29 December 2013

California Orders Up a Spending Splurge on Education with a Side of Budget Surplus

Non-partisan legislative analysts are forecasting budget surpluses for the state of California on the order of $234 million for this year, $2.4 billion for next (2013-2014), and $5.6 billion for the year after (2014-2015).

But these surpluses are just part of the good news. Revenues are now expected to be nearly $5 billion higher than initial forecasts. And a disproportionate amount (about $3 billion) of that extra revenue is going into schools.

As if it is not good news enough that spending on education is going up and budget deficits are becoming budget surpluses, these optimistic projections are already proving too cautious. To quote,

Through the end of October, 2013-14 PIT [personal income tax]
estimated payments—tied in large part to capital
gains and business income—have exceeded
the administration’s monthly projections by
34 percent

Further, they've been cautious in the estimate of income from stock, wildly underestimating the increase in stock prices for 2013, so that, too, will cause revenues to be higher than these projections.

Classrooms have steadily been growing larger since the Great Recession. I'm not sure how typical it is, but I do know that at my wife's elementary school the class sizes grew by 20% to 100%. This year at her school, kindergarten classes were 37 for the first month or two of the year before being brought down to 27. At a minimum this infusion of money into education should help to stall that trend, perhaps even reverse it.

On a side note from the report about housing, investors came into California with cash in 2013, seeing bargains in the depressed prices apparently. And they paid cash.

In Los Angeles,
cash purchases as a portion of all home
sales increased from 5 percent in 2005
to 34 percent in May 2013, the largest
increase in the country. Other areas of
California have similarly high all-cash
sales rates

28 December 2013

Merry Christmas Shopping - Spending Up 29% From Last Year

Gallup tracks the daily spending of Americans in real-time polls.

Here's a graph of the 3-day and 14-day rolling averages leading up to Christmas for each of the last six years, from 2008 to 2013.

Their data suggests it was a good Christmas. The 3-days leading up to Christmas were up 29% over last year, up 68% over 2008 (the start of the Great Recession). Comparing the two weeks leading up to Christmas, spending was up 17% over last year, up 32% from 2008.

["Gallup tracks daily the average dollar amount Americans report spending or charging on a daily basis, not counting the purchase of a home, motor vehicle, or normal household bills."]

How We Squelch Individuality and Progress - or Why Intrinsic Motivation Matters

Nobody ever asks "Why would you want to travel?" or "Why would you want to walk along the beach to watch a beautiful sunset?" or "Why would you want to make love to that beautiful woman?" or "Why would you want to eat that delicious meal?" Some things - the best things - we do for their own reason. We're human and because of that there are certain things that we simply enjoy doing for their own sake.

As it turns out, work and learning are included among those things we're intrinsically motivated to do. Yet the way that we manage schools and work places suggest that we don't believe this, suggest that we don't believe that people would ever learn or work for no other reason than to simply experience doing it. The aha moment from learning or the gratification from a job well done can be at least as satisfying as a good meal or a stroll through the woods.

Last night we had dinner with old friends. Peter has a successful, small business. Of course everyone gets that, understands business success that lets a couple plan three big trips (Australia, Ireland, and Iceland) for 2014. We all applaud that. But while people understand Peter's success, they are clueless about how he became successful. Other people thought of him as inventor working on products they didn't understand (and of course, were dubious about) but he thought of himself as an entrepreneur. " His obsession with tinkering and creating just looked eccentric and inexplicable. And of course that is one of the problems with understanding intrinsic motivation: while we all love food and affection, most of us are intrinsically motivated to do at least one or two things that are simply inexplicable to anyone else. And that is Peter with his inventions. (And just to put things in perspective; the man who began designing and inventing parts for phone and data systems before the Internet is now at work - as a hobbyist - on nuclear fusion.) I love Peter's enthusiasm for projects and new inventions which I understand only at the most superficial level. Listening to him describe the problems he's solving on his way towards creating atomic collisions makes me happy.

Of course the most sane and probable bet is that Peter won't solve any new problems in the domain of nuclear fusion. As he says, though, his probability of doing that, while a long-shot, is above zero. And it is because of people who become intrinsically motivated to solve a particular problem or create a particular thing that we aren't just sitting around comparing different club handles and affirming old techniques for bringing down rabbits and mastodons. Progress is the product of people who take ownership of a task or project that has the potential of changing the world and probably will - in any case - change them. But of course that is nearly tangential to why they do it: they are intrinsically motivated.

Few people can conceive of a world in which we depend on intrinsic motivation and feedback as the two ways to direct behavior, a world in which we don't grade or rate or use other methods to control people. In the Fourth Economy I speak of how business is perhaps the last domain for autonomy, work becoming as personal as religion is now. I don't think that I properly articulate or convey just how different that would be from the current model in which students starting in kindergarten and employees working until retirement have their tasks, projects and roles defined for them by others and are then extrinsically motivated towards those goals. The switch from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation as the expectation for work and learning is a huge shift, and it could give us more Peters in the world.

Deming's chart that shows the forces of destruction, the actions we take to kill off intrinsic motivation and, in the doing, a person's sense of self or what makes them unique, is captured in this chart he often showed in his seminars. It's worth reading and taking seriously.


27 December 2013

Redesigning Microsoft's Managerial Operating System in the post-Ballmer Era

Steve Ballmer steps down as CEO of Microsoft in 2014. It's a perfect opportunity for the company to change their managerial operating system and begin to again create equity for employees and stockholders.

First let's get something straight. Steve Ballmer is worth $18 billion, which is not only more than 7.1 billion other people on this planet but roughly $18 billion more than me. That alone may cause you discount my two cents about what he might have done in his 14 years leading Microsoft. He's rich. I'm not. But in my defense, I'd like to point out that I've created more wealth for my stockholders than he has. 

(I've created none. Ballmer has destroyed between $50 to nearly $200 billion in stockholder value, depending on whether you use the absurdly inflated, dot com bubble price that prevailed when he took over or some more reasonable amount from about a year earlier.)

Secondly, as a company becomes larger, it is more difficult to grow fast. You might grow 30% a year for decades and then - at some point - your size relative to your industry or even region will be capped by the growth in that industry or region. If Ballmer had grown Microsoft's value as much in the 14 years he worked as CEO as it had grown in the decade before, its net worth now would be more than global GDP. At a certain point - like it or not - growth gives way to predictable dividends. It may well be that Ballmer did as much with Microsoft as anyone could have and Bill Gates timing for ending his tenure as CEO may have been as wisely serendipitous as his timing for the start. But it's also true that while Microsoft was dead center in technology in 2000 - in possession of the defining operating system and most popular office software - all the significant innovations since (from smart phones to web-based everything) have come from outside of Microsoft. 

