Fed Regulations Are “a Wild Card” Since “Regulators Have a Lot of Leeway”

(p. 1D) The president of First National of Nebraska, the nation’s largest privately held banking firm, said new federal regulatory and com­pliance efforts stand to cost the company as much as $30 million this year.
“It is a big uncertainty in the banking world,” said Dan O’Neill, speaking Wednesday at the com­pany’s annual meeting in Omaha. “They are not operating off of concrete rules. A lot of it is their interpretation.”
The federal Consumer Fi­nancial Protection Bureau was formed as a result of the federal Dodd-Frank laws passed in 2010 after widespread bank failures and bailouts using taxpayer money.
. . .
The bureau, he said, worries banks because there is not a “clear body of rules” from which the regulator is operating in eval­uating the fairness of a bank’s business practices. He said the agency’s regulators have a lot of leeway in deciding what to do af­-(p. 2D)ter examining a bank; penalties for running afoul include fines.
“So it is a bit of a wild card,” he said.

For the full story, see:
RUSSELL HUBBARD. “ANNUAL MEETING; First National Chief Says Regulatory Costs Mounting.” Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., June 20, 2013): 1D-2D.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

If Feds Stalled Skype Deal, Google Would Have Been “Stuck with a Piece of Shit”

Even just the plausible possibility of a government veto of an acquisition, can stop the acquisition from happening. The feds thereby kill efficiency and innovation enhancing reconfigurations of assets and business units.

(p. 234) . . . , an opportunity arose that Google’s leaders felt compelled to consider: Skype was available. It was a onetime chance to grab hundreds of millions of Internet voice customers, merging them with Google Voice to create an instant powerhouse. Wesley Chan believed that this was a bad move. Skype relied on a technology called peer to peer, which moved information cheaply and quickly through a decentralized network that emerged through the connections of users. But Google didn’t need that system because it had its own efficient infrastruc-(p. 235)ture. In addition, there was a question whether eBay, the owner of Skype, had claim to all the patents to the underlying technology, so it was unclear what rights Google would have as it tried to embellish and improve the peer-to-peer protocols. Finally, before Google could take possession, the U.S. government might stall the deal for months, maybe even two years, before approving it. “We would have paid all this money, but the value would go away and then we’d be stuck with a piece of shit,” says Chan.

Source:
Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Entrepreneurial Spirit Values “Voyaging into the Unknown”

PhelpsEdmundWinner2006NobelPrize2013-10-24.jpg

“Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for economics.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. C7) Edmund Phelps’s “Mass Flourishing” could easily be retitled “Contra-Corporatism,” for at its heart this fine book is an attack on that increasingly common “third way” between capitalism and socialism. Mr. Phelps cogently argues that America’s current economic woes reflect a reduction in the innovative dynamism that generates economic success and personal satisfaction. He places little hope in the Democratic Party, which “voices a new corporatism well beyond Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society,” or in Republicans in the thrall of “traditional values,” who see “the good economy as mercantile capitalism plus social protection and social insurance.” He instead yearns for legislative solons who “could usefully ask of every bill and regulatory directive: How would it impact the dynamism of our economy?”
. . .
The book eloquently discusses the culture of innovation, which can refer to both an entrepreneurial mind-set and the cultural achievements during an age of change. He sees modern capitalism as profoundly humanist, imbued with “a spirit that views the prospect of unanticipated consequences that may come with voyaging into the unknown as a valued part of experience and not a drawback.”
. . .
In . . . [the] new corporatism, the state protects both organized labor and politically connected companies. and the state has acquired a “panoply of new roles,” from regulations “aimed at shielding companies or workforces from competition” to lawsuits that “add to the diversion of income from earners to those receiving compensation or indemnification.” It is as if “every person in a society is a signatory to an implicit contract” in which “no person may be harmed by others without receiving compensation.” But protection against all conceivable harm also means protection against almost all change–and this is the death knell of dynamism and innovation.
. . .
But what is to be done? The author wants governments that are “aware of the importance of the role played by dynamism in a modern-capitalist economy,” and he disparages both current political camps. He has a number of thoughtful ideas about financial-sector reform. He is no libertarian and even proposes a “national bank specializing in extending credit or equity capital to start-up firms”–not my favorite idea.

For the full review, see:
EDWARD GLAESER. “How to Unleash the Economy.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C7.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Book Review: ‘Mass Flourishing’ by Edmund Phelps; Innovative dynamism is the key to economic success and personal satisfaction, a Nobel-winner argues.”)

The book under review is:
Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Mass-FlourishingBK2013-10-24.jpg

Source of book image: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/files/2013/08/Mass-Flourishing-cover.jpg

“SEC Rules Demanded Complexity”

(p. 152) Google had considerable experience with pleasing users, but in the case of the auction, it could not create a simple interface. SEC rules demanded complexity. So the Google auction was a lot more complicated than buying Pokémon cards on eBay. People had to qualify financially as bidders. Bids had to be placed by a brokerage. If you made an error in reg-(p. 153)istering, you could not correct it but had to reregister. All those problems led to a few postponements of the start of the bidding period.
But the deeper problem was the uncertainty of Google’s prospects. As the press accounts accumulated–with reporters informed by Wall Streeters eager to sabotage the process– the perception grew that Google was a company with an unfamiliar business model run by weird people. A typical Wall Street insider analysis was reflected by Forbes.com columnist Scott Reeves, who concluded that Google’s target price, at the time pegged to the range between $ 108 and $ 135 a share, was excessive. “Only those who were dropped on their head at birth [will] plunk down that kind of cash for an IPO,” Reeves wrote.

