31 August 2020

Joe Biden Speaks About Violence and Fear in Trump's America

Some excerpts from Joe's speech today.

I’m going to be very clear about all of this, rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted. Violence ... divides instead of unites, destroys businesses, only hurts the working families that serve the community. It makes things worse across the board, not better.

One of Trump's closest political advisers in the White House doesn’t even bother to speak in code, just comes out and she says it. “The more chaos, violence, the better it is for Trump’s reelection.” Just think about that. This is a sitting president of the United States of America. He’s supposed to be protecting this country, but instead he’s rooting for chaos and violence. The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America. So now he’s trying to scare America.

And I find [what Trump and Pence say] fascinating. “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” And what’s their proof? The violence we’re seeing in Donald Trump’s America. These are not images of some imagined Joe Biden America in the future. These are images of Donald Trump’s America today. He keeps telling you if only he was president, it wouldn’t happen. ... He keeps telling us that he was president you’d feel safe. Well he is president. Whether he knows it or not, and it is happening, it’s getting worse. And you know why? Because Donald Trump adds fuel to every fire.

Look, if Donald Trump wants to ask the question, “Who will keep you safer as president?” Let’s answer that question. First, some simple facts. When I was vice president, violent crime fell 15% in this country. We did it without chaos and disorder. And yes, we did it with democratic mayors in most of the major cities in this country. The murder rate now is up 26% across the nation this year under Donald Trump. Do you really feel safer under Donald Trump?

Donald Trump’s role as a bystander in his own presidency extends to the economic plan and pain. The plan he doesn’t have and the pain being felt by millions of Americans. He said this week, and I quote, “You better vote for me, or you’re going to have the greatest depression you’ve ever seen.” Does he not understand and see the tens of millions of people who’ve had to file for unemployment this year so far?

Our current president wants you to live in fear.

Trump has sought to remake this nation in his image. Selfish, angry, dark, and divisive. This is not who we are. At her best, America’s always been, and if I have anything to do it, it will be again, generous, confident, an optimistic nation full of hope and resolve. Donald Trump is determined to instill fear in America. That’s what his entire campaign for the president has come down to: fear. But I believe Americans are stronger than that. ... Fear never builds the future, but hope does. And building the future is what America does, what we’ve always done. In fact, it’s what we have done best and continue to do best.

Biden's August 31, 2020 speech from Pittsburgh here.

The Home Schooling Lesson that Could Last a Lifetime

This morning an unprecedented number of children are homeschooling. I'm dedicating one entire post to help.

First something fascinating.

Once the swift bird leaves the nest, it takes to flight for two to three years before again landing. It lives in the air like fish live in water, perpetually in the air.

It sleeps, eats, and mates on the wing and some of the sub-species can fly up to 100 mph and even the common swift flies up to 70 mph. Given they are always flying, they can put on two million kilometres in a lifetime, enough to fly to the moon five times.

Now something practical.

That's interesting (actually, I found it mind boggling but my mind may be easily boggled) but even better is to make your at-home students' homework the design of a drone that can stay airborne for 2 to 3 years. So, it's win-win. You tell your students one amazing fact and then give them a homework assignment that could easily keep them busy into their 20s. Just like that, your days are freed up and they are on the way to highly successful careers.

You're welcome.

30 August 2020

The Short-Term Ease and Long-Term Grief of Denying Facts

Years ago, I read a line in my daughter's chemistry textbook: "processes that require lots of energy tend not to occur." I laughed because it seemed so obviously true and yet ... it is kind of profound.

Speaking of energy, it is much easier to absorb facts that confirm your worldview than facts that challenge it. To accept some facts would force you to adjust your entire worldview. We see it in the novel in which a woman discovers a fact that suggests that her husband is cheating. The emotional turmoil of accepting that fact can be so great that she might first choose to ignore or deny it. Or the emotional turmoil of accepting that your political worldview is out of synch with reality.

When accepting certain facts would force you to adjust your entire worldview - something that takes enormous energy - you will typically opt to just reject the facts instead. Much less fuss.

The beauty of Fox’s business model is that they realize that there is far more profit to be made in defending a worldview than simply feeding folks facts that are as likely to challenge as affirm one's worldview. Reality is jarring.