Simply put, Ballmer could have done more for stockholders.

The reason he didn’t is that he clung to an antiquated operating system in the form of a management approach that depended on competition and control rather than cooperation and freedom, a philosophy more interested in ranking people within existing businesses than in creating new businesses. Put differently, Microsoft was among the first to arrive at the new economy but then maintained the management approach from the old economy. 

Ballmer used a system of stack ranking for employees that forced outcomes. Regardless of whether a team was all great or all atrocious, there would be a few top ranked and a few bottom ranked employees, in every group, every six months. The result was that employees focused on competing with each other and focused on short-term results. It is hard to conceive of a system that does more to squash innovation. Teams create new products and those teams need to focus on competing with other teams, not each other. Knowing only this about Ballmer one might well predict that Microsoft would be profitable (competition can be good for creating efficiencies) but hardly innovative. 

Of course this emphasis on ranking mattered because rank in the organization matters. If you were CEO of Microsoft, your net worth could put you among the top 10 or 20 in the world. In this way, Microsoft was like the France of Louis XIV or Iraq under Saddam Hussein; it’s good to be king. Contrast that with more evolved forms of government; in the US last year, roughly 6 million Americans made more than Barack Obama earned as president. Corporations are still largely unevolved institutions where the reward for being at the top is closer to what Mubarak might get than what Canada’s Harper would be paid. (Estimates of Mubarak’sprofit from running Egypt range from $1 billion to a staggering $700 billion; Harper makes roughly $300,000 a year.) Ranking matters when position – rather than innovation – is the best predictor of wealth.

Ranking suggests something static. If you want to win the gymnastics competition, you have to be flawless; ranking suggests clear criteria.

Creativity doesn't measure against old criteria: it creates new criteria. Rather than rank people, Ballmer might have done well to encourage entrepreneurship by giving employees the chance to create wealth, just as he and Gates did. Microsoft is large enough that it could have created internal markets that allowed employees to create new businesses, using its $80 billion in cash to finance startups from within the company. Microsoft has attracted phenomenal talent that has the advantage of having seen generations of technology rise and fall. The potential for entrepreneurial activity within Microsoft could rival that of most states. But the incentives are not designed to encourage the creation of new businesses but instead are designed to rank performance within the old business.

The process for creating wealth within Microsoft could take many forms. Imagine employees being able to bet on different proposals because of their faith in a particular technology or team, essentially R&D and new business development being conducted more along the lines of entrepreneurs vying for venture capital. This would spur the right kind of competition, a competition between alternate businesses and teams rather than competition within them. The company might match - dollar for dollar - investments made by employees in various startups within the firm, internally publicizing various technology breakthroughs and ideas. The wisdom of crowds could guide management allocation of resources and the emphasis would be on actually creating equity, not just products. People would then cooperate to create this value they'd invested in, working to create equity rather than competing with one another for a fixed pool of equity.

In his foreword to Robert Beyster's book about SAIC, William Taylor makes a really important distinction, one that might be useful for Microsoft as they enter a post-Ballmer stage.

“Much of our business culture is infatuated with power - amassing it, holding on to it, using it to vanquish competitors and dominate markets. In contrast, much of Dr. Beyster’s leadership philosophy is about spreading freedom. And freedom, it turns out, packs a bigger wallop than power. Power is about what you can control; freedom is about what you can unleash.”
—William C. Taylor

If Microsoft can let go of a ranking system that they feel gives them control over teams and instead adopt a system – any system – that gives employees more entrepreneurial freedom, they might begin again to create equity for their stockholders and their employees who feel less controlled and more like entrepreneurs free to create their own future. Microsoft is such an inescapably big and important part of tech that one can only hope they decide to evolve the company and not just their products. No company has done more to prove the importance of operating systems; its time they looked at the operating system they use to manage their employees.

23 December 2013

Why the Evolution of Technology Necessitates NSA Spying on Individuals

I don't mind the NSA having special powers to collect data, powers that could be abused. The police and army also have special powers that could be abused, but the danger of them not having such powers is greater than the danger of having them.

I simply think that too much is at stake for us not to be able to monitor communications at a level that (for the most part) lets people communicate privately yet (for the most part) alerts authorities to potential threats. Soon, individuals will be able to do what only institutions could previously do. This is the pattern of technology that, sadly, will likely hold for not just computers and sewing machines but even powerful bombs.

At one point in history, we could sew only manually. Later, factory owners with lots of capital could afford the machinery that automated this work. Even later, any woman with credit good enough to make monthly payments of $1 could buy a sewing machine to have in her own home. First the task is automated and then it is privatized.

At one point in history, we could compute only manually. Later, only countries or large corporations had money enough to afford the computers that could automate computation. Even later, anyone with a credit card could buy their own personal computer. First the task is automated and then it is privatized.

Which brings us to killing. At one point in history we could only kill people manually. Later, armies developed bombs that could kill thousands at once. It is lovely to imagine that bombs with such power won't ever become affordable for individuals, but that would make them the exception in the evolution of technology. There is simply too much at stake to assume that everyone with the freedom to communicate with anyone about anything will value peace more than mayhem.

If we were only talking about the possibility of guns or even small bombs, one might reasonably argue that the cost of risking privacy is not worth the value of lives protected. But when we're talking about the ability to create widespread destruction - something that would make 9-11 look like a preview - the cost-benefit calculation is far more simple.

I think there should be civilian oversight for the NSA. I think that their processes should be known. I think that they should be subject to outside audits periodically. It's right to be a little paranoid about so much spying capability. But it's wrong to assume that if we simply stop the spying that we citizens will remain safe as technology for destruction follows the same arc as every other technology. As technology for destruction more easily gets into the hands of individuals, the spying on foreign nations for national security has to be supplemented with spying on individuals. Looking for patterns in meta-data seems like the best means available for balancing that need with our need for privacy.

The Late Sublime

Andrew Marr engages Clive James in a wonderful conversation this week. Here's an excerpt.

Andrew Marr: You use this phrase, "the late sublime," in a poem. What is the late sublime?

Clive James: I wouldn’t want to sound too pious or too much as if I were Saul or Paul who fell off his horse and his life changed. But I must say that in this late phase since I’ve grown ill and really have to realize I’ve grown old, I do see things with a clearness, almost a radiance, that I never did before. Unless you’re very, very careful, you begin to call it religious. It’s a bit pretentious to call it that.

Andrew Marr: Well if it is not religious, what is it?

