“Capitalism has Not Corrupted Our Souls; It has Improved Them”


Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226556638/sr=8-1/qid=1153708722/ref=pd_bbs_1/104-2835260-2878345?ie=UTF8

 

Deirdre McCloskey’s unfashionable,  contrarian and compelling manifesto in favor of what she calls the bourgeois virtues starts with an uncompromising "apology" for how private property, free labor, free trade and prudent calculation are the fount of most ethical good in modern society, not a moral threat to it.

The intelligentsia — in thrall for centuries to religion and now to socialism — has for a long time snobbishly despised the bourgeoisie that practices capitalism.  Ms. McCloskey calls such people the "clerisy."  Their values and virtues, like those of the proletariat and the aristocracy, are widely admired.  But almost nobody admires the bourgeoisie.  Yet it was for anti-bourgeois ideologies, she notes, that "the twentieth century paid the butcher’s bill."

As Ms. McCloskey explains:  "Anyone who after the twentieth century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing nineteenth-century proposals for government action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention."  By contrast, she argues, "capitalism has not corrupted our souls.  It has improved them."

 

For the full review, see:

MATT RIDLEY.  "Capitalism Without Tears; Fashionable thinkers sneer at the free market and its practitioners, but economic liberty may actually be a force for personal goodness."   The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., July 22, 2006):  P10.

(Note:  in the passage above, I took the liberty of correcting a misspelling of "Deirdre.") 

 

The full citation to the McCloskey book is: 

McCloskey, Deirdre N.  The Bourgeois Virtues:  Ethics for an Age of Commerce. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2006.  (616 pages, $32.50)


Beware of a Snapshot of a Moment in Time

  Source of photo:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/27/world/middleeast/27mideast.html?pagewanted=2

 

The photo of Condi Rice touching her forehead ran on the top of the front page of the New York Times on Thurs., July 27, 2006.  It ran big:  filling over a third of the length of the paper, and over half of the width.  It ran right next to the main headline of the front page:  "CEASE-FIRE TALKS STALL AS FIGHTING RAGES ON 2 FRONTS."

It appears that Condi Rice is discouraged, or has a headache, or is overcome. 

But a great CNN report by Jeanne Moos run on Sat., July 29, shows a dynamic version of the minute during which this snapshot was taken.  It shows that this photo is a split-second moment of Condi Rice brushing hair off of her forehead.

Our usual view of competition is to look at how many competitors there are at a moment in time.  We look at a snapshot.  But to really judge competition we must take Schumpeter seriously and look dynamically at whether there is the possibility of leapfrog competition over time.

In an earlier blog entry, I noted that Ronald Reagan resisted sitting for still photos because he thought that still photos could easily be manipulated to mislead.  Ronald Reagan was right.

 

(Jeanne Moos’s report was entitled "Hairy Talks or Hair in Eyes?" on the CNN web site.  I believe it first ran on 7/28/06, though I saw it replayed in the afternoon of 7/29/06.)

 

Current Workplace Revolution Benefits Labor

(p. 8)  Would you change places with your grandfather?  Would you want to work 11 brutal hours a day… in yesterday’s Bethlehem Steel mill, a Ford Motor Company factory circa 1935?  Not me.  Nor would I change places with my father … who labored in a whilte-collar sweatshop, at the same company, in the same building, for 41 l-o-n-g years.

A workplace revolution is under way.  No sensible person expects to spend a lifetime in a single corporation anymore.  Some call this shift the "end of corporate responsibility."  I call it … the Beginning of Renewed Individual Responsibility.  An extraordinary opportunity to take charge of our own lives.

 

Source of passage:

Peters, Tom.  Re-imagine!  London: DK, 2003.

(Note:  all of the ellipses in the above passage, appear in the original.)

Medication Errors Harm 1.5 Million a Year


The report described below documents an incredibly high rate of errors in the administration of medications.  Notice that one of the recommended practices is for patients to bring with them to each doctor’s visit, a complete listing of all of their medicines.  It reminded me of accompanying my mother and father while my father was being treated for melanoma at one of the top cancer hospitals in the country.  We were shuttled from doctor to doctor.  And at each stop we were asked to give a full account of the medicines that Dad was taking.  It gradually sunk in to me that the doctors at this prestigious hospital did not even know which drugs Dad had been prescribed, from within the hospital itself

The Institute of Medicine has identified a problem, but has not identified a cure.  If we really want to reduce medical errors, the key is not just to push isolated practices.  The key is to change the system so that medical practitioners and institutions are rewarded when they do a better job of reducing errors.  If the system provided the right incentives, then the practitioners themselves would be competing to invent and learn the practices that would be most efficient at improving patient health and well-being.

