June 19, 2018

Blockchain May Enable "Consent-Based Ad Models"

(p. A13) Internet advertising started simply, but over time organically evolved a mess of middle players and congealed into a surveillance economy. Today, between end users, publishers and advertisers stand a throng of agencies, trading desks, demand side platforms, network exchanges and yield optimizers. Intermediaries track users in an attempt to improve revenue.

It's an inevitable consequence of such a system that users end up treated as a resource to be exploited. When you visit the celebrity website TMZ, for instance, you face as many as 124 trackers, according to a Crownpeak test. Your data is stored and profiled to retarget promotions that shadow you around the Internet. You become the product. Some claim your data is not "sold," but access is certainly rented out.

. . .

For a solution, look to blockchain technology. More than a word peppering earnings calls, it can deliver the change brands, publishers and users need. Put simply, it's an immutable database that records transactions and produces trustworthy data.

In advertising, blockchain's reliable data can radically shrink the ad-tech blob and provide the foundation for consent-based ad models. Improved blockchain reporting and transparency would obviate much of the need for companies focused on measurement, verification and even some data suppliers. Companies like Brave are using blockchain to build software that allows for more-direct relationships between advertisers and publishers, as it was before the blob. (Earlier this month Brave announced a partnership with Dow Jones Media Group, a division of this newspaper's parent company.) Anonymous data on the blockchain or on a device can even replace the need for the mining of individual user data. Users should be compensated for their attention and seen as customers again.

The internet need not be characterized by predation and parasitism. It can once again be a place of infinite possibility. Innovation got us into this situation; it can get us out.

For the full commentary, see:

Brendan Eichand and Brian Brown. "The Internet's 'Original Sin' Endangers More Than Privacy." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 28, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 27, 2018.)

June 18, 2018

Lack of "Air-Conditioning Can Be Deadly"

(p. A10) The number of air-conditioners worldwide is predicted to soar from 1.6 billion units today to 5.6 billion units by midcentury, according to a report issued Tuesday by the International Energy Agency.

. . .

While 90 percent of American households have air-conditioning, "When we look in fact at the hot countries in the world, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, where about 2.8 billion people live, only about 8 percent of the population owns an air-conditioner," said Fatih Birol, executive director of the energy agency.

As incomes in those countries rise, however, more people are installing air-conditioners in their homes. The energy agency predicts much of the growth in air-conditioning will occur in India, China and Indonesia.

Some of the spread is simply being driven by a desire for comfort in parts of the world that have always been hot.

. . .

And when it gets hot, forgoing air-conditioning can be deadly. The heat wave that plagued Chicago in 1995 killed more than 700 people, while the 2003 European heat wave and 2010 Russian heat wave killed tens of thousands each.

For the full story, see:

Kendra Pierre-Louis. "World Tries to Stay Cool, but It Could Warm Earth." The New York Times (Friday, May 18, 2018): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 15, 2018, and has the title "The World Wants Air-Conditioning. That Could Warm the World.")

June 17, 2018

Jeff Bezos Is "Exploring Strange New Worlds"

(p. A15) Jeff Bezos is the world's richest person. Amazon is on a tear--sales grew 43% last quarter--and may soon pass Apple as the world's most valuable company. Amazon has ruptured retail, floated in the cloud, and even made superhero TV shows like "The Tick." But what makes Mr. Bezos tick?

. . .

. . . , Mr. Bezos is now channeling pioneers, be they Columbus or James T. Kirk, exploring strange new worlds. His strategy is that he doesn't let business models get in his way while exploring on the edge.

. . .

I'm convinced the real secret to Mr. Bezos's success is that he hates PowerPoint slides. He insists instead on six-page narratives at meetings. Stories codify exploration. Here's one: Put Alexa in every doctor's office to listen and correctly fill in medical records automatically from the transcripts, freeing doctors to actually care for patients! Business model to come (but pretty obvious).

For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. " INSIDE VIEW; Columbus Discovers the Amazon." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, May 7, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 6, 2018.)

June 16, 2018

"Politicians Use Economics the Way a Drunk Uses a Lamppost"

(p. A13) Mr. Blinder cites what he calls the Lamppost Theory: "Politicians use economics the way a drunk uses a lamppost--for support, not for illumination."

For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; What They Don't Teach in Econ 101." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 17, 2018): A13.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 18, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Advice and Dissent' Review: What They Don't Teach in Econ 101.")

The book under review, is:

Blinder, Alan S. Advice and Dissent: Why America Suffers When Economics and Politics Collide. New York: Basic Books, 2018.

