IBM, Smart; Forbes…

Nissan smart roads

Nissan smart roads

Infrastructure

IBM’s ‘Smart’ Moves
by Andy Greenberg
Company revamps its infrastructure offerings just as the Senate is expected to approve billions in IT spending.

First came the lofty pronouncements. Now, comes the products–and the timing couldn’t be better.

Since November, IBM Chief Executive Sam Palmisano has been making futurist statements about the need for a “smarter” national infrastructure, using information technology to upgrade the nation’s roads, electric grid and health care system in a bid to increase their efficiency; to make America more internationally competitive and to create thousands of jobs.
_____________

Warning to fellow writers: I sent a query to the Silicon Valley editor at Forbes about a year ago, re: HoloGenomics.

He declined, saying it wasn’t the sort of thing they do very often.

Except he did — on the same subject, a few weeks ago.

I asked the editors at Forbes how they were going to make this right.

Thus far, their worships have not deigned to reply.

I also proposed a piece on why the old media are dying …

Advertisements

Dream on!

Bridge to the Future

Bridge to the Future

I was watching the News Hour a few days ago. Two economists were talking.

One was a thoroughly dismal character (no doubt a lot of fun at parties), who saw only boondoggles coming out of Obama’s economic stimulus package — more bridges to nowhere.

The other was more optimistic, reminding listeners that previous programs had given rise to marvels of modern engineering, such as the Golden Gate Bridge — investments in infrastructure which continue to pay dividends today and which are also totally bitchin’ cool.

That got me to thinking: Given what we can do in the 21st century and given the crying needs before us, isn’t this an excellent opportunity to dream big — to envision a bold, beautiful, sustainable future that we and our posterity can take pride in?

We can do this.

We can make it better.

Hey! Ho! Let’s go!

The social cont(r)act

Money is where the rubber of economic theory meets the road of mundane reality.

At once a tangible thing — be it paper, coins, checks, credit cards — money is also an abstraction, standing in for, representing all those goods and services we value.

Money is emblematic of the social contract — the often tacit arrangement whereby we live, the agreement we enter into as citizens of a nation, as members of a people, and made explicit in another, yet larger, set of abstractions which govern our lives, the law.

We are in the middle of a financial crisis and so these issues come to the fore.

Further urgency arises from the ongong environmental disasters that threaten to undo our civilization as a consequence of global warming.

The entire contract, I submit, is due to be renegotiated.

Like so many others around the world, I am deeply heartened by our recent election of a man who truly understands the magnitude of the problems before us.

As brilliantly capable as he clearly is, however, Obama is just one man and the issues before us are global in scale, requiring all who can to shoulder a share of the burden.

Having recognized the problems facing us, we have taken a crucial first step.

How best to proceed?

We need to put our heads together and pool our vast wealth of personal intelligence, talent, energy and expertise — and so achieve a consensus as to what our next steps must be.

So saying, I am offering a letter from an old friend whose wisdom I have often relied on, as a contribution to a truly planetary dialog already unfolding:

Yes, I am aware of the multiplier effect and I knew the use of statistics would be problematic for some, but I’ve always been an odd duck that likes to juxtapose emotional situations with empirical evidence and, conversely, “hard facts” with emotions.  Regardless, my point is that I don’t think governmental fiscal policy should be used in a surgical manner to fix an immediate problem without considering the whole economy and the long-term first.

If we decide the problem with our economy is basically ‘how do we get people and goods from Point A to Point B,’ why not factor in the whole of the transportation sector?  Wouldn’t a fiscal intervention program that is focused on a target model in (say) 30 years be more appropriate?  Then we can look at the mix of known transportation networks (water, land and air) to begin a more comprehensive project.  Regardless of how we feel about our auto industry (or France, its agricultural) maybe its time for an infusion of $50B into the light rail or steel industries instead.  I believe that Americans also have emotional investments in those areas of manufacturing as well.  Why fix the symptom before we have an opportunity to diagnose the disease?

On another note, I liked Clinton’s plan of somehow relaxing credit to allow more (marginal) families the opportunity to purchase homes in the late 1990’s; and Bush’s more deregulated banking, finance and insurance ideas, but the two didn’t work well in conjunction with one another.  In Clinton’s case many of the marginal new property owners were our best renters.  By removing the cream of the renters we undercut the small real estate investor.  As it became harder to find solid renters many middle class investors moved back into the financial markets creating an overvalued bubble effect which will right itself.  In Bush’s case the effective deregulation of the banking industry – through lax oversight, expansion of services offered by financial institutions and no push for stricter new regulations – allowed many to engage in “the bigger fool theory” that property values always rise.

