Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - November 30, 2019
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.
Breaking news to watch
Segment 1: (11 min)
BUT FIRST: The opening essay
Happy Small Business Saturday to one and all!
We are, of course, just past the midway point of what is a four-day weekend for many Americans, and with Black Friday over and Cyber Monday just around the corner, lots of people like to acknowledge the "mom and pop" shops all across America with a nod to patronizing those small businesses today.
As a small-business partner, I appreciate being seen today, even though it's not really our kind of small business that benefits much from holiday shopping.
But as is so often the case with made-up holidays or special proclamations or the like, I wonder how much of this is just lip service.
You know the kind of lip service I'm talking about -- like when people slather on the praise for "family farmers" or "first responders" and talk a great deal about how much those special vocations are appreciated, but then turn around and vote against their interests either with their ballots or their dollars.
Virtue signaling isn't just a problem among lefty hippie types.
The thing is, some businesses are small because their owners like them that way. I think of the guy behind the on-and-off "Hot Doug's" restaurant in Chicago. If you're an artisan or you do something so special that you can't franchise it or expand without losing the thing that makes you special, then you're going to stay small.
Some businesses are small because that's all the market will support (I happen to be in one of those). The modern economy is highly specialized, and specialization can push hard against growth. Even the "big" companies in my particular industry often end up breaking up or splitting apart because there's just too much centrifugal force trying to spin them apart.
Some businesses are small because it would take a lot of unreasonable risk to make them big.
Some businesses are small only because they haven't been discovered by enough customers to become big...yet.
And let's admit an unpleasant truth: Some businesses are small because they're not all that great.
But in the end, what does it matter to the public at large?
If you take a look at metro employment, we only have about 50 employers that aren't counted as "small businesses" by the usual government threshold of 500 employees.
And if you really want to get into the numbers, we have a small handful of really major employers -- according to the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Wells Fargo is our 800-lb. gorilla with 13,500 employees, then it's UnityPoint at about 8,000, Principal and Hy-Vee with about 6,500 apiece, then MercyOne and Nationwide each at about 4,500. It drops off rapidly from there.
Every community comes to its own unique mix of businesses and industries because of its own local circumstances. It doesn't look like it's in the cards for Central Iowa to be the home base for a bunch of Fortune 500 companies. But even when you are, it's no guarantee that things will stay that way forever. Remember how Boeing used to have its headquarters in Seattle, then moved to Chicago back in 2001?
Or in the other direction from us on I-80, take a look at the panic setting in across Omaha over the announcement this week that TD Ameritrade is going to be bought by Schwab.
Omaha and Des Moines have a ton in common, whether we or they want to admit it or not. They're probably going to lose a bunch of attractive jobs at what is now TD Ameritrade headquarters when they become just another satellite of the home office. The same thing happened not all that long ago when they lost ConAgra's headquarters, too. Even when you're the "world headquarters" for a big company, that doesn't mean they're staying around.
I don't want to think about what might happen if we were to lose any of those big employers. But the recent breakup of the plan to merge UnityPoint with Sanford Health out of South Dakota should probably be a reminder for our people to "stress test" their plans for what might happen if we did. It might be hard to shut down an entire system of hospitals and clinics...but it wouldn't be impossible for a lot of other major employers to find excuses to "realign" their resources around some other site.
Which brings us back to Small Business Saturday. We shouldn't care about small businesses for the purpose of virtue-signaling or resolving our guilty consciences. What we should really care about is whether we've got the right set of conditions for new business formation and home-grown expansion.
Every conscientious municipality keeps a close eye on how well it's creating an environment that cultivates new business formation and growth. You never know when one of your major employers (even the homegrown ones) may go away. That doesn't mean you have full control over anything at all, nor should anyone in government expect to have that kind of power. But they can be charged with trying to anticipate, and then paying very close attention to, the consequences of what they do (or don't).
Every firm or organization matters to people -- employees, suppliers, vendors, contractors, customers, even competitors. And whether they're big or small, there's nothing really guaranteed to any of them in the long run. What can be done -- and what probably should be done -- is not to put all the eggs in any one basket, neither with a single dominant employer or industry, nor with even a particular type of business. What really makes sense is to see that a whole lot of seeds are planted in a whole lot of pots, and then to avoid anything that would interfere with them getting enough sunlight and enough rain.