Source:
Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

SEC Told Google to Delete “Making the World a Better Place” from Document

(p. 150) . . . , the Securities and Exchange Commission was unimpressed by the charms of Page’s “Owner’s Manual.” “Please revise or delete the statements about providing ‘a great service to the world,’ ‘to do things that matter,’ ‘greater positive impact on the world, don’t be evil’ and ‘making the world a better place,'” they wrote. (Google would not revise the letter.) The commission also had a problem with Page’s description of the lawsuit that Overture (by then owned by Yahoo) had filed against Google as “without merit.” Eventually, to resolve this issue before the IPO date, (p. 151) Google would settle the lawsuit by paying Yahoo 2.7 million shares, at an estimated value of between $ 260 and $ 290 million.
That set a contentious tone that ran through the entire process. The SEC cited Google’s irregularities on a frequent basis, whether it was a failure to properly register employee stock options, inadequate reporting of financial results to stakeholders, or the use of only first names of employees in official documents. It acted toward Google like a junior high school vice principal who’d identified an unruly kid as a bad seed, requiring constant detentions.

Source:
Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Nanny Feds Take Revenge on Zucker for Trying to “Save Our Balls”

ZuckerCraigBuckyballsEntrepreneur2013-08-31.jpg

Craig Zucker. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) Mr. Zucker is the former CEO of Maxfield & Oberton, the small company behind Buckyballs, an office toy that became an Internet sensation in 2009 and went on to sell millions of units before it was banned by the feds last year.

A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Mr. Zucker looks the part with tussled black hair, a scraggly beard and hipster jeans. Yet his casual-Friday outfit does little to subdue his air of ambition and hustle.
Nowadays Mr. Zucker spends most of his waking hours fighting off a vindictive U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that has set out to punish him for having challenged its regulatory overreach. The outcome of the battle has ramifications far beyond a magnetic toy designed for bored office workers. It implicates bedrock American notions of consumer choice, personal responsibility and limited liability.
. . .
In August 2009, Maxfield & Oberton demonstrated Buckyballs at the New York Gift Show; 600 stores signed up to sell the product. By 2010, the company had built a distribution network of 1,500 stores, including major retailers like Urban Outfitters and Brookstone. People magazine in 2011 named Buckyballs one of the five hottest trends of the year, and in 2012 it made the cover of Brookstone’s catalog.
Maxfield & Oberton now had 10 employees, 150 sales representatives and a distribution network of 5,000 stores. Sales had reached $10 million a year. “Then,” says Mr. Zucker, “we crashed.”
On July 10, 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission instructed Maxfield & Oberton to file a “corrective-action plan” within two weeks or face an administrative suit related to Buckyballs’ alleged safety defects. Around the same time–and before Maxfield & Oberton had a chance to tell its side of the story–the commission sent letters to some of Maxfield & Oberton’s retail partners, including Brookstone, warning of the “severity of the risk of injury and death possibly posed by” Buckyballs and requesting them to “voluntarily stop selling” the product.
It was an underhanded move, as Maxfield & Oberton and its lawyers saw it. “Very, very quickly those 5,000 retailers became zero,” says Mr. Zucker. The preliminary letters, and others sent after the complaint, made it clear that selling Buckyballs was still considered lawful pending adjudication. “But if you’re a store like Brookstone or Urban Outfitters . . . you’re bullied into it. You don’t want problems.”
. . .
Maxfield & Oberton resolved to take to the public square.On July 27, just two days after the commission filed suit, the company launched a publicity campaign to rally customers and spotlight the commission’s nanny-state excesses. The campaign’s tagline? “Save Our Balls.”
Online ads pointed out how, under the commission’s reasoning, everything from coconuts (“tasty fruit or deadly sky ballistic?”) to stairways (“are they really worth the risk?”) to hot dogs (“delicious but deadly”) could be banned.
. . .
. . . in February [2013] the Buckyballs saga took a chilling turn: The commission filed a motion requesting that Mr. Zucker be held personally liable for the costs of the recall, which it estimated at $57 million, if the product was ultimately determined to be defective.
This was an astounding departure from the principle of limited liability at the heart of U.S. corporate law.
. . .
Given the fact that Buckyballs have now long been off the market, the attempt to go after Mr. Zucker personally raises the question of retaliation for his public campaign against the commission. Mr. Zucker won’t speculate about the commission’s motives. “It’s very selective and very aggressive,” he says.

For the full interview, see:
SOHRAB AHMARI, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Craig Zucker; What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds; Buckyballs was the hottest office game on the market. Then regulators banned it. Now the government wants to ruin the CEO who fought back.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): A11.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date August 30, 2013, and has the title “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Craig Zucker: What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds. Buckyballs was the hottest office game on the market. Then regulators banned it. Now the government wants to ruin the CEO who fought back.”)

“Inflexible Labor Laws” Lead Indian Firms “to Substitute Machines for Unskilled Labor”

(p. A19) . . . , India is failing to make full use of the estimated one million low-skilled workers who enter the job market every month.
Manufacturing requires transparent rules and reliable infrastructure. India is deficient in both. High-profile scandals over the allocation of mobile broadband spectrum, coal and land have undermined confidence in the government. If land cannot be easily acquired and coal supplies easily guaranteed, the private sector will shy away from investing in the power grid. Irregular electricity holds back investments in factories.
India’s panoply of regulations, including inflexible labor laws, discourages companies from expanding. As they grow, large Indian businesses prefer to substitute machines for unskilled labor.

For the full commentary, see:
ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN. “Why India’s Economy Is Stumbling.” The New York Times (Sat., August 31, 2013): A19.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 30, 2013.)