In John Lewis Gaddis’ On Grand Strategy, he argues that Tolstoy in War and Peace and Clausewitz in On War both work hard to show that reality is far messier than any theory about it … and yet we need theories in order to simplify the endless complexity of reality. A successful general knows to use theories as a means to simplify past lessons but also recognizes the necessity of adapting to reality as it unfolds. A Napoleon invading Russia is defeated as much by his own confidence in his initial plan as he is by the Russians. Plans get you into situations: your ability to respond to those situations is what will get you through them. Put differently, your worldview or convictions might start you in a particular direction but if you’re not going to fall off a cliff, you still need to adjust to the terrain in which you find yourself. There is no map of the future; the past offers some general lessons about how you might better navigate land or water but doesn’t do as well at predicting which you’ll next encounter or even whether you’ll next find yourself in a swamp, a region that refuses to neatly conform to what you’ve previously learned about land or water. Or to put it in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Jim Collins wrote, "Leadership does not just begin with vision. It begins with getting people to confront the brutal facts and to act on the implications." Another alternative is to call facts “fake news.” When you do that, of course, the bad news continues to pile up and you need to sweep more and more of it into the corner, denying or distorting it and with each denial become less able to navigate reality. There is a reason that things get steadily worse under leaders who deny reality rather than insist we confront it. It takes a lot of energy to adapt to facts; it’s always easier in the short-run to deny them.

29 August 2020

Design of Work as Play - the Future Has Arrived

Studying flow - the psychology of engagement - decades ago, it occurred to me that the ultimate profitable business would be one that designed work to be as engaging as play and charged kids to do work they perceived as play. Imagine profit margins in that sort of world.

Well, that world may have arrived. Here's a kid playing the game of stocking shelves at a convenience store, controlling a robot from a distance.


The Disaster Trump Will Blame on Biden: Jobs, COVID, and Protests

The Biden - Trump election is very simple.

Trump's task is to convince voters that the bad numbers that so define America today - COVID deaths, lost jobs, and protests - are Joe Biden's fault and not Trump's.

Let's start with facts. This table shows the number of deaths from protests and from pandemics, and the number of jobs created or lost in the economy inherited or passed on.

The 1 death during the protests at Ferguson was Michael Brown's, the young man whose death triggered the protests. If more teenage white supremacists with AK-47s show up at protests, the death toll from these 2020 protests could continue to rise, making the contrast even more stark.

And of course 1,000 Americans are still dying of COVID every day. A safe prediction is that between 200,000 to 300,000 Americans will have died from COVID by election day.

The job market each president inherited is an interesting metric. There were ways to calculate this that made the difference even more dramatic but I chose a simple measure: how many jobs were created in the twelve months before Obama or Trump took office?

The economy Obama and Biden inherited was in free fall. They were sworn in on 20 January 2009 and in that month the economy destroyed 784,000 jobs. Trump inherited an economy in the midst of the longest run of uninterrupted job creation in history. In the month that Trump was sworn in - January 2017 - the economy created 969,000 (yep, nearly a million) more jobs than the month in which Obama was sworn in. How much is a million? In a great decade the American economy creates about two million jobs per year. The two presidents inherited vastly different economies. So are the economies each passed on. (Or in Trump's case, will pass on.)

In the twelve months before Obama and Biden took office, the economy lost 4.3 million jobs. They handed off an economy to Trump and Pence that had created 2.5 million jobs in the previous year. Obama and Biden inherited a train wreck and passed along an economy that was on track for the longest uninterrupted streak of job creation on record. 

What has Trump done with this inheritance? In the last 12 months the American economy has destroyed 11.3 million jobs. The economy Obama and Biden inherited - one that had destroyed 4.3 million jobs in the previous year - was the worst in a lifetime. The one Trump is about to pass on is more than twice as bad.  

(It is worth noting that the man's main measure of productivity has gone up, though. Trump is tweeeting 6X as often as he did in his first six months in office - 33 times a day - so you can't really say that he's done nothing.)

The numbers under Trump are awful. Americans are traumatized by his leadership and incredibly dissatisfied with the way things are going.  Trump is going to tell his loyal followers what he tells them about all facts: these are fake. He's going to tell the swing voters, these numbers are Biden's fault.