Again, a longer term approach to what our objectives are might be helpful in aligning both fiscal and regulatory policy with the direction of the society.  I’m beginning to feel as though “free markets” need to be constrained in economic and market terms as “free will” is constrained in spiritual and social terms.

From my simple perspective I note that in the last twenty years I have operated small businesses (we now have 32 employees) our insurance (50% is health care, 75% including workers compensation insurance) has risen from .5% to 3.5% of gross sales and our banking and finance charges have risen from .25% to 2.75%.  On the national level health care has increased from 2% GDP to 15% GDP (not to be confused with health care insurance costs).  I can only assume that Americans value our health 7.5 times as much as the generation before this.  Are we willing to value it double within the next twenty years?  Oops, there are those statistics again.  At any rate, at what point do we stop looking for victims (sorry to you trial lawyers and malpractice insurance people) and start recognizing that we are mortal and that it is economically, socially and ethically detrimental to prolong life at every cost?  What does the “the bigger fool theory” look like in the health care industry?

Rev up the auto industry

Fisker Karma Plug-in Hybrid Sedan

Detroit 2008: Fisker Karma Plug-in Hybrid Sedan

Dear PJ,

I hope you didn’t think I was trying to get your goat in re: Obama and the auto industry. Being a banker and financial wizard, I somehow suspect your sympathies lay with McCain — for whom I have a lot of respect — but I strongly feel as though his fatalism regarding our auto industry was precisely the wrong tack to take.

Because our entire economy runs on wheels, as it were. Perhaps more importantly, our cars are a great source of pride to Americans and to simply give up in the face of foreign competition seems a singularly un-American, dispiriting prospect.

On the other hand, reviving the industry and going on to lead the world with cool, clean-running cars — that is something millions of us could get on board with and could go a long way toward providing the kind of leadership and momentum we clearly crave at this uncertain hour.

Anyway, those are my considered thoughts on the issue, for what they’re worth.

From today’s WP :

A Friend in Need

Mr. Obama needs to show the auto industry some tough love in helping it weather its troubles.

BARACK OBAMA made clear yesterday that the American automobile industry will have a friend in theWhite House starting Jan. 20. At his first post-election news conference, Mr. Obama, who had supported more federal aid for Detroit during the campaign, echoed talking points the industry has been using to seek more aid from Congress. He described carmaking as “the backbone of American manufacturing,” and noted that its current “hardship” extends to “countless suppliers, small businesses and communities throughout our nation who depend on a vibrant American auto industry.” Mr . Obama wants his aides to come up with new ideas “to help the auto industry adjust, weather the financial crisis, and succeed in producing fuel-efficient cars here in the United States.”

Hemorrhaging cash, Detroit wants an acceleration of an already approved $25 billion government loan to retool for greater fuel efficiency, plus $25 billion more to help the automakers ride out the financial crisis. This would, indeed, be a bad time for a sudden shutdown of the industry; including related businesses, that could eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, with tragic effects for communities across the Midwest. Still, the industry is no longer quite as pivotal to the American economy as it once was; and many other businesses are also hurting, including many whose workers make less than Detroit’s unionized workforce. Even with a bailout, U.S. carmakers will have to shed workers by the thousands. As for improving the fuel efficiency of the U.S.-made fleet, the best way to do that would be to permanently raise federal gas taxes. Alas, higher gas taxes seem to be politically impossible at the moment.

Renew American Infrastructure Now

Last evening on the PBS News Hour, two learned gentlemen reasoned that, rather than throw money at our financial difficulties, the wiser course consists in investing in our national infrastructure.

I found their comments persuasive and even compelling. Here’s a link to an MP3 of the discussion: Infrastructure Issues

It seems to me that all of us who strive for a clean, sustainable economy can get on board with this project.

Easy, Pickens

T. Boone Pickens is an American original — in a nation known for producing larger-than-life individuals.

I applaud him for his daring, for the breadth of his vision, for the timeliness of his plan.

He is clearly a man of remarkable intelligence — as are George Will and Charles Krauthammer.

None of them seem able to quit emitting CO2. Why can they not see an electric future?

Are they simply too old? Do they enjoy some strange affinity for their fellow fossils?