Moore’s Law / Elon Musk

The Books of the Week are “Moore’s Law, The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley’s Quiet Revolutionary” by Arnold Thackray, David C. Brock and Rachel Jones, published in 2015, and “Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance, published in 2015.

The former biography described not only Gordon Moore’s life, but the histories and cultures of his ancestors, his wife’s family, and the places where he lived.

Born in January 1929 in Pescadero California, Moore was the middle son of three. His father spent most of his working life in law enforcement. He, his father and brothers went fishing and hunting. The family moved to Redwood City in 1938.

At eleven years old, Moore fell in love with chemistry. His “… adolescent hobby of making bombs and explosions” or maybe also the cumulative effect of his noisy hunting excursions were thought to have caused his hearing loss later in life. He wed his college sweetheart and completed a PhD in experimental particle physics at California Institute of Technology.

In 1953, the transistor was starting to replace the vacuum tube in various devices, like TV sets. It also became a handy component in military electronics. In 1956, Moore went to work for William Shockley– a reputable scientist but a psycho boss. Shockley had hubris syndrome and, with his friends from Bell Labs, convinced his company’s major investor to fund the development of a diode rather than the silicon transistor.

In 1957, feeling disgusted and entrepreneurial, Moore and seven of his colleagues left the company and, financed by venture capitalists, eventually formed Fairchild Semiconductor in Mountain View, California. What with the space race, aerospace computing was all the rage. Silicon was a substance that had the right physical properties to advance it.

At Fairchild, Moore formed a research and development group that competed with the manufacturing department. Unfortunately, his temperament was non-confrontational, and his avoidance behavior was bad for business. Fortunately, in 1968, he, Bob Noyce and Andy Grove sported the appropriate diverse set of personalities and skills that maximized profits in a new venture they formed, called Intel. Their strategy was to introduce cutting-edge products to the technology market and be the first to do so.

Intel went public in October 1971, but NOT on a “stock exchange” as the authors wrote. Only on NASDAQ (not an exchange). Moore wanted the company to make computer parts, but not the whole computer, or else it would compete with its customers, such as IBM. By the mid 1970’s, Intel had factories in Malaysia and the Philippines. Moore motivated his initial employees through bribery– stock options and a stock purchase program. He even bribed his own son to finish school.

Intel’s labor- and time-saving devices proliferated in everyday products like calculators, color TV’s, telephone networks, cash registers and watches, not to mention inter-continental ballistic missiles. And spaceships. The authors downplayed the role of video games in the advancement of computer components.

Moore wrote about a concept that played out accurately through the decades that came to be known as Moore’s Law. In 1976, the price of silicon transistors– which are put on memory microchips– was less than a penny. That price got lower and lower as technology got better and faster. Unfortunately, according to the book, this economic growth has run its course in the United States and is predicted to come to an end in the next five years or so.

Read the book to learn how Intel cheated by taking a page from Microsoft’s playbook (and partnered with it)– to become a monopoly– in order to dominate the PC world; what the billionaire Moore did after he was forced to retire (very reluctantly; hint– he engaged in philanthropy from which he required measurability and accountability); and much more about his company, lifestyle and family.

Born into a relatively wealthy family in 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa, Elon Musk is the oldest of three children. A voracious reader, he, like Isaac Asimov, was also an insufferable know-it-all, and thus became a social outcast. At about eight years old, he chose to go live with his psychologically abusive, rabid-apartheidist father when his parents split.

Musk engaged in the usual leisure pursuits of nerdy boys of his generation: Dungeons and Dragons, computer programming, rocketry and chemistry explosions. Being super-smart, he learned that the United States was superior to South Africa in terms  entrepreneurial opportunities. He therefore got Canadian citizenship through his mother’s ancestors, and then moved to the United States as a young man.

Musk attended college and graduate school in Pennsylvania. He studied business, physics and economics. He charged admission for alcohol parties to raise money to pay for his tuition. In 1995, he went into business with his brother. Four years later, their website start-up, Zip2, was sold to Compaq for a tidy sum. He then started and/or worked on other projects, including an internet bank, an electric car, spacecraft and devices that harness solar power.

Certain aspects of Musk’s personality in the workplace are comparable to various other famous people. Musk’s dysfunctional managerial style is a blessing and a curse. He, like the late Steve Jobs, is hard-driving on employees to the point of meanness. But his focus and workaholic business ventures have achieved what many said was impossible. His keen entrepreneurial instincts, similar to those of Bill Gates, have seen him through. Also like Gates, he has delivered on what he promised, but usually way over deadline.

When it comes to space exploration, Musk, like Freeman Dyson, shoots not for colonizing the moon, but for colonizing Mars. Musk, like Richard Stallman, believes in the free exchange of information. He truly wants to improve humanity so much so that, according to the author, he eventually shared with the world (!) the intellectual property of his electric car company, Tesla. In 2005, its first car was completed by a mere eighteen workers.

However, in 2007, Musk was very possessive of Tesla. Contrary the recommendation of an interim CEO, he stubbornly refused to cut the near-bankrupt company’s losses and sell it to an experienced international automaker. He was competing with not only overwhelmingly powerful and politically influential automakers, but also with military contractors and the oil industry.

Read the book to learn of two major automakers who have invested in Tesla; of how the Obama administration helped keep the company afloat; of the myriad benefits the world is deriving from Musk’s  innovations; and of Musk’s personal life.

Grand Delusions – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Grand Delusions, The Cosmic Career of John DeLorean” by Hillel Levin, published in 1983. This volume described the adventures of a car company engineer and entrepreneur, not to mention swindler.

