Former French Student Protest Leader: “We’ve Decided that We Can’t Expect Everything from the State”

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Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A16) “The euro was supposed to achieve higher productivity and growth by bringing about a deeper integration between economies,” says Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Centre for European Reform, a London think tank. “Instead, integration is slowing. The lack of flexibility in labor and product markets raises serious questions about the likelihood of the euro delivering on its potential.”

Structural changes are the last great hope in part because euro zone members have few other levers for lifting their economies. Individual members can’t tweak interest rates to encourage lending, because those policies are set by the zone’s central bank. The shared euro means countries don’t have a sovereign currency to devalue, a move that would make exports cheaper and boost receipts abroad.
The remaining prescription, many economists say: chip away at the cherished “social model.” That means limiting pensions and benefits to those who really need them, ensuring the able-bodied are working rather than living off the state, and eliminating business and labor laws that deter entrepreneurship and job creation.
That path suits Carlos Bock. The business-studies graduate from Bavaria spent months navigating Germany’s dense bureaucracy in order to open a computer store and Internet café in 2004. Before he could offer a Web-surfing customer a mug of filter coffee, he said, he had to obtain a license to run a “gastronomic enterprise.” One of its 38 requirements compelled Mr. Bock to attend a course on the hygienic handling of mincemeat.
Mr. Bock closed his store in 2008. Germany’s strict regulations and social protections favor established businesses and workers over young ones, he said. He also struggled against German consumers’ reluctance to spend, a problem economists blame in part on steep payroll taxes that cut into workers’ takehome pay, and on high savings rates among Germans who are worried the country’s pension system is unsustainable.
“If markets were freer, there might be chaos to begin with,” Mr. Bock said. “But over time we’d reach a better economic level.”
Even in France, some erstwhile opponents of reforms are changing their tune. Julie Coudry became a French household name four years ago when she helped organize huge student protests against a law introducing short-term contracts for young workers, a move the government believed would put unemployed youths to work.
With her blonde locks and signature beret, Ms. Coudry gave fiery speeches on television, arguing that young people deserved the cradle-to-grave contracts that older employees enjoy at most French companies. Critics in France and abroad saw the protests as a shocking sign that twentysomethings were among the strongest opponents of efforts to modernize the European economy. The measure was eventually repealed.
Today, the now 31-year-old Ms. Coudry runs a nonprofit organization that encourages French corporations to hire more university graduates. Ms. Coudry, while not repudiating her activism, says she realizes that past job protections are untenable.
“The state has huge debt, 25% of young people are jobless, and so I am part of a new generation that has decided to take matters into our own hands,” she says. “We’ve decided that we can’t expect everything from the state.”

For the full story, see:
MARCUS WALKER And ALESSANDRA GALLONI. “Europe’s Choice: Growth or Safety Net.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 25, 2010): A1 & A16.

Smarter Info Technology Frees Workers from Routine and Creates Jobs

(p. A22) Smarter computing technology, experts say, ought to make the most skilled workers — in science, the arts and business — even more productive and prosperous by freeing them from routine tasks. Their prosperity translates to spending that creates jobs in stores, schools, gyms, construction and elsewhere.

Artificial intelligence, experts say, should also generate new jobs even as it displaces others. The smart machines of the future will need programming, servicing and upgrading — work done, perhaps, by a new class of digital technicians. The intelligent machines, experts add, will be specialists in a field, like the medical assistant project at Microsoft. They must be tailored with specialized software, perhaps igniting a new industry for artificial intelligence applications.
Of course, no one really knows just what artificial intelligence will mean for jobs and the economy, but the technology is marching ahead. “Its potential is far greater than simply substituting technology for human labor,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at the M.I.T Sloan School of Management.

For the full story, see:
STEVE LOHR. “Jobs Created and Displaced.” The New York Times (Fri., June 25, 2010): A22.
(Note: the date of the online version of the article was June 24, 2010.)

Low End Tech Upstart Moves Up-Market to Compete with Incumbents

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Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

The MediaTek example briefly mentioned below, seems a promising fit with Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovators.

(p. B7) TAIPEI–A little-known Taiwanese chip-design company is making waves in the cellphone business, grabbing market share from larger U.S. rivals and helping drive down phone prices for consumers.
. . .
While MediaTek isn’t known for cutting-edge innovation, it has been able to apply the nimble, cost-cutting approach of Taiwan’s contract manufacturers to the business of designing semiconductors, in which engineers use advanced software to lay out the microscopic circuits that make gadgets like cellphones function.
“MediaTek has brought down the cost significantly,” says Jessica Chang, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG, who says mobile-phone makers are increasingly drawn to MediaTek’s products because of their functionality and low cost.

