Public services ride the bottom line down


Paul Long | Flickr

When Wall Street is at the wheel of your ambulance. Private equity firms — the investors formerly known as “corporate raiders” — are operating ever bigger chunks of what we used to call the public sector, shaping our daily lives (New York Times/Dealbook). There’s a logic behind handing emergency services, transportation infrastructure, housing, or utilities to efficiency-minded investment groups: Theoretically, hard-nosed management can squeeze waste out of public services, striking a better deal for local governments. But these companies specialize in “cost cuts, price increases, lobbying and litigation” — so don’t be surprised when their touch turns out to be rough. Maybe there was a point to hanging a big “public” sign over part of the economy?

Airbnb, community disorganizer. When you take a hot neighborhood and turn chunks of its housing into Airbnb rentals, hosts can make money, economists cheer the efficient resource use, and travelers enjoy a quirkier-than-Marriott experience. But turn enough homes into short-term rentals, and that unique neighborhood could lose its character or even disintegrate (Next City). That’s why it makes sense to think twice before swapping too many full-time residents for drop-ins: Community isn’t community when the members are all gone.

Diversity by any other name. We’re constantly fine-tuning the language we use to label our aspirations for a better world. In its time, “diversity” worked great — but overuse has sapped its power, and, today, “inclusion” or “representation” might better name the thing (Pacific Standard). Whatever you call it, acting to make it real is what counts most. Here’s a new idea: To open up a workplace culturally, borrow some practices from the world of agile software development.

How “Gross Domestic Product” counts the wrong stuff. The yardsticks governments and businesses use to measure productivity can’t gauge the impact of digital technology on the economy. In other words— the global dashboard needs an upgrade (Harvard Business Review).

Galvanizing investment. GlaxoSmithKline and Verily Life Sciences (née Google Life Sciences, now part of Alphabet) are putting $700 million over seven years into the new Galvani Bioelectronics (Quartz) to manipulate the human nervous system’s electrical flows. Their targets: chronic illnesses like arthritis, diabetes, and asthma. Zap!

Also in Newco Shift: Brian Monahan tours Austin’s startup scene and asks whether it can scale — but suspects it will.

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