The past week or so has seen a surge in commentary on the role of corporations in society, a theme familiar to readers of this site. While it might be convenient to peg the trend to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s newly minted Accountable Capitalism Act (more on that in a second), I think it’s more likely that – finally – our collective will is turning to our most logical and obvious instrument of social change, namely, the instrument of business.
We humans like to organize ourselves into social units. They range from the informal (pickup basketball games) to the elaborately structured (Senate hearings). Our ability to harness collective will is unsurpassed in the animal kingdom, it’s one of our key evolutionary adaptations, driving the success of our species across the globe.
Last year, $163bn was invested into founders globally, compared to a $25–56bn range in the 10-year period to 2013. Corporate venture capital (CVC), whereby large firms invest in interesting startups, is on an upswing. CVC, traditionally a second-tier option for enterpreneurs, now represents about 18% of all venture deals globally and about a third of all dollars invested in venture. CVC of 2017 is bigger than the entire VC industry of 2013.How do you make sense of it?
In the world of the future, automated perfection is going to be common. Machines will bake perfect cakes, perfectly schedule appointments and keep an eye on your house. What is going to be scarce is human imperfection.
We are still early in the early days of these developments, but we’re already seeing an uptake in artisanship. As Economist’s Ryan Avent writes, the trend offers clues about the future economy:
Craft is, in general, far less well-paid than professional work. Yet the benefits it offers — the satisfaction of controlling one’s own destiny, acquiring a range of skills, creating beautiful and delicious things, forming friendships with suppliers and customers — make up for the reduced incomes and ensure that there is a small, steady migration of professionals into the craft economy.
David and I first worked together at Reuters over a decade ago, at which point he had spent more than 20 years working in the region. David went on to become editor-in-chief of Reuters, the world’s top newswire, before taking up a post as Chairman of Reuters in China. Now based in London, he runs Tripod Advisors, which helps companies understand the region. He also has an Emmy Award, which I think is quite cool.
The largest public investment platform decided to build its technology in house. It actually worked out.
Neesha Hathi is EVP, Investor Services Strategy, Segments and Platforms, at Charles Schwab. That’s a long title for a short job description: Haathi runs Schwab’s platform, the technology millions use to manage their investing experience. In this talk from earlier this year at Shift Forum, Haathi explains how Schwab thinks about innovation. The answers may surprise you.
Neesha Hathi: I’m really excited to come and share a little bit about what we’ve been doing at Schwab. I’ve been in the Bay area since 2000 or so.
James McGill Buchanan may be the most influential conservative economic thinker you’ve never heard of. His belief that liberty (in the free-markets sense) was incompatible with democracy (in the people-power sense) has shaped the conservative movement from the Goldwater era to the present, according to a new book by Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains (Alex Shephard in The New Republic).
MacLean traces the roots of Buchanan’s thinking to the dawn of the school voucher movement in the fallout of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that barred segregated schools. In his lifetime, Buchanan, who died four years ago, was often overshadowed by Milton Friedman, who became the celebrity market-promoting economist.
U.S. stock markets have boomed since Donald Trump’s unexpected victory last November. The conventional explanation is that investors got excited by the twin prospect of business tax cuts, which seemed inevitable given Republican domination of the federal government, and of huge infrastructure spending programs that Trump promised. (If you’re doing the math, you can see that investors did not worry about the government taxing less while spending more. Deficits? What deficits?)
By now, however, it should be clear to everyone that virtually none of the GOP program is going to get enacted any time soon, if ever, given the dysfunction in Washington and the Trump administration’s limp grasp on the levers of power. Yet the markets remain ebullient. What’s up with that?
Amazon’s 20-year story of innovation and customer-oriented growth has had its ups (like a focus on long-term planning over short-term results that has paid off for investors) and downs (like reports of a brutal culture that chews employees up). Jeff Bezos offers a fascinating glimpse of the thinking and mindset behind the company’s ascent in his annual letter to shareholders, which Recodereprinted last week.
Bezos’s mantra: Hold onto “day 1” as long as possible. Fight the idea that “day 2” has arrived. “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
Nearly a decade of near-zero interest rates have finally kicked the U.S. economy back into gear. Unemployment is down, inflation is creeping up, and the stock market has soared, so it’s time for the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates again. That, at least, is the consensus of Fed officials, who announced a widely-expected quarter-percent rate hike today (Bloomberg).
In the short term, that will mean higher rates for credit-card borrowers and home and auto loans. (But don’t hold your breath waiting for better return on your savings.) In the long run, it may mean conflict between the independent Fed and the new administration: President Trump has made sky-high promises for economic growth and job creation that are probably impossible to make good on anyway, but they’ll be even harder to fulfill if the Fed is boosting rates.