For the full story, see
TING-I TSAI. “Taiwan Chip Firm Shakes Up Cellphone Business.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., APRIL 19, 2010): B7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

On Christensen’s theories, see:
Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

Apple Was Founded Without Clear Path to Profit

(p. 172) Frankly, I couldn’t see how we would earn our money back. I figured we’d have to invest about. $1,000 to get a computer company to print the boards. To get. that money back, we’d have to sell the board for $40 to fifty people. And I didn’t think there were fifty people at Homebrew who’d buy the board. After all, there were only about five hundred members at this point, and most of them were Altair enthusiasts.

But Steve had a good argument. We were in his car and he said–and I can remember him saying this like it was yesterday: “Well, even if we lose our money, we’ll have a company. For once in our lives, we’ll have a company.”
For once in our lives, we’d have a company. That convinced me. And I was excited to think about us like that. To be two best friends starting a company. Wow. I knew right then that I’d do it. How could I not?

Source:
Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.

Porter Airlines Beats Incumbents in Serving High End Customers

DeluceRobertOfPorterAirlines2010-05-20.jpg“Robert Deluce set up Porter Airlines at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport in October 2006.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Clayton Christensen explains why upstart entrepreneurs who move up-market to serve under-served customers, will almost always lose to motivated incumbents.
Apparently Robert Deluce has not read Christensen.

(p. B8) TORONTO–As a teenager, Robert Deluce learned to fly at this city’s small airport just outside the downtown on a Lake Ontario island.
Lately, the 59-year-old airline entrepreneur has been giving his own brand of flying lessons there in a dogfight with larger competitors over a lucrative flying niche: the high-margin business traveler.
n 2005, Mr. Deluce bought the airport’s ramshackle terminal and later kicked out an Air Canada regional partner named Jazz Air. Then, he set up Porter Airlines, which has become a hit with business fliers for its top-notch service and convenient location, a one-minute ferry ride from the downtown waterfront. Earlier this month, closely held Porter opened the first phase of a gleaming, 150,000-square-foot terminal that eventually will house two passenger lounges and 10 aircraft gates.
. . .
The new carrier’s mascot is a raccoon. “He’s mischievous and determined and pretty much always achieves his desired goal,” said Mr. Deluce, chuckling over breakfast at a Toronto hotel. “Air Canada and Jazz probably think he’s over-mischievous.”
. . .
In recent years, Toronto’s waterfront has been revitalized, with high-rise condos and parks replacing grain elevators and industrial warehouses. Air Canada’s partner Jazz and a predecessor, which had been flying to and from the downtown airport for years, reduced service even as the redevelopment was progressing. The airport’s traffic waned to 25,000 fliers in 2005 from 400,000 a year in the late 1980s.
Smelling opportunity, Mr. Deluce pounced, acquiring the old terminal and evicting Jazz. He raised C$126 million in start-up capital and placed a US$500 million order for 20 Canadian-built turboprop aircraft. With 70 seats, they are perfectly sized for the airport’s short, 4,000-foot runway. Porter took wing in October 2006.
His aggressive tactics as CEO have earned him both criticism and grudging respect. Brian Iler, chairman of CommunityAir, a Toronto citizens advocacy group that wants the airport shut because of noise issues and other concerns, gives Mr. Deluce his due. “Everything he has done, he’s managed to turn things his way,” Mr. Iler says. “It’s an amazing run of luck.”
. . .
Porter now flies to four U.S. destinations and seven other cities in Eastern Canada, with an eighth coming this month. It had its first month of profitability in June 2007 and paid out to its employee profit-sharing plan that year and in 2008, Mr. Deluce says. He won’t say whether Porter was profitable in 2009.
The new airline has attracted a following for its downtown location, competitive fares, leather seats with generous legroom and complimentary beer, wine and snacks. Female flight attendants wear retro pillbox hats and peplum jackets.
Christopher Sears, vice president of research for Montreal-based brokerage firm MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier Inc., said he has flown Porter 30 to 40 times between Montreal and Toronto. Once he arrives in Toronto, he grabs a free shuttle to a hotel two blocks from his firm’s Toronto office.
“Porter has built up a lot of goodwill with me,” he says, vowing to stick with the company even if rivals break into the downtown airport.

