Saturday, May 30, 2009

Management in 2009: Global SMEs?

Management: Global SMEs?

Globalization will, I argue, be better embraced by the world public opinion when small and medium size companies (SMEs) in the WTO member countries feel that they have a reasonable chance to grow and prosper in it.

I think that what the world needs is many, many, more "globally active SMEs".

Note: Of course "globalization", "capitalism" and "liberalism" mean different things to different people not only around the world but also within specific countries. In the presence of such absence of commonly agreed definitions of these and other terms, these terms and the notions and systems they stand for will continue to "suffer". Globalization, capitalism and liberalism as well as market economics are thought to be the systemics "in power" in most of the WTO countries today! Are they? How "global", "capitalist", "liberal" or "market economy based" are for example the United States today? France? Germany? The UK? The EU?

Original written: February 15, 2007
Updated: May 30, 2009

Management - the basics: The name of the game = "Access"

Management - the basics: The name of the game = "Access"

I have written it before and I think it is as current and key as ever before today:

The key tool in survival and prosperity in the world today, not just in business but in almost everything is not access to capital and other traditional sources of "power".

It is access to markets, agoras in general (economic or other, even .... dating, visiting relatives, social activities, etc, etc).

You can have access to capital (venture or loans), ease to set up a new company in a few minutes, etc, etc, etc, a great product or service to "sell", but without real access to a suitable market for the said product or service, it is no use, IMO (in my opinion).

What are the key elements of "real access"? Technical/physical and regulatory and "bureaucratic" and marketing/business related.

Originally Written: June 21, 2007
Updated: May 30, 2009

"Think Local, Act Global" or ... whatever!

"Think Local, Act Global" or ... whatever!

The management/business mantra used to be "Think Global", then it evolved to "Think Global, Act Local", then we sort of lost .. direction (somewhat like the people in the TV series). "Think Local, Act Global", or whatever! lol

Maybe "Think local global and act global-local"? lol

I kind of like the "global-ethnic" idea/strategy among others. Ie create and market a "product" which has 50% specific and identifiable and globally attractive "couleur local" and 50% global elements. Or, alternatively, is 50% "exotic" (to the local consumer) and 50% "known" and "familiar": Balance the foreign/xenon and the familiar/standard.

It's like the debate as to whether people are "all the same" or "each is unique". In my mind, each person is both unique and just like all other humans.

Some multinational business strategists call it "having local relevance". Hm!

But how on Earth can a company, even the most "global" or "multi-national" be relevant (and en plus, a "good neighbor", but that is a Public Affairs and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) issue) in the 100, 150 or 200 national markets it operates in? Or does this apply mostly to "large" or otherwise "key" market? Eg China, India, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, USA, Brazil, South Africa, etc? "Relevant" to the national pop culture?

Assuming there is a unified "national pop culture" that is,, instead of an amalgam of various ones!

Are some societies or national pop cultures more "global" than others?

Which country, economy, society, pop culture is the most "global" these days? The US, the UK, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Monaco, Canada? Or should one better use the notion of "cosmopolitan"?

Or should one look from locations/regions (pockets of cosmopolitanism or globalism) rather than cosmopolitan/global countries/nations? Eg CA or LA, NYC, London, Paris, Southern France, Mykonos, Ibiza, Cancun, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the Italian or Spanish or English football league, the NBA, Geneva, DC, Brussels, Singapore, Hong Kong, some areas in India and China, Berlin, etc?

Like Athens was in the 5th century BC, or Carthage (until the Romans literally levelled it), or Alexandria (after the death of Alexander), or Minoan Crete until the Thira volcano's tsunami, or Cairo, or Babylon, or Rome ("when in Rome"), or Constantinople (for at least 1000 years), or Florence in the 15th plus, or Paris in parts of the 20th century (for artists), etc?

Food for thought?

a few thoughts on the state of affairs in the European Union (and, inter alia, their impact on world trade talks)

On June 4-7, less than 50% of the 375 million voters in the 27 EU member states (or countries, if you prefer) will elect the members of the European Parliament for 2009-2014. Some forecasts foresee that the EPP right of center party will elect the most members but fall short of having the majority and that ALDE (Liberal and Democrats) will be the third largest party whose support the EPP will need in order to have the majority. Will shall see, on the night of June 7 or the morning of June 8.

IMO the main political issue regards the political legitimacy of the European Parliament vis-a-vis the Council (of Ministers). In recent years, via the new Treaties, the EP has argued that since it directly represented the voters of the EU, it should be given more real power in the legislative process.

And it did receive that extra power. In only a few years, the EP went from having a crucial role in the budget and mostly consultative or co-operative role in the adoption of new EU laws (regulations and directives) to "co-decision" with the Council in many many policy areas. It also gained the power to not only interview but also "approve" each new EU cabinet (aka "College") of Commissioners (not individually but as a "team", including the President of the Commission, who is "decided" by the leaders of the members states.

These new powers are no small thing. But when the EP members are elected in elections that involve less, in some cases much less, than 50% of the registered voters in member states, that does undercut, to an extent, the political legitimacy of the EP.

Eg how critical can the MEPs be in a few months when it is time to interview and approve the "unelected" (but appointed by leaders of elected governments in national elections) Commissioners?

Which brings me to the other important political and practical issue: Under the procedures of which EU Treaty will the next EU Commissioners be chosen and approved? The existing, Nice Treaty, with 27 Commissioners, one for each member state, or the provisions of the new EU Treaty, assuming that this Treaty will be ratified by the remaining member states, including a new Irish referendum.

Since the existing EU Commission took office in the late fall of 2004, some are willing to delay the choice of the new Commissioners until the new Treaty goes into force, assuming that this happens by late 2009, at the latest.

But that means

a) that it is assumed that this will happen and
b) that the existing EU Commission may represent the EU in the next WTO Ministerial Conference in late November - early December 2009, or, that an outgoing Commission may not have the political legitimacy to reach compromises that may be needed for any agreement in the Doha Round of world trade talks or on the way to the Conference (those crucial months before it).