Clive James: Well, that’s a good question. It’s a revelation. You get to the stage where everything looks like a revelation. Perhaps it should always have done, but one was simply too obtuse to have seen it.

21 December 2013

The Real Reason that Guy in China Can Do Your Job: Container Ships and Globalization

Rose George writes about a world that hardly anyone sees that provides us goods that everyone uses. In her book Ninety Percent of Everything: inside shipping, the invisible industry that puts clothes on your back, gas in your car, and food on your plate, she focuses on modern ships that have driven down costs and made the vast distances between continents (economically) meaningless. It's a fascinating book that explains much of what you take for granted.

George rides on a container ship to get a first-person experience of being out to sea transporting goods between continents and her stories offer a window into a world with pirates, shipwreck, and shore leave of only two hours after months at sea. But from a perspective of markets, it is what she reports about containers that matters most.

The container was invented by the American businessman Malcolm McLean, who thought that standardized containers could make it easier to ship goods. He was right. "There are at least twenty million containers crossing the world now."

"Before containers, transport costs ate up to 25 percent of the value of whatever was being shipped. With [container ships], costs were reduced to a pittance. A sweater can now travel three thousand miles for 2.5 cents; it costs 1 cent to send a can of beer."

"The biggest container ship can carry fifteen thousand boxes. It can hold 746 million bananas, one for every European on one ship. If the containers of Maersk alone [one of the largest shipping companies] were lined up, they would stretch eleven thousand miles or nearly halfway around the planet. If they were stacked instead, they would be fifteen hundred miles high, 7,530 Eiffel Towers. If Kendal [the ship Rose George reports from for most of her book's narrative] discharged her containers onto trucks, the line of traffic would be sixty miles long."

"At her most laden, Kendal carries 6,188 boring TEUs, or twenty-foot-equivalent unit containers. TEU is a mundane name for something that changed the world, but so is the 'Internet.'"

These TEUs shorten the time at dock. A quantity of cargo that once took weeks to unload can be transferred off the ship in less than twenty-four hours.

What's the result? Globalization on steroids. It is now cheaper to ship Scottish cod 10,000 miles to China to be filleted by Chinese filleters and then sent back for use in Scottish restaurants and shops than to pay Scottish filleters. The marginal cost to ship goods has been reduced to the point that geography is hardly a consideration. 

Curiously, one characteristic of ships is that they are, to a certain degree, free of laws. Only 1% of ships are registered to the US, ship owners choosing to register with the least-demanding country in terms of regulations and enforcement. Ship captains often have power that land-based rulers lost decades or centuries ago. 

Even though modern nations have trouble influencing these ships that work in international waters, these ships have huge influence on modern nations. It could easily be that these ships - crossing vast oceans with trillions in goods - are silently doing what the Internet has done more conspiciously. These are the agents of globalization that deliver the promises - the orders - made by modern communication. To risk a strained metaphor, these ships that are subject to waves and storms are making communities everywhere more vulnerable to the waves and storms of a global economy. The reality of shipping that few beside Madame George have bothered to contemplate has made changes to our economies and labor markets that we've all been forced to consider.

20 December 2013

GDP Growth Will Break 3% for 2013

In early March, Rworld posted this:

Economists were incredibly aligned on their 2013 forecast, which is ridiculous given the amount of uncertainty in the economy. In a typical year, the gap between economic forecasts is about 2% (predictions ranging from, say, 0% to 2% for growth). For 2013, the gap was only .4%, predictions ranging from 2.1% to 2.5%. I'm going to separate from the herd on this one. My prediction is GDP growth of over 3% for the US economy in 2013.
In spite of a slow start, it is looking increasingly probable that GDP growth will top 3% for the year. Even if growth in the fourth quarter drops by 0.5% from the third quarter, it will be at least 3%.

There are some interesting numbers in the Commerce Department's report on the third quarter. For me, it's worth noting that GNP is 4.4%. GNP includes income that Americans receive from foreign production; the fact that it is slightly higher than GDP suggests that the rest of the world is beginning to boost rather than drag down the domestic economy. With Europe slowly pulling out from under the shadow of imminent collapse and China recovering, the global economy may start helping.

Also, cuts in government spending are becoming less of a drag on the economy. While federal spending is down for the quarter, state and local government spending is up. As Ben Bernanke pointed out in his press conference yesterday, fiscal policy has been a real drag on the economy. At this point in the last recovery, he said, government employment was up 600,000; for our recovery, it is actually down by 400,000; this difference of 1 million would be enough to noticeably lower unemployment and increase spending. If state and local governments are no longer adding to the downturn, this is good news for GDP.

Another thing worth noting is how the economy has seemed to take off faster than expected. A lot of economic prediction is based on past trends so it misses inflection points. As you can see here, the initial estimates for the last two quarters missed by nearly 1 percentage point. That's a lot. Nearly 50% (0.8% is nearly half of the initial estimate of 1.7%).

                   1Q                                   2Q                   3Q
final est. 1.8 2.5 4.1
initial est. 2.5 1.7 2.8
gap -0.7 0.8 1.3

It could be that the economy is taking off faster than even current estimates are capturing. As I've said, the Great Recession reminded everyone that bad things can happen. And it's always true that forecasts should consider this. But good things can happen as well and those come more readily to mind to folks in 1999 than folks in 2009. Still, the unexpected is - by definition - unexpected. Good is likely to blindside forecasters as bad. It may be that the economy has already taken off.

My bold prediction? 4th Quarter GDP growth comes in at 4.6%, putting 2013 well over 3% for the year. And then next year gets really interesting.

19 December 2013

From an Economy of Mass Consumption to an Economy of Mass Investment

Economy Market found or created Start
1st, Agricultural Market created for goods made by individuals ~1300
2nd, Industrial Systematically produce or manufacture goods ~1700
3rd, Information Market created for equities made by individuals ~1900
4th, Entrepreneurial Systematically produce equities ~2000

It was in about 1300 that Trade Fairs - essentially intermittent malls - had become normal for some Dutch and Italians. In the first economy, goods were rare and sold infrequently.

It wasn't until about 500 years later - in the late 18th century -that textile mills began manufacturing goods in large quantities, and more than a century after that that factories began to produce goods as varied as bicycles, canned goods, cars and radios. In the the second economy, goods were made on a large scale rather than just harvested and brought to market or custom made by artisans. Goods were produced systematically and for far more people.

During the 20th century, access to equity markets was democratized and the stock market grew. First elites and then knowledge workers bought stock in the growing number of corporations. After the stock market crash of 1929, it took quite a while for the average person to get back into the market. Equity markets developed much more quickly than product markets but still  slowly by the standard of the average lifetime.