For the full story, see
SUSAN CAREY. “Tiny Airline Flies Circles Around Its Rivals; Top-Notch Service, Proximity to Downtown Toronto Make Porter a Hit With High-Margin Business Travelers.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., MARCH 17, 2010): B8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the slightly different title “Tiny Airline Flies Circles Around Rivals; Top-Notch Service, Proximity to Downtown Toronto Makes Porter a Hit With High-Margin Business Travelers.”)

On Christensen’s theories, see:
Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

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Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

Life is Too Short to Waste on Hypercomplex Music and Literature

(p. W14) Are certain kinds of modern art too complex for anybody to understand? Fred Lerdahl thinks so, at least as far as his chosen art form is concerned. In 1988 Mr. Lerdahl, who teaches musical composition at Columbia University, published a paper called “Cognitive Constraints on Compositional Systems,” in which he argued that the hypercomplex music of atonal composers like Messrs. Boulez and Carter betrays “a huge gap between compositional system and cognized result.” He distinguishes between pieces of modern music that are “complex” but intelligible and others that are excessively “complicated”–containing too many “non-redundant events per unit [of] time” for the brain to process. “Much contemporary music,” he says, “pursues complicatedness as compensation for a lack of complexity.” (To read his paper online, go to: http://www.bussigel.com/lerdahl/pdf/Cognitive%20Constraints%20on%20Compositional%20Systems.pdf)
. . .
Mr. Lerdahl is on to something, and it is applicable to the other arts, too. Can there be any doubt that “Finnegans Wake” is “complicated” in precisely the same way that Mr. Lerdahl has in mind when he says that a piece of hypercomplex music like Mr. Boulez’s “Le marteau sans maître” suffers from a “lack of redundancy” that “overwhelms the listener’s processing capacities”?
. . .
“You have turned your back on common men, on their elementary needs and their restricted time and intelligence,” H.G. Wells complained to Joyce after reading “Finnegans Wake.” That didn’t faze him. “The demand that I make of my reader,” Joyce said, “is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works.” To which the obvious retort is: Life’s too short.

For the full commentary, see:
TERRY TEACHOUT. “Too Complicated for Words; Are our brains big enough to untangle modern art?.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 26, 2010): W14.
(Note: ellipses added.)

The research discussed above is:
Lerdahl, Fred. “Cognitive Constraints on Compositional Systems.” Contemporary Music Review 6, no. 2 (1992): 97-121.

“Our Own Peaceful Deity Keeping Watch Before the Open Gates of America”

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Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

I believe that a case can be made that Grover Cleveland is an under-appreciated President. (I like his comment on the Statue of Liberty quoted below.)

(p. W9) The cold rains of Oct. 28, 1886, did little to dampen the ardor of the tens of thousands of giddy New Yorkers who crowded onto the southern tip of Manhattan that afternoon to watch the festivities on Bedloe’s Island, a patch of land in New York Harbor. On cue, an enormous veil dropped, and the spectators gazed for the first time at the face of the massive statue that, until then, had been the subject not only of curiosity but also of skepticism.

Whatever doubts Americans might have had about this unsolicited, and rather costly, gift from the French seemed at once to vanish. A “thunderous cacophony of salutes from steamer whistles, brass bands, and booming guns, together with clouds of smoke from the cannonade, engulfed the statue for the next half hour,” Yasmin Sabina Khan writes in “Enlightening the World,” her account of how the Statue of Liberty came to be.
The crowd roared, then various speakers held forth, welcoming the 225-ton, 151-foot-tall Lady Liberty, as she would soon be known. President Grover Cleveland, in his remarks, tried to distinguish this colossus from others of its kind throughout human history. Where the statue-symbols of other nations might depict “a fierce and warlike god, filled with wrath and vengeance,” this one exhibited only “our own peaceful deity keeping watch before the open gates of America.”
President Cleveland’s interpretation of the statue turned out to be but one of many over the years. To Ms. Khan the Statue of Liberty’s symbolic significance is not a complicated matter and never was. The statue celebrates the “friendship” of the people of France and those of the U.S.; it represents “liberty” and “liberty” alone.

For the full review, see:

ALAN PELL CRAWFORD. “BOOKS; Lady Liberty’s Path to America.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 8, 2010): W9.