The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories
The Trump administration has had the slowest start in recent history in hiring people to run the government. For example: At the conclusion of the Obama administration, there were 24 people on the White House chief technology officer’s staff. Now there’s one (The New York Times). The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been decimated.
But that’s OK, because there’s really not much going on these days with science and technology anyway, right? Furthermore, what science-policy wonks see as a dereliction of duty could be intentional strategy: achieving Steve Bannon’s “deconstruction of the administrative state” by depopulating the bureaucracy. Conservatives would like to eliminate the White House science office entirely, so why waste time interviewing candidates? Maybe all these empty seats are a feature, not a bug.
That same question, Ronald Klain points out (The Washington Post), haunts everything the Trump administration sets out to do — for instance, the new “Office of American Innovation” that Jared Kushner is leading.
Klain wonders how Kushner can match the progress made by previous, similar efforts (like Al Gore’s “reinventing government” and Obama’s U.S. Digital Service) when he has so much else on his plate — little things like brokering peace in the Middle East and a new trade deal with Mexico.
Also, Klain suggests, the Trump program will need to place more trust in its rank-and-file civil service workers if it expects to make any headway: “Ask any of the executives working with the White House if they could reinvent their companies without the active and engaged support of their employees. Not one would say yes.”
But the biggest problem for Team Trump is that it’s torn between fixing government and dismantling it. In one office, it’s got Kushner seeking ways to make the federal government work better, smarter, and more efficiently. In another, Bannon is trying to scuttle big chunks of the same government. It’s hard to do both at the same time.
Are Uber and Facebook “Fake Markets”?
Network technology is supposed to make markets work more effectively and allow more people to participate in them. But what if platforms only look like markets but don’t actually work like them? What if they are “fake markets”? What happens, according to Anil Dash (on his blog), is that you get something like today’s internet.
Dash traces the steady decay of the web’s marketplace exchanges from the primitive but wide-open early eBay to the more “rigged” markets built by Google and Amazon that met users’ demand for convenience but also privileged their own offerings in many cases. App stores perfected this approach. The rules are opaque and biased. But at least there’s still room for new entrants in these markets.
Dash argues that Uber represents the next generation of market degradation. Uber professes to be a neutral market-maker connecting drivers and riders. But drivers can’t set their prices, and passengers can’t choose drivers. It looks like a market but doesn’t work like one.
The way Dash sees it, Facebook and Google are pulling a similar maneuver as they push publishers to hand them content. If we don’t like the direction all this is heading in, we’ll need to make sure policymakers and political leaders understand what’s happening — and make active personal choices of services and apps that take us down a different path.
Everyone Wants to Leave the Bay Area
A whopping 40 percent of residents of the San Francisco Bay Area said they want to leave the region within the next few years, according to a new poll by the Bay Area Council (San Francisco Business Times). You know why: Everything costs too much, particularly housing, and it’s too crowded. The numbers were highest among millennials — 46 percent of Bay Areans in that age group are saying “Get me out of here!”
Pessimists will view this as confirmation that the Bay Area’s long cultural history of innovation and nonconformity is about to end. Optimists will see a natural self-correction: If a lot of these people make good on their plans, the region will become less crowded and more affordable.
Except: that doesn’t take into account all of the people elsewhere who might then start moving in.
Keeping Stars Together Makes Them Productive
How do extraordinary companies like Apple, Google, and Netflix get 40 percent higher productivity per employee than other firms? It’s not simply a matter of hiring better, according to research by Bain & Company (Fast Company); they have roughly the same number of “star players” as the competition. But they deploy them differently.
Instead of spreading out the over-achievers, the more productive companies concentrate them on teams working on make-or-break projects. That’s how Apple made its OSX operating system popular again during the operating-system wars of the mid-2000s, while Microsoft bombed with Windows Vista.