Early in this century, in the emergent fourth economy, we're witnessing something with equity products that parallels consumer goods in the second economy. Equity goods are now being made for consumption, for equity markets, in the same way that manufactured goods began to be made in the second economy. What was once rare - an IPO or the creation of a new company - has become increasingly common.

Venture Capital IPOs have hit their highest level since 2000, up nearly 40% this year. Even so, it seems as though venture capital fund raising is down over the last couple of years. In 2012, global VC investment was $41.5 billion, down from $51.7 billion in 2011. In 1975, VC funding totaled only $10 million. By 2005 it had reached $21.7 billion, an annual increase of nearly 30% a year. And now, less than a decade later, it is more than double that. Year to year variation aside, VCs have transformed business. In spite of variation, venture capital is now a force and there is an entire industry intent on creating equity from scratch. The creation of products or companies is almost incidental to the intentional creation of equity. Just as business innovators found ways to create factories that could regularly produce new products about a century ago, today's business innovators are experimenting with ways to regularly create equity.

One reason for the popularization of entrepreneurship is that markets for equity have evolved, just as markets for goods evolved centuries ago. This suggests massive potential for the creation of wealth for innovators able to pull off this next round of social invention, creating the ecosystem of VCs and startups, incubators, corporations, and investment bankers able to mass manufacture the creation of equity products.

It's possible that what happened to goods in the first two economies will happen to equities in the last two.

In the first economy, trade fairs sold goods made by individual artisans. Products were rare. In the second economy, stores sold goods made in factories. Products were abundant.

In the third economy, equity goods were made by individual entrepreneurs. Equity - new equity -was rare. In the fourth economy, ecosystems will emerge that are able to systematically create equity. We could move from an age of mass consumption into an age of mass investment. That could make things interesting.

14 December 2013

If Your Mind is a Computer, Who Programs It?

A friend posted this odd juxtaposition of Gun Show ad and article about a school shooting today.

I think the more relevant juxtaposition is the one between news coverage of the 1st anniversary of the Newtown School shooting and this recent school shooting in Colorado. People are susceptible to suggestion and I find it easy to believe that at some level the frequent mention of "school shooting" gets lodged into the consciousness of someone already leaning in that direction and pushes them over the tipping point into horrific action.

In the US, advertisers spend about $150 billion a year in various media. (~$65B on TV, ~$38B on Internet, and about $50B on all other forms combined (radio, newspaper, guys with sandwich boards, etc.)). Why? Because consciousness is susceptible to suggestion. McDonald's knows that everyone has already heard of cheese burgers but they also know that at different times of the day our actions can be tipped from one possibility to another. It's absurd to think that the average person hearing so much about Newtown would grab a gun and act on the "school shooting" suggestion but of course it is not the average person who does such a thing. Businesses would not spend billions a year if suggestions did not work.

Charles Tart, in his book Waking Up, makes an interesting point. A hypnotist with access to our consciousness for just minutes can plant suggestions we act on. How much more advantage does our media have? How susceptible must we be to the thousands of daily examples and suggestions that come from the culture around us? A hypnotist gets minutes. Culture has decades.

There was a time in the 70s when cults seized the popular imagination. One thing I found fascinating about the phenomenon was the idea of de-programming. Families paid experts to extract their loved one from the close confines of a cult and then wash away the brain washing (which means they return them to their original state of a dirty mind?), loosen the hold of the cult. I couldn't help but wonder if this approach would work not only for former members of sects but for the Catholic Church (or any church), soldiers, patriots, people who insist on paying a premium for Apple or BMW products or anyone who thought they should buy Lord of the Ring merchandise. To a certain degree, our minds are computers; they can be programmed. And you have to wonder how much of the programming that defines us is intentional and what percentage is accidental, the product of chance encounters with billboards, charismatic teachers, persuasive parents, and continual bombardment from the media.

Perhaps schools are already doing more to teach students to understand the effects of programming in the form of instruction, advertising, and example. More likely, schools just use programming tricks as means to more effectively teach. At some level, teaching is just a form of programming, no?

I don't know if it would do anymore to protect schools from the tragedy of shootings, but it would likely make school more interesting if education did more to reveal the mystery behind cultural programming and our minds' susceptibility to suggestion.

But that's just a suggestion.

11 December 2013

Social Evolution Is Not Done Yet

Sainte-Chapelle in Paris is only a short distance from Notre Dame. This Gothic Cathedral was commissioned by King Louis IX to house relics such as Christ’s Crown of Thorns and completed in 1248. Upstairs, the architecture and the stained glass in particular is awe-inspiring, somehow managing to be commanding and delicate at the same time. The stained glass tells a story, starting with Genesis and culminating in the story of the king bringing the relics to this very Cathedral. Even today – seven centuries later – a visitor standing in the midst of this magnificent space is awe-struck by the art, the beauty, and this story. But what the modern visitor knows is that this exquisite space does not depict the end of history but is instead just another chapter. 

Someone worshipping in this space in the 13th century would have found it difficult to ever imagine how the future – at least any future on this earth – might be more impressive than this instant in time. The king bringing the relics to this place represented the final panel of the story, everything else just afterword while they awaited the judgment day. The idea of men walking on the moon or women starting high-tech companies would simply have too many layers of incredible to imagine, much less believe.

Our own time is just another step in the evolution of civilization, our skyscrapers, Internet, democracies and multinational corporations not the final chapter but instead just another chapter in the story of what it means to be human. Our inventions will change and so will we. Social evolution is not done yet.

07 December 2013

Desert Island Disco

I quite like desert island discs on BBC. Kirsty Young is a brilliant and emotionally attuned interviewer and additionally there is something about letting people punctuate their life story with praise for their favorite songs that seems to open them up. Guests choose 8 songs and then one book and one luxury item that they would want with them.

It's a curious exercise, downsizing all the songs I love into 8. The list I arrived at is absurd. It doesn't contain any Dylan or the Band, no Springsteen or Natalie Merchant. Not a single thing from Motown or Stax records wonderful soul and pop collections. No country music from either George (Strait or Jones), and no Who or The Rolling Stones. The quirky geniuses Camille and Bjork are not here. No Genesis or Peter Gabriel. I could go on. Beyond that, while I do love classical and jazz, I simply don't listen to those enough to include any such songs on the list and have it feel authentic; plus, there is something about naming 8 songs that makes me think of pop music. So no Glen Gould playing Bach or Suk Trio playing Dvorak or Oscar Peterson playing jazz. Far more is missing than present and if I did this in a few months I'm sure the list would be different.

All that said, here are my 8. As of today.

