous climb. It is the curve of a rocket’s acceleration, of a pandemic, of the cells born from a fertilized egg.

The great turning took place a decade ago, while we were all distracted by social networking, smartphones and the emerging banking crisis. Its breathtaking climb since tells us that everything of the previous 40 years—that is, the multi-trillion-dollar revolution in semiconductors, computers, communications and the Internet—was likely nothing but a prelude, a warm-up, for what is to come. It will be upon this wall that millennials will climb their careers against almost-unimaginably quick, complex and ever-changing competition.

Crowd-sharing, crowdfunding, bitcoin, micro-venture funding, cloud computing, Big Data—all have been early attempts, of varying success, to cope with the next phase of Moore’s Law. Expect many more to come. Meanwhile, as always, this new pace will become the metronome of the larger culture.

Moore’s Law has always induced de-massification: giant mainframe computers become smartwatches, giant vertically-integrated organizations are defeated by what Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds has dubbed an “Army of Davids.”

Rigid command-and-control structures in every walk of life, from corporations to governments to education, become vulnerable to competition by adaptive and short-lived alliances and confederacies. Now that process is going to attack every corner of society.

Arbitrageurs, meet the disintermediation of tech

The fact that it's taken this long is the only real surprising aspect of this story - that Wall Street is under threat by the rise of info tech (wired):

These so-called “fintech” upstarts are calling attention to the many shortcomings of the gatekeepers who have traditionally controlled lending, paying, and investing. When these incumbents were the only option, they could rest easy assuming annoyed consumers had no other options. Now they do, and a nervous Wall Street, Dimon included, is realizing it has to play along in order to fight back. Amid fears of a growing threat to their market share, Wall Street is now playing catch-up. Banks are launching competitive products (or slapdash imitations, depending on where you sit) to startups’ innovations. They’re financing partnerships. And in some cases, they’re just trying to acquire away threats to their businesses.
More: Inc. profiles a few companies that are making it easier for startups to find money.

The death of "cleantech"? Or the perversions of "free" money?

TechCrunch notes that "old" cleantech was overhyped and is now nearly unfundable but there's an emergence of more sustainable and profitable tech: "They’re looking to be downstream, close to those juicy, fast-growth markets, with new channels and new marketplaces. Even in hardware, they’ve moved to distributed, smaller, modular, automated and intelligent hardware."

Doesn't this just highlight problems with governments trying to choose winners - when it comes to either technologies to pursue or even more insidiously, companies that try to develop those technologies? Could these companies like Nest have gotten there faster if it weren't for all the carrots being dangled to pursue those "overhyped" technologies? And was losing all this money and time really such a "noble way to lose money?"

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why is US entrepreneurship declining precisely when entrepreneurship is getting easier?

This should be alarming for policymakers (Inc):

The Kauffman Foundation, citing its own research and drawing on U.S. Census data, concluded that the number of companies less than a year old had declined as a share of all businesses by nearly 44 percent between 1978 and 2012. And those declines swept across industries, including tech. Meanwhile, the Brookings Institution, also using Census data, established that the number of new businesses is down across the country and that more businesses are dying than are being born. All this at a time when entrepreneurship had reached its cultural apex and was widely viewed as the sole sizzling ember in an otherwise cooling economy. The business and academic worlds were left slack-jawed: How could this be?

The implications are huge. “New businesses are disproportionately responsible for the innovation that drives productivity and economic growth, and they account for virtually all net new job creation,” says John Dearie, executive vice president for policy at the Financial Services Forum. “I would say, as a policy person, this is nothing short of a national emergency.”
I'm not convinced by Inc's theories. Generational? Markets have actually increased with access to more markets globally - and I'd argue risks have actually declined with the costs of starting a business falling.

Big companies? Big companies and the lure of a secure job seem to have been even greater in the past. Funding? Again, I'd suggest it's easier today than ever before. Possibly related, TheSignal has a fairly aggressive column making the argument that the decline in jobs (making the fall in entrepreneurship even more alarming) is the result of government and regulation that's currently sucking the oxygen out of the job market. Maybe it's also true for US entrepreneurship? (And on a related note, maybe it's the dramatic rise in student debt?)

Betting on farming

According to the WSJ, venture capitalists are placing bets on ideas to improve food production and food itself:

The money involved in U.S. food startups is still small compared with Internet companies. But venture-capital investment in agriculture and food soared 54% to $486 million last year, according to Dow Jones VentureSource.