June 15, 2018

Paying Consumers for Their Data

(p. B4) WASHINGTON--For every link you click, every photo you post, every word you search, somebody markets the data to advertisers seeking to target you. Consumer data is a valuable commodity, and that is one reason Google, Facebook and others let you use their platforms at no cost.

An Australian app maker called Unlockd thinks it has a better idea: The consumer should get a cut of this mobile-data business, in the form of rewards or other incentives. Other newcomers and smaller firms are taking a similar tack. Should this approach take off, some see it becoming a viable alternative to the ad model driving big platforms like Alphabet Inc.'s Google.

For the full story, see:

McKinnon, John D. "Startup Wants to Reward Your Clicking." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 10, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 9, 2018, and has the title "Startup Takes on Google With a New Approach: Rewards for Users.")

June 14, 2018

Government Uses Cruel Painful Snare Traps to Kill Gorgeous Respectful Foxes

(p. A18) BRIGANTINE, N.J. -- Red foxes can be found all over New Jersey, wandering out of the woods and poking through garbage at dusk in search of a meal. In many places, they might be overlooked, if not seen as a disease-carrying nuisance. But not in Brigantine, an island community where the fox has become an unofficial ambassador.

Many residents warmly share stories of their encounters, like the fox that would routinely come up to a back door or the time a children's soccer game had to pause so one could cross the field. A fox makes an appearance on the cover of the city's tourism guide, as much of an attraction as its golf course and pristine beaches. A real estate company regularly sends its mascot, Briggy the Fox, to community events.

Yet the island is also the seasonal home to piping plovers, a small bird that returns every year to dig its nests on the beach. The bird is an endangered species in New Jersey that state wildlife officials closely watch and fiercely protect, including from foxes, creating a bitter conflict that has caused an uproar as residents protest the trapping and killing of the animals.

Some are challenging the use of snare traps, a contraption that they describe as cruel and painful. The contretemps has also stirred a wider debate: Is it fair to kill one animal for the sake of protecting another?

"It disgusts me," said Donna Vanzant, who owns a marina. "Why go after these gorgeous animals? Just let nature take its course."

State lawmakers recently wrote a letter to wildlife officials expressing their "deep concern," and the City Council passed a resolution condemning the "inhumane and indiscriminate killing of red foxes." Briggy the Fox attended the meeting and held a sign: "Please stop killing my friends."

"Everyone on the island cherishes the foxes and does not want them killed," said Donna Grazioli DeAngelis, a retired teacher who started a petition online, which about 90,000 people have signed. "They have been so respectful, so perfect in every way," she said of the foxes. "People paint them, photograph them. They haven't been a nuisance in any way."

. . .

"It's an overreach and overreaction," Philip J. Guenther, Brigantine's longtime mayor, said of the fox trapping. "It just doesn't seem to make any sense from a protection standpoint."

For the full story, see:

Rick Rojas. "To Save One Precious Animal, a Town Must Sacrifice Another." The New York Times (Monday, May 7, 2018: A18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 6, 2018, and has the title "Trapping Foxes to Save Plovers Sets Off Showdown at Jersey Shore." The online version says the print version appeared on May 6 on p. A17 of the New York Edition. My print version, as usual, was the National Edition.)

June 13, 2018

China's "Double Whammy for Prospective Entrepreneurs"

(p. B12) China's past attempts to stoke indigenous innovation have a checkered history. A flood of cheap capital and high, state-set solar power rates in the mid-2000s secured China's place as the world's number one solar cell manufacturer. But it also led to enormous overcapacity, which sank prices and pushed debt burdens higher, making investment in real R&D more difficult. For investors, China's solar champions have been a losing proposition--American depositary receipts of top firms such as JinkoSolar are worth less than half of their peak in 2010. Robotics, a key element of Beijing's "Made in China 2025" plan to dominate high-tech manufacturing, is exhibiting similar tendencies.

The state-centric nature of China's financial system--and its weak intellectual property protection--represents a double whammy for prospective entrepreneurs. Small private-sector firms often only have access to capital through expensive shadow banking channels, and face the risk that some better connected, state-backed firm will make off with their designs--with very little recourse.

For the full story, see:

Nour Malas and Paul Overberg. "'Chinese Innovation Won't Come Easily Without U.S. Tech." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 23, 2018): B12.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title "Can China's Red Capital Really Innovate?")

June 12, 2018

The Diversity That Matters Most Is Diversity of Thought

(p. A15) If you want anyone to pay attention to you in meetings, don't ever preface your opposition to a proposal by saying: "Just to play devil's advocate . . ." If you disagree with something, just say it and hold your ground until you're convinced otherwise. There are many such useful ideas in Charlan Nemeth's "In Defense of Troublemakers," her study of dissent in life and the workplace. But if this one alone takes hold, it could transform millions of meetings, doing away with all those mushy, consensus-driven hours wasted by people too scared of disagreement or power to speak truth to gibberish. Not only would better decisions get made, but the process of making them would vastly improve.