(p. A12) WASHINGTON, July 20 — Medication errors harm 1.5 million people and kill several thousand each year in the United States, costing the nation at least $3.5 billion annually, the Institute of Medicine concluded in a report released on Thursday.

Drug errors are so widespread that hospital patients should expect to suffer one every day they remain hospitalized, although error rates vary by hospital and most do not lead to injury, the report concluded.

The report, “Preventing Medication Errors,” cited the death of Betsy Lehman, a 39-year-old mother of two and a health reporter for The Boston Globe, as a classic fatal drug mix-up.  Ms. Lehman died in 1993 after a doctor mistakenly gave her four times the appropriate dose of a toxic drug to treat her breast cancer.

Recommendations to correct these problems include systemic changes like electronic prescribing and tips for consumers like advising patients to carry complete listings of their prescriptions to every doctor’s visit, the report said.

. . .

Drug computer-entry systems, which are supposed to ensure that hospital patients get the right drugs at the right dose, are used in just 6 percent of the nation’s hospitals, said Charles B. Inlander, president of the People’s Medical Society, a consumer advocacy group, and an author of the report released Thursday.

Electronic medical records can help ensure that patients do not receive toxic drug combinations.  The 1999 report urged widespread adoption of these systems.  Thursday’s report called for all prescriptions to be written electronically by 2010.

Just 3 percent of hospitals have electronic patient records, said Henri Manasse, chief executive of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.  Few doctors prescribe drugs electronically.

Even simple medication safety recommendations — block printing on hand-written prescription forms — are widely ignored.

. . .

Thursday’s report said that in any given week, four out of five adults in the United States took at least one medication.  A third take at least five different medications.  As the use of medications has soared, so, too have medication errors, Dr. Manasse said.

Effective strategies to prevent such errors have, however, been known for years, Mr. Inlander said.

“This is not rocket science,” Mr. Inlander said.  “It’s simple.  The key is having the will to make these changes in an organized and uniform way.  And it’s not that expensive.”

 

For the full story, see: 

GARDINER HARRIS. "Report Finds a Heavy Toll From Medication Errors." The New York Times  (Fri., July 21, 2006): A12.

For a link to the full "Preventing Medication Errors" report from the Institute of Medicine, see:  http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11623.html#toc


Global Warming Turns Greenland Green

 

GreenlandPotatoFarm.jpg  A potato farm in Greenland has been able to expand as more land is arable due to higher temperatures.  Source of image:  the online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A1)  QAQORTOQ, Greenland — Stefan Magnusson lives at the foot of a giant, melting glacier.  Some think he’s living on the brink of a cataclysm.  He believes he’s on the cusp of creation.

The 49-year-old reindeer rancher says a warming trend in Greenland over the past decade has caused the glacier on his farm to retreat 300 feet, revealing land that hasn’t seen the light of day for hundreds of years, if not more.  Where ice once gripped the earth, he says, his reindeer now graze on wild thyme amid the purple blooms of Niviarsiaq flowers.

The melting glacier near Mr. Magnusson’s home is pouring more water into the river, which he hopes soon to harness for hydroelectricity.

"We are seeing genesis by the edge of the glacier," he says.

Average temperatures in Greenland have risen by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 30 years — more than double the global average, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute.  By the end of the century, the institute projects, temperatures could rise another 14 degrees.

The milder weather is promoting new life on the fringes of this barren, arctic land.  Swans have been spotted recently for the first time, ducks aren’t flying south for the winter anymore and poplar trees have suddenly begun flowering.

. . .

(p. A12)  For Greenlanders, adapting to the effects of climate change is nothing new.  Oxygen isotope samples taken from Greenland’s ice core reveal that temperatures around 1100, during the height of the Norse farming colonies, were similar to those prevailing today.  The higher temperatures were part of a warming trend that lasted until the 14th century.

Near the end of the 14th century, the Norse vanished from Greenland.  While researchers don’t know for sure, many believe an increasingly cold climate made eking out a living here all but impossible as grasses and trees declined.  Farming faded away from the 17th century to the 19th century, a period known as the Little Ice Age.  Farming didn’t return to Greenland in force until the early 1900s, when Inuit farmers began re-learning Norse techniques and applying them to modern conditions.  A sharp cooling trend from around 1950 to 1975 stalled the agricultural expansion.

Since then, temperatures have mainly been on the upswing.  Ole Egede is taking advantage of the warmer climate.  He and his brother live on Greenland’s southwest coast on an isolated farm at the head of an inlet that can be reached only by helicopter or by a boat that can navigate around the icebergs that often choke the blue fiord.  Mr. Egede started Greenland’s first commercial potato farm in 1999 and it remains the largest potato farm in Greenland.

