HBR Agenda for 2011: My Contribution

I was asked to contribute to Harvard Business Review’s “Agenda for 2011” collection, a set of ruminations from all sorts of people about what they’ll be trying to, you know, do, in 2011. I’m fascinated by the current wave of transport electrification in general, and the webification of the grid in particular, — smarter, lighter-weight, edge-ish, etc. — so I mused about that.

In the spirit of the new year, we asked two dozen business and management leaders what projects they’ll take on in 2011. Here they share their answers—which range from shaking up the study of economics to lifting the quality of discussion on the internet. We expect these people to make significant headway during the year, and we hope their efforts will inspire HBR readers to pursue similarly lofty projects.

Read it all here.

Timelapse of December 2010 Blizzard

December 2010 Blizzard Timelapse from Michael Black on Vimeo.

Field Notes: Ireland, Water, Bankruptcy, RIM, SUVs, Keith Richards, etc.

  • Irish water crisis continues in its 12th day for many (Irish Times)
  • Give States a Way to Go Bankrupt (Weekly Standard)
  • How the neo-medieval 21st century will be more like the 12th century (Source)
  • Research In Motion Denies PlayBook Has Battery Issues (Forbes)
  • Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions Of 2010 (Glassdoor)
  • SUVs lead U.S. auto sales growth despite efforts to improve fuel efficiency (WashPost)
  • Rare two-hour interview with Keith Richards (BBC)

Economist Mag: Most Popular Charts of 2010

The Economist magazine has put together a recursively-entertaining chart of its most popular charts of the year. Would love to see my Bloomberg friends do the same thing. [-]

Bookstaber on Mendacious Valves, Banks, Nukes, and the SEC

Good quote from Richard Bookstaber on the difficulties of regulating away risk in the financial industry, unlike, say, nuclear plants.

What is the hardest part of securities regulation?

If you find a valve in a nuclear power plant that isn’t working right and replace it, the valve is not going to try to fool you into thinking it’s on when it’s really off.

More here.


New Interview with John Maynard Keynes

The BBC’s Paul Mason has a new interview he conducted with economist John Maynard Keynes. While Keynes was nearly unrecognizable, what with him being dead and all, Mason pinned him down in a pub.

Q: Are we out of the crisis?

A: “Good lord my dear boy we are hardly into it. We have no view into the future in the afterlife but I think it’s pretty much following the same path as before, though obviously with the caveat that the forces of globalisation place a major brake, or perhaps more like a restraining leash, on the course its taking.”

Q: So if it’s following the same path, what year are we in? 1931, ’32?

A: “Its actually remarkably on schedule. You’ve had the panic phase, then the phase of ‘it’s going to be alright’ and now you’re getting the phase where countries try to offload the cost onto each other. We’re not yet at the Credit Anstalt moment but you could read the Irish banking bailout as that if you wanted. As I say, it’s all mediated by the state throwing a fire blanket, as it were, across the flames. The state has proved remarkably useful.”

Q: You don’t sound like your majorly focused on this, Lord Keynes?

A: “Yes. Economics is a poor business. Dismal does not describe the half of it, don’t you think? I mean – bear in mind that, for myself, I’ve had to watch my entire theory becoming a kind of handbook for bureaucracy in the mid-20th century, then become vilified, and now revived as a kind of emergency defibrillating device by people who thought heart attacks had become impossible…”

Q: So you buy the Hutton thesis: that the Keynesian revolution didn’t happen, that Samuelson…

A: “Oh, please, don’t get me going on Samuelson… I mean, really, thermodynamics?”

Q: If it’s a crisis of freemarket economics, surely some form of Keynesianism should be in the ascendant?

A: “If this really were 1931 and we really were playing it all through the first time I might say yes. But actually you’ve now got the crisis of Keynesianism as well. Nothing’s really working – for the West at least, and yet for the East everything is working. So they’ve got to think it through. The battle is with the head, not the fists, as I said in the 1920s.

“You don’t yet have a fully formed solution so put on your thinking cap. They need to sit down and envisage the world as it should be when the crisis abates: to think gigantic and ambitious thoughts about a world system that can contain and encompass fiat currencies and global finance. It’s doable but it will take time.”

Q: So who would you say are the great Keynesians of today?

A: “Hu Jin-Tao, for definite. Lula, obviously. Mervyn King – unlikely contender but a superb practitioner of undeclared currency manipulation and monetary stimulus – and Goh Chok Tong of course…”

Q: So the future’s in state capitalism and the emerging markets?

A: “If I were not merely an ethereal presence, but able to invest actual pounds and pence, that is where my money would be going,” he taps his nose, “however…”

More here. [-]


Lithium-Ion Battery Prices: Moore’s Law After All?

From Paul Sankey’s much-cited update report on his “end of the oil age” thesis, the following graph is his take on a speedy decline in lithium-ion battery prices in the coming decade. Sankey argues that this will make all-electric cars are competitive sans subsidy by … 2020.

Two points:

  1. 2020 is still a ways off.
  2. This is a mix of manufacturing efficiencies and technology improvements, not a newfound Moore’s Law of batteries.

It’s still interesting — assuming climbing lithium prices don’t blow the whole argument up.


Peak Internet? Back Off, Science Boy

It’s not quite 2011, so my ban on “peak XXXX” hasn’t gone into effect yet. That means I can point people toward this New Scientist article on “peak Internet”. Its claims are superficially plausible — law of large numbers, etc. — but it does conflate people connecting to the interwebs versus devices connecting, with the latter likely to spike higher in the coming years, making “peak” a squishy notion. So, for now anyway, back off Science Boy.

Scenes from The Suburbs

Have watched this too many times already, but in case others haven’t seen it, Spike Jonze’s unsettling and darkness-suffused video for Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”:

Outlier Scenarios: 7% U.S.GDP Growth in 2011?

As nuts as it might seem, 7% U.S. GDP is apparently Goldman’s outlier GDP growth scenario for 2011.

But it is also possible that consumption could swing unexpectedly in the [positive] direction. “The biggest risk is that, once the private sector deleveraging comes to an end, you’re going to see a very large boost to demand,” says Mr Hatzius.

If the US populace really does begin to catch up on consumption after three miserable years then growth could hit 6 per cent or even 7 per cent in 2011. The chances of that remain modest – but if it happens then the boost to confidence may feed on itself and the nastiest US downturn in decades might truly start to feel as if it is over.

More here.