Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 28, 2018
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.
Segment 1: (11 min)
BUT FIRST: The opening essay
I rejected two orders this week.
1. Unreasonable customer who kept changing his request. We made an honest offer. He assumed we were lying somehow. He kept moving the goalposts. We told him what he wanted was impossible. We walked away.
2. 11-page contract from a much bigger company. Terms no reasonable person would ever accept. Unlimited liability. Insurance policies that aren't even for sale. We pay their attorney's fees for any dispute. They can cancel anytime with no questions asked. We're indefinitely bound to their contracts with others, including union contracts.
What happens when the letter of the law takes the place of trust?
It wrecks an economy.
It smothers small businesses -- and even mid-sized ones. Forces a "get big or go home" reckoning.
You might not think this affects you. Good chance you even work for a big company. It's going to cost you anyway.
The unreasonable customer imposes costs that become overhead. That overhead gets passed along to everyone. And the unreasonable customer isn't just unreasonable once. Can be quite certain he's unreasonable with everyone he meets. It costs you.
The outfit trying to strong-arm every supplier into indefensible terms and conditions forces everyone to become an amateur lawyer. Hours spent going over contracts have a real cost (and often a billable one, too, if you have to send it to a real attorney). And then it becomes a contractual arms race -- everyone takes the worst thing that ever happened to them and builds it into the next set of terms and conditions.
Soon enough, all this unproductive overhead takes the place of a lot of useful things we could be doing.
You don't want to live in a world where only the big can survive. That's corporatism. It's never worked well in the past. Just count the survivors of the original Dow Jones Industrial Average. Big, mighty companies can fall. GM went bankrupt (2009). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government. Lehman Brothers went bankrupt (2008).
And they can get abusive, careless, or just plain stupid. Look at what's happening with Facebook and your personal data. Look at the Equifax data breach. Look at banking abuses.
The economy can have a crisis (like in 2008/2009). It can also get sclerotic.
Smallness by itself isn't a virtue. Neither is bigness. Both have merits, both have shortcomings.
Long run, an economy needs a healthy blend of big and small, new and old.
Remember, General Electric was once just Thomas Edison in a workshop.
One thing that doesn't help is if we abandon reasonable behavior, trust, and reputation in favor of pure legalism.
There's always going to be a place for lawyers. But it's bad for us all if we invest all of our faith and expectations in going on the offense via policies instead of building mutual trust wherever we can and acting generally in good faith.
"A lot of places work better when they operate with a high degree of earned trust." - Charlie Munger
Segment 2: (8 min)
iHeartRadio app: Try out the sleep timer. Used it with KING-FM the other night.
Clean up after yourself
Gates Foundation funnels $12 million in seed money to search for universal flu vaccine
Coinciding with the centennial of the Spanish flu pandemic, Bill Gates wants to spark some initiative to fix the problem in a revolutionary way, noting that "Not much is being done about the pandemic risk". In a speech, Gates argues that pandemic response is basically nonexistent, and that "we need better tools, an early detection system, and a global response system."
Got into a debate this past week with an old friend who said "there's no such thing as a good billionaire".
I respectfully disagree.
It's one thing if someone's sitting on a pile of coins, like some Scrooge McDuck.
People like Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos have all gotten rich by building businesses. They aren't hoarding resources; they've created them.
Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day
Red Delicious apples are not delicious.
Segment 3: (14 min)
Using your smart speaker: "TURN ON 1040 WHO on iHeartRadio"
From CIA director to Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo is confirmed for the job of chief diplomat. He immediately left on a business trip to Europe. The role is challenging under a President who is openly hostile to most international cooperation, and it comes after a series of Secretaries of State who had strongly differing takes on what made them effective. Hillary Clinton, for instance, spent a huge amount of time on the road; Colin Powell wrote that he thought the Secretary of State ought to rely more on others to do the legwork. It's a storied role, to be sure: Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe all occupied it.