Big agribusinesses have launched their own VC initiatives, and investment managers have raised funds dedicated to food and agriculture technology. New York-based private-equity firm Paine & Partners, for instance, raised $893 million in January for investments in boosting productivity in areas like protein production and food safety, according to its president, Kevin Schwartz.

Driving the investments are a combination of cheap wireless technology, improved tools for collecting data and monitoring crops, and budding entrepreneurs looking to address new market demands and feed a growing global population. Increasingly health-conscious consumers also are scrutinizing what is in their food, pushing vendors to boost the transparency of their supply chains.

Is modern healthcare killing us?

Provocative question from Freakonomics. What I think is entirely clear is that the system in the US is broken. I'm more skeptical of claims that the problems are the result of profit seeking rather than warped incentives:

In our system, we have an asymmetry in price. So we pay a whole lot of money if you cut, scan, and hospitalize patients. If they have procedures, if they go through machines, we pay an enormous amount of money for those things. If you talk to a patient, you actually lose money in many instances. So when a cardiologist walks in the room and talks to your family member, that’s actually a loss leader. That doctor is losing money every moment they stay in a room with your family member. The way they make money is by getting you out of that room and back into the scanner that they’re leasing in the back of the office. That’s not their fault. That’s the fault of how we’ve structured the incentives in the system.

Where's the top programming talent in the world?

Hint: surprisingly, not California (venturebeat). This is just snapshot data, but I'd be curious if there have been any trends here.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Friday, April 03, 2015

How much does the minimum wage help the poor?

Not very much (JStor via MarginalRevolution):

About 35 percent of the total increase in after-tax benefits goes to families with income less than two times the poverty threshold, a common definition of the working poor or near-poor; nearly 13 percent goes to families principally supported by low-wage workers defined as earning wages at or below 117 percent…of the new 1996 minimum wage; and only about 14 percent goes to families with children on welfare.

Unlike most public income support programs, increased earnings from the minimum wage are taxable. Over 25 percent of the increased earnings are collected back as income and payroll taxes…Even after taxes, 27.6 percent of increased earnings go to families in the top 40 percent of the income distribution.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

How fracking is changing geo politics

And yet some politicos would rather increase the barriers to fracking rather than drop them. How fracking is reshaping global power (WSJ):

Fracking overnight has relieved Saudi Arabia of its swing-producer dominance. Fracking overnight has relegated the Middle East to a sideshow, albeit a still-important sideshow, in the world economy.

Things change fast and could change back. A sizable share of the world’s oil still flows from the Persian Gulf and so far production has not been disrupted. Prices would shoot up—they’re already creeping up. But a weight on U.S. fracking would also be lifted. At prices below $50, much fracking becomes long-term unprofitable. But then there’s the flip-side: the flexibility exhibited by the U.S. wildcat sector, allowing drilling to ramp up quickly in response to higher prices, helping to counteract any damage to global growth.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

American regulation drives innovation north...

You can't stop the signal... or the drones apparently (TechCrunch)

It’s happening here, and not 2,000 ft to the south, because the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority, has been dragging its heels on green lighting testing in Washington on existing Amazon company property. Last week, the FAA did finally relent and approve experimental testing for Amazon, but the company responded (with no small amount of evident pique) by noting that the actual drone approved from testing was a prototype that has since become obsolete thanks to more recent technical advances.

In Canada, by contrast, Amazon endured only a single three-week licensing undertaking, after which it has received what the Guardian says is essentially “carte blanche” permissions regarding its full fleet of drones for testing. Of course, one could argue that given Canada’s much, much lower population density and less charged political climate, comparing the FAA’s responsibilities with those of its equivalent body in Transport Canada from the neighbor to the north is essentially comparing apples to oranges.

Still, Canada’s openness to work with drone companies on early testing might usher in a small industry boom – already in 2014, Transport Canada has approved 1,672 companies for commercial drone use, compared to just 48 total for the FAA, the Guardian notes. Canada offers some big benefits to companies hoping to eventually serve the U.S., too, including general geographic and climatological similarity with its southern companion.

Drone companies, especially those focused on solving the hard problems surrounding machine learning and autonomy, are already springing up like weeds in Canadian innovation hubs like Waterloo and Toronto, so the FAA’s sluggishness may prove vitalizing to Canada’s emerging flying robot industry.