I started to subscribe to Benedict Evan’s newsletter a couple of months ago, and it never fails to identify an interesting article or two. The most recent issue highlighted this article from Bloomsburg Business News, and reading it prompted two quick thoughts:
- The Chinese are so concerned about global warming and the damage it’s doing that they are taking some pretty drastic steps, including banning all fossil fuel-powered cars by what looks like 2040 (they haven’t said exactly when yet).
BYD Electric Vehicle at a car show in China
- While the American tech market is driven by big personalities and the alpha male culture that we seem to believe drives business success, this company – BYD – dwarfs the production of other electronic vehicle producers.
- They have done this by concentrating less on the whims of a charismatic owner (*cough*, some guy whose first name rhymes with “belon” and whose last name is most often associated with deer, *cough*) and more on what needs to be done.
- They have also made huge government investments in these countries. I’m not going to pretend to understand the way that investment works in a mixed economy like China, but after the uproar about “bailing out” American car companies and I can’t imagine that Americans will suddenly think that having governments invest in private companies is a good idea.
- Doing R and D through universities is something else, but even that is a tough sell for a lot of folks…
Maybe we will figure it out anyway?
Moretti is a Cal Berkeley economist who studies the ways that labor markets develop (and move) across different geographical regions. The New Geography of Jobs is loaded with economic breakdowns of the forces that have caused American cities to either prosper or falter economically.
- Moretti is way smarter than I am, and is very comfortable with the macro-economic analyses that have a lot to say about the ways in which American labor markets move and grow. His holistic overviews make sense, and at a very high level his analysis says a lot about the ways that some communities have continued to attract talent.
- His emphasis on the power of innovation makes sense, especially as currently configured our economy cannot compete with cheaper manufacturing costs. He also makes a point of showing how these sorts of innovation industries (not his phrase, and not a great one) can support a lot of other folks, especially those who are not necessarily innovative themselves.
- He also speaks convincingly about how difficult making the transition for other cities might be – Detroit and Cleveland, for instance, might struggle with developing economies around innovation.
- I struggled throughout this though with the sense that he was making this all sound too easy. That’s not fair – he’s not working with details – but macroeconomic analyses to me often seem so bloodless…
- I am also not sure what to do about rural areas in this configuration. These tend to get relegated to resource extraction/farming areas anyway, and innovation definitely removes jobs.
- Discussions about this sort of look at the future seems especially odd when they do not odd take a larger look at how we pay for things. I struggled trying not to read this discussion through a very specific lens – guaranteed wage, keeping people interested and motivated, and so on…
We recently taught The Circle by Dave Eggers in a dystopia/utopia class, and the class (junior honors students) found it disturbing. I’ve been thinking about the novel a lot…
- Rawls’s good capitalist comes to mind as being particularly apropos (good capitalists who try to treat their employees respectfully always get subsumed by those who don’t care), but I don’t think that Eggers is commenting on capitalism as much as he is critiquing a mindless techno-gadget, consumer-based culture that views its own citizens as participants in a giant lab experiment.
- In that sense the shark is clearly the perfect instrument of our own willingness to test shtuff on ourselves…blind, insanely voracious, and reductive (everything becomes grey ash)…
- And the series of novels in which we decry this culture and then do nothing about it grows…
Just remembered a professor from a rival school of ours who had lunch with us in Castel Gandolfo last year. He has worked hard to put together this university’s study abroad program, but I found him a bit full of himself.
Why this matters, I guess, is that I have been thinking a lot lately about management and leadership. I often exist in this bubble in which I want to believe that leadership comes about from sheer competence, nothing else, and that human mentors and leaders mentor and lead in ways of which I approve – collegially, humbly, rationally, empathetically. I’m getting better at *not* being disappointed when the folks who I think should be leaders and mentors don’t act this way, but I still wonder at the possibilities.
Thus my example above – the guy simply liked to hear himself talk, and didn’t seem much interested in listening. He also wanted to be the most adventurous male in the room, posturing that to me seems sort of ridiculous, and not at all indicative of what actual leadership and mentoring entails.
I’ll have to explore later why I can’t seem to write the word ‘leadership’ without closely following it with ‘mentoring’…