In other words, the US elections in 2008 and now the EU elections and other institutional affairs are not helping the cause of an agreement in the world trade talks. Maybe an agreement became hard to reach after the "fast-track" powers of the previous US President (given by the US Congress (House and Senate)) expired at the middle of 2007.

Friday, May 29, 2009

beyond the myths of globalisation and "free trade"

Some recent thought briefs of mine on the subject:

* are "globalisation" and "free trade" nothing but illusions - myths?

(what about "fair trade" asked a friend. Well,, I am in favor of calling a spade a spade and thus I could "be OK" with many different types of trade, even a "fortress" model, provided that whatever the model, it was clear and consistent thus allowing real people and medium and small companies of this world to know what the actual game rules were and these were feasible for them.)

* maybe there is a need for a #WTO "Mach2" to move things forward decisively for those WTO members willing and able to do so

* I fail to see why/how public procurement by Canadian provinces and other non federal entities can fall outside WTO rules

* I am not a legal expert but I fail to see how the US stimulus' "buy American" clause can be compatible with WTO rules

"vagabonding" in 2009 terms

Food for thought/philosophical:

"Vagabonding" capital, "vagabonding" companies and products and services, thus (the solution is) "vagabonding" workers?

(one can use "nomad" instead of "vagabonding", or even "roaming", IMO)

globalisation fatigue syndrome

IMO a lot of people and companies are suffering from a "globalisation fatigue syndrome"

Globalisation is IMO unfit for humans in its current "version"/format.

on the present and future of Europe (brief thoughts)

* The new EU treaty provides the framework for a country to leave the EU, the one in force now (Nice) does not, thus the anti-lobbies should be in favor of the adoption of the new Treaty, right?

* How many people really understand how the EU works? IMO/IME very few!

* IMO the current level of European (EU) integration makes no sense to companies and citizens, what we need is either "more EUrope" or "less"

* Whether the EUropeans want it or not, the EU cannot become a U.S.E. (United States of Europe), because a USE requires a common language! Thus unless a common language evolves, the "USE or not" debate is a non-iss

* How can a EUropean worker operate in the EU or the Eurozone? With a multi-language chip installed in his brain, of course! lol

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

on jobs and creating jobs: If you cannot find a job, create your own company?

The stimulus for these thoughts came from the survey results released on Monday (May 25, 2009) by the UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
According to it,
45% of the 500 companies surveyed said they do not aim to recruit 16 year olds who leave school or university graduates this year!

That happens on the backdrop of an unemployment situation in the UK that has risen above 2 million (2.03) in the three months to January, adding 165,000 to 2.03 million and some predictions that number may reach and surpass 3 million in 2010!

Jobs! Oh what a wonderful concept, so much is written or said about jobs, jobs creation, so much time, money and grey matter is spent by people and their parents so that they can have a job or even better, a "career".

And what lovely words and notions are often uttered by the politicians regarding the need as well as their "ability", via public policies and laws etc to "create jobs". Whereas reality says that in market economies at least, jobs are created not by politicians or any of their actions, but by companies (aka "employers"). At best, what politicians and policy makers can do is create an "environment" that fosters the creation of new jobs by private companies.

So, what can a young person, with or without a university degree, can do in such in environment? On of course is to be more 'competitive' in "beating the competition" from others and still "land" one of those much fewer new jobs that will become available this year, in the UK and around the world. But that does not solve the bigger issue/problem/"picture": what happens to those who will not manage to beat the competition of finding an employer? What can they do other than collect unemployment benefits (in those countries/job markets where these are available) and hope that they will not stay "out of the market" long enough to be "branded", by the market and its market makers, "un-employable", for life!

Which reminds me of what a well known, internationally, management "guru" told me, privately, during a business dinner some 10 years ago. That when talking to a well known President of a large corporation, he had been told by him that he did not understand why young people are willing to work for "his" corporation and that if he was in their shoes he would start his own one (rather than work in a large and "bureaucratic" (and "boring") large corporation).

Which brings me to the core of this analysis: Job creation via new business/company creation! Aka "entrepreneurship". Creating a small or even mini (or micro) company, even one that only "employs" one person (aka "self-employment").

Do young people these days, in the UK, in Germany, in France, in the US, in China, in Japan, etc, have an appetite or even better, a "drive", to do that? And if not, why not?

Do they think that they are entitled, via an unwritten "social contract" or the fact that they got a degree, even from the best of schools, to a job in "someone else's" company? Or even, the public sector? Is it that they need to pay off loans that they got in order to study or that they want the job security (or perception of it) that will allow them to have an active (or glamorous) social life (after-work) or even better, start a family?

Well, these are merely some thoughts, or some food for thought (comments welcome), on why should young people "waste" their acumen in competing with others to "win" a job instead of competing with other others to "win" a client or consumer for the products or services that their own (mini) company could "gain". Why waste good competitive energy to lure a recruiter instead of luring a client? Why not view Corporation X as a potential client rather than an employer? Is (real or at least more) security to be found nowadays in having a job or clientele?

PS. Some countries actively recognise the fact that medium, small and mini/micro companies are more "sensitive" (exposed) to over-regulation and red tape/bureaucracy. Others think that by simply offering people who start their own small business some start up funds is (kind of) enough to get them started! Very few do both, too few. Most politicians, IMO, do not really know what it really takes to start a company. Actually, no one really knows, even people who have started their own or advised others on how to, because, IMO/IME, every new "start up" is a different "endeavour" with its own characteristics and risks, yes risks, and its own "magic". But who turns into company creation for "magic", it seems most people these days think that "magic" is to be found in sports or other more "imaginative" things than "starting a company". IMO that is the core problem.

Monday, May 25, 2009

on back to the basics in the economy: the street

In these volatile economic times, back to basics is a solution.
The street is IMO the cornerstone of the economy, of the market.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

on stimulating the Economy

The issue: How to stimulate an Economy, very a la mode these days, is part of a wider (perennial) issue, "competitiveness, growth and employment".