Unsolicited recommendation: If you're at all interested in history, read Dwight Eisenhower's "Crusade in Europe". It's his memoir of WWII, and did more to round out my understanding of that war than I could have possibly expected. At just under 500 pages, Ike's book is a long read -- but definitely worth it. You'll also come away with a radically freshened perspective on current events like Brexit and this week's visits from Macron and Merkel.
Capitalist solution of the week
Here's a zany idea that might not be zany at all:
The 51st State might just be a city-state somewhere abroad (a place like HK or Singapore) that wants to join the US for defense protection and free trade access.
It only sounds outlandish until one considers that increasing urbanization is going to concentrate more population and economic activity inside cities -- often coastal, and already remote from their surrounding countries.
In the long view of history, there's a good chance we're coming back to a time of fragmented government, which could revive the old free city-state. Some of those might easily decide they want to be part of a giant free-trade and defense pact...like the US Constitution.
Congratulations to the WHO Radio Newsroom, winning three Sevareid Awards for coverage in 2017
Segment 4: (5 min)
Good trees to plant for Arbor Day
The last Friday in April is a pretty good time to think about planting a tree.
How about a bus ticket?
Senator Cory Booker has proposed a plan to "give every American a shot at a day's work and, by introducing real competition into the labor market, raise wages for all workers".
Initially, this takes the form of a proposal to conduct three-year pilot programs in 15 locations to test the effects of a job-guarantee program. He says the jobs "will include a minimum wage phasing in to $15/hour, paid family and sick leave, and health coverage like that enjoyed by Members of Congress."
While I'm all for conducting thoughtful economic experiments, and I'm entirely in favor of treating states and local governments as the "laboratories of democracy", I have a problem with the idea that the Federal government is capable of doing better at assigning jobs than the marketplace.
The cold, hard reality of the 21st Century economy is that economic mobility and geographic mobility are tied together. It doesn't take much more than a glance at a map of county-level population changes to see that Americans are moving -- in large numbers -- toward population centers. In Iowa, it's clear that people are clustering around Des Moines and the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor. Job growth and population growth are going hand-in-hand.
Other places, though, have peaked and are losing population. Some are in rural areas, but others are in urban ones -- prominently including Chicago.
The employment rate varies a lot across the country -- Iowa's close to one extreme, with a 3% unemployment rate (beaten only by Colorado, Nebraska, and New Hampshire). Other states have twice that rate -- going as high as Alaska's 7.9%.
There are often good reasons to try to help people find opportunities where they already live -- especially if there is a healthy, productive community fabric already in place. But we shouldn't expect the Federal government to step in to provide subsidized jobs in some places when another reasonable answer is to encourage people to move to where the jobs are.
Let's be open to debating and considering lots of possibilities that could make economic life better in this country. Sometimes there's a strong reason for the government to act because the public good substantially outweighs the cost -- for instance, to provide subsidies and opportunities for training and adjustment assistance to workers who are displaced by trade or technological change.
But we should be reluctant to put sweeping nanny-state promises into effect, like a big jobs-guarantee program. As hard as it may be to accept, sometimes the best option is to tell people that it's time to move. If Senator Booker really does want to put a jobs guarantee into effect, even on a trial basis, then the public deserves to know why that kind of program deserves priority over the alternatives -- from training programs and targeted redevelopment incentives to mobility vouchers.
Senator Booker is correct in noting that there is an important human dignity in having something useful to do. And it's important to put all of the options on the table and debate them vigorously. But there is also an ever-present danger in assuming that the government should step in to try to resolve things that we don't like just because we don't like them -- not because there is a compelling public interest in doing so, for which the benefits meaningfully outweigh the costs. And what America has right now is a lot of opportunities in different places than the people who might be able to take advantage of them. As the Wall Street Journal recently headlined one story: "Iowa's Employment Problem: Too Many Jobs, Not Enough People".
It may take tough love to say this, but sometimes the best choice isn't to keep a depressed area on subsidized life support; it may be to make sure that people are free to leave.
Segment 5: (11 min)
Hey Twitter, how about a button similar to Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky"? But more along the lines of "Show me someone with a totally different perspective than the accounts I'm already following".
