Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - March 25, 2017
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
Quote of the Week
"It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones, and better to spend your time on your own committee work than to be bothering with any bills of your own [...] See that the bills you recommend from your committee are so worded that they will do just what they intend and not a great deal more that is undesirable. Most bills can't stand that kind of test."
- Calvin Coolidge, in a letter to his father
Segment 1: But first...
- Chess, puzzles frustrating because they're flat
- Constrained choices
- Two dimensions of activity
- Prefer open-ended outcomes
- Going into closed-ended outcomes is a recipe for trouble -- that's what really doomed the ACA replacement debate
- Shouldn't go into closed-ended outcome games in state and local government, either
- Utility takeover bills at the state legislature (HF 484 and SF 456)
- To be clear, I'm speaking strictly for myself on this. This is my industry, and this is my personal opinion on the matter. Does not reflect the views of any company or organization with which I'm affiliated.
- Terrible ideas because they seek to wrangle power strictly for political motivations
- The problems faced by utilities won't go away -- including the nitrate issue that started the fight in the first place
- It's a petty, narrow-minded proposal. It's cheap retaliation and should be condemned.
- If this bill goes through, it threatens the school boards, library boards, state licensure boards, and other institutions that manage to insulate themselves (at least somewhat) against pure political pressure so they can focus on delivering results for the public good. They all become vulnerable if the water-utility bill goes through.
- "Local control" can't be an empty slogan
- Utilities perform a distinct role in a community -- possessing a monopoly on essential services
- Making utilities into political hostages introduces major hazards to the well-being of the community
- * * *
- The rhetorical antidote to reckless populism is a tone of confident aspiration. People need something to believe *in*, not just *against*.
Segment 1B: Washington just won't give us a breather
Speaking of the investigation into a relationship between the Trump campaign and an adversarial foreign government (Russia's): "[N]o longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone". That is a non-trivial assertion from a person with the kind of moral authority as the Senator from Arizona. And, given the apologies and backtracking underway as the House Intelligence Committee chair acknowledges that he had his priorities completely wrong, Senator McCain is probably objectively correct.
Were they coordinating the release of material that reflected badly on Hillary Clinton? That seems to be the crux of the matter.
A troubling demonstration of fealty to the Executive Branch
Segment 2: Mind your business
The company isn't quite so sure it'll even be around for much longer. What's really interesting about the Sears saga is that the company came into its own as a major disruptor in its own right. Sears wasn't the first to offer the delivery of direct-to-home merchandise via catalog sales, but it was the first to really escalate it to an art form. (Montgomery Ward predated Sears, and it's been gone since 2000.) It's curious to see the modern incarnation of Sears put under such (potentially deadly) pressure as a retailer today by what are effectively the same forces that launched it in the first place: Direct-to-home sales by nimbler merchants. Ultimately, it's hard to overcome perceptions of a death spiral once that becomes the dominant narrative about a consumer business.
It's probably a bit much to name a baseball guy as the world's greatest leader -- but there's no question that management books ought to be written about Epstein and his approach. There's simply no way that his successes at the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were simply freak events. And it's Fortune's assertion that Epstein has applied lessons about personal character that he learned (from their absence) in Boston to building a World Series championship team in Chicago.
Segment 3A: This week in global destabilization
Per a column from the Atlantic Council: "This sector provides 52 percent of Russia's federal budget and 70 percent of its exports. These prices make or break Russia..."
UK will start the formal process of leaving the EU on March 29th. The full divorce is expected to take two years.
We shouldn't be enthused about missile tests, period. But we really ought to worry about tests in which things don't go as planned -- or perhaps more specifically, those that don't go where planned. On a related note, we should also pay attention to the fact that Sweden is back to practicing defense drills that it hasn't used in two decades. An unstable world without the assurances of the liberal postwar order is a much more dangerous one, and those dangers are expensive.