Stimulants: The Australian case

The Australian government is giving a rebate/cash gift to about half of the population with the request that they spend it. Each "gift" is worth the equivalent of USD 700 and it's going to cost a total of USD 33 billion.

A similar gift (or handout) was given last year to pensioners and parents and it is considered to have had an effect on consumption and that growth.

On top of the effects of the global economic crisis, Australia's economy is plagued by the effects of the collapse of its mining sector.

Other recent stimulants:

The Bush government gave a tax rebate last year, as well as the Spanish government.

How much of such gifts or rebates are actually spent on retail consumption rather than pay debt or go into savings depends on the level of debt owed by individuals in each economy.

The German as well as the Spanish and other governments have also offered rebates for specific uses only, in their case, purchase of cars. Why? Because Germany and others consider their car industry as a "backbone" of the overall economy.

Which brings us to the issue: Do economies have certain sector(s) that act as a "backbone" to these economies and how much of a backbone are they. Plus, are these backbones to be preserved or replaced, over time?

Update: "Our auto industry is the foundation for economies all across the Midwest"
B. Obama, May 24, 2009

Economic Modeling considerations

And the even more crucial issue: Does having backbone sector(s) make an economy stronger or more stable or the opposite?

In the US, the car industry is viewed by many as a major backbone of the economy, and its survival is seen a crucial not only for the manufacturers but their suppliers as well as retailers/dealers as well, at least I have seen that argued if I am not mistaken, even by the current US president.

Again, the issue is whether having sich backbones is a sign of faulty economic modeling (de facto or as a result of planning).

Some 20 years ago, the European Union, via its then EU Commissioner for Industry, Martin Bangeman, a German, argued against supporting and protecting "national champions" or even sectoral "industrial" policies, arguing in favor of measures of "horizontal" nature, ie not applied to certain or specific companies or even sectors.

Confused? Add to that the theories of comparative advantage, that in short says that each economy should produce the types of products (and services) it has some form of comparative advantage (natural or "built") when compared to other trading economies on this planet, export them as well as import the ones it does have a comparative advantage in. This theory remains very popular among many, but it is also challenged by many, including yours truly! Why? Because whereas in theory it may work, in practice, in spite of the growth of world trade post WWII, it does not "function" that well. Eg some economies seem to have little or no comparative advantage in producing anything.

So what? Well, I will come back to this topic, but in the meantime, food for thought: what does "your" national economy have a real and durable comparative advantage in producing these days? And how sustainable is this advantage in times of global economic recession?

Plus, please consider this:

Are economic stimulants more effective when they are deployed via government - public investment - works (with the private sector contractors and suppliers receiving the direct effect of the money spent) or via these handouts given to people for them to decide where to spend it?

PS. Remember the recent problems in the US with attaching a "made in USA" requirement to the products used in stimulant financed public works (eg their incompatibility with a country WTO membership or bilateral agreeements with other countries). Yes things are THAT complicated!!!

new restrictions on US credit cards

A US bill that is designed to protect credit card users from unexpected fees or increases to their interest rates has just been signed into law.

US banking industry sources have warned the US policy makers that the changes may reduce the amount of credit available to some card holders because they argue that these new rules will make it more difficult for credit card operators to set rates based on the risk a customer poses.

Yet, with Americans currently owing almost USD 1 trillion (!!!) on their credit cards, it is obvious that consumer debt is a crucial parameter of the US economy, whereas this iis not the case in some European countries.

Is the over-reliance of individuals and households on debt one of the faults of this, un-orthodox, model of capitalism?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

on Love and Truth

Truth or Love?

From in love to nothing at all!

"it always amazes me how people go from being madly in love to nothing at all"
from the film "2 Days in Paris"

Ah, the laws of Eros (aka Cupid), the difference between "love" and "being in love".

Many aspects of our lives can, at least partially, be analysed via logic and rational analysis, the "laws" of logic. But the emotional-irrational dimension is present in them, all of them, even that is supposed to be hard for someone who was trained in "Decision Sciences" and business to admit. After all, how many of the rational decision making models that are included in the science of Economics are able to simulate or predict human consumer behavior?

But "in love", the affairs of Eros - Cupid is, for sure, not one of them. When one talks of "real" In Love, which IMO is based "purely" on emotion, logic, rationales, and decision sciences get thrown out of the window.

IME philosophy and humor can help us "deal" with the results of In Love, but not to analyse or understand it.

On the other hand, how many of the "I love you" or "I am in Love with you" allegations are actually "genuine", in other words not co-determined based on "utilitarian" (and this rational) parameters? How many people search for a love interest using the same decision parameters as when they search for an apartment or to invest their money (in this case their life)? Oh well!

Friday, May 22, 2009

on the value of Philosophy

On Philosophy: Non Binary

Many issues/problems in life are not a matter or binary type, "right or wrong". Eg trying to find an as near optimal as possible solution to an aircraft assignment problem. There are ways to assign the aircraft that are far from the best possible one and there are ways near that elusive optimal. Knowing you are somewhere near the optimal, even though you do not know where that optimal is exactly or how to go from where you are to it, is very often good enough ("right" enough). So bother to look further when you know that the assignment you have found and know how to implement is only 1% away from the elusive "globally optimal"?

Plus: There is a different between "mathematical way of thinking" and using Maths per se. Eg in logic, we use mathematical thinking but not maths per se (to structure thought "algorithms"). One does not always have in one's disposal all the data needed to use a math model to solve the problem and we are a problem solving based society, the western one, in our "Philosophy". Should we not?

A "problem" is not a "problem" per se, it is merely an opportunity for finding a solution and the fun of the process looking for it!

Philosophy for All!

Philosophy means the pursuit of wisdom
And wisdom is applications oriented

The Socratic method to ask questions to his pupils rather than preach? But they were his pupils.

Some philosophers pose questions instead of theories because in their brand of philosophy, but the idea is for one to reach one's own philosophical conclusions rather than theologise others'.