Seems like most of us could use more serendipity and surprise.
By the numbers
Inflation is showing up in raw building materials
That's going to make new housing cost more
Inflation is also showing up in shipping costs, aluminum, and other supplies, which means prices are probably going to rise for a lot of consumer goods
You can have any Ford sedan you want, as long as it's a Mustang or a Focus
The company is phasing out most sedans in favor of building SUVs instead
Mind your business
The Jeff Bezos management rule requires writing, revision, and reading -- and that's probably a very good thing for better thinking
Segment 6: (8 min)
Using your smart speaker: "TURN ON 1040 WHO on iHeartRadio"
The week in technology
Chinese leadership touts technological "self-reliance"
Autarky tries to make a comeback
Google starts rolling out Gmail with AI tools
Users can opt-in for now, though it seems likely everyone will be seeing the updates as their standard Gmail experience within a couple of months. The Washington Post's tech columnist notes some positives about the features being added, but noted some skepticism about how well some of the artificial intelligence can actually work without total access to everything you do -- which is something most people probably aren't ready to hand over to Google yet.
Segment 7: (14 min)
"$16K Every Day" continues this upcoming work week
Have a little empathy
The entertainment legend was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, dating to a 2004 incident
The victims deserve to have control over their stories
Really soul-crushing to discover such terrible things about such a figure of admiration
Another Congressman has just resigned over a harassment case
Sometimes the only thing that protects us is history -- and the idea that you can do a lot of good along the way, but if the truth comes out, you want it to be something worth printing on the front page of the biggest newspaper and broadcast as the top story on radio and TV
Stop the deliberate ignorance
Writers at the opinion site RedState find themselves pink-slipped over their lack of enthusiasm for the President
Yay Capitalism Prize
It's about that time when subscription models are taking over the Internet again
There are strong arguments for them, but also for some kind of bundle
In several of my professional orgs, I have a primary membership (with my "home" chapter) and add-on secondary ones at small marginal rates. I'd love a similar option in publishing. I pay for three newspaper subs, but would tack on more if offered at an add-on price.
There are lots of outlets whose work I read semi-frequently, for which a full subscription is not at all appropriate, but to which I wouldn't mind sending $5 a year for a junior-grade subscription.
I don't need a full subscription to the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, and BusinessWeek, but I value them enough to buy a modest limited subscription (bundled or a la carte). It's the all-or-nothing $100 annual subscription model that busts budgets.
Meanwhile, Google and YouTube are having to reckon with the toxic mold that's corrupted their site.
This is a necessary endeavor -- and one that may very well be crippled from the start. If YouTube and Google take *any* responsibility for *any* of what's posted, it's difficult for them not to be responsible for *all* of it.
Segment 8: (5 min)
Aaron Sorkin says he's been asked by NBC for a "West Wing" revival
It was a great series for much of its run, but can they really continue a story that took a sharp turn in the last season?
It would be interesting if I could get my Amazon Kindle to put out a weekly progress report towards completion of the books I'm reading.
If it were tweet-ready, that could provide a nudge towards reading faster. (Public accountability and all.)
Today's report would say:
- Federalist Papers: 34%
- Suicide of the West: 4%
- The Reckoning: 27%
- Warriors and Citizens: 31%
Unsorted and leftovers:
Quote of the Week
Your role in cyberwar
Contrary to popular opinion
Chinese tourists spent $261 billion on travel in 2016
I can see nothing more economically apropos than Americans importing cheap goods and selling high-priced experiences in return.
If you buy a television, and someone comes back here with the money to take a trip to Disney World, did anyone lose?
Contrary to popular opinion
An extremely good take on Kanye West and President Trump
Damon Young's title condenses it well: "Kanye's politics are what happens when you don't read books"
Hyperbole is going to kill us all
21st Century conservatism
Curiosity, competence, and humility
Tin Foil Hat Award
One year ago
Five years ago
Ten years ago
Calendar events to highlight
- Podcast of this episode (forthcoming)
- Official station page for this episode (forthcoming)