1. Elvis Costello, (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding
Costello is a brilliant lyricist and songwriter but this is not even his. Still, Elvis owns this Nick Lowe song.


2. Tom Waits, Step Right Up
Tom went to my high school. He dropped out. I stayed in. He's in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. I have a blog. If you can't stay in school, at least be this cool. This song is a perfect little ode to consumerism.


3. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)
Gillian went to my university. This song - her style - seems to me to capture one of the elements I so loved about Santa Cruz, a modern rendering of Americana, neo-folk decades before neo-folk was cool.


4. Michael O'Domhnaill & Kevin Burke, Lord Franklin
After UC Santa Cruz I married Sandi and, while looking for work, hosted a Celtic Folk for Celtic Folk and Other Folk Show. This song captures the poignancy that I still love in this style of music.


5. Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime
David Byrne emerged out of the mix of one-hit wonders, second generation classic rockers, disco, and punk rockers to create music that would still seem fresh decades later. "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"


6. Little Feat, Fat Man in the Bathtub
Lowell George was a genius song-writer who Frank Zappa quite rightfully kicked out of his band for mentioning drugs in a song; years later, George killed himself with an overdose. Little Feat is southern California rock and roll at its best.


7. Beatles, Oh Darling
When I first heard Abbey Road playing in a record store, I assumed it was just for the store. I honestly didn't think that they'd let people just own music like that. And now, decades later, this refrain, "I'll never do you no harm" has become something Sandi and I sing to each other.


8. Van Morrison, Days Like This
I toyed with the idea of simply choosing my 8 favorite Van Morrison songs for this list. This song celebrates life's promise and what more could you ask of a song?


The game played at the BBC is to give everyone a copy of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare and then choose one more book. I think that would want to bring along a full version of the Oxford English Dictionary, getting the history of thought and words in the form of definitions and etymology.

My luxury item? Botticelli's Birth of Venus. (Assuming I couldn't bring along the Sistine Chapel.) I would bring it for a host of reasons: I love it, no piece of art better captures the Renaissance and our emergence from the Dark Ages, and because if I had that the world would be far more likely to organize a search to rescue me (and the Botticelli). (My son thinks it would only make sense to choose a yacht, a luxury item that would be practical for a deserted refuge.)

The Problem is That People Don't Even Agree What the Problem is

Judith Innes and David Booher open their book Planning with Complexity with an account of a water situation. In Sacramento, CA, the population has been steadily growing, placing a burden on their water system. Worse, the agencies involved have competing goals (some represent agricultural, some fisheries, some housing developments, some southern Californians outside the Sacramento region who need their excess water delivered by aqueduct, etc.).

This constitutes a wicked problem, a situation in which there is no agreement on the definition of the problem or even the goals. (Is the problem that cities aren’t capping development, letting the population put a strain on water supplies? Should the goal be to keep water affordable for rice farmers who need water enough to submerge their crops?) The problem is that people don’t even agree what the problem is.

And in that, Sacramento’s water problem might be a metaphor for the modern world. What is the goal of our economy? What is the problem with our education system? One of the biggest problems with economic or educational policy is that people don’t agree what the problem is. Social conservatives have very different ideas about the goals of education than do progressives. The elderly on fixed pensions have different ideas about economic problems than the owners of small businesses. 

Maybe we could, at the very least, agree that this is a problem. But then again, if it's a truly wicked problem, probably not.

06 December 2013

Great Job Numbers for 2013 and a Happy New Year for 2014

Depending on how you measure it, this is the best year for job creation in 8 to 30 years. That bodes well for 2014.

Measured by job creation, this is the best year since 2005, when the American economy created 2,484,000 jobs. (The best year making the reasonable assumption that during this month of December the economy creates at least 131,000 jobs.)

Measured by a drop in unemployment rate, this is the best year since 1983. The drop of 0.9%, from 7.9% to 7.0%, is the steepest in 30 years.

What is most notable about this is that it comes on the heels of three years of steady growth. Depending on December's numbers, the four year moving average for job creation could finish at its highest since 2000, at the close of the dot-com boom.

But of course the unemployment rate is still high by historic standards, although the lowest it has been since just after the Lehman Brothers collapse 5 years ago. (The September bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers remains the simplest point of origin for the Great Recession. Although unemployment had been steadily rising throughout the year leading up to Lehman Brother's collapse, in the 12 months after that the American economy shed 6.8 million jobs. How much is 6.8 million? It is twice as many jobs as the American economy has ever created in a single year. And of course those twelve months were just part of a larger string of 25 months during which the economy shed a staggering 8.7 million jobs, the hole from which we've been digging ourselves out ever since.)

What is most remarkable about this performance is that it has come in the face of on-going troubles in Europe, steady erosion in the number of government employees, and continued uncertainty about debt ceilings and sequester cuts from Congress. Many local governments have been contracting even while the private sector has been recovering. This recovery has been hurt as much by international markets and government policy as it has been helped.

Next year will be even better. Wanting to get re-elected, the House GOP will stop threatening the economy. Europe is steadily improving and as the threat of defaults recedes, markets should become more stable. Companies will start worrying as much about missing out on the boom as they have been worrying about getting hurt by the bust; they'll begin to invest and hire more aggressively.

This year has been good. Next year will be better.

There is a good - although less than 50% chance - that unemployment will drop below 6% by the end of 2014. GDP growth will be closer to 4% than 3%. And the stock market will continue to do well (double-digit gains at least, perhaps as high as 25%) but will get hit hard at least a couple of times by changes in monetary policy (tapering QE)  from our new Fed Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen.

There are a lot of reasons for this improvement but the biggest may be simple optimism. In just the last two months, the percentage of people who are thriving has gone up 3 percentage points, from 50% to 53%. In that same time, Gallup's confidence index has gone up 17 points.

For years, every bit of good news has been met with the caveat that something bad could happen to reverse it. Of course this is true - it is always true. But it is also true that the next thing to happen could be good, could make things even better. Part of what makes a boom a boom and a bust a bust is whether the average person is more likely to be optimistic or pessimistic. Next year people will steadily shed their worries  and hesitations about the economy, increasingly ready to buy rather than wait, charge it rather than pay down debt, hire rather than layoff, and invest rather than stay on the sideline.

At least that is my prediction. I could be wrong.

05 December 2013

The Stark Contrast Between the Reagan and Obama Recoveries (A Story of Government Spending)

Media stereotypes can be comically wrong. Republicans have the image of being more warlike but Democrats start wars more often.  Reagan has a reputation as a guy who cut the size of government and Obama as a big-government guy. The truth? The Reagan recovery was led by big increases in government spending and the Obama recovery was slowed by big cuts in government spending. Facts are disconcerting.

