Gongol.com Archives: 2012 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Business and Finance The self-repairing economy
An architectural firm in Omaha is experiencing a lot of growth because there's a lot of pent-up demand on the part of growing businesses. An executive at one of the businesses profiled says, "Bids are less because of the competitive climate right now". And that's exactly how the economy recovers: Sellers of goods and services lower their prices as demand falls, opportunistic buyers step in, and things slowly get back to normal. "Stimulus" programs rarely act suitably to manage the need. Likewise, we should be deeply skeptical of "economic-development" incentive packages. The economic war between the states is absurd -- if the companies receiving the incentives (that it seems every state and county and municipality are offering) wouldn't otherwise leave the country, but instead are simply picking and choosing among the states, then, on balance, the taxpayers as a whole are subsidizing a totally unproductive economic activity at their own expense and to the benefit of the private companies that have the connections necessary to get the incentives. It is perfectly rational both for the companies to pursue those incentives (after all, it's often free money), and it is reasonably rational for governments to offer them (because if they don't, some other community will and thus will get the expanded tax base). The system itself is flawed and really requires intervention by the Federal government to stop the madness.

Iowa No more F-16s at the Des Moines International Airport
The Senate has approved a $633 billion defense bill, and it includes a retirement for the F-16 unit at Des Moines. They'll be replaced by a group flying UAVs.

Weather and Disasters About that blizzard the other day...
It was an unusually strong storm to blow through, and the energy in the atmosphere was enough to create thundersnow. And driving in it was no pleasure, either.

Business and Finance Better than branding, and far better than social media
Fast Company takes a brief look at how Patagonia builds itself around the premise of being bigger than just making a profit -- while still making a profit. It's really a subject straight out of the book "Built to Last". Nothing revolutionary, really. Yet it's easily lost in a sea of people who think they're doing the greatest magic in capitalist history by coming up with some way to "monetize social media". ■ Maybe there's something useful to social media, maybe there's not. Maybe there's something wonderful about Patagonia's purpose, maybe there's not. ■ But there are altogether too many people who dismiss the idea that businesses can be purposeful. A whole cadre of onlookers think that government is the only party that can do good, and business can do nothing but act selfishly. They're wrong. It's actually well within the scope of business to be both profitable and purposeful. ■ Suppose, for instance, that we wanted to truly make a dent in unemployment. Government can create lots of big jobs-creation programs, and they may often end up being as useful as hiring ten men to dig a ditch and ten others to fill it back in. But it's also possible for a batch of motivated people to capitalize a business with the sole purpose of employing people. That's not the ordinary purpose of business, but if people wanted to create such a firm, they could. ■ Owners might deliberately sacrifice a portion of their expected profits in the interest of deliberately employing more people than necessary. And if it's a profit-making, private-sector firm dedicated to the purpose of employment, then it's vastly more likely to produce results than haphazard guesswork by the government.

Business and Finance Is this the right message for global development?
The President plans to appoint the co-chief investment officer of Pimco to chair a global development council. Pimco isn't exactly a sunshine-and-lollipops kind of operation. They're the ones who talk about "the new normal", which looks to a future of low returns and high levels of regulation.

Business and Finance Savers have missed out on huge stock gains
Fear and panic have chased people out of the stock market for no sensible reason.

Iowa Culver 2014? Please, no.
The former governor of Iowa is thinking of running again for the office. Had he left behind a stellar record, maybe. But it was far from spectacular. Apparently, a lot of Democrats are pondering a run against Terry Branstad, who most certainly ought to run again. Branstad does what any Republican official should concentrate most upon doing: Competently and efficiently managing the things government must do, while resisting the urge to get government into lots of things people may simply want it to do.

Humor and Good News Sometimes, the best thing to leave behind is a cookie recipe

The United States of America How old will you be in 2050? Ready to share the country with 440 million other people?
America's infrastructure -- not just the "roads and bridges" that President Obama is always talking about, but also the dams and water-treatment plants and airports and harbors and power plants and sewers and levees and locks and other non-sexy things that the public needs every day but doesn't always see -- needs a whole lot of investment. Though infrastructure work certainly can create jobs, that's not why we should care about infrastructure investment. We need to care about it because it is a necessary (though not always sufficient) component of civilization and economic growth. ■ Just as it's a bad idea to look at a house as an speculative investment, it's a bad idea to think of infrastructure improvements as a speculation on jobs. A family should buy a house because they need a place to live and because it's suitable to what they need and can afford, not because they hope it'll appreciate 500% in price so they can sell it. Similarly, we shouldn't throw money at paving roads because we hope it'll create jobs and spur the economy, we should do it when it's the best use of a tax dollar for ensuring that we continue to have what we need to live in a civilized way. Obsessing over "roads and bridges" as a jobs plan may actually distract attention (and funding) from the infrastructure priorities we need most. ■ We most certainly need to spend money on infrastructure improvements. The important thing is to be sure we're spending that money wisely and where it's sensibly needed most, not just where it wins votes. The private sector also accounts for a lot of infrastructure spending -- like the billions that railroads spend on tracks and bridges and rolling stock. They have a huge incentive to spend that money wisely. So should the public sector.

Computers and the Internet The Instagram/Twitter feud may be perfectly-timed for Flickr
Flickr, which belongs to Yahoo, may be poised for a bit of a renaissance after updating some of its social-media features (like its iPhone app. That may be a sign Marissa Mayer (who now runs Yahoo) is acting on a smart strategy to boost some of their individual properties.

News Military police chief of Syria quits
He's gone to Turkey, saying the military there is no longer protecting the people

Computers and the Internet UK school (wisely) adds lessons on defamation and social media to the curriculum
It's too easy for the young and naive to say things that are profoundly stupid to a really big audience

Business and Finance A select few charities for your consideration
It's unfortunate that outsiders can't donate to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They're really setting an extremely high standard for effectiveness and accountability.

Computers and the Internet Even the Zuckerberg family doesn't always get Facebook privacy right

Health Using the Myers-Briggs personality type to anticipate responses to stress

Science and Technology Stop giving "chemicals" a bad name
Lecturer says, "Yes they're obscure, get over it, this is life and we are just a big bag of chemicals"

Computers and the Internet 55% of traffic to British newspaper sites comes from outside the UK
A huge chunk comes from the US

News Plan working through Russian government would stop adoptions by Americans
Should children really be kept from caring homes just because of national pride?