The number of people who believe him is the most important number of all: that will determine in which direction these numbers go during the next four years.

28 August 2020

Why Jeff Bezos is Worth $200 Billion

Bill Gates became the richest man in the world in 1995 for creating a platform (in the form of Word, Excel, Outlook, Project) that enabled knowledge workers to be more productive.

Jeff Bezos became the richest man in the world in 2018 for creating a platform that enabled entrepreneurs to be more productive.

Not only does Amazon have more than 500,000 employees, it has "2 million sellers, hundreds of thousands of authors, [and] millions of Amazon Web Services developers.” And, Bezos reports, "In 2017, for the first time in history, more than half of units sold on Amazon worldwide were from third-party sellers."

Bezos' wealth reached $200 billion yesterday, further evidence to me that we're transitioning from an information to an entrepreneurial economy. Meanwhile, we have a president still assuring his base that he'll make America great again again by getting them back into an industrial economy.

Every second the software that drives the Amazon platform is updated multiple times. The software in our head that defines our worldview gets updated far more slowly than that. The latter has created a crisis; the former more than a trillion in wealth.

27 August 2020

How Our Technology Continually Expands Our Notion of Us: An argument for globalization

In 1968, this iconic shot of earth was broadcast by NASA. Inspired by this new perspective, earthlings quickly organized themselves differently

"In three remarkable years between 1969 and 1971, Friends of the Earth, the National Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were created and the first Earth Day was proclaimed." [from Jamie Metzel's Hacking Darwin.]

What is globalization?
The music you listen to is your own concern. The volume and time at which you listen to it is of concern to your entire apartment complex.

Some issues will always be personal. Your favorite music, for instance. Technology - like a stereo that can play at 100 decibels - can turn personal issues into community issues.

Factories that made enough goods to sell across state lines, trains to carry those goods across state lines, and telegraph lines to rapidly communicate across state lines changed us from a confederation of states into a union. Before Lincoln, nearly all communication stated, "The United States are ..." After Lincoln, it stated, "The United States is ...." Technology changed states' issues into national issues.

Today, container ships have driven down the price of transportation to effectively make ours one global market. The marginal cost to transport one can of beer or soda 3,000 miles is one cent. A sweater is 3.5 cents. The internet lets you have a video conference with someone in Croatia as easily as you would talk to your neighbor. The technology of the late 1800s made us a nation. The technology of the early 2000s has made us a globe.

You will hear - you have heard - a lot of nonsense about globalization from nationalists who want you to believe that those globalists in the apartment complex want to dictate what music you listen to. Nobody cares about your taste in music but they do want to sleep uninterrupted at 2 AM. The fact that you find it exasperating to think about how dependent we are on foreigners and they are on us doesn't mean that it is effective policy to ignore it. Globalization is not about 7.5 billion people dictating how you live; it is about acknowledging how many people depend on you - and how many people you depend on - to live.

It is likely cliche and probably minimally helpful to say that some issues are truly personal, some involve your family, some the folks in your neighborhood, some the people in your state and some are global. Where the proper boundaries lie for determining whose concern those are will shift and be subject to debate. That's true. But what is also true is that just as our space program let us see the earth as a whole, our technology continues to make our world larger, making us increasingly dependent on faraway people. Just as you can't un-see this picture, you can't undo the inter dependencies that define our world. Globalization isn't about creating those inter dependencies; it is about having mechanisms - like the UN and WTO - to address them.

26 August 2020

Kamala Harris: Created by Clark Kerr's Vision of a Knowledge Economy

In the early 1900s, the Democrats began to shift from the party of farmer to the party of labor. In 1800, only 20 percent of the workforce was employed by someone else; by 2000, over 90 percent were. [1] The modern corporation was defined in the mid-1800s. As its employees grew in number, so did their political influence.

When the Democratic Party was first defined by Jefferson, it was the farmer’s party. As farmers fell as a percentage of the workforce, the Republican Party emerged – and dominated – as the capitalists’ party. But those successful capitalists who were creating new factories were hiring labor that often found itself at odds with the owners. As the Democratic Party shifted its identity from the farmers’ party to the labor party, it dominated American politics from 1933 to 1969.

