Does Detroit municipality declaring bankruptcy have any relevance for Ireland?

At first reading in today’s FT my take seems to be politicians saying ‘enough is enough’.  It would seem to be a case of saying ‘we cannot pay our bills’ and ‘we have cut our services enough – if not too much’.  Detroit is no longer capable of honouring its bond commitments, paying pensions and paying to run the minimum services required in the municipality.  And it has always been easy in the past to make commitments which have to be met out of future revenue raising activities.  But this seems to have come unstuck.

In Ireland we have maintained that we will pay back all our debt – by taking the pain (the AUSTERITY). Seems like this has left us with over 450,000 out of work, reduced (and failing) social services and, for now, some very generous pension commitments (all of which were contracted in previous times).  And the view from government (support by EU) has been – we must pay our way.  And not surprisingly, EU (Germany in particular) would like us to continue to pay our way.  All against a threat that whatever support/ relief we have obtained might come under pressure were we not to play ball.

Will be interesting to see how Detroit is bailed out in the US.  Obviously while there are some similarities there are many differences.

 

 

 

 

What do we mean or suggest by a German hegemony in 2013?

Just read two articles from the Irish Times: Derek Scally’s piece: Germany would have much to lose from a Eurozone failure., and Dan O’Brien’s Paying German workers more is a win-win fro Europe.

Both pieces are written from a different angle while both recognising the power and influence now exercised by Germany across Europe.

We are well familiar with the argument that bad bank debt which has been socialised in Ireland (and other peripheral countries) should have been partly written off in Germany/ France – as bad lending.  And doubtless Germany would maintain that the purchase of bonds by ECB and the extension of cheap finance to peripheral countries  – in as much as this is part financed by Germany – is i nfact Germany accepting write offs.

Hegemony is not a word I use in every day life.  I note it’s use recently by our President – in his reference to Europe’s hegemonic economic model.  Adn Derek Scally references the concept in the context of Germany’s current influence.  It has been used many times in the past by those critical of US influence across the globe.  Looking to wikipedia, I read: ‘In the praxis of hegemony, imperial dominance is established by means of cultural imperialism, whereby the leader state (hegemon) dictates the internal politics and the societal character of the subordinate states that constitute the hegemonicsphere of influence, either by an internal, sponsored government or by an external, installed government. The imposition of the hegemon’s way of life — an imperial lingua franca and bureaucracies (social, economic, educational, governing) — transforms the concrete imperialism of direct military domination into the abstract power of the status quo, indirect imperial domination.[1]Under hegemony, rebellion (social, political, economic, armed) is eliminated either by co-optation of the rebels or by suppression (police and military), without direct intervention by the hegemon; examples are the latter-stage Spanish and Britishempires, the 19th- and 20th-century reichs of unified Germany (1871–1945),[7] and currently, the United States of America.[8]

Seems only yesterday we were witnessing the unification of Germany and all of the serious social and economic challenges facing Germany at that time.  Interesting to understand what potentially moved Germany from its then status to it current perceived status as a hegemon?  Has it been the currency, the profligate spending of some nations, sustained conservatism in Germany or was it more subtle?  Or is the case overstated?  Clearly in Ireland there is national feeling that our sovereignty, our independence has been undermined, compromised – at least for the short term, hopefully not permanently.   The decision making of local, nationally elected politicians, is much less relevant.  Hence the talk of a European or German hegemony.  And I think President Higgins was questioning  the motivation of some of the hegemonic influences.

It remains to be seen how these current imbalances across Europe will play out.  Time will tell whether Europeans want such a hegemony – or whether, perhaps, the case is overstated.

EU and US continue to have different perspectives on Google

Interesting to read Mr Almunia’s (EU Commissioner responsible for competition) comments re Google and any apparent bias in the results of their search engine – as against the recent findings of the FTC.

Ed Black’s recent piece in Forbes makes the case for the FTC decision.

I suspect this has some way to run.  Competitors clearly unhappy that Google is exploiting its position.  Not unfair for Mr Black or Google to point out that others are not without sin either.  But I guess the real concern is the sheer size, dominance, influence of one player and the standards that must be seen to operate for such a player.

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Young entrepreneurs in Ireland

Having struggled though all the bad news about Greece, the Euro, the economy was great to get to ‘You Don;t have to be well-heeled’ on Page 9 of the business section of today’s Sunday Times.  Great report from Sandra O’Connell. If you are a young entrepreneur then Ireland is a great place.

Tara Haughton was an early starter at 15 – but why not?  Seems to me that the web waits for no one – but the corollary is anyone can start any time.  Have a look at the Rosso Solini Shop on line.