The subject targeted the Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament
The long, slow decline of shortwave radio is a sad thing. Yes, Internet streams sound better. But shortwave has universal reach, and the Internet doesn't. Radio remains eminently portable in a way that data streams are not, and that's never been more significant than at a time when authoritarian governments have the power to blockade Internet access for the people living under their oppression. Those people deserve the freedom of thought that shortwave radio has historically excelled at providing.
In the Cold War, we opposed Soviet imperialism because it violated the right to self-determination. When ISIS/ISIL enters a place and lays down oppressive rule, then it similarly violates the right to self-determination.
Segment 3B: The week in technology
The case for a national cybersecurity academy, much like the military service academies, to develop people who can defend the nation in the cyber arena but with a grounding in the kinds of principles and broad knowledge they'll need in order to do the job ethically.
To anyone who grew up with floppy disks (or even cassette drives), this kind of progress is remarkable
Segment 4: Have fun
Netflix seems to think the change will help offset the "grade inflation" that applies to programming like documentaries, which people tend to rate more aspirationally than reflectively. But what about those users who are disciplined about their ratings and want to be clear that while some programs are fine, others are wonderful -- and still others, quite terrible? More valuable than going to a binary system (which supposedly makes people more likely to leave ratings) would be a system that permits people to rate television programs by season or episode. Some start strong and then end with a whimper (The West Wing). Others stumble out of the gate but find a real voice later on (Parks and Recreation). Some granularity in ratings might be a good thing.
Segment 5A: Stop the deliberate ignorance
The President rejects study and knowledge because he wants to go with his gut. The problem is this: People who really care about their jobs develop intuition through practice, reflection, study, and self-criticism. Intuition is a different thing from instinct. Animals have instincts. Intuition is the culmination of habit, study, experience, and reflection. The person who relies on instinct alone -- instead of deliberately cultivating intuition -- puts everyone else around him/her in danger. Never trust the instincts of someone who doesn't study new information or reflect on when those instincts went wrong.
Segment 5B: Tin Foil Hat Award
In seeking to prevent "transportation network companies" (Uber and Lyft, mainly) from competing with conventional taxi services, a union leader in Nevada wants state legislators to try imposing restrictions -- like requiring a 10-minute delay between ride request and pickup and placing a ban on surge pricing. It's completely understandable if taxi drivers feel threatened by competition. It's also perfectly reasonable to consider mild regulations in the direct and immediate interest of public health and safety. But artificial restraints on competition like service delays and price ceilings are pure rent-seeking behavior -- that is, the use of political influence to seek income ("rents") that wouldn't be provided in a competitive market.
Segment 6: Curiosity, competence, and humility
Senator Ben Sasse: "We want the rule of law -- not of judges' passions, not of judges' policy preferences [...] When a Supreme Court justice puts on his or her black robe, we don't want them confusing their job for those of the other branches. We want them policing the structure of our government to make sure each branch does its job, and only its job."
Chicago is going to build three such facilities. It's a novel idea, and we should hope that the execution lives up to the lofty ambition. An idea like this seems so good and logical that one could be forgiven for looking for the "catch".
There's goodness, after all, inside most people -- including politicians
Segment 7: Make money
If you don't get the diagnosis right, you risk issuing a deadly prescription. The problem isn't us getting screwed at the trade-negotiation table. It's that technology (mostly) and trade (to a lesser extent) render lots of jobs obsolete or redundant. We can lie to ourselves and pretend like we can stop the shift by barricading ourselves off against trade, but that's just dumb policy that assumes the wrong diagnosis and guarantees the application of really awful prescriptions that will make the situation worse. Ham-handed trade policies that focus on "protecting" primary industries (that is, ones that are very close to the step when raw materials are turned into something basic) can punish American companies that have moved up the value chain. Trade principle #1: If you want to protect anything, focus on intellectual property. Punish theft of trademarks, patents, and trade dress. Trade principle #2: Follow quality-based purchasing guidelines. Americans build great products - use rules-based standards for quality. Trade principle #3: Help workers displaced by trade and/or technology to move up the value chain with flexible, adaptive training programs.
