Innovative Entrepreneurs Bring Prosperity to the Poor

(p. A17) As the economist Joseph Schumpeter observed: “The capitalist process, not by coincidence but by virtue of its mechanism, progressively raises the standard of life of the masses.”

For Schumpeter, entrepreneurs and the companies they found are the engines of wealth creation. This is what distinguishes capitalism from all previous forms of economic society and turned Marxism on its head, the parasitic capitalist becoming the innovative and beneficent entrepreneur. Since the 2008 crash, Schumpeter’s lessons have been overshadowed by Keynesian macroeconomics, in which the entrepreneurial function is reduced to a ghostly presence. As Schumpeter commented on John Maynard Keynes’s “General Theory” (1936), change–the outstanding feature of capitalism–was, in Keynes’s analysis, “assumed away.”

Progressive, ameliorative change is what poor people in poor countries need most of all. In “The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty,” Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen and co-authors Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillon return the entrepreneur and innovation to the center stage of economic development and prosperity. The authors overturn the current foreign-aid development paradigm of externally imposed, predominantly government funded capital- and institution-building programs and replace it with a model of entrepreneur-led innovation. “It may sound counterintuitive,” the authors write, but “enduring prosperity for many countries will not come from fixing poverty. It will come from investing in innovations that create new markets within these countries.” This is the paradox of the book’s title.

Continue reading “Innovative Entrepreneurs Bring Prosperity to the Poor”

Variability of Wind and Solar Increase Costs of Reliable Energy Sources

(p. A17) President Trump mocked the Democrats’ Green New Deal and its renewable-energy aspirations in a recent speech: “When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric.” But the most destructive consequence of wind and solar power result from periods of oversupply.
Coal and gas generating plants have to be kept on standby and ramped up to cover the shortfall resulting from still air and darkness. That forces them to operate less efficiently and pushes their costs up. During periods of low demand, wind and solar can produce too much electricity, creating gluts and driving wholesale prices negative, meaning grid operators have to pay consumers to burn unwanted energy. That makes nuclear, coal and gas generators unprofitable, necessitating extra subsidies to save the power stations needed to keep the lights on.

For the full commentary, see:
Rupert Darwall. “When There’s Too Much Sun and Wind; The biggest danger of renewable energy is overproduction.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, March 11, 2019): A17.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2019.)

Private Firms Build Costly Complex Cable Infrastructure

(p. B1) Nearly 750,000 miles of cable already connect the continents to support our insatiable demand for communication and entertainment. Companies have typically pooled their resources to collaborate on undersea cable projects, like a freeway for them all to share.
But now Google is going its own way, in a first-of-its-kind project connecting the United States to Chile, home to the company’s largest data center in Latin America.
. . .
(p. B7) Inside the ship, workers spool the cable into cavernous tanks. One person walks the cable swiftly in a circle, as if laying out a massive garden hose, while others lie down to hold it in place to ensure it doesn’t snag or knot. Even with teams working around the clock, it takes about four weeks before the ship is loaded up with enough cable to hit the open sea.
The first trans-Atlantic cable was completed in 1858 to connect the United States and Britain. Queen Victoria commemorated the occasion with a message to President James Buchanan that took 16 hours to transmit.
While new wireless and satellite technologies have been invented in the decades since, cables remain the fastest, most efficient and least expensive way to send information across the ocean. And it is still far from cheap: Google would not disclose the cost of its project to Chile, but experts say subsea projects cost up to $350 million, depending on the length of the cable.
. . .
Poor weather is inevitable. Swells reach up to 20 feet, occasionally requiring the ship captain to order the subsea cable to be cut so the ship can seek safer waters. When conditions improve, the ship returns, retrieving the cut cable that has been left attached to a floating buoy, then splicing it back together before continuing.
Work on board is slow and plodding. The ship, at sea for months at a time, moves about six miles per hour, as the cables are pulled from the giant basins out through openings at the back of the ship.
. . .
“It really is management of a very complex multidimensional chess board,” said Ms. Stowell of Google, who wears an undersea cable as a necklace.
Demand for undersea cables will only grow as more businesses rely on cloud computing services. And technology expected around the corner, like more powerful artificial intelligence and driverless cars, will all require fast data speeds as well. Areas that didn’t have internet are now getting access, with the United Nations reporting that for the first time more than half the global population is now online.
“This is a huge part of the infrastructure that’s making that happen,” said Debbie Brask, the vice president at SubCom, who is managing the Google project. “All of that data is going in the undersea cables.”

For the full story, see:
ADAM SATARIANO. “Underwater Freeways for Your Puppy Posts.” The New York Times (Tuesday, MARCH 12, 2019): B1 & B6-B7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2019, and has the title “How the Internet Travels Across Oceans.”)