In 1972, labor and politics changed. At the 1972 Democratic National Convention, the party had quotas for women, young people, and minorities but none for union labor. At that point, labor began its split into two camps: the blue-collar labor on factory lines that was both at odds with and dependent on the capitalists who built the factories and made the investments in industrial capital that made them productive; and the white-collar labor in cubicles wearing pocket protectors and increasingly reliant on the novel technology of computers. By appealing to the blue-collar workers reliant on industrial capital, Republicans like Nixon and Reagan won over a group the Democrats had long had. By appealing to the white-collar workers, Democrats were helping to create a new economy but were floundering as a national party.

Without understanding how Kamala Harris represents knowledge workers and this new economy, it is hard to understand how she is different from Joe Biden, how she is a different kind of Democrat.

California has led before. Blue jeans, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley began here. So did the Republican resurgence that ended Democrats’ long dominance in DC. Between 1933 and 1969, Democrats had control of the White House and Congress 72% of the time. In 1968, 1972, 1980 and 1984, two Californians – Nixon and Reagan - won the presidency in landslide victories, marking an end to Democratic dominance. What Nixon and Reagan represented was the Republican Party gaining the blue-collar workers who had for so long identified as Democrats.

As blue-collar workers rose in prominence a century ago, they changed politics. White-collar workers are now rising prominence and they, too, are changing politics. Today one of the simplest predictors of whether someone will vote Democratic is the question of whether they have a college degree. A recent – and typical – poll showed that only 39% of whites without a college degree would vote for Biden but 64% of those with a degree would, a stunning shift of 25 points.[2]

Harris represents a very different kind of labor than did her fellow Californians Nixon and Reagan from an earlier generation.

Trump won Joe Biden’s home state of Pennsylvania with 48% of the vote. In the California counties where Harris spent her childhood, he won only 17%. In California, Trump’s campaign promises sounded like threats. Trade wars with China? A wall to keep immigrants out? It is connection to and not protection from the rest of the world that has helped California to thrive. A regional Hollywood is a playhouse. A regional Google search engine is the yellow pages. Silicon Valley is capital of the worldwide – not the nationwide - web.

Harris’s parents met as grad students at UC Berkeley in the 1960s. While the Midwest was enjoying its time of manufacturing dominance, the Bay Area was placing its bets on a new economy, one Harris’s parents were part of. It is not a stretch to say that Harris is a product of Clark Kerr's vision of a knowledge economy that helped to define the UC Berkeley that brought her parents together from such distant places.

In 1960, California governor Pat Brown signed legislation that made California the only state in the nation to offer free education from kindergarten through grad school. Clark Kerr – who headed the committee that drafted the plan Brown turned into law – was head of the University of California and had a theory about economic progress. In the same way that the railroad in the late 1800s and the automobile in the early 1900s had reshaped the economy, he thought that the late 1900s would be transformed by a knowledge economy.

In the decades after it began investing in Kerr’s vision, California became home to Silicon Valley. Intel was founded in 1968, Apple in 1976, and Google in 1998. California’s early investment in education paid off with millions of high-paying jobs and trillions of dollars in new wealth.

Harris’s father was an economics professor at Stanford, her mother a researcher at UC Berkeley. Median household income in the two Bay Area counties where Harris spent her childhood is now about $119,000 a year. Joe Biden was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania where median household income is now about $39,000. Biden comes from a generation of labor that needed protection from capitalists. Harris comes from a generation of labor who are the capitalists. The Bay Area is defined by returns to intellectual – not industrial - capital. On two campuses six miles apart – Google and Facebook – median employee pay is $200, 000 and $240,000. Billionaires get a lot of attention but stock options have made multi-millionaires out of thousands of west coast employees. To not understand how labor changed from the early to late 1900s is to not understand the Democratic Party that now champions the information economy dependent on global markets, immigrants, and big investments in education and research.

In 1969, per capita personal income in Santa Clara County was 24% higher than the national average. By 2018, it was double. Clark Kerr was right about the importance of the knowledge economy and while the Bay Area and Scranton are in the same country, they are in different worlds. In Harris’s two childhood counties[3], 77% of people over 25 have a Bachelors degree. In the county that is home to Scranton, only 22% do. In Harris’s counties, minorities and immigrants make up 45% and 28% of the population; in Biden’s home county they are only 27% and 10%.[4] The Bay Area’s highly-educated, diverse and cosmopolitan population thrives in the global economy while Scranton struggles.

