Posts tagged ‘Steve Jobs’

Why Remove Hamilton Instead of Jackson?

Apparently, it is Hamilton that will get the ax on the $10 bill rather than Jackson on the $20 in order to make way for some fresh historical faces.  I am not the biggest Hamilton supporter in the world, and he was never a President, but he had as much to do with the form our Constitution takes today as any man in history.  On the other hand, for whatever points Jackson might make with me by opposing the Bank of the United States, he was really a horrible person.  His attitude about blacks and his treatment of slaves represented the worst of the slave-holding South, his his ruthless role in wiping out of the Cherokee nation is beyond criminal.

To this day, I don't know how the conflict between nomadic Native Americans and European settlers looking to build towns and farms could ever have had a happy ending.  But the one exception to this was the Cherokee, who settled down in communities in Georgia that in most ways mirrored European communities in the rest of the early United States.  If there are any native americans we should have been able to integrate into American society, it was the Cherokee.   And we wiped them out.  Awful.  I would rather the $20 bill be blank than have that genocidal maniac on it.

PS- would love to see someone like Harriet Tubman on the money, or really anyone else whose contribution did not consist merely of exercising power over me.  Hell, put Steve Jobs on there -- the iPad, and the Apple II before it, have improved my happiness more than any politician.

We Still Haven't Figured Out How to Measure Prosperity

The previous chart on beer availability reminds me of an issue I have been thinking about for a while -- that we do no know how to measure prosperity.

GDP growth and unemployment reduction are terrible measures.  Just to give one example, these measures looked fabulous in WWII.  But the average person living in the US had access to almost nothing -- they couldn't buy anything under rationing, they couldn't travel for leisure, etc.   GDP looked great because we were building stuff and then blowing it up, the economic equivilent of digging a hole and filling it in (but worse, because people were dying).  And unemployment looked great because we had drafted everyone and sent them off to get shot.

But median income and net worth numbers fail to measure prosperity as well.  The reason was described in this post here way back in 2007.

The home on the left was owned by Mark Hopkins, railroad millionaire and one of the most powerful men of his age in California.  Hopkins had a mansion with zillions of rooms and servants to cook and clean for him, but he never saw a movie, never listened to music except when it was live, never crossed the country in less than a week.  And while he could afford numerous servants around the house, Hopkins (like his business associates) tended to work 6 and 7 day weeks of 70 hours or more, in part due to the total lack of business productivity tools (telephone, computer, air travel, etc.) we take for granted.  Hopkins likely never read after dark by any light other than a flame.

If Mark Hopkins or any of his family contracted cancer, TB, polio, heart disease, or even appendicitis, they would probably die.  All the rage today is to moan about people's access to health care, but Hopkins had less access to health care than the poorest resident of East St. Louis.  Hopkins died at 64, an old man in an era where the average life span was in the early forties.  He saw at least one of his children die young, as most others of his age did.  In fact, Stanford University owes its founding to the early death (at 15) of the son of Leland Stanford, Hopkin's business partner and neighbor.  The richest men of his age had more than a ten times greater chance of seeing at least one of their kids die young than the poorest person in the US does today.

How do we take into account that even if a person has the same income as someone in 1952, they are effectively wealthier in many ways due to access to medical procedures, travel, entertainment, electronic devices, etc?

Somehow we need to measure consumer capability -- not just how much raw money one has but what can one do with the money?  What is the horizon of possibilities?  Deirdre McCloskey tends to eschew the term capitalism in favor of "market-tested innovation."  I think that is a pretty powerful description of our system.  But if it is, we really are only measuring the impact of productivity and cost-reduction innovations.  How do we measure the wealth impact of consumer-empowerment innovations like iPhones?  Essentially, we don't.  Which, by the way, may be one reason our current crappy metrics say we have growing income inequality.  With our current metrics, Steve Jobs' increase in wealth is noted in the metrics, but the metrics don't show the rest of us getting any wealthier by the fact that we can now have iPhones (or the myriad of competitors the iPhone spawned).  The consumer surplus from iPhones undoubtedly dwarfs the money Jobs made, but it doesn't show up in any wealth calculations.