Does a philosopher need a PhD in Philosophy to be a Philosopher? Does a painter or poet need a PhD in Arts to be one? Some people produce/create philosophy, some other quote the philosophy of those and others. Who are the Philosophers?

Let us philosophise on that!

What is your Philosophy?

Quantifying everything and turning any decision into a mathematical model (function) to be optimised is what I actually studied (2 degrees) and it is called "Decisions Science", it is IMO not Philosophy per se. Philosophy can and should use Decision Science techniques to aid a person reach "better" decisions in his/her life, airlines allocate aircraft to flights, companies optimise the production and distribution of the products or services (logistics), governments design and formulate public policy, etc.

"What is the "philosophy" of this company, policy, "system", person (his/her life)" is a question made at least in Greek. Or to be "philosophised" ie to be aware "why" you are doing something, how it fits with one's own "living philosophy" and/or the Society - "system" one lives in.

But IME many problems are too complex or large to be turned into one mathematical model and "globally" optimised (find the best possible "solution"). Thus one usually combines quantitative AND qualitative techniques to analyse problems and formulate them into a problem to be solved. But IMO Philosophy is not pure mathematics or decision sciences, even the concepts of "optimality" and "efficiency" need Philosophical analysis. Science, in general, shows us the "how" and Philosophy searches the "why".

Eg in dating, Philosophy helps reply to the question "why should I date her/him" and other disciplines the "how". lol The same with "should I make love with her/him", lol.

Eros is one area where decisions are not rational at all and can hardly be put into mathematical formulas. On the contrary, "LT partner selection" can. Eros not only defies logic, it also defies Philosophy, true Eros that is.

Originally written: November 11, 2007
Updated: May 22, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

on "Drama" in life in 2009

Drama sells, does it not? At least that seems to be the perception of many media, eager to draw attention (aka ratings or viewers/listeners/readers), many bloggers and vloggers and other people in other "situations".

What is then a proper label for the times we live in, eg this decade (since 2000)?

Financial Times? Uncertain Times? Drama Times? Volatile Times? Oxymoronic Times? Hysteric Times? Global Times? etc etc

Many of the above labels, IMO, partially characterise or capture, the "whole" of these times. But IMO "Hysteria" is the most "inclusive" one.

This hysteria is induced, promoted or amplified by certain media, by certain commentators, by certain "preachers" or "activists", by many "drivers" in any case.

How can one resist or avoid the hysteria or the drama, which IMO are, at worst, quite bad for one's health and, at best, disorienting us from making sound decisions in out lives as well as "quality life"?

The answer IMO is: Whereas we live in liberal and pluralistic times, and Love is a healthy and well as humanistic emotion, that does not mean that we have to fraternize with those who bring a negative aura in our lives. Between Love and Hate, the latter being politically incorrect as well as unhealthy, IMO, there is after all the state of "tolerance". But tolerating something (eg drama) or someone (eg a drama king or queen) does not mean fraternizing. Live and let live does not imply Love, but it requires, again IMO, absence of hatred and a willingness to put into practice the concept of "if it bothers you, overlook it (or pass it by).

Of course that does not mean "apathy", but it does not mean that we have to remain in relationships or not change the dial on "sources" of "drama".

Whereas Loving all other humans, everyone, is hard in practice, albeit a grand theory, tolerance is IMO a realistic practical solution. And as I propose, tolerance does not mean fraternising, ot means live and let live.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

on post-materialism: Cheap is Chic (pop art format)

dynamics of the times: cheap is chic, the glamor of austerity, post-materialism, nouveau capitalism = a comment in pop art format!

on the contribution of Tourism to growth

May 13, 2009:

This are very interesting forecasts and food for thought:

According to the annual summer travel forecast by the U.S. Travel Association (the April 2009 travelhorizons™ survey by the U.S. Travel Association and Ypartnership) Americans are expected to take 322 million domestic leisure person-trips during June, July and August 2009.

This is very small decline, 2.2% compared to summer 2008, considering.
The survey shows that an estimated 54% of American households are planning to take at least one leisure trip this summer, compared to 50% last year.

Plus, 51% of them expect to spend the same amount on their summer vacations this year!

Plus, Americans plan to take more day trips or long weekend getaways in lieu of week-long vacations. According to the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Price Index, "the cost of lodging and airfares is down by 6.8 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively, through the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008".

It is noteworthy that while gas prices were the primary deterrent to travel last summer, hitting an all time high of $4.11 for a gallon of unleaded regular, gas prices should be less of an issue this summer as they are expected to hover just over $2 per gallon.

The bad news:

The expected 9% decline in international travel to the United States for full-year 2009. Since international travelers tend to spend more money, averaging $4,500 per trip to the U.S., "increasing travel to the United States is the most efficient form of economic stimulus" according to the May 13 press release of the US Travel Association.

The association notes that US Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and John Ensign (R-NV) introduced on May 12 the “Travel Promotion Act of 2009” (S. 1023) and a similar bill is expected to be introduced soon in the House of Representatives. According to the US Travel Association, this legislation can stimulate U.S. economic growth, create thousands of new American jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue for communities across the country.

(Previously the Travel Industry Association, the U.S. Travel Association is the national, non-profit organization representing all components of the $740 billion travel industry.

Monday, May 18, 2009

consumer debt and capitalism (part 2)

More on consumer debt and capitalism. The following is an excerpt from a comment I posted today in Arianna Huffington's Facebook page discussions :

.... I do not understand why (competing) banks are allowed to loan each other, competition law does not allow competitors in other business sectors to loan each other or lend or sell each other their "products" (in this case derivatives and the like).

Plus IMO the US needs a social security system a la France. UK, Canada, Germany, etc, as a safety net coupled with a more rigorous application of free market (less regulation) disciplines in most other sectors.