The interview with John Egan of Archipelago is great – with references to Sandbox and http://www.power-of-youth.org/.  The whole idea of ‘Archie Talks’ is great.  I think a lot of this points to the gaps that are there because of our traditional, slow to change, educational systems.  But rather than complain, these initiatives get entrepreneurs and smart people talking and working together.  The World is Flat and these people know it.

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2011 reflections on IT

Another year has whizzed bye.  Maybe it’s something to do with running your own consulting business, having a very active family and having a curious mind.

So what sticks in my mind in terms of technology – looking back on 2011?

What have I really liked?

I have been very happy with my Android phone – Samsung II.  Great phone, easy to use, great camera, easy integration with lots of social networks etc.  Would be lost without a smartphone.

Have found myself leaning much more towards Twitter than Facebook.  Have really found Twitter useful in terms of work related research, staying in contact with other professionals, developing my own profile.  Notwithstanding this Facebook is a daily platform for me – and has lured me into chess.com.  Typically have one or two chess games on the go (48 hours to move).

I have stuck with FourSquare.  Most of my acquaintances run a mile from FourSquare – why would you want to share your location?  I think this type of location based software has a long way to run.

Have enjoyed listening in to TWIT.TV (Leo Laporte’s This Week in Technology).  I tend to download the podcast and listen to it on one of my walks.  He has had some great guests during the year and some great debates – even last week with regard to restrictions on software copying.

Leo Laporte has got me to sign up to tow of his sponsors: www.Audible.Co.UK and Carbonite.  Audible I sue to download books which I listen to when walking, taking public transport, even at home rather than reading the physical book (nice break for the eyes).  I am using Carbonite to back up my data.

I have implemented encryption using TrueCrypt – seems to work very well.  And seems to be gaining in popularity wherever I go.

And EverNote – what a great application.  Increasingly I find myself using Evernote to capture meeting notes.  And it’s available on my Android phone when I need to access a note.

Finally – Google+.  I definitely like it.  And it looks like it has traction.  But then Google has some influence!  And I should say I have had a great year with Google Apps – has not let me down.  The world needs Google and Microsoft competing – at least you can now shop and compare between the two cloud offerings.

What have been my other observations?

Lots of disillusioned IT teams in corporate world.  Lots of them working with reduced budgets, smaller teams but many of the same challenges.  Many of their users have lots more technology available to them at home or on their phones – real challenges in providing stimulating corporate IT environments to end users.

Understanding the economics of the cloud is challenging.  If I have 100 Offce/ Exchange users does it make sense to sign up to Office 365 (or Google Apps)? Do the price points make sense?  Green field site v. established business.  Many people unconvinced about the economics.  Many people committed to cloud approach.  Debate is vigorous.

Regardless, operating from Ireland, with its current economic challenges, web based technologies are being embraced and lots of entrepreneurs emerging with ideas which exploit these technologies.

 

 

 

 

The China challenge

Just watched Yang Lan’s excellent talk on ted.com re ‘The generation that’s making China’.  Echoes much of what Martin Jacques writes about in ‘When China Rules the World‘.

Interesting to think about the challenge of having 200m migrant workers in your country – people who have moved from rural areas to work in cities – where they have less rights, less social welfare support and high accommodation costs.  Within the general population of younger people we also have a disproportionate number of males – because of previous government policy of one child per couple and abortions being used to ensure families had a boy in many instances.

When we read that the US is continuing to push for appreciation of the renminbi (which is ongoing) interesting to think what the impact will be on the 200m migrant workers as the factories for which the work become less competitive.

In the talk Yang Lan gives some feel for the challenges facing this Chinese youth.  The numbers are staggering – even in terms of the examples given re use of social networking or micro-blogging, number of followers for individual movie stars, etc.

 

Forget web 2.0, web 3.0 – what about container ships?

What a contribution this man made!

We move goods all around the world using container ships.  Keith Tantlinger figured all of this out – containers stacked upon each other in cargo holds.

From wikipedia: Working with Malcom McLean, who spearheaded the container ship revolution in the 1950s, Tantlinger developed much of the early technology that made modern container shipping possible. His designs included the corner casting and twist-lock systems found on every shipping container, the spreader bar for automatic securing of containers lifted on and off ships, and the ship-shore container transfer apparatus for the first cellular container ship. In the course of his professional career, Tantlinger was granted 79 United States patents, all related to transportation equipment. Many of his patents related to commercial highway freight trailers and transit buses.

 

Are we dumbing things down?

NY Times piece suggesting there is some level of ‘dumbing down’ going on in some Universities

Reading this piece in the NY Times would not encourage you.  Is this more of the same?  Have students so many distractions, such high expectations, that traditional study no longer gets traction as an idea?  And have the Universities, in recognition of this, dumbed things down?  Or is this simply some distorted thinking of people who are getting ‘long in the tooth’?