So, do go forth and shop local and spend some money on "Small Business Saturday"; that's great. If you're doing it to soothe a little guilt over how much you're going to spend on Amazon this holiday season, that's between you and your credit card. But I only ask, as one of many in the small-business boat, that we think a little beyond just one retail shopping day, and not just to the decision to sprinkle a little bit of spending on a neighborhood establishment once a year.
The moral of the story: A vibrant economy comes from lots of decisions, public and private, made over and over again. One shopping day a year is a fine way to celebrate, but the decisions we make the other 364 days a year that decide what happens to our community.
Segment 2: (8 min)
Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day
Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day™:— Brian Gongol Show (@briangongolshow) November 30, 2019
Black Friday shopping is...
Segment 3: (14 min)
Cities and the people
A question: How much could the owners have done better to have softened rents to keep occupancy high?
Don't forget, Des Moines residents: The mayoral runoff election is on Tuesday
21st Century conservatism
Remember, if you hear a Presidential candidate advocating a policy you like, you don't have to wait to bring it to reality at a national level. Try pushing your state legislature to do it instead. Starting an idea at the local level is an honorable pillar of the American tradition. The entire population of the United States in 1790 was just shy of 4 million people, or about the size of a mid-sized state today.
My politics come with a pretty strong libertarian streak, but I'm not like a lot of capital-L Libertarian types. It's not a mission or a crusade, and it's not the core of my identity or even just my political identity. It comes from a deep and durable distrust of concentrated power. I like diffusion of power, local control, Federalism, and grassroots feedback not because I care all that much about making a point over them, but because they send signals and information to people who need them.
In politics, as well as in markets, it's not so much the quality of the first round of information going out that matters. It's the feedback that really counts.
I worry quite a lot that we're getting fixated on a short-term debate over our trade relationship with China, rather than looking beyond the dollars and towards the big stuff that history is going to remember us for doing (or not).
In the signals we send to China over Hong Kong, bear in mind the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "We believe individual liberty, rooted in human dignity, is man's greatest treasure. We believe that men, given free expression of their will, prefer freedom and self-dependence to dictatorship and collectivism. From the evidence, it would appear that the Communist leaders also believe this; else why do they attack and attempt to destroy the practice of these concepts?"
Quote of the Week
"Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom." - John Stuart Mill
"States, societies and economies, which allow the distinctive talents of individuals to flourish, themselves also flourish. Those which dwarf, crush, distort, manipulate or ignore them cannot progress." - Margaret Thatcher, wiht a few words from the past about the future of a totalitarian China.
The moral of the story:
Segment 4: (5 min)
How are you feeling?
OUTBREAK UPDATE: Do not eat, sell, or serve romaine lettuce from the Salinas growing region. If you don’t know or can’t tell where the lettuce is from, don’t eat it. 67 ill people reported from 19 states. Find out how to identify this lettuce: https://t.co/sZvP3yMmqV pic.twitter.com/ZjJPLqWXOC— CDC (@CDCgov) November 26, 2019
CDC guidance: How long can you keep leftovers in the fridge?
CDC tips for leftovers: "Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning. Slice or divide big cuts of meat, such as a roast turkey, into small quantities for refrigeration so they will cool quickly. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165°F before serving."
Just remember: When washing your reusable Thanksgiving cookware, don't let the grease go down the drain! It cools and congeals and that leads to clogs...especially in the narrow pipes under your own yard. https://t.co/XcWiCnzFWI— DJ Gongol & Associates, Inc. (@DJGongol) November 27, 2019
The moral of the story:
Segment 5: (11 min)
Technology Three | The week in technology
One humorist on Twitter says it looks like "When you try to learn AutoCAD the night before your project is due." This thing is styled as if the designers were being held hostage inside a Dire Straits music video.
It's hard to remember in an era saturated by 280 characters and TikTok, but we've always needed those consistent voices who show up and tell the story of their community with wit and empathy. We won't stop needing them, either. Not as long as we keep living around each other.
But what about accounts that belonged to people documenting events like the human-rights violations in Syria? This is a non-trivial question. If people used social media as a means of documenting crimes with the specific intent of making them visible for all the world to see, then extraordinary caution ought to be used before taking them down.
Have a little empathy
(Video) A young woman documents her life in Aleppo, from student protester to mother under siege
Segment 6: (8 min)
Stop the deliberate ignorance
[Anecdote about the Thanksgiving family joke about "Big Sexy Hair" products -- and how impossible it would be to tame my cowlick]
"Variety" reports that Gabrielle Union has been pushed out of "America's Got Talent" over some really stupid workplace conditions. Most notably: "Union was subjected to a very specific critique -- that her rotating hair styles were 'too black' for the audience of 'AGT,' a note she received over half a dozen times, according to four sources". Gabrielle Union has every right to make use of whatever hairstyle she feels suits the way her hair naturally grows out of her head. To pester her otherwise is like telling Howie Mandel to stop being bald.