The real economy, that of small and medium size companies has been over-regulated for many decades now in the US and most other OECD countries and IMO it is that problem that lead to many bubbles in recent years. As per people in the US making a descent salary, before this crisis, US college educated people had almost "zero" unemployment, the problem was they had too high materialistic expectations (and absence of universal social sec). JMO

In addition this is a comment/question I submitted for T. Geithner, US Treasury Secretary in

I do not understand why (competing) banks and other financial institutions and forms are allowed to loan each other; competition law does not allow competitors in other business sector to loan each other or lend or sell each other their "products" (in this case derivatives and the like). If they need more funds than those they have via deposits (commercial banks) or investors (others). they should not IMO be allowed to borrow from their "peers", other solutions must be sought, IMO, because the current system seems to install "systemic risk" rather than "diversifying it".

Sunday, May 17, 2009

consumer debt and capitalism (part 1)

I think that as part of our analysis of the causes of the current systemic crisis we need to rethink whether consumer debt capitalism is part of "real" or "orthodox" capitalism, IMO it is not.

For many decades, especially and in the US and expanding to the rest of the OECD world, consumer debt was one of the drivers of growth. Maybe we are paying the price now.

It is said that economies where citizens/households do not have high debt are at a better situation than economies where not only the state and other institutional budgets are loaded with debt (eg the national debt) and companies but persons/households as well.

A household may in some ways be like a "corporation", it has revenues and costs and IMO management techniques can/should be applied to "home ec" as well, but IMO that does not mean that households should adopt the same financial management antics as corporations or states.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Germany: Bank bail-outs

This week, the German cabinet agreed to propose to the parliament a scheme to enable the country's banks to remove remaining "toxic" assets from their balance sheets. How? The banks will be able to swap their toxic debt for government-backed bonds worth 90% of the value of the toxic assets. In return they will pay an annual fee. This toxic debt will be "stored" for up to 20 years. If approved by the parliament, the scheme will be financed by Germany's existing 500bn euros bank rescue fund.

NB: I recall, some weeks ago, that a proposal had been agreed by the German government cabinet (a historic coalition between the country's two main parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats) that would allow for the temporary "nationalisation" of any German banks, if needed. I have not kept up with the issue (eg was it finally agreed and was it passed by the 2 chambers of the German parliament?), and I am not sure how it relates to the above scheme.
The Bank of England's announcement that it would keep interest rates unchanged at 0.5%. The Bank of England also said it would pump an extra BP 50 bn into the UK economy via purchases of government and corporate debt, extending its planned spending to £125bn.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Q1 2009 GDP in Germany, France, Spain

The GDP stats for the first quarter of 2009 (Q1/2009) are in for Germany, France as well as Spain.
a) France. The fall/shrinking of the GDP was 1.2% (which is in line with expectations) compared to the previous quarter. Since in Q4/2008 the stat was -1.5%, this has given rise to views that the recession in France "may" be easing. No comment! By the way, the French Economy Ministry expects the French economy to contract by 3% in 2009.
b) Germany: Driven by lagging exports and investment, the GDP drop in Q1/2009 was a record 3.8% (!!), ie the worst GDP performance since re-unification (compared to the previous quarter), yielding a year-on-year drop of 6.7%, against a 6% prediction for the whole year 2009 made by the German government! The Q4/2008 drop, 2.2%, was the previous record low until the stats for Q1/2009 came in!
Is Germany (along with other traditional exports - trade surplus world "champions" economies) paying a price for their over-reliance on exports?
c) Spain: In Q1/2009. GDP fell 1.8% compared to Q4/2008 and shrank 2.9% on a year-on-year basis, based on preliminary data, making this the worst GDP performance since 1959! The Spanish government has predicted a GDP drop of 1.6% for 2009

Spain, which joined the EEC/EU in 1986, enjoyed 14 years of consecutive growth until it entered into recession Q4/2008. It seems that many experts think that Spain has major "economic imbalances" and that this will delay its rebounding. It also seems that the construction industry's major perils are a core driver of the Spanish economic recession.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Revising our concepts of productivity - part 2: working hard or thinking hard?

read part 1 first

Working hard or thinking hard? A or B? Or is there is an Option C?

Why is thinking not considered "work"?

Why is thinking not considered "action"?

Why is thinking not an "end result"? In other words, why does thinking have to lead to action rather than a "do nothing" decision?

Food for thought? But is it worth anything in a "do, do not think" era?

thinking: There is no certainty in Nature, is there? (part 2)

Read part 1 first

Tami sent me the following comment re part 1 of this post:

"Nick, is uncertainty really Nature's way or is it that humans project their expectations into the way they perceive Nature to react? Seriously, as I reflect back over my life and compare how Nature has reacted to human impact I think it is quite certain how Nature reacts. For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction - it is a law of physics and as such, a law of Nature. Hence, the more humans impact Nature, the more violent the reaction. Look at the intensities of natural phenomenon (typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, tides, etc.) - the changes in the intensities have been predictable in direct relation to human impact on Nature."

One of the stimuli for this analysis has been a quote I read some months ago by the well known pioneer Amelia Earhart. Whereas I in general I agree that Nature has laws, laws of Physics, Chemistry and other "Natural Sciences" (as opposed to "Social Sciences"), those laws, when taken as a whole, do not provide us with a certain - sure thing prediction. A good example is Meteorology. In spite of its advances, it can still not predict 100% the weather.

Of course human impact on this planet produces a counter-impact and whereas I am a "believer" in the dangers of global warming, it is my opinion that while we know that it does cause major instabilities and changes to our planet's climate. we cannot predict what those effects will actually be, because in spite of having and being aware of "laws" in Nature, its complexity is such that no law or set of laws can provide us with certainty.

What is more, the point of view of my "analysis" is not humanity in general, but the individual person. The effects of natural phenomena on individual people are much harder to predict than the effects to humanity as a whole.

What I am saying is that a human being faced with Nature and world in general, and the impact of all "laws", Natural or Social on him/her (I would not call Social laws "laws", though, but, rather, "theories").

Of course the absence of certainty and the presence of risks of various kinds does not mean that a person should not "endeavor" or "live", but that a person should "build" his/her "life" and./or decisions or hopes on a concept of certainty.

