Mar 262015
Big data takes our online, shopping and social media use it is the business challenge for our time

This morning I’m speaking on ABC Radio’s Overnights about the risks of the Australian government’s law to force telecommunications companies to retain users’ metadata for two years.

While the act, currently before the Senate having passed the House of Representatives last week after the poorly named ‘opposition’ Labor Party supported it, mandates that telcos and ISPs will have to retain the details of users’ connection times, places and type of device for two years and that government agencies will be able to access this data without a warrant.

The program was broadcast on 26 March 2015 at 4.15am Eastern Time with Trevor Chappell and is can be listened to on the ABC radio website.

Some resources on the data retention bill follow;

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.

Nov 162014

This year’s G20 talkfest has come to an end with the usual communique of fine words.

Apart from the discussion of climate change there’s little in the communique that wouldn’t have furrowed the brows of Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Regan thirty years ago with most of the pronouncement a being around opening markets, reducing unemployment and freeing capital.

On the latter point, the call to reduce tax avoidance given this was an obvious consequence of the 1980s reforms would be met by with a rueful laugh from those responsible for the deregulation wave of the Reagan and Thatcher years given reducing taxes on corporations was one of the reasons for the ‘reforms’

An aspect that would trouble Maggie’s and Ronnie’s ghosts would be the commitment to ‘address deflationary pressures’, something undreamt of in the 1980s, although a clear warning to today’s commentators and investors that Quantitative Easing is not going away any time soon.

What today’s communique shows is the world’s leaders are still very wedded to the economic models of the Twentieth Century despite the massive demographic and technological developments changing our society.

The real message from the G20 is don’t wait for your country’s leaders if you want progress; at best they probably won’t comprehend what you’re saying.

Although if you can put your ideas in terms of creating growth or reducing youth unemployment then you might have a willing audience with your local minister, chancellor or President.

Jul 192014

“Why are you travelling by train?” I was asked by the expat project manager as I planned a site visit to a factory being built by our company on the outskirts of Bangkok.

For me, that two hour third class train trip was an opportunity to get out of the pampered bubble that is life as an expat in a country like Thailand and get a brief, if incomplete, picture of daily life in a rapidly changing nation.

Travelling Business Class

Business Class Syndrome — a view of the world seen through the prism privileged lifestyle that isn’t shared by most people — is a phenomenon that afflicts many of our business and political leaders who are insulated from the real world.

Over the past three days I’ve been dipping in and out of various economic forums as the B20 and the Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance conference being held in Sydney this week ahead of the G20 Heads of Government meeting being held in Cairns next October.

Both events illustrate Business Class Syndrome as global experts travel the world discussing issues like youth unemployment, third world growth and startup businesses that are beyond their experience.

None of this is to say the speakers at these events were wrong or dishonest, just their ideas — however well informed and intentioned — are developed through a selective view of the world.

Taking the privileged view

That selective view has to be kept in mind when reading the recommendations of such experts. White, middle aged, western men don’t have a monopoly on the planet’s good ideas.

In the case to the Bangkok project managers the expats didn’t really care about what was going on; their job was to build and move on, which they (and I) did.

However I hope those hard seat journeys left me a little more understanding about Thailand than those who wouldn’t leave an airconditioned site hut.

Indian Railways sleeper image by dforest via wikimedia

Jul 092014

An interesting observation about life in Australia over the last twenty years is how the nation decided to look backwards and become insular in many fields.

One of the manifestations of this insularity is the sensitivity towards outside criticism by many of the nation’s business and political leaders.

Today saw an example with two Members of Parliament on the ABC’s The World Today program responding to criticism from a former Thatcher government minister, Lord Deben, over the government’s climate change policies.

GEORGE CHRISTENSEN STATEMENT (voiceover): The last time I checked, the House of Lords, that undemocratic anachronism in a modern British democracy, and its Privy Council, had no jurisdiction over Australia, thank God.

Yet Lord Deben has waded into Australian affairs, whingeing about what we are doing regarding climate change when we contribute less than 2 per cent to total global carbon dioxide emissions.

If this whingeing pom thinks the carbon tax was actually doing something for the planet, can he please advise us lowly commoners how many degrees the Earth would have cooled to because of the carbon tax?

IAN MACDONALD: I think the Australian Government and Australian policy should be run by Australians not by some retired English Lord.

MacDonald’s and Christensen’s sensitivity towards criticism from a ‘whingeing pom’ is notable – as is their contempt for the British House of Lords despite being members of a political party that supports the English Queen as Australia’s head of state.

On their own, the ramblings of a pair of insular rural apparatchiks doesn’t count for much but the same hostility towards educated outsiders was on show two days earlier when US economist Joseph Stiglitz appeared on ABC Television’s Q&A program.

An early audience question to Stiglitz set the scene;

Thank you for taking my question. My question is for Professor. Sorry, excuse me. What gives you the right, as an American, to come to Australia and criticise our budget, especially the $7 co-contribution payment, which is capped at $70 per year?

The ‘what gives you a right as an American?’ theme was gleefully picked up by Professor Judith Sloan, the token government apologist on the panel – faux news balance beings as alive and well in Australia as much as anywhere else in the world – who dismissed many of Stiglitz’s observations on the Australian economy as being the misguided views of an ill informed outsider.

Dismissing the whingeing poms and arrogant yanks harks back to an earlier time in Australia’s development. It may well be the nation has gone back to the days of Barry Mckenzie where Down Under is the working man’s paradise that the rest of the world desperately wants to be part of.

Strangely, the immigration officials in that 1972 movie could well pass for today’s Australian politicians.

As it turned out, the 1970s were a tough decade for Australia as it looked like the luck had run out. It may well turn out the Twenty-First Century is a lot tougher for the Lucky Country.


Jun 212014
capital is one of the great barriers for business

“95% of economics is common sense” says economist Ha-Joon Chang in his book The Little Blue Book — Five Things They Don’t Tell You About Economics.

In a presentation at this year’s RSA conference Chang explains some of the underlying themes of his book, particularly the point that the various schools of economics theory are based on their own sets of cultural assumptions and that every group struggles to explain the world, especially when asked to fit Singapore into their models.

Chang’s five points are a call for the average person to understand economics and be prepared to challenge the orthodoxies being trundled out by business and political leaders.

You should be willing to challenge professional economists (and, yes, that includes me). They do not have a monopoly over the truth, even when it comes to economic matters.

As economists have been allowed to become the high priests of modern society — or possibly the court jesters of the corporatist world — it may well be time to challenge them.