Jan 242015

“We’re crazy, not stupid” is how Jack Ma describes his Alibaba team in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday.

Much has been written about Jack Ma and the spectacular success of Alibaba and the WEF session with Charlie Rose is an opportunity for Ma to flesh out the story and destroy some of the myths.

One of the fascinating anecdotes Ma tells is how US cherry growers are preselling their harvests to Chinese customers through Alibaba and cites various other primary producers doing similar campaigns as how American small businesses can sell into the PRC market.

Ma’s interview is a fascinating snapshot of how global trade is going through a radical period of change, the shifting of China’s economy and where the future lies for many industries.

Jan 202015
managers and political censors are tempted to control information

Villages and small towns in Mexico have a rough deal, the privatisations of government monopolies during the 1990s meant most of them were cut off from the telecommunications networks rolled out at the turn of the century.

It’s taken a while for engineers to find a way to figure out an open source alternative to cellular base stations but now they have and it promises to change the model of economic development in poor regions.

Wired describes how community groups are bringing mobile communications to the poorer and more remote parts of Mexico.

The rollout of Open BSC is an example of how small scale operations can compliment the larger commercial networks – while major operators like Telemex can ignore smaller communities that offer little if any return, local groups can setup their own not for profit services which give villages connectivity.

A similar thing is developing with solar power, with PV cells becoming affordable communities which had little chance of being connected to their country’s national grid are now able  electricity.

That poor or remote areas can now be connected to power and communications without massive subsidies or infrastructure investment is a radical change from the Twentieth Century model of economic development, these advantages change the game on many levels.

Jan 192015

Last weekend Uber founder Travis Kalanick told a tech conference in Munich, Germany how his company wants to take 400,000 cars off Europe’s road by the end of the year.

On Monday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported the nation’s car sales were at best flat, a trend that’s been apparent for two years and one being repeated around the world as younger adults turn away from automobiles.

The technology that defined the Twentieth Century was the motor car; it reshaped our cities, changed our lifestyles and drove the consumer economy.

Now that economy is changing and the motor car, and consumerism in general, is in decline.

Which leads to the thought of what our communities will look like if the motor car isn’t the defining feature?

A challenge for governments

One obvious answer is we won’t need as many roads and carparks so governments will have to shift their priorities towards public transit and shared car services.

Governments are also faced with voters wanting more services closer to centres as the 1950s model of dad driving an hour to work or the 1970s model of the family driving to the shopping mall are no longer valid. This has serious ramifications for communities were land use has been zoned based upon twentieth century assumptions, not to mention their taxation bases.

That zoning problem has ramifications for property developers as well, it’s possible to argue this is already happening as pressures mount to turn over more inner city areas to high rise buildings.

Redefining retail

For retailers, it means the end of suburban big box stores and more focus on smaller stores with delivery services – a trend we’re already seeing in larger cities.

The finance industry as well is affected by the shift away from personal ownership of cars as automobile loans and leases have been a lucrative business for the last fifty years. If people are no longer fussed about owning a car then then there’s little demand for easy payment plans.

With the motor car not being as important to people, we start to see a society with very different economic underpinnings to that we became used to in the late Twentieth Century. How do you think our communities and businesses will look in a world without cars?

Jan 182015

Today’s links include a look at the complexities of the Charlie Hebdo discussion, how Lithuania intends a passive aggressive response to a Russian invasion and how Winston Churchill was not always Britain’s most admired figure.

Should we hang Mr Churchill?

The New Statesman has delved into its archives to find its articles on Winston Churchill, it’s an interesting article that shows the complexities of the Churchill myth and legend.

Lithuania’s plan of passive resistance

Having the Russians occupy your country is a living memory in Lithuania. With the troubles in the Ukraine, the Lithuanian authorities are planning for a future invasion. Their advice is to be passive aggressive.

The world’s highest cost living

Which countries are the most expensive for a British expat to live in? Switzerland and Norway top Movehub’s list with the UK coming in tenth, New Zealand seventh and Australia sixth.

No, I am not Charlie

A British cartoonist’s view on the Charlie Hebdo murders illustrates the complexities beyond the facile soundbites.

The popping of the tech startup seed bubble

Has the tech startup mania peaked? The funds being invested into startups at seed stage seems to falling away, which may not be a bad thing suggest Alex Wilhelm.

What’s your password?

The Jimmy Kimmel show went onto the streets asking people what their passwords are. The results, sadly, are not surprising.