At the same time, it is of course important, IMO again, for one not to exaggerate or over-estimate risks (exaggeration of a risk = "phobia").

In other words, between having 100% and zero control over our lives, there are many situations in between (that 100% and 0%).

thinking: Deregulate this! Some things may need to be more regulated but many many many more need to be much less regulated!

"The days when a major insurance company could bet the house on credit default swaps with no one watching and no credible backing to protect the company or taxpayers from losses must end"
These are some of the words of Timothy Geithner, US Treasury Secretary to Congress.

His comments make it clear that the US Treasury Dept. wants more regulation of the so called "derivatives" those complex financial instruments that many people put at the core of the causes that brought down some of Wall Street's biggest names in recent months. According to some, perhaps the most notorious form of derivative is the so called "credit-default swap".

It appears that among the proposals of the Treasury Secretary is one for an electronic system to monitor buying and selling in the market for derivatives. Also, firms trading in derivatives will need to have enough capital to support their sale of the derivatives and for the case they default and will face tough reporting requirements as well.

Existing US laws do not regulate derivatives instruments that are referred to as "over-the-counter", because they are "privately" traded, unlike stocks and bonds.

What is the policy, political and general thinking behind Mr. Geithner's ideas and proposals (sahred by many others as well)? The idea that such policy - regulatory measures would reduce the risk to the "financial system".

Ah, the system, the system!!!

In a draft letter, to congressional leaders, the Treasury argued that "all derivatives dealers and all other firms whose activities in those markets create large exposures to counterparties should be subject to a robust regime of prudential supervision and regulation".

Ah, exposure, exposure, another techno-horror term!!

"Key elements of that robust regulatory regime must include conservative capital requirements, business conduct standards, reporting requirements and conservative requirements relating to initial margins on counterparty credit exposures," the US Treasury also argued.

This whole line of thinking goes hand in hand with the point of view that many of the troubled financial institutions were "too big to be allowed to fail" because they and their activities were so intertwined in the "system" that their failure would cause structural damage or at least tsunamis to not only the financial system but the whole economy and general "system" as well (well, nowadays some people are even dusting off their Marx books thinking that the current global economic crisis and its effects provide a platform for doing away with capitalism - about that, see other posts in this blog).

Well, maybe Mr. Geithner (former governor of the Reserve Bank of New York, I remember him from watching the hearings last spring re Bear et al) and his Department are right, maybe they are not. I am not sure whether the right type of regulation here is of the kind they propose, or, merely, the application of the principles of competition law in this sector of economic activity. Eg do soft drinks companies lend each other produce or do they lend each other? No! Why should then financial institutions that are supposed to be competing against each other were and are stil allowed to lend each other and in general "do business" with each other?

Anyway, my main point in this post that economic activity as a whole, from the large multinational conglomerate to the small family shop around the corner, in the US and in the OECD world as a whole, is and has been too heavily regulated for too long and that that is the real, in my opinion as a "thinker", cause of the current crisis. The other is, at best, a by-product of the core cause.

In my opinion again, the financial world created a bubble that burst because it kept on growing in spite of the fact, IMO again, that in recent years more nd more of the economy was Services and less and less of the complex financial engineering and tools was needed by the Real Economy. A real economy that is mostly small and medium size firms, mostly in the Services "sector", unlike the manufacturing/industrial "past" of large companies, heavy capital set up costs etc that created the need for sophisticated financial services that led to the kunk bonds (in the 80s) and now the subprimes and other "derivative" instruments that caused the current "tsunami". A real economy whose needs did not include the type of tools that were so heavily vested in another attempt to create a new platform for application of tools and investment of high promise, the "Dotcoms" (that burst in the late 90s).

Yes, it is my theory/thesis that the Real Economy needs urgent de-regulation, needs to be left "alone" to create ideas and nee services (and thus GDP and jobs)! The Real Economy that in most if not all OECD countries has been hurting under too much, irrational, chaotic and f nad quality regulations and laws for too long! The Real Economy of small and medium (and micro) companies in the Services sectors. Deregulate this!

Films: New York in Paris

For those who have lived in (or at least visited) both New York and Paris, the aura that these two cities exert is well known.

The French of course claim that Paris is not like the rest of France (or vice-versa) and Americans say the same about New York (City, and vice versa of course).

I am watching, for the second time in a few months, "2 Days in Paris", a film starring Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg, as a New York couple (she is French living in the US, as in real life) that visits Europe and spends 2 days in her "hometown", Paris.

For many of us, Paris is synonymous with good memories; romance, art, that certain Parisian je n'est sais quoi that mesmerizes. Are those 2 days in Paris gonna be "good" or "bad" for their relationship (they are not married)? Well, for one, he does not speak French. Plus she runs into lots of ex-BFs, it seems (and her mother and father were very liberal children of the French sixties especially "the" May 1968, ie Euro-hippies, her mother even slept with a major legend of the 60s, menages a trois, etc etc etc). A clash of cultures or worlds or mindsets of many types or different levels indeed.

At some point he shouts out "We're not in Paris, we're in Hell"! Why? Because of teh culture shock, which in the case of the plot of this film, it is quite a heavy one, with a major contribution by the character Deply plays, because apparently being back in Paris, she is quite different than yhe woman he knows/knew in the US. And he, being away from home, in Europe, for a few weeks already, in Italy and in France, he is, let's say "like a fish out of its waters".

The movie is in my opinion good, especially for those of us who have lived on both sides of the Atlantic, especially NYC and Paris. It deals with not only the issue of cultural clashes but also issues related to women and men in 2007, on both sides of the Atlantic.

