Do Not Invest in Startups That Sell Dollar Bills for 90 Cents

(p. B12) There is a joke in Silicon Valley that startups can have a booming business if they sell dollar bills for 90 cents–that is, until they run out of dollar bills. A bike-sharing crash in China shows the folly of taking such startups too seriously now that venture capital is drying up.

For the full commentary, see:
Jacky Wong. “Startups in China Face a Cash Crunch.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2018): B12.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 27, 2018, and has the title “Time Is Running Out for Unprofitable Chinese Startups.” The second sentence quoted above, follows the wording of the online, rather than the slightly different print version.)

“The Death of the Dead-End Secretary”

(p. A25) Evelyn Berezin, a computer pioneer who emancipated many a frazzled secretary from the shackles of the typewriter nearly a half-century ago by building and marketing the first computerized word processor, died on Saturday [December 8, 2018] in Manhattan. She was 93.
. . .
In an age when computers were in their infancy and few women were involved in their development, Ms. Berezin (pronounced BEAR-a-zen) not only designed the first true word processor; in 1969, she was also a founder and the president of the Redactron Corporation, a tech start-up on Long Island that was the first company exclusively engaged in manufacturing and selling the revolutionary machines.
To secretaries, who constituted 6 percent of the American work force then, Redactron word processors arrived in an office like a trunk of magic tricks, liberating users from the tyranny of having to retype pages marred by bad keystrokes and the monotony of copying pages for wider distribution. The machines were bulky, slow and noisy, but they could edit, delete, and cut and paste text.
Modern word processors, which appear as programs on computers, long ago simplified the tasks of authors, journalists and other writers — sometimes after misgivings over the risk of surrendering to a future of dystopian technology — but became so efficient in offices that they killed off the need for most of the old-fashioned secretarial skills Ms. Berezin was trying to enhance.
“I’m embarrassed to tell you that I never thought of it — it never entered my mind” that the word processor might endanger women’s jobs, Ms. Berezin said in an interview for this obituary in 2017. Though she was not an ardent feminist, she said, her first ad for the Redactron word processor was placed in Ms. magazine in 1971, hailing “the death of the dead-end secretary.”
. . .
Even in her Redactron heyday, Ms. Berezin was hardly alone in the word processing business. Her chief competitor, International Business Machines, made devices that relied on electronic relays and tapes, not semiconductor chips. I.B.M. soon caught up technologically and swamped the market in the 1970s and ′80s, pursued by a herd of brands like Osborne, Wang, Tandy and Kaypro.
But for a few years after Redactron started shipping its computerized word processors in September 1971, Ms. Berezin was a lioness of the young tech industry, featured in magazine and news articles as an adventurous do-it-herself polymath with the logical mind of an engineer, the curiosity of an inventor and the entrepreneurial skills of a C.E.O.
In a 1972 profile in The New York Times, the business writer Leonard Sloane wrote: “Miss Berezin, a serious, soft-spoken individual, nevertheless talks at times like a systems engineer (which she is), a sales executive (which she is) and a proponent of a sophisticated product (which she is). She is also obviously a woman on the senior level of a field where her sex are still a rarity at any level.”
Early in her career, Ms. Berezin designed numerous single-purpose computer systems. They calculated the firing ranges of big guns, controlled the distribution of magazines, kept accounts for corporations and automated banking transactions. She also claimed credit for the world’s first computerized airline reservations system.
“Why is this woman not famous?” the British writer and entrepreneur Gwyn Headley asked in a 2010 blog post.
“Without Ms. Berezin,” he added enthusiastically, “there would be no Bill Gates, no Steve Jobs, no internet, no word processors, no spreadsheets; nothing that remotely connects business with the 21st century.”
Credit for her early achievements does appear to have faded with time, perhaps under the obliterating speed of technological change, the greater notice paid to her corporate competitors, and the tendency of the tech world to diminish the accomplishments of women.

For the full obituary, see:
Robert D. McFadden. “Evelyn Berezin, Computer Pioneer Who Built First Word Processor, Dies at 93.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018): A25.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Dec. 10, 2018, an has the title “Evelyn Berezin, 93, Dies; Built the First True Word Processor.”)

The book mentioned as a source above, is:
Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2016.

Distorted Incentives Can Lead to Short-Termism or to Long-Termism

(p. B1) Capitalism is often accused of fostering short-termism, making companies chase quarterly profit numbers to satisfy shareholders.
A better criticism is that the targets corporate executives aim for are grossly simplified, thanks to the twisting line of responsibility from corner office to fund manager to pension fund and ultimately to the savers who own the company.
These distorted incentives sometimes lead to short-termism; at other times, shareholder enthusiasm pushes executives to focus far too much on the long run, as in the wild mining boom that turned to bust in 2011, or the dot-com bubble.

For the full commentary, see:
James Mackintosh. “STREETWISE; Fixing Capitalism, One Disclosure at a Time.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018): B1 & B12.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 27, 2018.)