Improved farming technology and methods, such as new cold-resistant seed varieties and cultivation techniques — are responsible for some of Greenland’s expanding agriculture.  But experts credit the more-favorable climate with much of the new growth.  "There’s no doubt he’s now growing potatoes because of better conditions," Mr. Hoegh, the farming consultant, says of Mr. Egede.

 

For the full story, see: 

LAUREN ETTER.  "Feeling the Heat For Icy Greenland, Global Warming Has a Bright Side As Temperatures Inch Up, Melting Glaciers Bring New Life to a Frozen Land But Could Polar Bears Vanish?"   The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., July 18, 2006):  A1 & A12.

 

 GreenlandMap.gifSource of map:  the online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

 

Intense Competition in Chip Duopoly

IntelAMDWar.gif

Phil Hester, apparently a chip hotshot, joined A.M.D. ten months ago as its technology chief, to "help lead its battle against Intel."  (Hector Ruis, mentioned below, is the C.E.O. of A.M.D.)

Mr. Hester and other A.M.D. executives say that the technology in its laboratories gives them plenty of reason for optimism, and that in some product categories Intel is just catching up to advances A.M.D. pioneered.  Just next month, for example, A.M.D. is expected to introduce improvements to Opteron, and both companies are designing chips to run cooler and consume less energy.

Much like Intel, A.M.D. is working to increase the number of processors on each chip from two to four, and the company says it will introduce new designs for servers and desktop systems that will be released in mid-2007, followed later in the year by a new design for notebooks.  Many analysts are also expecting the company to counter Intel’s pricing moves with price cuts of its own.  At A.M.D.’s annual conference for analysts last month, Mr. Hester also disclosed an unusual plan to let other manufacturers build chips that work closely with its own chips, indicating an openness and flexibility that has not been seen before in the company’s strategy.

With that effort, referred to as Torrenza, A.M.D. is licensing some of its chip specifications to other technology developers so they can add specialized functions, like advanced graphics and math processing.

“We want to open up our technology and unleash a completely new wave of innovation,” Mr. Ruiz told analysts at the conference.

Advanced Micro has picked up about five percentage points of market share over the past year, nearly all of that from Intel, according to Mercury Research.  Today, A.M.D.’s overall share is about 21 percent, to Intel’s 74 percent, and at the analyst meeting Mr. Ruiz said the goal was to have a 30 percent share by 2008.

Mr. Hester said A.M.D.’s road map for new products had not changed much since his arrival.  Mostly he has focused on improving the way employees manage projects and pushing them to develop multiple designs at one time.  He said he also emphasized cooperation inside development teams, rather than having teams compete for attention.

The competitive situation has helped with this.  “Being the underdog creates a culture of cooperation,” Mr. Hester said.

 

For the full story, see: 

LAURIE J. FLYNN.  "Jumping at the Chance to Fire Away in the Chip War."  The New York Times (Weds., July 19, 2006):  C7. 

 

(Note:  the online version of the article has a different title, viz., "A.M.D. Seeks to Gain in Its Rivalry With Intel.")

Tom Peters: Over-the-Top Schumpeterian


Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/078949647X/ref=cm_cr_dp_2_1/104-2835260-2878345?ie=UTF8&customer-reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=283155

 

Tom Peters became famous as the co-author of the business classic In Search of Excellence (1982).  His Re-imagine! is exuberant, optimistic, exaggerated, and stylistically over-the-top.  I find it fun, bracing, entertaining, and sometimes edifying.  If you like the prose of The Cluetrain Manifesto and Gilder’s Telecosm, then you may also like Re-imagine!

Here is an early, very brief passage: 


(p. 9)  My overall vision, in brief:  Business is cool. It’s about Creativity and Invention and Growth and Service.  It’s about Adam Smith’s "hidden hand."  And Nobel laureate Frederick Hayek’s "spontaneous discovery process."  And economist Joseph Schumpeter’s "gales of creative destruction."  At its best, it’s about building things that make life less burdensome than it was in medieval times.  About getting us beyond—far, far, far beyond—the quasi-slavery of the Middle Ages, the indentured servitude of the first 150 years of the Industrial Revolution, and the cubicle slavery of the last three-quarters of a century. 

Yes, business is cool.

(Or at least it can be.)

 

The citation to the book is:

Peters, Tom. Re-Imagine! London: DK, 2003.

(Note:  the italics in the above passage appears that way in the original.)