GDP growth for the third quarter of 2013 surprised economists, coming in at a robust 3.6%. One component that helped is government spending, which grew for the first time in 5 quarters.

In the four years since the end of 2009, government spending has grown in only 4 of 16 quarters (and in one of those four quarters it came in at a paltry 0.3%). 

Consumption - the biggest portion of GDP - has been fairly stable through this (slow) recovery. The private sector has had its foot on the gas while government has had its foot on the brake. No recovery since WWII has been more oddly resisted by government policy. 

During the recovery in the early 1980s, Reagan led a surge in government spending. In the 16 quarters after the recession's end, government spending went up at an average rate of 5.4%. By contrast, during our most recent 16 quarters, government spending has contracted at an average quarterly rate of 1.6%. That difference of 7% is huge.

Note that during the Reagan recovery (approximated here with data from 4Q82 to 3Q86), government spending actually pulled GDP growth up, exceeding the rate of growth for the whole economy. More recently, our government spending has been significantly lower than GDP growth, causing a drag on the whole economy and this recovery. 

The private sector may be doing as well as it has in past recoveries; it is the government sector that has made the difference. And given that is something elected officials can directly control, that is a shame.

18 November 2013

The kids in my wife's class - 2nd graders who are - most of them - 7 - have been worried about me since my dad died Thursday. Today she came home with letters from them. This one is my favorite but is also fairly typical. Reading through them did nothing to slow my transition into the old man who alternates between chuckling and tearing up. It's sort of perfect.

Bucket List Possibilities

A few items to add to my bucket list.

Take up golf?

Maybe get a pet?

Or a little acrobatics?

16 November 2013

Dow Has Doubled Since Obama Was Sworn In

The Dow is up 101% since Barack Obama was sworn in.

Most people are unaware of how much better the stock market does under Democrats than Republicans. This could be the product of a full century of coincidence. It could be. In any case, it certainly undermines any claim that Republicans have that they're good for financial markets.

Imagine two families who have $100,000 to invest the day that Teddy Roosevelt is sworn in on 4 September 1901. (September because he was sworn in after McKinley was assassinated.)

The Democratic family loyalists refuse to invest in the stock market each time a Republican is sworn in, putting their money under a mattress until a Democrat is sworn in. Once a Democrat becomes president, these Democrats buy a market index linked to the Dow and hold it until the day a Republican is sworn in.

The Republican family loyalists take the opposite approach. They put their money under a mattress each time a Democrat is sworn in and put it all into a Dow indexed fund each time a Republican takes office, holding it until a Democrat comes along.

The Republican family would have turned their $100,000 into $509,720 as of Friday. (Curiously, that $509k is actually $2k less than it was in 1929 when Republican Calvin Coolidge gave the keys to the Oval Office to Herbert Hoover; that's a long stretch of no net gain.)

The Democratic family would have turned their $100,000 into $4,273,560, more than 8X the Republican family fortune.

12 November 2013

My New Killer App: The Maybe Private, Maybe Broadcast, Twitter or Text? App

The problem with texting 2.0 is that it is direct. It goes directly to the person to whom you're sending it. Texting 1.0 - known at the time as passing notes in class - had the added frisson of knowing that the note you were trying to pass to your friend or love interest across the room might be intercepted and read rather than just passed along.

So, it's time to add a little uncertainty to texting. I'm at work in the basement on Classnotes, a new texting software that requires you to find at least one intermediary between you and your intended target. They might pass the note along or might read it. You might know when they opened it or you might not. Your intermediary may be the only to know the contents of your text or may broadcast it to the world. Suddenly communication meant to be private could become public and notes that you thought might be broadcast will be safely passed along without censorship or eavesdropping.

Classnotes randomly combines the best features of twitter and texting, turning casual communication into something akin to gossip, or a scandal sheet. It's an opportunity for people who might otherwise be ignored to be talked about, to be the subject of speculation and the focus of attention.

The business model for this is fail proof. Unnamed sources at NSA have assured me that if people don't download it by choice, they will subsidize its surreptitious installation on smart phones.

Classnotes. Because as Benjamin Franklin said, "If you want to get someone to pay attention, tell them it's a secret."

Stay tuned. And meanwhile, be careful about what you text. We might all be reading that.

When Abstractions Become Real and Reality is an Abstraction

It is the oddity of the times that the deficit has become something real and kids in poverty have become an abstraction. Puzzling that everyone worries so much about the deficit when it is clearly big enough to take care of itself. But maybe that is just a sign of the times, politics having gone virtual along with the rest of the world. 

11 November 2013

This Decade's Economy: As Strong as the 80s or 90s.

Want your friends at the diner to look at you as if you've announced that you're starting a neo-fascist party? Casually mention that the economy this decade is about as strong as it was during Reagan's 80s or Clinton's 90s.

Friday's job report added about a quarter of a million new jobs. (The American economy created 204,000 jobs in October and the job creation numbers for September and August were revised upwards by 45,000 and 15,000, for a total of 264,000 new jobs reported.)

Oddly, the rate of job creation this decade is pretty good. If it weren't for the rate at which we're destroying government jobs, we'd be creating jobs at the same rate we averaged in the 90s; as it is, we're creating jobs at the same we did in the 80s.

The government sector has shed more jobs in the last few years than any time since the years after World War II.  In spite of governments' best attempts to destroy jobs, the private sector is creating jobs at a rate roughly comparable to past decades.

As you can see in this graph, the biggest problem with the American economy this decade is last decade. This decade's job creation rate is not enough to make up for last decade's job destruction rate. When you are creating about 18 to 22 million jobs per decade, suddenly losing 1.2 million jobs in a decade makes the next decade - no matter how ordinary - seem dismal. We may well create 18 to 20 million jobs this decade (2010 to 2019)  but to make up for the aughts (2000 - 2009), we would need to create about 35 to 40 million jobs, an unprecedented number, almost double the most we've ever created.

Of course the fact that the aughts were a terrible decade is not news. That fact is history. Yet that tired fact is what make this decade's normal seem so anemic; history is what gives today's news context, gives it meaning. And what last decade's performance means for this decade is that ordinary isn't nearly as impressive as it used to be.

05 November 2013

And Then God Wiped Out Gomorrahy and It Was Never Mentioned Again

Today's election headline:

Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the Virginia governor's race Tuesday, squeaking by Republican Ken Cuccinelli with the help of voters in the predominantly blue Washington suburbs.
McAuliffe's victory in the key swing state was an affirmation of his strategy to portray Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, as a Tea Party champion who is too extreme for Virginia.

