Recently a reporter friend of mine, a good man of conservative politics, did a piece about an ongoing effort by the cell phone industry to take over WiFi.
Unlicensed frequencies are unlicensed, the carriers say. That means they should be available to everyone, including people who own licensed frequencies. That means carriers should be able to use them, too.
Over the last decade attitudes about Google have evolved from “don’t be evil” to “Google is evil” to “let’s kill Google.”
Google has already destroyed more business models than the Great Depression, and it is poised to destroy many more. This latest move on Google was thus inevitable. Google has helped destroy the newspaper business model and it’s going after television. Google has helped destroy millions of middlemen, of all types, around the world.
It is more accurate to say that the Internet, and not Google, has enabled this. But Google remains the target because it’s the dominant player in that business.
Free markets are a great way to run an economy, just as free elections are a great way to run a political system and ordered liberty a great way to run a society. These three things are key to a better life, even to economic growth. They are our great hope for saving the planet.
That said, capitalism by itself sucks. As an –ism, rather than just a way of structuring the economy, capitalism has a fatal flaw.
Capitalism has yet to figure out what to do when the game ends. And the game is always ending.
Think about it. Capitalism means competition. There are winners, and there are losers. Over time there are more and more losers, fewer and fewer winners. That’s how games work. Adam Smith wrote that capitalists would be inclined toward the common good, and some are. But others are not. “Rich man want to be king, and a king ain’t satisfied until he rules everything,” as Bruce Springsteen sang in “Badlands.”
Every once in a great while one of our major political parties has a complete nervous breakdown.
It’s useful. The breakdown is usually followed by the party getting some therapy, owning its past mistakes, and finding a way forward. That happened after Goldwater with Nixon. It happened after McGovern with Carter. It even happened after Mondale, because Dukakis at least made a race of it.
This is not just an American phenomenon. It happens in all democracies. You can’t start back until you hit bottom, apologize sincerely for what you did wrong, get off the ragehol, then create an alternative worldview to the party in power from the ground up, one people find compelling.
This is the time in the political season when negative sentiments get all the coverage.
Taking power away from an incumbent party requires negativity. You have to convince people things aren’t that good, that you’re the guys to fix things. To even make an intra-party insurgency work, you have to convince people within that party that things are wrong somehow.
But outside politics, things are actually pretty good.
The currencies of China and the European Union, meanwhile, are falling in value. The yen is in freefall, you can buy 123 of them for $1. Deflation has replaced inflation as the economic buzzkill, with oil leading commodities down. What we need to buy is getting cheaper, and what we have to buy it with is worth more than it has been for over a decade.
From online trolls at Reddit to political trolls like Donald Trump, to ultimate trolls like ISIS, this decade had been marked by a rejection of societal norms by people – mainly men – who confuse liberty with license.
I have been dealing with online trolls for 30 years and when I confront one now I always ask the same question, whether they understand the difference between the ordered liberty of the Constitution and the mere license of “I want what I want,” the essential role of government in guaranteeing that liberty is extended to all.
Sure, the Declaration of Independence held the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to be self-evident, but it went immediately to how those rights were to be established:
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
One thing we do routinely, here in the 21st century, is underestimate the achievements of the 20th.
Before the 20th century America was a nation with a creed we did nothing to live up to. We treated women, blacks, gays, Jews, and many, many others as second class citizens. We failed to take advantage of their talents. Our economy suffered greatly for that. We also had no social safety net, none. When crops failed, when factories closed, people starved, women and children.
Barack Obama often says “my story would have been impossible any place else,” and that is one measure of the distance we have come. But it’s only one. There are millions of other examples, all around us. Immigrants like Elon Musk. Women like Janet Yellen. People with handicaps, both mental and physical. We recognize and reward talent, we import it an nurture it, in ways that we just didn’t 100 years ago.
What made all this possible happened in the 20th century. Technological change, sure. But also changes in our economy, in our system of government, in the laws and attitudes governing our relations with one another. The growth of our university systems, our highway systems, our communication systems, and our business systems all contributed.
I love to travel. I dream of doing what my father-in-law did, retiring to a life of seeing the world.
But after spending my working lifetime as a business reporter I also know one thing for certain. Tourism, as an economic activity, is a mug’s game.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the business of being a gracious host. There just aren’t many high-paying jobs in it. Most jobs in tourism are things like taking tickets, waiting tables, cleaning hotel rooms, maybe acting as a docent or guide. These are not jobs that can feed a family in modern America.
Tourism is the original “gig economy,” a game rigged by the undeserving rich aimed at creating a poor, and complacent lower class by the mid-21st century in place of the middle class that built America in the mid-20th century.
There is a dirty little secret about racism, one no one talks about.
Seth Stevens-Davidovitz, a Google scientist who moved to The New York Times to do “data journalism,” did the research but, because of how he wrote his story , it was not really appreciated.
His method was to use Google Insights and search for racially-charged terms, like the one the President offered Marc Maron last week. He used data from 2004 to 2007, before the President won election, in order to take him out of the equation. Then he looked at where the queries came from, comparing their frequency across metropolitan areas.
The great unwritten political story of 2015 is the turn of technology, from being covertly involved in politics to being overtly involved in it.
There was considerable covert support for Barack Obama in 2007, highlighted by his appearance at Google, where he was given the answer to a question on databases so he could look even cleverer than he in fact was. When the teacher gives you the answer, it’s because he likes you.