A few years ago I told a youth group that there were still many things left to discover in the mundane world -- by this I meant the everyday world we encounter and not just at the limits of the universe or at the scale of quarks.  The example I gave at the time is that there is a lot of room for better techniques to tease out causality in complex systems -- e.g. how much did the stimulus really affect the economy or how much does CO2 really affect temperatures.  I would add this question of measuring prosperity as a second item in this category.

Matt Yglesias is Reinventing History

Matt Yglesias and I certainly do read history differently.  He writes recently in a Salon article:

The basic economic foundations of industrial capitalism as we've known them for the past 150 years or so have an activist state at their core. Building political institutions capable of doing these things properly is really difficult, and one of the main things that separates more prosperous places from less prosperous ones is that the more prosperous places have done a better job of building said institutions. There's also the minor matter of creating effective and non-corrupt law enforcement and judicial agencies that can protect people's property rights and enforce contracts.

The point is, it takes an awful lot of politics to get an advanced capitalist economy up and running and generating wealth. A lot of active political decisions need to be made to grow that pie. So why would you want to do all that? Presumably because pie is delicious. But if you build a bunch of political institutions with the intention of creating large quantities of pie, it's obviously important that people actually get their hands on some pie. In other words, you go through the trouble of creating advanced industrial capitalism because that's a good way to create a lot of goods and services. But the creation of goods and services would be pointless unless it served the larger cause of human welfare. Collecting taxes and giving stuff to people is every bit as much a part of advancing that cause as creating the set of institutions that allows for the wealth-creation in the first place.

This is counter-historical crap.  Unfortunately, my real job is taking all my time today so I can only give a few quick responses rather than the thorough beating this deserves

  1. Capitalism is not a "system."  It is an un-system.   It is an order that emerges from individuals exchanging goods and services to their mutual self-interest.  While it requires a rule of law, those rules can be exceedingly simple -- at their core they are "don't deal with other people via force or fraud."  Sure, case law can be complex - what happens to a land deed that has one boundary on a river when the river moves.  But I don't think this is what Matt is thinking of.  
  2. Yglesias is following the typical socialist-progressive line that our modern wealth creating capitalist economy was somehow created by the government.  I am sure this line works with the low information voter, but that does not make it any more true.  Industrial capitalism arose long before the government even acknowledged its existence.  The US economy was generating wealth - for everyone, rich and poor - long before politicians stuck an oar into the economic waters.  Go back even 85 years and you will not see anything in the "political economy" that would be recognizable to a modern progressive.  In other words, the wealth creation came first, and then the politics came second.
  3. Again we see this bizarre progressive notion that wealth creation is this thing apart, like a water well in the desert.  Income distribution in this model is a matter of keeping the piggy rich people from hogging all the water.  But in a free society, the economy and its gains are not separate from people, they are integral to the people.  Gains are not somehow independent variables, but are the results of individual gains by each person in the system.  People operate by mutual self-interest.  When I work for you, I get a paycheck, you get your products made -- we both gain.  Steve Jobs grew wealthy selling iPads, but simultaneously my iPad made me vastly better off.
  4. It is wrong to say that all distributions of wealth are arbitrary.  In a free society, there emerges a natural distribution of wealth based on people's exchange with each other.  And contrary to the progressive mythology, that system was floating all boats, not just the rich ones, long before the government gained the power to redistribute wealth.  Yglesias is right in saying that income distribution in a progressive political economy is arbitrary.  In fact, income in any government-managed economy is distributed arbitrarily to whoever can gain power.  I am always amazed at progressives who somehow have this vision that there will be some group of people with absolute power who wukk make sure there will be a flat and equitable income distribution.  When has that ever happened?  Name even a single socialist country where that has happened.
  5. What political decision has ever been made the grows the pie, except perhaps to keep the government's hands off pie creation?  When "political" decisions are made to grow the pie, what you actually get is bailouts of Goldman Sachs, wealth funneled to connected billionaires like Elon Musk, and Solyndra.  Politics don't create wealth, they are a boat anchor lashed to the wealth creators.  The only thing politicians can do productively is make the boat anchor lighter.