I of course have embedded in my memory "Jack Ryan" Harrison Ford in Paris, Matt "Jason Borne" Damon in Paris and of course "Larry Darrel", the post WWI American living in Paris played by Bill Murray in the 1984 film based on Somerset Maugham's "The Razor's Edge" novel. There are many American movies about Paris, especially Americans in Paris (or France in general, eg the one with Meg Ryan or the one with Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson ("Le Divorce", 2003)). And of course Mr. Bean, oh wait, he is British! lol

Cannot recall at the moment a film about Parisians in New York though (oh wait, "The Green Card", with Gerard Depardieu, does that count?). But a few French actresses and actors are doing well in Hollywood and/or the Oscars in recent years! Trivia: Monica Belucci is not French, her husband is and she has played in many French films, including "Irreversible" (not for the faint hearted). And American ones, including brief but high impact part in I think 2 of "The Matrix" trilogy.

I do miss the Saint Michel area in Paris, especially summer, or the coffee shop of a certain well known Parisian department store, or avenue Kleber (very classy for a consultant to have an office there), etc etc etc. And of course, New York! Especially The Village and that ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center, near Xmas!

PS (trivial): NYC is the "City that never sleeps" and Paris "the city of Light". Plus: New York City used to be called New Amsterdam by its first, Dutch, settlers.

thinking: There is no certainty in Nature, is there? (part 1)

Last year, in the Spring, American drivers recorded a record fall in miles/km driven in the US, thus "showing the market" (and the speculators) that the demand for gasoline is not inelastic. At that time, I had commented that the US drivers did the whole world of energy or especially gasoline/petrol consumer a great favor by this move and its effect on/message to "the market" and while the world price of oil remained high for a few more months to come in 2008 (causing along with the global price hikes of staple foods a global crisis, before the "subprime driven" one came along), in my opinion, that decline and its message were crucial and remain so.

In general, while some socio-economic groups in Europe were protesting and going on strike asking some kind of special treatment from the governments, American drivers "showed" us - reminded us that in a market, it is not only the supply side that "makes" the market, but the demand side as well. In short, a major "lesson" in the so called "market economics".

But the idea of adaptability goes beyond markets and economics, it is in my opinion, nowadays, relevant in all aspects of life, each aspect and comprehensively/systemically as well!

Being flexible, able to adapt to changes, not only is economic conditions (see the above example) but also job, social, regulatory/legal, personal/family, etc etc etc, seems to be a key "survival and prosperity tool" of our times. In my opinion, it has always been (in the history of humankind).

That, along with the realisation that nothing in Nature is risk-free and that uncertainty is the way of Nature and that our tendency, many of us, as humans, to seek "risk-free" situations or "certainty" (in anything from job, clientele, relationships, place of residency, investments, etc etc) is noy only counter-Natural but also un-realistic - a myth which we "pay" a huge "cost" for.

Revising our concepts of productivity (part 1)

In business/work/economics:
Over the years I have experienced, first hand, many work environments where activity (and even better, hyper-activity) was thought of - perceived as productivity as well as other environments where, in the presence of good organisation, the resulting "calm aura" was perceived as lacking in productivity.

In life in general:
Over the years I have experienced many social and other related environments where activity (and even better, hyper-activity) was thought of - perceived as a sign of being active and/or alive or even "sucking the marrow out of life". As well as other environments where, in the presence of good personal and time - task management, the resulting "calm aura" was perceived as missing the "grabbing life by the horns" dimension.

In my opinion, these perceptions result from antiquated concepts and definitions of productivity, even effectiveness, etc.

We are well past the core of the industrial era Taylor theories re (machine/industrial) productivity, since inter alia, most of western economies consist up to 80% of Services.

Other factors that have contributed to these "fast times" systemics are in my opinion the establishment of the "just in time" process in production and logistics (which preceded globalisation by many years), as well as this fuzzy - messy sum of systemics and dynamics that most people refer to globalisation in recent years. Plus, again in my opinion, because of a need for any people to seem rather than actually be productive (in business/work/economics) or happy (in life in general).

Eg I recall when I first started working in the 80's, I would call up some acquaintances and ask them, rather naively, "are you busy, can you talk"? To which the reply almost always was "I am busy, but I will talk to you". Now, that would normally imply a compliment, saying ie that "I may be busy but I consider you such an important friend/collegue/business liaison/etc that I will invest my precious time to talk to you".

In my opinion, in most cases, such a compliment or feeling was not the driving force, it was, and some people actually admitted so when being confronted with this "antic" in more relaxed occassions, the attempt by these people to promote an "air"/aura of productivity and importance about them (assuming.implying that an important person is always busy, an assumptional that actually ran counter-intuitively to the impression I have always held as to the "lifestyle" of an "important" person, but that is another ... post!!! lol)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

European Parliament elections: EU issues?

May 13:
Europe: In how many of the member countries of the European Union the Euro-MP election period will focus on EU-wide political and policy issues rather than national political - policy ones and (national) party politicking?

UK jobs and manufacturing in March

In March: UK manufacturing output continued to fall, but the fall was not as severe as had been expected (and that is supposed to create optimism??). In Q1/09, UK unemployment went up by 244,000 to 2.22 million to 7.1% of the workforce.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

hope springs eternal?

May 12:

The worst is now over: Hope springs eternal? Optimism? Wishful thinking or a reality?

Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, has said there was a "slowing down in the decrease in GDP", while certain countries are already reporting a pick-up in the GDP rate. "We are, as far as growth is concerned, around the inflection point in the cycle," he added. Do such evaluaions and date show that the worst is now over (?!) ie that the lowest point has been reached and now the bounceback is starting? Social, as opposed to natural, sciences have the peculiar characteristic that if enough people believe that something is "true", then it becomes true, because their resulting actions make it true (even if it was not true in the firstplace). Plus influential opinions tend to "market make".

It is amazing to read "analyses" or reports that claim that the fact that some figure or stat rose more "than expected" or fell less "than expected", that is cause for optimism.

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has cliamed that there are "tentative signs of, at least, a pause in the economic slowdown" in the UK, France, Italy and China. These "signs" are based on the OECD's "composite leading indicators index" (CLI), which tracks forward-looking economic data.

Plus, US consumer confidence has recovered from it extreme lows in the last few weeks.But is that enough to proclaim that the bottom has been reached and that recovery is around the corner? Or the less than expected or previous months rise in US unemployment?