. . .

In the latter part of her book, Ms. Nemeth explores in more detail how dissent improves the way in which groups think. She is ruthless toward conventional "brainstorming," which tends toward the uncritical accumulation of bad ideas rather than the argumentative heat that forges better ideas. It's only through criticism that concepts receive proper scrutiny. "Repeatedly we find that dissent has value, even when it is wrong, even when we don't like the dissenter, and even when we are not convinced of his position," she writes. "Dissent . . . enables us to think more independently" and "also stimulates thought that is open, divergent, flexible, and original."

. . .

Ms. Nemeth's punchy book also has an invaluable section on diversity in groups. All too often, she writes, in pursuit of diversity we focus on everything but the way people think. We look at a group's gender, color or experience, and once the palette looks right declare it diverse. But you can have all of that and still have a group that thinks the same and reinforces a wrong-headed consensus.

By contrast, you can have a group that is demographically homogeneous yet violently heterogeneous in the way it thinks. The kind of diversity that leads to well-informed decisions is not necessarily the kind of diversity that gives the appearance of social justice. That will be a hard message for many organizations to swallow. But as with many of the arguments that Ms. Nemeth makes in her book, it is one that she gamely delivers and that all managers interested in the quality and integrity of their decision-making would do well to heed.

For the full review, see:

Philip Delves Broughton. "BOOKSHELF; Rocking The Boat." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 9, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis internal to a paragraph, in original; ellipses between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 10, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'In Defense of Troublemakers' Review: Rocking the Boat.")

The book under review, is:

Nemeth, Charlan. In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business. New York: Basic Books, 2018.

June 11, 2018

San Francisco Suffers Net Loss of People as Tech Booms

(p. A3) San Francisco is such a boomtown that people are leaving in droves.

In 2016 and 2017, more people moved out of the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metropolitan area--an urban core of 4.7 million people in a broader region known as the Bay Area--than moved into it from other parts of California or the U.S., according to U.S. census data.

In the year that ended July 1, the region showed a net loss of nearly 24,000 residents to the rest of the country, roughly double the loss of the previous year and a sharp reversal from net annual gains of about 15,000 as recently as 2013-14.

Economists said the outflow is being driven by the high cost of housing in the area, where the average home value in several counties surpasses $1 million.

For the full story, see:

Nour Malas and Paul Overberg. "'San Francisco's Boom Leads to an Exodus." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, March 23, 2018): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title "San Francisco Has a People Problem.")

June 10, 2018

Ecosocialism: The "Green-and-Red Agenda" to Eradicate Capitalism

Not all environmentalists are motivated by a desire to destroy capitalism. But some are. See below.

(p. 26) Joel Kovel, a former Freudian psychiatrist who evolved into an apostle of what he called ecosocialism, a so-called green-and-red agenda against the environmental evils of globalization and in favor of the nonviolent eradication of capitalism, died on Monday [April 30, 2018] in Manhattan.

. . .

Whenever he launched an ideological crusade, he did so zealously -- even if, as in the case of ecosocialism, its very definition and the collateral demand for an appealing alternative to capitalism were not self-evident.

Under ecosocialist theory, income would be guaranteed, most property and means of production would be commonly owned, and the abolition of capitalism, globalism and imperialism would unleash environmentalists to vastly curtail industrialization and development whose pollution would otherwise cause catastrophic global warming.

"Capitalist production, in its endless search for profit, seeks to turn everything into a commodity," Dr. Kovel wrote in 2007 on the socialist website Climate and Capitalism. "It is plain that production will have to shift from being dominated by exchange -- the path of the commodity -- to that which is for use, that is for the direct meeting of human needs."

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. "Dr. Joel Kovel, a Founder of Ecosocialism, Is Dead at 81." The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 6, 2018): 26.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 4, 2018, and has the title "Dr. Joel Kovel, a Founder of Ecosocialism, Is Dead at 81.")

Eight Most Recent Comments:

PaulS said:

Wonderful. Let's go for strict temporal gating as well as spatial gating. Exile everyone not made of money to the anti-social hours of the clock as well as the monster commutes of the far reaches of Queens and Staten Island. How about fixing the subways, and abolishing the nonsense that makes it take 90 years to build one small 2nd Ave line? How about dispersing the overconcentration of people a bit? It's a huge country and modern communication exists. How about paying for same by taxing the living daylights out of the billionaire rentier class who create the problem by forcing ever more people to cram into highly dysfunctional megacities as the price of having any income at all? You gotta love the nexus between airheaded liberals who want to pile everyone on Earth with a sob story into a few US-ian megacities (rather than fix their own governments and problems), and economics types who then want to punish the very same folks by blocking off absolutely everything with an extortionate toll gate. Not.