We read a great deal now about the importance of collaboration – and that education needs to incorporate plenty of this.  The authors have some interesting comments in this respect – collaboration seems to afford  students the opportunity to skip what they don’t like or what they find difficult.  Perhaps in this we are missing a trick?

 

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‘When Irish Eyes are crying’ – Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair

Michael Lewis reports on the background to Ireland’s current economic mess.

Map of Ireland's population density (people pe...
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For those of us who are real stakeholders in Ireland this article is tough medicine.  This, or something like it, is what our kids are going to read about what we did to our country.  And it’s nothing to be proud of.  Think 20 years from now with many of our kids by then permanently living overseas, with no real expectation of returning home, bringing up their families overseas and coming home intermittently so that the grandparents can see the grandkids, etc.

I’ve read other similar pieces by Michael Lewis in the past  – they are written in a particular style.  The piece includes plenty of fact and sufficient colour to help you remember the juicy bits.

We are currently in the middle of an election – one in which many of the current government have declined to participate.  Having been in power for 13 years, led the country into this disastrous financial mess, many of them, including the Taoiseach, have decided to step out of public office.  Perhaps they are only avoiding a running certainty in the forthcoming election?

Lewis seems to be firmly of the opinion that the government should have limited its guarantees to deposit holders and let the bondholders sink.  This position has been consistently argued for by a a number of established economists and commentators; this position has also been consistently dismissed by the Minister for Finance (Brian Lenihan) and his Government.  And, for now, we would appear to be stuck with a level of debt which we will not be able to service.

This background to the election has the competing parties waffling to no end about what they may or may not do in terms of renegotiating the terms of ‘the bailout’ – or to use the vernacular, ‘de bailout’.  And the various powers in Europe remind us that a deal is a deal, while hinting that there may be some scope for change (perhaps in exchange for harmonisation of tax rules across the EU).

As a country I think the sooner we face up to balancing our books on an annual basis the sooner we can sit down and negotiate with those from whom we have borrowed.  Moving in that direction in the last 18 months has seen huge cuts and serious drop in net take home packages for workers.  There is an argument that we need to tackle unemployment levels of c. 450K rather than continue to cut.  Unfortunately it looks like the resolution of the unemployment issue will have more to do with mass emigration than anything else for the forseeable future.

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Review: Chinamerica: Why the Future of America is China

Interesting assessment of the divergence in industrial and economic development between the US and China in the last 10-15 years.

Name:  Chinamerica: Why the Future of America is China

Author:                Handel Jones

ISBN 978-0-07-174242-9

In many respects this book seemed to me to describe the natural follow on from much of what Tom Friedman had pointed out in his excellent work, The World is Flat.  China’s wealth is growing – and with it, its influence and power.  America’s preeminent position on the world stage is under threat, slipping and, in some fields, gone.

We are familiar with the themes: hard work and ambition, flexible labour force, growing population, currency manipulation, lack of respect of intellectual property rights, powerful, central control, controls over imports, growing foreign currency and gold reserves.  Jones provides interesting commentaries on developments in specific industries: automobile, electronics (including contract manufacturing), steel and software.  He also deals with the assimilation of Hong Kong and forecasts a future assimilation of Taiwan – driven by economic imperatives on both sides.

With respect to the US Jones has a number of concerns, including: non competitiveness, lack of commitment to research, disproportionate influence of the agriculture lobby, slipping educational standards.  Most importantly he sees a lack of strategic (medium and long term) planning in the context of competing with China (and other countries).

Living in Ireland I was particularly struck my Handel’s analysis of the educational backgrounds of top leaders in China (pp142-145).  The group is dominated by people with engineering and science backgrounds.  Perhaps this explains the target of 1,000,000 engineering graduates per annum by 2015.  In Ireland we seem to specialise in having governments dominated by teachers, lawyers and accountants.

The automobile industry is an excellent example of contract between US and China.  The US industry has recently been bailed out.  It is crippled by high costs – including the health benefit costs associated with retired workers.  China is currently ahead of its plan to build 15,000,000 cars and trucks per annum by 2015.

China is not without its challenges – in terms of mass poverty, underdeveloped rural society, rising expectations of its people, creating work for its people, competition from other countries, requirement to improve quality of its products.

Jones has not given up the ghost on America.  But he sees a need for change – and outlines this in his 8 point ‘restructuring plan’ – to include:

  • 5 and 10 year planning
  • National metrics
  • Financial support for building corporations to compete
  • Cuts in social spending
  • Financial incentives to increase exports
  • Tax subsidies to build new industries
  • Efficient manufacturing within US

In conclusion Chinamerica provides a useful comparison between industrial and economic growth in America and China over the last 10-15 years.  Jones provides useful insights into the reasons for the divergence and proposes a number of actions required to be taken in order for America to compete on a level playing field.  Will be very interesting to watch how this plays out in the next 5 -10 years.

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