Cuccinelli had spoken out against sodomy, a tactic that might have helped him to win decades ago but helped him to lose today.

The God of Abraham was so angry at the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah they he destroyed them with fire and brimstone. Religious conservatives are convinced that a person could want no more clear indictment of sodomy than that. They could be right. But it's worth noting that God destroyed these two cities, leaving no trace of them or their people. And yet sodomy survived.

Maybe it was the unspeakable, lost from history practice of gomorrahy that God disapproved of.

04 November 2013

In Which Your Friendly Blogger Draws a Parallel Between Slavery and Universal Healthcare

The British ended slavery without a Civil War. We Americans chose to kill 600,000+ in our struggle to resist this inevitable change. (A similar percentage of the American population today would be 6 million – as if the entire populations of Wyoming, Vermont, DC, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Delaware were killed.)

We fought the inevitable in spite of the fact that ending slavery wasn't just the right thing to do morally. Ending that institution helped us to create a new, far better economy. 

Once Southern representatives left Congress with their secession, Northern Republicans were able to pass a flurry of legislation. They created the modern corporation, a phenomenally powerful institution. They strengthened interstate laws (which is to say the rule of the federal government) in order to support larger markets as befits larger factories. In short, they passed legislation that supported an Industrial, rather than Agricultural Economy and laid the foundation for a newly emerging Information Economy.  

The debate about slavery distracted the whole nation from what was needed for creating a new kind of economy. 

Today's struggle over healthcare that is slowing our recovery is for lesser stakes than slavery but it has a couple of parallels.

One, regardless of what anyone thinks about the economics of this issue, it is simply immoral that the majority of bankruptcies in this country result from medical bills. Forcing people to choose between the health of a loved one and financial solvency is not as bad as slavery but it does – like slavery – suggest a fairly low-level of social evolution and commitment to the individual.

Two, it distracts us from the real conversation: what economy should we create next? Very few Americans during the Civil War could see the coming wave of affluence for all the bodies lying strewn along the battlefields. In the same way, our national dialogue has been completely hijacked by issues whose outcomes are inevitable, distracting us from issues whose outcome can - and should - be shaped now. 

The economy beyond our current Information, or Knowledge Economy will be more entrepreneurial. This means even more – not less – income and wealth disparity. Creative endeavors, from novel writing to starting a business, are much more risky than career choices. Higher levels of entrepreneurship will do two things: it will create more wealth and it will create more disparity. It will be necessary to have in place mechanisms to mitigate the pain of this to losers; universal healthcare is just one way that a community can lower the cost of risk-taking and encourage more entrepreneurship.

Universal healthcare is a natural evolution to a community portfolio that includes unemployment insurance, social security, and bankruptcy laws. It belongs to the welfare state that emerged in the Knowledge Economy that gave a greater place to labor.

When it became obvious that knowledge workers - labor - were to be more important to a new kind of post-Industrial Economy, communities took two routes. One route - that of the USSR - was to do away with capitalism while creating a new economy. The other route - that of Germany and the US - was to build on the Industrial Economy while creating a new, Knowledge Economy.

As it turns out, a Knowledge Economy that gives a greater place to labor demands even greater quantities of capital than an Industrial Economy. Without a capitalist foundation the next economy flounders.

Key Institutions
2nd, Industrial Economy
Banking system, Stock & Bond Markets, Factories
3rd, Knowledge Economy
Knowledge Workers
Modern university, corporation, labor unions, welfare state

A new kind of Entrepreneurial Economy is emerging. Some conservatives (who generally are more attuned to his emerging reality than their liberal peers) see this as proof that we need to dismantle the old, welfare state that characterized the labor-centric, Knowledge Economy. This will be as big a mistake as socialists and communists' earlier attempt to eradicate, rather than build on, the Industrial Economy.

There are a host of legitimate debates about universal healthcare; among them is NOT the debate about whether we should force people into bankruptcy because of health issues. Anyone who believes that economic progress comes at the expense of quality of life shows poor understanding of either economic progress or quality of life.

But beyond that, pretending that there still is a debate about whether we should have universal healthcare sucks the air out of the national conversation we should be having, which is how to create the Fourth, Entrepreneurial Economy. 

01 November 2013

My Bucket List - Love, Revel and Change

Today I'm at my folks. My dad is dying. At this point he may have two days or two months but it doesn't seem as though he has long. He's shutting down.

I am sad. And perhaps a little more shamelessly sentimental than normal. This has reminded me of how few decades we get and how little time we have to waste. It provoked me to articulate what actually matters.

Obvious. Cliche. And yet essential. It's so easy to let other emotions - from wanting to look proper to holding a grudge to getting distracted by irritation - obstruct this. We have very little time and very little energy with which to do anything. Plus, it really does seem true that love transforms us. A person never develops as rapidly and as delightedly as when they are the infant or small child whose most pervasive experience of others is through expressions of love. We hug, kiss, and chuckle at babies and children and their response is to quickly become smarter and more able than us.

This week I was walking down the streets of Boulder with two co-workers I consider good friends and I was temporarily overcome. It was 40 degrees. Leaves were on the ground. I could not only feel the cold air come into my mouth like a crisp apple, but I could nearly taste the smoke from fireplaces. It was so beautiful, such an iconic moment of beauty and seasonal change.
Reveling is something a person doesn't even have to be strong or smart to do. A person can do it simply by being present to the miracle of the moment. Every day there are a few such moments and you can choose to marvel at them or miss them. (If there were more than a few such moments we would be overwhelmed. It's best they come sparingly.)

My first thought was that I'd like to change the world. I still think that we could create an economy that proves that economic progress and quality of life are not at odds. There is so much potential we're leaving lie fallow. I doubt that I'll ever give up on that aspiration.
But I also realized that change is so important to love or reveling. We have an expectation of who someone should be and when they are not, rather than change our expectation, we withdraw our love. We prepare for one kind of career and the economy - with reckless disregard for our expectations - veers in an unexpected direction, and rather than change we feel rejected, work harder to impose what we've come to feel defines us. Rather than hold ideas or beliefs, we let them seize us and fail to change. Failure to change means missing the opportunity to revel in the moment as it is, miss the opportunity to love someone for who they are. And here's the thing about the big, complex world and our little minds: the rich complexity of an actual person or moment will always be more capable of provoking us to love or reveling than our small preconceptions ever could.
Changing ourselves or changing the world - I think that these both bear evidence that we're engaged in the world, engaged so deeply that we and it - us and them - are inescapably influenced by the other. Change is proof of connection.

I likely have just a few decades left. I don't have time to waste, so I need to stay focused on just a few things. This is my bucket list: love, revel, and change.