The moral of the story: I don't really care about TV competition shows. But I do care whether we have the mutual respect and decency to realize that not everyone has the same circumstances.
Segment 7: (14 min)
A teaser for an article on election interference efforts published on Axios was published as "Americans are at each other's throats. Politically, socially and culturally, we suspect each other's motives and plain sanity." It's possible to issue warnings about foreign influence work (which is real) and the fragility of our institutions (also real) without amplifying the narrative that we are "at each other's throats". Are we really? Or aren't there about the same number of quacks as ever?
Anyone who complains about how "awful" their experience is on Twitter, for example, could make their experience vastly better by using lists and scrolling through them on Tweetdeck instead. That's how you concentrate goodness.
Clean up after yourself
Better design practices when buildings go up could help make them easier to remove when it's time for them to come down. And so could a better supply chain for re-used materials taken out of buildings that are removed from occupancy. And perhaps every building ought to be built with a demolition bond.
The pattern seems like it should be used on every tow truck, ambulance, fire truck, cop car, and rescue vehicle out there. Maybe even school buses. Data on the subject seems strangely sparse, but it seems hard to believe that visibility isn't enhanced.
Mind your business
There is a reason you will find no equivocation in the Honor Oath at the US Air Force Academy: "We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, (so help me God)."
Segment 8: (5 min)
The market economy should blossom in many ways -- entrepreneurship, proprietor capitalism, publicly-traded firms, S-Corps, partnerships, ESOPs, and co-ops all among the many forms that firms should take.— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) November 26, 2019
But one size simply does not fit all. https://t.co/sknCg9iPMv
The moral of the story:
Unsorted and leftovers:
It's worst in North Dakota: "North Dakota was the furthest behind on gathering among major producers, with just 30% of corn harvested"
A vigorous discussion has been taking place on social media among people debating the merits of really hard preliminary courses in graduate studies of topics like economics. And a perfectly defensible position is that there ought to be more "terminal" master's degree programs in the field. The inversion of this is true as well: There should be good on-ramps to graduate study of econ, too. For a field that devotes entire classes to the study of labor and human capital, there's a strange resistance to nontraditional study.
Some rather dramatic video here.
$70 for a tool to burn down your own home
(Video) A sobering and important documentary. Do make the time to watch it.
Seat pitch is already close to zero-margin as it already is
Friends, that's ear-popping territory.
The big selling point for electric aircraft really isn't environmental friendliness -- at least not to the end buyers. It's the potential to dramatically reduce maintenance costs. Motors have fewer moving parts than engines.
Major crops like corn are incredibly far behind schedule
In saying he's siding with the Russians over their invasion of Ukraine, he ought to feel welcome to self-deport. The flippant nihilism of it all should disgust everyone who isn't already a stark raving loon. He really should wear a scarlet letter for this kind of stupidity, now and for the rest of his days.
Hot (social) topics
By the numbers
Your role in cyberwar
Contrary to popular opinion
Hyperbole is going to kill us all
What's the big idea?
Curiosity, competence, and humility
Tin Foil Hat Award
Yay Capitalism Prize
Capitalist solution of the week
Whenever I see a citation from a book or a paper and it's taken from page 1 or 2, I find it hard to take the rest of the work seriously.— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) November 25, 2019
I know that whatever came from, say, p. 243 isn't necessarily any more valid, but for some reason the deeper citations seem more credible.
Also, the Elf on the Shelf is a snitch, getting your children accustomed to living under constant surveillance (which...what do you expect from the employee of a man who "sees you when you're sleeping").— Crypti-Calli (@Iwillleavenow) November 25, 2019
A healthy resolution for this week (and beyond):— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) November 25, 2019
Watch less cable television "news" and read more Benjamin Franklin.https://t.co/hBNYyFoRXr
Actual conversations from the period:— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) November 27, 2019
"Hand me a floppy, will you?"
"You mean this?"
"No, not a soft floppy. I want a hard floppy."
"You mean a hard disk?"
"No, I want a hard floppy disk."
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SAVE THE DATE for OPERATION CHRISTMAS MEAL!
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