Yeah, That's Me All Right

I was a consultant for McKinsey & Co. for about 5 years in Dallas.  This was NOT me:

Through conversations with several staffers who have endured the McKinsey interviews, we've assembled a portrait of the typical consultant. First, they're quite young! Despite the early perception that they'd look like pasty lawyers wielding big-wheeled suitcases, they're apparently a plucky, charming bunch.

"They're kind of hot," said one source.

Crisp shirts, no jackets, freshly pressed pants"”not unlike the fresh-faced boys who posed for the Harvard fashion shoot in the Styles pages of The Times this past weekend. They jot notes down on legal pads and in marble notebooks.

Though I will say, much to my kids' ever-lasting amusement, McKinsey did send me to a sort of executive charm school when I started managing teams, because I was such a hopeless geek.  Actually, my main problem was that I was adult-ADD, and couldn't sit still in a meeting.  It's fine roaming around the room in hyperactive fashion when its your own company (ala Steve Jobs) but it is not OK when you are a 25-year-old consultant to the CEO of a Fortune 50 company.

My personal style didn't work any better in any of the other companies I worked for.  Aerospace was probably the biggest mis-match.  There is just no place for a hyperactive marketing guy in a business that takes 10 years to close a sale.  So I now run my own company, and there is no one above me to complain.

Further iPod Gen 6 Update

As readers may know, I was initially very disapointed in the new gen 6 iPod classic I test drove at Best Buy, but I was very happy with the version I tested several weeks later at the Apple Store.  I hypothesized that maybe there was an initial software issue that had been patched, but that Best Buy had not gotten its demo models up to date.  An engineer associated with Apple wrote me the following:

Regarding the iPod Classic, that sucker was rushed into production.
The hardware was/is just fine.  However, the firmware was NOT ready for
prime time.  Software resources are very limited at Apple, believe it
or not.  If you remember, Apple introduced 3 new models of iPods in
September (Nano, Touch, Classic), which stretched those resources very
thin.  Too thin.  The Classic firmware is what lagged most.  The
sluggishness you noticed was all software, and nothing more.  In an
ideal world, the Classic's firmware would have been delayed 2-3 weeks.
However, with Steve Jobs, a scheduled introduction is a scheduled
introduction, so out it went.  To Apple's credit, it didn't take long
for a firmware update to correct it.  One thing Apple does VERY well is
to issue timely firmware updates.

You may indeed be right in pointing out that store displays are
usually not properly updated, which is the reason that stores like Best
Buy are bad representatives for Apple.  If possible in the future,
visit an Apple store for your research.  I'm pretty sure they
faithfully do their updates.  Apple stores are quite impressively up to
date on everything.

I have reason to believe that this person knows what she or he is talking about, and this explanation certainly matches the facts as I know them.  The bottom line is that I can now wholeheartedly recommend the new gen 6 classic iPods. I have had mine for a week and love it, and, contrary to my earlier experience, if anything the menu responsiveness is now better than past generations.  By the way, my iPod Touch was amazing on the flight to NY.  I played movies for hours and had plenty of battery life.  I had brought along this battery pack as a backup, but did not need it.

I am always amazed by the stupid mistakes electronics stores make in demoing products.  This iPod mistake at Best Buy is really boneheaded, but even more commonly I see stores making huge mistakes in demoing TVs.  I can't tell you how many times I see TV's either 1) displaying a really low quality source on an expensive TV or 2) not adjusting the TV correctly to the source (e.g. stretching a 4:3 image to fit a widescreen TV so that everything looks bloated).

Postscript:  I visited the Apple store in Midtown Manhattan, at about 5th and 59th  (right by the FAO Schwartz for all you parents out there).  First, it was really cool.  An all glass cube on the plaza where you enter a glass elevator or glass spiral stairs down to the store itself.  Second, the store was an absolute zoo (this was Thanksgiving weekend) with lines just to demo the products.  From the looks of it, Apple will have a very nice Christmas.  Their entire iPod line is awesome, and for the first time in years they have a desktop that I really like at a nice price point.