When the US was founded, it was a nation of farmers. 80 to 90% of the workforce was in agriculture. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the workforce moved from farms to factories and investments in industrial capital made regions prosper. By the late 1900s, it was investments in creating intellectual capital that made regions prosper.

In 2010, Harris won her first state-wide election in California. In 2020, she could share a victory with Biden in the nation’s most defining election. If knowledge workers represent the future of the American economy, Kamala Harris could represent the future of Democratic Party: educated and cosmopolitan.

California was one of the early investors in Kerr’s vision of an economy dependent on knowledge workers but it is not the only one. States that enjoy a return to investments in education lead the nation in income. Biden and Harris will win the eight states with the highest per capita income. Trump will probably win all but one of the eight states with the lowest per capita income. This has nothing to do with the people in these states and everything to do with past decisions about whether to heavily invest in industrial or intellectual capital. It is the states that made relatively heavier investments in the intellectual capital that now lead in incomes.

Biden will likely bring compassion to communities like Scranton that are struggling to transition out of an old economy dependent on industrial capital. Harris will likely bring a vision of what is possible if communities place their bets on the information economy.

Biden’s compassion promises to alleviate poverty; Harris’s Bay Area experience promises to enhance prosperity. It is the latter that could define the Democratic Party for the next generation.


[1] Charles Perrow, Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 1.

[3] Alameda and Santa Clara

25 August 2020

IPOs for DoorDash and Instacart Reveal Two Very Different Set of Expectations for Food and Wealth Distribution

In the next little while, DoorDash and Instacart are going public. One delivers prepared meals from restaurants and the other delivers groceries. When they go public, it'll make hundreds of people rich. Over the next decade, they might create wealth for hundreds of thousands.

The stock market is a great device. One of my great thrills was standing "on" the first stock exchange in the world. There is a walking bridge in Amsterdam that people cross as they exit the train station to go downtown. That is where people used to stand if they were interested in buying or selling shares of Dutch East India Company stock. When the Dutch emigrated to North America, they built another stock exchange in New Amsterdam, on the street by the wall. The Dutch created both the first stock exchange and - in a place now called New York - the world's largest stock exchange.

The stock market is a most excellent device for creating wealth. A company that distributed food the way it distributes wealth, though. would have some problems.

As late as 1990, the top 1% had 22% of the nation's wealth. In this century, their share has gone up, ranging from 25 to 33 percent.

By contrast, in the last decade the bottom 50 percent have had a share ranging from only 0.3% to 1.4% of the total. (Yes. 0.3%. Less than one percent. For half the country.)

"How is your new meal delivery service doing?"
"Oh, it's great. We're delivering more meals than ever."
"How many customers do you get per night?"
"We usually deliver about 100 meals to 100 different homes each night."
"Wow. That seems very equitable. Each home gets one meal?"
"No. It varies. A lot."
"How is that?"
"Well Jeff is one of our regulars. We usually deliver about 25 to 33 of the meals to him."
"But you only deliver 100 meals. What happens to the other customers?"
"Well, they have to share. We have about 50 customers who share one meal each evening."
"How does that work out?"
"Oh, we get some complaints but I think that most people are impressed that we've increased the number of meals that we're delivering. We've nearly tripled the number."
"But mostly to Jeff."
"Well, sure. For now at least."

Henry Ford's genius was not that he invented the car or even the assembly line. Ford's genius was that he figured out how to make cars so affordable (and middle-class workers so productive) that Ford ended up delivering cars to a percentage of Americans no one thought possible only decades earlier. In 1900, there was about one car for every ten thousand Americans; by the 1960s, there was about one car for every two Americans. That's what progress looks like.

We are still at the pre-Henry Ford stage of wealth creation. We know how to create wealth but don't yet know how to ramp up its production to mass manufacture and deliver wealth to a wider market. It would be most excellent if we could figure out how to deliver wealth to the other 50%. You can bet that DoorDash is going to be worth more if they work out a delivery algorithm that does better than delivering 30% of their meals to Jeff. So will our capital markets.