Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Costs of Caution

Some wise words on organizational learning and how a business process develops over time:

The gradual accumulation of checks in an organization is a kind of learning, based on disasters that have happened to it or others like it.

Key point:

Whenever someone in an organization proposes to add a new check, they should have to explain not just the benefit but the cost. No matter how bad a job they did of analyzing it, this meta-check would at least remind everyone there had to be a cost, and send them looking for it.

If I taught an MBA class, you better believe this would be in it.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Egads! Someone is wrong on the Internet..

Another interesting blog post found via stumbleupon. The basic argument is that energy efficiency won't save the environment. It's a good point and backed up by a valid economic argument, although it's missing some points, which leads to a somewhat *ahem* pessimistic conclusion. At least they're acknowledging economics as the correct starting point, albeit sort of in the same way creationists try to use evolution to disprove itself.
My reply:

A good article and worthy of attention, but I think you’re missing a few crucial points about the larger picture.
1. Efficiency is not the same as conservation. Conservation is the setting aside of resources based on the expectation of future value (usually economic value). Efficiency merely reduces the required inputs of an activity, allowing us to do more of what we want with the same amount of resources.
2. There is one very important class of product that does not necessitate the use of (significant) additional energy or resources. It’s called human capital or more commonly, knowledge. It is produced and replicated across all societies and cultures, everywhere that humans live. It has allowed us to escape the natural population cycles of other animals and prevented mass starvation, ever since Malthus earned economics the name of ‘”the dismal science”. I see no indication that people are running out of new scientific ideas. Quite the reverse, actually.3. We will use up a lot of certain resources but actually, that’s OK. When resources become scarce their price rises, creating an incentive to use less and substitute away. The higher the price, the greater the incentive. That’s precisely why the high oil prices of early 2008 jump-started so much activity in renewable energy, alternative transportation and non-fossil fuel versions of plastics etc. Non-energy products can be recycled and new materials can be invented.
In Conclusion: Have we used fossil fuels to bootstrap our economy in an unsustainable way? Yes. Will the environmental impacts cause more damage than we expect? Probably. Can we invent solutions to both of these problems? Absolutely. It won’t be easy, but what’s different about that?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A piece on how consumers are reacting to the recession got me thinking about fiscal stimulus and the Big Picture:

(...)this is a realignment of savings and borrowing to real income growth. The subsequent contraction is already causing a re-allocation of labor and capital and will continue to do so for awhile.
As for fiscal stimulus, I see this primarily as an efficiency/equality tradeoff. Company failures create an immediate and concentrated cost, offset by a long-term and diffuse gain. Allowing too many firms to fail would promote diminishing returns of efficiency at the cost of equality, which can be inefficient in of itself (Ref: income equality vs. GDP growth discussions). Debate and action with regards to this trade-off will be furthermore skewed by political incentives to favor the immediate and tangible outcomes.
Private individuals bear the cost of corporate failure at a rate equal to gap the between x, the speed of at which labor conditions change and y, the speed at which labor can re-allocate.
Government policy with regards to creative destruction in global business cycles (stimulus policy) and to industry-specific trends (trade policy) should strive to reduce this cost in order to maximize long-term growth. Most governments implicitly recognize this imperative, but often choose to try and retard the speed at which labor conditions change, rather than increasing the responsiveness of the workforce.
Conclusion: Fiscal stimulus is useful economically and very useful politically but not necessarily the best way minimize personal costs or promote long-term growth.

Designing Social Web Apps

Every once in awhile Techrunch has (or rather links to) a really interesting piece that lifts them beyond the realm of Start-up Newsfeed & Commentator to Industry Analysis. This is one of those pieces.