The jobs that have disappeared from the US market aren't likely to "come back" for any reason, especially not since many of them have departed not due to trade but to increased productivity (especially thanks to automation). What we should be seeking to do is create new jobs that are enhanced by automation and trade -- in other words, to adopt an expansive vision of the economy and employment, rather than an isolationist one.
But so does raising the wage marginally, or at least pacing it to inflation. Ultimately, we need to take steps -- either as states or as a nation -- to do a better job of developing people's skills and human capital so that the minimum wage is irrelevant. That is to say, we're much better off as a society if we're churning out people who are worth much more than the minimum wage in the marketplace, so that the minimum wage becomes a non-binding price floor. But until we reach that point, there's not particularly much to lose by pacing the minimum wage along with the rate of inflation, and it's a signal that we are at least conscious of the impact that inflation has on people all across the income spectrum. From a purely political perspective, it's hard to see the harm in a modest increase in the statewide minimum wage to go along with HF 295, which passed the Iowa House and is presently before the Iowa Senate. Even a trivial-looking increase would at least have the benefit of signaling concern for those who earn the minimum wage (which hasn't risen in the state for almost a decade). The local increases in Johnson, Polk, Linn, and other counties are symptom enough of public pressure for some kind of increase.
At the time when a Korean conglomerate is opening its 123-story Lotte World Tower, the company is finding itself in the midst of troubles of geopolitical economy and domestic law enforcement. The Korean economic miracle is a fascinating subject for study, but it's hard to shake the notion that the country is paying today for some of the economic vulnerabilities it accepted as part of the structure of its semi-managed economy. The government's strong hand in seeking to guide development (through favoritism and certain protectionist policies) created a class of businesses that are unusually susceptible to trouble when exposed to the wrong uncertainties.
Accounting rules coming into force in 2019 will make companies report their operating leases as part of their balance sheets. That's going to reveal that a lot of companies have debt (in the form of those leases) that they haven't admitted to before. It's likely to have at least some impact on the "asset-light" business model. Bloomberg data suggests it's going to have a $3 trillion impact on accounting reports.
Firms can get ahead by more than just making flashy new products. Sometimes, big advantages come about because they simply find new ways to do old things or better ways to source their raw materials.
...then you'd better hope you're born in the Upper Midwest. An economic study points to the region as unusually good at launching poor kids into higher income brackets later in life.
Segment 8: Contrary to popular opinion
The Daily Iowan (the student newspaper at the University of Iowa) interviewed Representative Steve King about immigration after his recent odious statements on Twitter. Rep. King's vision of immigration in this interview leans heavily on blocking immigrants if they can't show economic merit. It's vital to bear in mind the fact that first-generation immigrants to the United States have often been very low on the economic ladder -- think, for instance, of poor Irish farmers escaping the potato famine. When a nation welcomes low-socioeconomic-status immigrants, what it's really doing is priming the economy for progress a generation down the road. It's the children of immigrants who are often the real driving force for growth. They're close enough to their parents' experience to have an appreciation for what the country offers them, and they have the motivation to prove themselves in a big way. High-status immigrants will always be sought and welcomed by countries that aren't completely stupid about their borders -- after all, what country wouldn't want to be a premier destination for rocket scientists and brain surgeons? It's the country that sees the value of the second generation -- even the children of unskilled laborers -- that really benefits in the long run.
Clean up after yourself
Hyperbole is going to kill us all
21st Century conservatism
Have a little empathy
The inhumane conditions documented in a police report tell of adult behavior towards children -- including one who died -- that cannot be explained by anyone with a normal sense of decency. Whatever we're doing wrong as a state that kept the children from being able to escape such wretched treatment must be fixed. Urgently.
Yay Capitalism Prize
Capitalist solution of the week
Architecture studio proposes a U-shaped building in New York City
(Video) A funny sketch on how the Heartland is perceived by others
If the subject isn't interested in being identified as "he" or "she", the AP says it's OK to go with "they"