Jan 112015

Being a Sunday some long reads; an interview with American cartoonist Robert Crumb on his reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders, life in the Nicaragua markets and the other side of Silicon Valley.

East of Silicon Valley’s Eden

Silicon Valley is one of the world’s most affluent regions but it has it’s poor areas, across the road from Facebook’s head office sits one of the area’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. East of Palo Alto’s Eden tells the story of segregation and disadvantage that has left East Palo Alto behind the rest of Silicon Valley.

Robert Crumb on Charlie Hebdo

‘I thought, I gotta do it. They asked me. I gotta do it…Otherwise, everybody’s going to think: “Where’s Crumb? Why doesn’t he come forward? What the hell’s the matter with him?”’

Legendary US cartoonist Frank Crumb, now resident in France, gives his views on the Charlie Hebdo murders.

How a family survives on $4.50 a day

A good story on the tough life of Nicaraguan market traders who live on half the national minimum wage.

“East Palo Alto PA Airport Moffett Field P1190059″ by David.Monniaux – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Jan 082015

Today’s links kick off with the worldwide reaction to the terrorist atrocity in Paris. The other links, which pale in contrast, include why we should really fear deflation, the decline and rise of China and how to understand a food critic.

Cartoonists unite over French terrorist murders

After the terrorist atrocity that saw twelve people murdered in an attack on a magazine office in Paris, cartoonists around the world have shown their reaction.

Why Europeans should fear deflation

Yesterday the main economic news was the Eurozone had re-entered a deflationary period. Irish economist David McWilliams explains why deflation scares governments and banks with some lessons from the Great Depression.

The decline and rise of London

In 1939 London reached its peak population of 8.3 million then saw declines for the next fifty years as war, government policies and economic restructuring saw the city’s attractions wane.

Sometime this week London will pass its 1939 peak and Citymetric magazine looks at the reasons for the decline and why the recovery began.

China’s incredible disappearing former leader

In November 2012 Chinese leader Hu Jintao stepped down from his post. Since then he’s effectively disappeared from public view Foreign Policy magazine reports.

At the same time many of his allies and supporters have been purged from their party positions as part of a major change in direction for the Chinese government. What this means for the parties’ cronies who’ve been propping up property prices across the Pacific and Macau’s lucrative casino business remains to be seen.

What restaurants should know about food critics

First impressions matter warns former restaurant critic for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, Ruth Reichl, in a terrific interview with Open For Business.

Reichl’s advice is good for pretty well any business; make sure your first impressions are good, don’t rip off your customers or be too pushy with upselling and train your staff. It’s an entertaining insight into a field dominated by egos that’s largely becoming extinct.

Jan 052015
ANZAC Day remembered at the Melbourne shrine

Today’s interesting links revolve around economics – those of shopping malls, the future and how politics might react to a world where the majority’s incomes are lower and far more precarious than we’re used to.

The economics of dead malls

Shopping malls were the town square of the late Twentieth Century consumerist society. Now in many parts of the US the shopping mall is dying as economics and culture turns against them.

The New York Times looks at the economics of shopping malls and how they are affected by changes to society, particularly the decline of working class incomes and the middle class squeeze. In the meantime high end malls seem to be doing extremely well.

Having opened in 1986 with a renovation in 1998, Owings Mills is young for a dying mall. And while its locale may have contributed to its demise, other forces played a crucial role, too, like changing shopping habits and demographics, experts say.

A number of factors are working against old fashioned shopping malls including growing wealth disparity, falling middle and working class incomes along with fundamental changes to the economy which mean retail businesses, along with other industries, are going to have to adapt to a very different future.

Journey through the landscape of the future

Some of those changes to the global economy are described in Deloitte’s Centre For The Edge’s The hero’s journey through the landscape of the future, first published in July last year.

The Deloitte think tank describes a world where the workforce is more casualised – dare one say more precarious – and the barriers to business far lower than today.

Democracy in the 21st Century

Changes like those described by Deloitte don’t happen without consequences and economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests this will change our democratic institutions.

Sadly Stiglitz doesn’t suggest the changes that might happen apart from observing the current system that seems to be baking in inequality probably isn’t sustainable.

In a world where incomes are less stable and economic standards of livings are falling for the majority of people, the current beliefs that underpin the philosophies of political parties and government agencies become redundant. How today’s governments react to these changes will be an important question for how our societies look in the 21st Century.