Universal Basic Income Increases Taxes and Does Not Increase Work Among Unemployed

(p. 13) HELSINKI, Finland — A basic income made recipients happier than they were on unemployment benefits, a two-year government experiment in Finland has found. But it did not, as proponents had hoped, make them more likely to work.
. . .
The basic income has been controversial, however, with leaders of the main Finnish political parties keen to streamline the benefits system but wary of offering “money for nothing,” especially ahead of parliamentary elections due in April [2019].
. . .
The higher taxes that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says would be needed to pay for basic income schemes might also be off-putting for voters.
In a review of the Finnish scheme last year, the organization warned that implementing it nationally and cost-neutrally for the state would imply significant income redistribution, especially toward couples from single people, and increase poverty.
The researchers have acknowledged that the Finnish pilot was less than realistic because it did not include any tax clawback once participants found work and reached a certain income level.
Swiss voters rejected a similar scheme in 2016.

For the full story, see:
Reuters. “Experiment Explores Income, Jobs and Happiness.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019): 13.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 9, 2019, and has the title “Finland’s Basic Income Trial Boosts Happiness, but Not Employment.”)

Vernon Smith Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction

Read this book and discover what matters most in economics–ideas and knowledge-how summarized in the word “innovation.” But to fuel innovation resources have to be released from their old incumbent uses and flow into the new. That is the destruction that creates.

Vernon Smith, Nobel Prize in Economics, received in 2002.

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

How the Poor, Hungry, and Determined Can Persevere and Succeed

(p. B1) “I believe tech can be a road to the middle class for large numbers of Americans,” said Mr. Hsu, a co-founder and the chief executive of Pursuit, a nonprofit social venture. “But there’s real skepticism about that among people who see the winners in technology as a small network of the privileged.”
He is using Pursuit, housed in a former zipper factory in Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood where Amazon had intended to locate, to try to prove those skeptics wrong.
The venture is a small yet innovative player in a growing number of nonprofits developing new models for work force training.
(p. B5) Their overarching goal is upward mobility for low-income Americans and the two-thirds of workers without four-year college degrees.
Pursuit, according to its donors and to work force experts, stands out for the size of the income gains of its graduates and its experiment with a kind of bond to finance growth. It is a program worth watching, they say, and beginning to attract attention nationally.
About 85 percent of Pursuit’s 300 graduates have landed well-paying tech jobs within a year. They work as software engineers both at major corporations like JPMorgan Chase and at start-ups like Oscar Health. They earn $85,000 a year on average, compared with $18,000 before the Pursuit program.
. . .
Max Rosado heard about the Pursuit program from a friend. Intrigued, he filled out an online form, and made it through a written test in math and logic, interviews and a weekend workshop with simple coding drills, joining the 10-month program in 2016.
At Pursuit, Mr. Rosado, who has a two-year community college degree in liberal arts, got an intensive immersion in programming languages, concepts and projects. But the curriculum also covered so-called soft skills like making presentations, working in teams and writing résumés and thank-you notes.
Today, Mr. Rosado, 30, is an engineer at GrubHub, the meal delivery service, working on its smartphone software. In his previous jobs, in back office and sales associate roles in stores, he earned $15,000 to $20,000 a year. He makes nearly $100,000 now, he said.
. . .
Pursuit screens applicants for many characteristics, but those mainly fall into two categories: problem-solving skills and perseverance. The program, Mr. Hsu said, looks for people who are hungry and determined, willing to put in the time and effort to become a software developer, but also able to adapt to new and unfamiliar environments.

For the full story, see:
Lohr, Steve. “A Way Out of Poverty and Into an $85,000 Tech Job.” The New York Times (Saturday, March 16, 2019): B1 & B5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 15, 2019, and has the title “Income Before: $18,000. After: $85,000. Does Tiny Nonprofit Hold a Key to the Middle Class?”)

Firms Moving from Silicon Valley to Texas

(p. A3) SAN FRANCISCO–California’s economy is adding jobs far faster than affordable places to live, forcing some employers to leave the state as they expand.
. . .
Karen Holian, 44 years old, joined the startup Lottery.com when it was founded here in 2015. Though a San Francisco native, Ms. Holian, a marketing manager, was excited when the company last year moved to Austin, Texas, because she could finally plan to buy a home.
“In San Francisco, that never seemed like a possibility,” she said. A mother of two, she is for now renting a four-bedroom house for $2,000 a month, a third of what a comparable place costs in her hometown.
Lottery.com CEO Tony DiMatteo said that as the company grew, he found it difficult to persuade current and prospective employees to move to the area. “We can give them a much better bang for their buck if we’re not in San Francisco,” he said.
. . .
Carl Guardino, chief executive of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said CEOs tell him “that any new job that doesn’t absolutely need to be in the Bay Area is located outside of the Bay Area.” The public-policy advisory group counts some 360 companies, including Silicon Valley’s largest, as members.
. . .
Texas has drawn more companies leaving California over the past decade than any other state, according to research by Joe Vranich, a relocation consultant who encourages businesses to leave California.
Housing costs are “a major selling point for us,” said Mike Rosa, senior vice president of economic development for the Dallas Regional Chamber. “It’s a factor in just about every [relocation] search we see.”

For the full story, see:
Nour Malas. “Firms Quit California Over Costs.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 20, 2019): A3.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added; bracketed word, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 19, 2019, and has the title “California Has the Jobs but Not Enough Homes.” The sentence quoting Karen Holian appeared in the online, but not the print, version.)