It seems that the recent rally in stock markets around the world has prompted hopes that the world economy is recovering (and that the worst is now over (but is it?)), thus investors are betting that demand for oil will recover soon, leading to oil prices rise to the highest level in six months (around USD 60 per barrel) in spite so far scant evidence that demand for oil is recovering.

In March:

The US trade deficit widened in March for the first time since July 2008, as sales of exports fell amid the recession.

UK manufacturing output continued to fall, but the fall was not as severe as had been expected (and that is supposed to create optimism??). In Q1/09, UK unemployment went up by 244,000 to 2.22 million to 7.1% of the workforce.

According to April figures in China, industrial output showed slower growth than before, "only"7.3%, while retail sales rose!

PS. Let's assume that the worst is now past and that recovery is around the corner. Let us then recall the crisis before the current (subprime led/caused/rooted) global crisis, that of less than 1 year ago, which was driven by the USD 120++ per barrel global prices of oil and many "staple" foods. Then came the subprime tsunami and a new crisis. Any lessons there?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

thinking: "it's the Services and the SMEs 'stupid'" (aka "antiquated mindsets")

It is my thesis that many politicians and policy makers, media, Citizen's Society activists as well as the general public have an antiquated mindset when it comes to "business". That their "cognitive associations" link the word "business" with large, huge, industrial companies (if not men dressed in heavy dark suits with cigars in their mouths in smoke stuffed board rooms).


Because, at least in most of the OECD countries, at least, most of the economic activity is made up of Services, sometimes up to 75-80%. And that this "Services" sector that now dominates economic activity consists of mostly small and micro and some medium and a few large companies, in most of those economies.

Yet those you formulate or comment on policy, politicians, policy makers, media and activists, do so with this antiquated mindset "in mind".

And that leads to policies that are not that relevant to the socio-economic reality of our post/meta-industrial times.

Survival in Globalia" "Homes"


A. The "Lord" of the Keys

What is the key to survival, prosperity and happiness nowadays?

a) Having a "home"
b) Having money in the bank
c) Having health insurance-coverage
d) Having access to a job or client market

What are the modern definitions of "job-less", "money-less", "home-less", "market-less", etc.? For a) people and b) corporations?

How does fit with the "be a good neighbour" CSR approach?

What does "having an "identity"" mean, in today's terms?

B. Home ownersh
ip - The core of our stability?

President Bush once said that owning a home is the center of the American Dream.

Not only of the American!

Many Europeans, eg my parents, have home ownership at the center of their "living philosophy".

I do not. Am I "heretical"? Am I wrong? Is selling my flat a "stupid move", an irreversible stupid move?

Many own their home. It gives them and all other homeowners around the world a stable place to "stand", that I do appreciate and I can empathise with.

But in these global, interesting, volatile times, is building a tangible "fortress" ("my home is my fortress") the way to best deal with the dynamics - challenges of the times? Or is it a "life strategy" defensive measure which is not in line with the dynamics of the times?

For one, owning a home ties you down, reduces your mobility. Not only do the things we own wind up owning us (a quote from "The Fight Club") and a home is indeed "a thing" (rather than an intangible or mobile asset). Real estate property, along with alcohol, cigarettes and cars (another key symbol of "having") are the core taxable and red taped things in most systems. For obvious reasons.

But when one moves from state to state (eg USA) or country to country (eg EU) or region to region (eg Canada), does it make sense to have "property" and "taxable assets etc" in more than one locations? Who has time for dealing with more than one tax authorities? Or fees to spend for inter-national tax expertise?

Is relocation a privilege for the very rich (who can afford all the experts) and the have-nothings (who relocate with nothing, thus do not have issues of double taxation avoidance and do not need to file in more than one admins)?

In the EU, owning a car is a barrier to mobility too. For tax revenue related reasons, as well.

Does owning a home or car today make economic or strategic sense for anyone who wants to be "light" enough to be able to deal with the winds of globalisation?

Mobility of social security rights is another major issue. Eg how does a not impoverished old person get hospital insurance is he/she moves to the US or within the US? Can one take one's social security scheme with him/her (not to the after life, but to a new location), be it state or private or a mix?

Capital is mobile these global days. Products too. Services, as well, to some extent. Jobs too. But does one have to be desperate enough to liquidate everything in order to relocate or willing to spend a lot of time in red tape activities. Kind of defeats the relocation rationale, does it not?

What is more core then these days to any modern living strategy? Home ownership or a geo mobile health plan?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thinking: Sanctuaries

In these turbulent, highly uncertain times, what are our "sanctuaries"?
"Sanctuary" employers - companies (for employees)?
"Sanctuary" economies (for companies)?
"Sanctuary" relationships (of various "kinds" of "relationships", friends, etc)?

What are your "sanctuaries"?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Several central banks decided to cut their interest rates today.

Several central banks decided to cut their interest rates today.

The European Central Bank has cut interest rates in the Eurozone to a record low of 1%, from 1.25%. It is the seventh time the ECB has lowered its key rate since October 2008, when it stood at 4.25%.
Iceland's central cut rates from 15.5% to 13% in its third cut this year. Denmark cut rates from 2% to 1.65% and the Czech central bank cut rates from 1.75% to 1.5%.

Unconventional policy methods employed in the US and some European countries.

Unconventional policy methods employed in the US and some European countries.

Whereas the ECB has fewer tools available than the central banks of the Euro member states, but has reached agreement on a plan to pump about 60bn euros into the eurozone economy by buying up debt.

The ECB's UK and US counterparts have taken similar unconventional monetary policy measures to boost growth.

"We have not decided today that the new level of our policy rates was the lowest level," Mr Trichet said, but he added that rates were at an appropriate level for now. The ECB said it would lend banks unlimited funds for up to 12 months, up from six months.

The Bank of England's announcement that it would keep interest rates unchanged at 0.5%. The Bank of England also said it would pump an extra BP 50 bn into the UK economy via purchases of government and corporate debt, extending its planned spending to £125bn.

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