Subsidies helped solar achieve its best year ever in 2015. With the extension of the solar investment tax credit, Congress will help utility-scale and rooftop solar grow even faster in 2016, even if investing in solar doesn’t always work out (Solyndra). Had the credit not been extended, forecaster IHS says, the impact on the solar industry would have been “huge,” causing a 10% global decline in the solar industry. The tax credit means solar is hot right now, but its presence across residential rooftops is being challenged by OldCos.
Net metering, which lets customers sell the unused electricity they generate back to utility companies at full retail rate, has made installing solar on roofs economical. It’s helped NewCos like Sunrun, Sungevity, Mosaic, and SolarCity. Utilities aren’t fans, though. The rapid growth of rooftop solar has created a debate over the value of energy sent to utilities and use of utilities’ infrastructure. Utilities have implemented monthly charges and reduced net metering rates. The Washington Post points to this presentation, which suggests utilities are campaigning against net metering for fear of “declining retail sales,” “loss of customers,” and “potential obsolescence.” Utilities are contesting policies like net metering in 39 states.
Rarely does a plan to do research gain much attention beyond those directly affected. But when Sam Altman of incubator Y Combinator announced last week his firm’s plan to fund a five-year study on basic income, it felt like every business thinker wanted a piece of it. This is happening for two reasons.
Second, it’s fascinating that this work is being funded by Y Combinator. Those whose memories go back to January will recall that Paul Graham, a Y Combinator founder, wrote an essay more or less defending inequality, saying that poverty itself is the primary problem, not inequality. The essay quickly turned into a pinata, although with few exceptions responders were more interested in attacking Graham’s argument than inequality itself. (Perhaps the most pungent and comprehensive response came from Tim O’Reilly.)
Regardless of how you respond to Graham’s essay (it’s easy to both nod your head and get furious in the same sentence) or whether you think his firm’s plan to fund basic income research is sensible, what’s more important right now is that people with platforms are talking about the issue and backing up their talk with action. If a key purpose of a NewCo is to create positive change, Y Combinator’s research can be a step toward discovering whether basic income might be a way to make some positive change. And, if this is research work that appeals to you, you have until February 15 to apply.
Update: Shortly after this article was published the World Health Organization declared a global public health emergency due to the Zika virus and illnesses associated with the Zika virus.
Women in several Caribbean and South American nations are being urged to not get pregnant. It’s an unprecedented prescription to the Zika virus, which the World Health Organization (WHO) warns could infect four million people by the end of the year.
Women, the only segment of our species tough enough to show up for work at the U.S. Congress during a snowstorm, have been unable to get contraceptive delivery until just recently.
The startup Nurx is doing away with the need for a doctor’s visit and last month started making next-day birth control deliveries. Residents of California and New York can get a three-month supply for free with insurance, $15 without.
How One Carefully Crafted Sequence in the #SOTU Reframed The Climate Debate
President Obama’s final State of the Union address is currently trending on Medium, which is pretty much what you might expect given Medium is where the White House decided to release it (take that, Facebook! — though a piece about building Instagram has about twice as many recommendations, but I digress…).
I watched the speech last night while at a company retreat with 18 of my colleagues from NewCo. Over and over, the President hit on trends consistent with our thesis of fundamental change in business and culture. For example, he spoke of decoupling benefits such as healthcare from employers, because in the NewCo era, people move between jobs a lot more (or are self employed, or want to leap into a startup). Obama spoke of living in a time of extraordinary technological and social change, of a deepening and troubling social inequality, of optimism and hard work and a right to thrive in “this new economy.”
You’re a smart man. I would love to read a revised essay from you on income inequality that takes into account four facts you seem to have failed to include in your analysis of the situation:
Literally no one in America, save for a very few on the fringe, is talking about “eliminating income inequality.” People are seeking to and talking about reducing income inequality. No one believes that there should not be rich people. They do not want to “kill” you, literally or metaphorically.
What people are talking about is a progressive income tax to reduce inequality. Amazingly, your essay on inequality only uses the word “tax” in the body of the essay a single time. If a billionaire is taxed 80% on the year he or she earns that billion, they will still be worth $200 million. And they are still free to start businesses and pursue wealth. They are still rich. They have not been “hunted” or “killed.” The crux of your argument — that “Ending economic inequality would mean ending startups” — is both a straw man (no one’s advocating eliminating income inequality completely) and untrue (people can still pursue whatever they want — they just have to pay more taxes on it.) No one wants to take the money you have away. You could still pursue being rich, and, indeed, you could still get rich. I don’t know TONS about your wealth levels, but if I extrapolate them from my own, and the successes you’ve had, I am willing to wager a large amount of money that in the world these people (including myself) envision, you would still be very, very rich.
People want to take that money from the taxes and provide services so that everyone in America can get the same public services that — to extend your example — Larry Page got growing up in East Lansing, Michigan. You are partially correct when you say that “It’s not economic inequality per se that’s blocking social mobility, but some specific combination of things that go wrong when kids grow up sufficiently poor.” The “specific combination” is no mystery. For many of them, it’s that they also live in areas that are poor, and have low tax bases, and cannot provide the education and services at the same level as rich neighborhoods. So by taxing the wealthy and spending it on services, we can better ensure that the level playing field you allude to continues to exist.
The pie metaphor you speak of is not crazy. There are different ways of looking at the “pie:” National income accounts (growing), money supply/purchasing (the money supply’s gone up, sure, and the value of money is relatively stable,) and the GDP-based purchasing power parity. So by one measure — the one you are presumably speaking of — the pie is growing. By a GDP measure, however, it is growing less and less every year. We haven’t had 5% GDP growth in over a decade. It’s been over 30 years since it hit 10%. Most economists believe that high-level GDP growth is a thing of the past, and we’re looking at 2–3% growth from here on out. So, by this completely rational view of the “pie,” it is, in fact, trending towards a zero sum game. This is not an irrational view.
Way back in 1985 an unlikely coalition of world governments, business, and enlightened citizens did something extraordinary: Responding to the findings of leading scientists, they united in decisive action to address a looming and existential global climate threat.
That threat was a dangerous thinning of the Earth’s ozone layer due to society’s use of man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Ozone, it turns out, protects the Earth’s surface from dangerous UVB radiation — which causes skin cancer, cataracts, and all manner of unpleasant ecological chaos.