Thank you reading.

29 October 2013

My Action Movie Plot: The Ultimate Conspiracy

He had been through a lot. It showed on his face. By this point he'd been stabbed, shot, tortured, and deprived of sleep for 3 of the last 5 days. Worse, he'd watched his friend Jared die from a gunshot that had come without warning; he never had seen the shooter, just Jared falling with a look of disbelief on his face.

The last week had been utter madness and he didn't even know why. One day he was like any other person and suddenly it was as though he'd been plunged into one of those ludicrous action films where the hero was made to suffer so much that you could only imagine that he would sit staring at a wall for weeks rather than pick himself up for a car chase - on foot.

He was not paranoid, but he began to suspect a conspiracy when he had been attacked in the hotel room to which he'd fled after Jared had been shot right in front of his house. How could they have found in him in the anonymity of Vegas, in a hotel room he'd paid for with cash? It was as if the people behind this had intimate knowledge of his every move, even his moods and movements. He'd recently heard of a mysterious agency that gave orders to the NSA, but while it made sense that they might take an interest in world leaders, it made no sense that they'd take an interest in him. He was a nobody. None of this made sense. He was now hiding in public places, sitting at this moment in an iHop which he'd mistaken for an Apple store.

He was desperate to understand who would put him through this kind of hell, who might show this sort of gratuitous cruelty. As he racked his brain for some past mistake, someone he had angered, wondering who could hate him this much, a realization came to him: he had no past to remember. And suddenly it dawned on him who was responsible for his misery: it had to be one of those action film scriptwriters who didn't even have the decency to give him - the main character in this unfolding tragedy - a past.

He knew now who he had to find and kill if he ever expected these repeated attacks to end: the rest of this story was going to be about his hunting down and killing the scriptwriter. The irony of it made him smile, made the pain from his bullet wound temporarily disappear. Never had he felt so certain, so filled with purpose. His life made sense for once. He smiled, took a deep breath, and then a sip of his coffee. He imagined the surprise on the scriptwriter's face when he would look up from his laptop on which he plotted evil to see him, the character on whom he'd inflicted so much pain, the character whose only thought was revenge.

Just then, though, the blogger's henchmen burst into the iHop and, before he could even stand they shot him. The last thought to run through his mind was, "A blogger. I should have known. Couldn't even be bothered to give me a name."

28 October 2013

Obama Drones on and on (or, one difference between arithmetic and systems dynamics)

Projections based on arithmetic are different from those made based on systems' dynamics. If you use DDT to kill 98% of the mosquitoes, it is easy to think that you've reduced their population to just 2% of their original numbers. Well you have. Temporarily. But now you only have DDT-resistant mosquitoes left. And they'll multiply to fill the same niche they filled before but this time your DDT won't work to fend them off. Which brings us to Obama and his drones.

Drones seem like a wonderful idea. I like the fact that they give a president an option other than ignoring bad guys or starting a war. Bad guys do hurt other people and it seems puzzling that someone would want bullies to run loose, free to intimidate, kill, and terrorize innocents who simply want to raise their children to become, themselves, the parents of happy children. And sending troops in to invade every time you get intelligence on a bad guy is - of course - ludicrous. 

But drones aren't as precise as advertised. They'll leave at least 2% of the terrorists and worse, at least 2% of their victims are likely to be innocent people. So, the remaining terrorists now have the very real outrage of people who are incredulous that the US is executing judgment on their citizens from abroad, without trial or jury, and in the process killing people like a grandma surrounding by her grandchildren.

The question is, are we hampering the current efforts of the Taliban while greatly helping their future recruitment efforts? Just looking at the arithmetic, drones make a great deal of sense. Looking at the system dynamics, they don't.

26 October 2013

The Fourth Economy and the Transformation of Business - Individual Autonomy and Freedom of Work

Centuries ago, the West realized that the medieval church and pope might not be the true representatives of God. This century, the West will come to a similar realization about corporations and CEOs as true representatives of markets.

Markets are a beautiful thing for many reasons. In a market economy, a person can't just follow his bliss. In order to eat, he has to show at least a passing interest in your bliss as well. Markets are far from perfect but they do direct attention outwards, away from one's belly button and out into the greater good.

Corporations are only approximations of markets. That is inevitable. It takes a lot to coordinate the activities of a corporation and there is simply no way that all its effort will be translated into market value. Not every product will become a blockbuster. There are times when a company will simply misfire and that will never change.

The more interesting criticism is that corporations themselves tend to be controlled by the visible hand of management rather than the invisible hand of markets. An employee's pay is determined by HR definitions and management review for instance.

It is possible to rely on market forces and allow employees to bid for tasks that would create more or less value. Tasks that feed into a new product launch could represent a percentage of future profits, for instance, giving employees incentive to bid higher (e.g., accept lower wages now in return for percentage returns later) on more promising projects. Such market mechanisms would not only allow employees to make more money but would give corporations important feedback on the perceived viability of their projects in the eyes of their own experts. This is just one of the ways that corporations could rely more on markets and less on control, but it would mean granting employees more autonomy, more choice about where to focus their attention.

We still have Catholics centuries after the Protestant Revolution. We will likely have some measure of the command and control corporation for generations. But the Catholic Church today is radically different from the Catholic Church of the 15th century. Even traditional corporations will be changed by the business revolution that's underway.

What the West did in religion, politics, and finance since the Dark Ages is grant increasing autonomy to the individual. Individuals are free to buy what they want with a loan, from a large boat they will use only once or twice to a small home they will live in every day. The American Dream offers access to credit and investment markets even for ordinary people; last century, finance was transformed. In the West, the individual is free to worship L. Ron Hubbard on Mondays or Peyton Manning on Sundays. No religious elite can dictate proper worship to the common man. And, of course, even the political elite have to win the approval of the common person in order to govern. The most defining thing about the West is autonomy for the ordinary person. In business, though, employees still get told what to do.

In keeping with this increase in autonomy, business and the corporation will be changed in our lifetimes as much as the church and religion, the nation-state and politics, and the bank and finance were changed in previous centuries. Just as the individual is now directed by personal revelation rather than religious elites, the individual will increasingly be directed by personal market perceptions and choice rather than corporate executives. It could be fascinating.

Increased autonomy isn't just the proper measure of economic progress. It matters because of another parallel between God and markets. Just as the medieval God benignly neglected a great deal of suffering, so do modern markets. Individual action - not the invisible hands of God or markets - is the tool through which change is so often made. We can blame it on impersonal forces as varied as God, markets, or genetics but it is, ultimately, how we act that determines what world we live in.