PaulS said:

"when the alternative is to have $10 and go thirsty"

In the real world, the politics will get "interesting" with respect to folks who *don't* have $10 to pay for what normally costs $1 or $0.10, and will therefore go thirsty, or be stranded, or worse. Then, also be aware of simple resentment. Then, aggravate the anger with runaway inequality so extreme that the elites running the show will not be inconvenienced in the slightest by any likely level of 'gouging'. Then brace for a social explosion.

All told, it seems fatuous to expect very many people to be happy about being charged, say, an entire car payment just to get home across town from the holiday party. (It seems even more fatuous to expect happiness when the 'gouging' comes as an ongoing life-upending surprise, as with I-66 in Virginia.)

It helps to instead ground oneself in reality. After doing so, it's ridiculously easy to imagine the relevant government and/or employer simply declaring, for example: "If you wish to be allowed to drive a taxi at all, then you will make yourself available, to some specified extent, even at times that may be inconvenient for you."

Indeed, such rules and regulations are utterly banal and commonplace. Nary a soul would weep for Uber if it and its drivers were regulated - even rather harshly - in such a manner. Of course, some souls would become exercised over the minor economic inefficiency of such regulation, but they would number far too few to matter.

PaulS said:

"Dr. Gray was skeptical about the causes of climate change, prompting vitriolic exchanges with other scientists. Judith A. Curry, who was chairwoman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, accused him of 'brain fossilization.'"

I had no idea. These days, after all, Curry is very much in the doghouse as a "climate denier". Wow. What, then, can we deduce about the typical (or merely politically-correct?) level of hysteria in the "climate community"? Of course, many in said "community" would force most of us back into the Stone Age while they themselves continue to jet across the world at whim to attend "conventions" in order to signal virtue by delivering half-hour diatribes on saving the "planet" from impending doom.

Maybe, then, The Donald is right (???!) that it is fairly safe to behave just as the doomers do, and ignore the threat - and their own diatribes - as a practical matter? Wouldn't that be weird?

PaulS said:

Another case in point: between them, Google, Tesla, and others have spent countless billions on mapping the USA, enough for at least $1000/mile including every last obscure Forest Service track. That should be more than enough to catalog everything down to the embossing style on every manhole cover. And yet a person can find their way to Grandma's new house with vague turn-by-turn directions or a vague line-sketch that shows no details whatsoever about the road surface or the sidewalks or the crosswalks. And a person will manage the task without needing, in advance, a finely detailed map of the current construction projects, including lane changes etc. But that severe incompleteness won't stop morally-posturing politicians from forcing autonomous cars onto the populace years or even decades before they are actually ready for unsupervised consumer use. That is the essentially only kind of use they will get in the real world. After all, politicians love to posture, they love to toady up to rent-seeking billionaires, and they love photo-ops of themselves gawking at shiny new tech gadgets. Note that when signals were first installed on the Chicago El, the accident rate went up for a time, as trained motormen became careless about watching where they were going. Not-so-trained consumers will be far too busy fiddling with their phones to be ready to take over on a split-second's notice.

PaulS said:

And there will be unicorns. So we'll have some remote working, but we'll be jailing ever more techies in a few obscenely overcrowded, otherworldly-expensive megacities. Just as Microsofties once told us wasting two days on the now-infamously godawful airlines just to physically attend an hour meeting was going away, but both the meetings and the airlines only got worse and worse.

So not really a big deal, just another stylistic business fad. Those come and go like mayflies - while being crammed, confined, and nailed down, remains eternally.

rjs said:

there's a lot GDP doesnt capture, but i'm not sure where Feldstein is coming from about statins...the consumption of drugs is included in the non-durable goods component of PCE, consumption of health care services by themselves account for 12% of GDP, and R & D would be included in investment in intellectual property products.. the problem is that everyone is trying to make GDP into something it's not...it's a measure of goods and services produced by the economy, full stop. it's not intended to measure increases in life expectancy or well being, or any other intangibles..

rjs said:

actually, if every adult spent the $10,000 that was given to them, it would add about 13% to GDP (less any inflation adjustment) furthermore, as the US is the creator of its own currency, there would be no need to "pay for" such a citizen bonus...we certainly managed to conjure up trillions of dollars to bail out the banks a few years back without "paying for it"; we could just as easily do the same for this case..

Aaron said:

An appropriately sweet topic this Valentine's day, though this may make you this holiday's Scrooge.



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