James Dyson Pursued a Slow Hunch by Trial and Error

(p. 6) Mr. Dyson discovered his passion for design at an early age, and eventually began work on his signature product, the bagless vacuum cleaner. It took several years, but he brought the product to market, founding Dyson Ltd. in 1991. Soon, Dyson was expanding internationally and developing new products, including washing machines, fans, heaters, air purifiers, hand dryers and hair dryers. It is now at work on an electric car.
. . .
And what was so different about your vacuums?
I saw the problem, and I saw a possible solution, which was the huge cyclones outside cement plants and timber yards that collect dust all day long. So I started building various versions of that technology. As it happens, it didn’t work. I had to spend four or five years coming up with different types of cyclonic separation devices in order to make it work.
It took a lot of empirical work. I had to build the prototypes, one or two a day, which sounds tedious, but actually it was fascinating. I’m still doing it today. It always is a wonderful adventure of excitement and disappointment. Almost everything you do is a failure, until you get the one success that works..
How did you pay for all that research and development before you had a product to sell?
I was borrowing it all from the bank. Going deeper and deeper into debt. By the time I launched the vacuum cleaner, I was two million pounds in debt. I think the bank got in a bit deeper than they intended to, but I had an interesting bank manager. I asked him why he lent me the money, and he said, “I went home to my wife and said, ‘What do you think about vacuum bags and vacuum cleaners?’ And she said, ‘Dreadful, dreadful.'”
. . .
Why are you in favor of Brexit?
I think we should be independent. Europe has become more and more of a unified society where all the laws are made in Brussels. I don’t believe it’s ever been right for Britain.
Britain has always been a globally facing country, with our empire, if I dare mention that, covering half the globe. We have a pioneering and global outlook. There’s no room for us in Europe.
What about the prospect of economic disruption to England
All cars coming into England from America have a 10 percent duty on them, and most of that goes to Brussels. Europe is a protectionist setup designed to keep competitors out. It’s not a good thing to be in. We believe in free trade. And if any bankers are leaving London, it’s got nothing to do with Brexit. It was the right decision for Britain.

For the full interview, see:
David Gelles, interviewer. “‘Follow the Design, Not the Market.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, Dec. 6, 2018): 6.
(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Dec. 5, 2018, and has the title “CORNER OFFICE; James Dyson: ‘The Public Wants to Buy Strange Things’.” The first quoted paragraph, and the bold questions, are by David Gelles. The answers are by James Dyson.)

Low Interest Rates May Have Favored Investment in Solar Energy

(p. A17) For the three years straddling the 2015 Paris conference, carbon-dioxide emissions were more or less flat. Then they resumed their upward trend–up 1.6% in 2017 and a projected 2.7% this year.
. . .
Explaining why the efforts thus far hadn’t bent the curve of rising emissions, the Potsdam Institute’s chief economist, Ottmar Edenhofer, said the fundamental reality was an oversupply of fossil fuels, making it harder for renewables to be cost-competitive with coal. An underappreciated factor, he suggested, is monetary policy. Zero interest rates act as an artificial stimulus to renewable energy, which is much more capital-intensive than gas and coal. To students of Austrian economics, it’s a classic malinvestment: When interest rates are suppressed below the natural rate, too much of the wrong sort of investment leads to a boom, then a bust.
As interest rates rise, renewable energy can’t compete without carbon pricing–economists’ magic bullet to solve global warming. Therein lies the biggest cause of despair at Katowice. Thanks to French President Emmanuel Macron’s carbon-tax folly, politicians of all stripes are likely to treat carbon pricing like the plague.

For the full commentary, see:
Rupert Darwall. “Defeat in the Air at the Climate Conference. Reality has a way of fighting back. Ask Emmanuel Macron..” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018): A17.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 18, 2018.)

Bruce Yandle Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction

In writing Openness to Creative Destruction, Art Diamond has penned a timely and compelling discussion of innovative dynamism, words he chooses to describe the vital wealth-creating features of the US economy. As the book’s title suggests, Diamond, like Joseph Schumpeter before him, using lots of data and strong anecdotes, explains how innovation–the discovery and implementation of new products, services, and processes for providing them–drives prosperity. Dynamism, though not automatic but sometimes constrained by government regulation, relates to how growth, change and search for future equilibriums are features of US markets. A strongly written and deeply documented book, Openness deserves to be read by all who want a better understanding of how the US economy is performing now and how future performance can be improved.

Bruce Yandle, Dean Emeritus, Clemson University College of Business & Behavioral Science and Distinguished Adjunct Fellow, Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Yandle’s advance praise is for:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.

Technologies That Enable Driverless Cars May Also Enable Virtual Experiences That Reduce Desire to Drive

(p. A13) Audi, at the 2013 Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, unveiled a self-driving vehicle, supposedly soon to be available to the public, which would handle highway driving until it didn’t, at which point a passenger would be expected to take over within seconds. Elon Musk seemingly promised every year that a completely capable self-driving car was just a year away. . . .
Toyota, at the same time, was routinely ignored for saying the new technology would compensate for a driver’s errors long before it was ready to accommodate his desire to be doing something else.
. . .
Toyota was right. For the foreseeable future, autonomous features will mainly serve to stop us from screwing up. And yet what’s being cooked up today may prove more transformative in the long run than even the hype-mongers predicted.
Take the machine vision, 3-D mapping and ubiquitous low-latency broadband networks needed to make driverless cars possible. These technologies will also make many trips superfluous. They will bring us not just convincing simulations but improvements: If a rain is falling the day you want to visit Venice, punch in better weather. And why drive to a mall when a virtual store can bring you a selection of items designed to your tastes, which you can even sample virtually?
The signs are already visible. On average, each of us drives less per year than we did in 2004. More Americans work at home, watch Netflix instead of venturing to the movies, and rely on Peapod and Amazon to save them trips to the grocer. For all the blue-sky thinking about how self-driving cars might change vehicle-ownership patterns and urban planning, it’s always assumed people crave to be more mobile. Like many technological forecasts, these visions may be slightly off-kilter from the future that actually unfolds.

For the full commentary, see:
Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. “BUSINESS WORLD; Self-Driving Car Returns to Earth.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2018): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 30, 2018.”)