I Too Want A Big Picture Job

TJIC has a great link to an article about a guy who doesn't want to grub around in the details, but wants a job to help a company see the big picture and move forward.  LOL.  I can't tell you how many times I get a request for that job.  People are always saying they want a job doing "business development**" or "coordination" or "performance reviews."  The common denominator when I ask people to explain to me what these jobs actually would do is that they involve driving around a lot to different recreation sites I run or might run and "checking things out."

I tell people there is no such job.  I tell them I don't have that job, and I own the company.   It's a TV-inspired view of business, like Dynasty or Dallas, where the protagonists run around and do all kinds of stuff that doesn't look like real work.

Yeah, I get to enjoy some perks now and do some cool stuff running my company.  But how did I get here?   Well, the whole story is too boring to tell, but here is one vignette:  In March of 2003 I spent about 6 straight 90-hour weeks trying to get my new company registered on the fly in 12 states and about 30 counties for tax withholding, sales tax, occupancy licenses, unemployment taxes, workers compensation, and even egg licenses just so I could use the assets I just purchased.  This was at the same time I was programming some add-ons to Quickbooks so the finances could be tracked and setting up some of our first web sites.  All while I tried to keep an unfamiliar company running.  And, oh yeah, while I was thinking all that big picture stuff.  Yes, I think about the big picture - and in fact, I have radically reshaped the positioning of this company over the past five years.  But that is what you do in the shower or on the stationary bike.

I don't explain all of this, of course, I just tell people that I don't have a big picture job to offer them.   TJIC, as usual, is a bit more direct:

Or, phrased another way: you're a useless drama queen who - instead of
compromising your principals and taking a job that doesn't match the
job title you want, and then growing the job position around your
abilities - you'd rather stay home and live off your wife's salary.

** The world's one great moment for such jobs was in the late 90's Internet craze, when every soon-to-be-on-FuckedCompany.com startup employed hordes of business development guys who ran around making grand press-release inducing deals that generated absolutely no money.  "Let's trade our proprietary online merchant services framework no one wants to buy for your proprietary online price management algorithm no one wants to buy.  OK, cool."  When I came into the waning stages of several such companies, the first thing I did was blow all these guys away, followed by a quick inventory of our soft and hard assets to see if we actually had anything anyone wanted to, you know, pay money for.  I still think the whole IT world is tainted by the memory of these glory days for produce-nothings.  Everyone wants to be Steve Jobs without having to actually first produce a salable new technology with their own hands in their garage.

What Happened to Prior Art?

I wrote below that I am not an economist, but I am really, really not a patent lawyer.  However, I find this story totally mystifying:

Apple Computer may be forced to pay royalties to Microsoft for every iPod it
sells after it emerged that Bill Gates's software giant beat Steve Jobs' firm in
the race to file a crucial patent on technology used in the popular portable
music players. The total bill could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Although Apple introduced the iPod in November 2001, it did not file a
provisional patent application until July 2002, and a full application was filed
only in October that year.

In the meantime, Microsoft submitted an application in May 2002 to patent
some key elements of music players, including song menu software.

I have already become suspicious that the patent process as applied to software and online concepts (e.g. the Amazon "1-click" purchase patent) is broken.  For me, this is more evidence.  How can a Microsoft patent filed in May 2002 have any validity if it attempts to patent concepts already embodied in a competitive product on the market in 2001?

I once found myself in the middle of one of these patent battles several years ago.  I was on the management team at Mercata, an online shopping site who's bit of uniqueness was that it had three or four day purchase windows for various products, and the price of the product would fall as more people signed up to purchase it.  Kind of a fun, with some interesting viral marketing potential if it had caught on, but patentable?  I mean, doesn't Adam Smith have prior art on this?

Hat tip to Prof. Bainbridge.