The book’s first chapter was a summary of his entire career, suspense be damned. The section on his makeover and marriages was disorganized and redundant. One more criticism– the author interviewed only the book’s subject twice, and listed no notes, references or bibliography.

Anyhow, born in January 1925 in Detroit, DeLorean was the oldest of five sons. His father was an alcoholic Romanian; his mother, an Austrian. He kept busy while attending Lawrence Tech in Michigan. He wrote for the school newspaper and was on the student council. He joined a fraternity, danced in night clubs and drove a fast car.

DeLorean held a series of jobs including salesman, trainee in a special program at Chrysler, engineer at Packard, head engineer and then general manager of General Motors’ Pontiac division, and by the late 1960’s, general manager of its Chevrolet division.

After departing from his full-time job under murky circumstances, DeLorean and his sidekick Roy Nesseth posed as entrepreneurs who executed crooked business deals. Victims included an auto-parts patent holder, a farmer/rancher, and a financially struggling Cadillac dealership, among others. By the mid-1970’s, the pair had a bunch of business failures and lawsuits against them.

Journalists were suckered into writing about DeLorean’s past glory as a brilliant engineer. He “… must have learned that if he didn’t say too much, the reporter wouldn’t bother to check any further… They were still looking for dirt on General Motors, and the ex-executive was more than willing to give it to them… The maverick auto engineer was too compelling a character to be deflated with investigative journalism.” DeLorean fooled people just like Bernie Madoff did, although not on as grand a scale.

When he started his own car company, DeLorean let his attorney create a complicated network of sister companies to deliberately obfuscate financial and legal matters. It took the entire second half of the Seventies.

A boatload of fundraising was required to pay lavish executives’ salaries, design their offices, choose a manufacturing site, build the factory, sign up the car dealers, etc. The author erroneously used the term “comptroller” instead of “controller” when discussing the pesky bean-counter who complained about the arrogant, greedy DeLorean’s huge monetary outlays on all things for himself. “As Dewey [DeLorean’s first controller] predicted, the improprieties grew exponentially with the influx of money from the British government.”

DeLorean was the type of man who fancied himself as having some of the traits of James Bond. A man such as this, with a big ego, marries a model or actress at least a decade younger than himself. Like DeLorean, other James-Bond wannabes have assumed prominent leadership roles, and become international celebrities. The list includes but is far from limited to: Charlie Chaplin, Cornelius Vanderbilt IV, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk and of course, Ian Fleming.

Read the book to learn the details of the combination of honest ineptitude and premeditated, nervy criminality in which DeLorean and his accomplices engaged in the context of how not to become an automaker.

Shoe Dog

The Book of the Week is “Shoe Dog, A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” by Phil Knight, published in 2016.

Born in 1938 in Portland Oregon, Knight showed irrepressible passion and optimism through years and years of financial losses. He got seed money from his father, and moral support from his mother.

By his mid-twenties, Knight possessed a quality education but still needed to find himself. He did some international traveling with a friend. He learned that Japan made running shoes he could import and sell in the U.S. So in 1964, he partnered with his college track coach– a legend in his social circle- to start a business. At that time, “running wasn’t even a sport.”

Even though he was a pioneer in an evolving industry, he returned to school to become a Certified Public Accountant, just in case the sneaker gig didn’t pan out. He was working around the clock at a full-time accounting job, and nurturing his shoe business. He and later, his employees, personally drove to track meets of schools in western states to meet and sell sneakers to scores of people– coaches, runners, fans.

Banks lending money to businesses at the time did not provide revolving credit facilities– they expected to see solvency. Knight believed in reinvesting every penny of profit into the business– thus generating an endless debt cycle.

He would borrow to purchase more sneakers, sell them, then repeat the process. He had to have competitive sales prices for his products; else they wouldn’t sell against Puma and Adidas. But they were selling like hotcakes. Starting in the mid-1960’s, before he rented a warehouse, he stored the shoes, floor to ceiling, in his bachelor pad. The business was initially named Blue Ribbon and the first shoe model was named Tiger.

At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, eleven Israelis were killed in a terrorist attack. The nation was again mourning yet more deaths, in addition to those of previous years– the Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr., the Kent State University students, and of course, the tens of thousands in Vietnam. “Ours was a difficult, death-drenched age, and at least once every day you were forced to ask yourself: What’s the point?”

By 1976, Knight had changed his business’s name to Nike Inc. and had factories in New England, Puerto Rico and Taiwan. Unsurprisingly, his family life took a backseat to his workaholic lifestyle.

Read the book to learn of Knight’s interactions with his business partners and their personalities, and the million worries he faced every day in running his business, including products, manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, advertising, retailing, and dealing with lenders, employees, counterfeit goods, etc., etc. etc.; plus, what prompted him to take the company public.

The Nudist on the Late Shift – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Nudist on the Late Shift, and Other True Tales of Silicon Valley” by Po Bronson, published in 1999.  The author provided NO specific source notes and NO index, but he was a journalist who interviewed numerous, various individuals directly.

Anyway, the interviewees aspired to get rich quick in Silicon Valley in the 1990’s. Most were technology gurus; the others, sellers of high-tech products. Some became multi-millionaires; others, who also possessed irrepressible optimism, moved on to the next project.

Bronson described the trials and tribulations suffered by parties involved in an IPO– the subject tech company’s directors and officers, the SEC, the local business printer, bankers in various major U. S. cities, etc.– on the precarious first day of trading on a Friday in the summer of 1998.

The author spoke extensively with the supremely confident co-creator of the software that became Hotmail, the world’s first Web-based email service– which was free and global, later sold to Microsoft in late 1997 for about $400 million. At the book’s writing, the service had more than 26 million users.

One of countless interesting aspects of the World Wide Web is that its advent weeded out the sloppy computer-code developers. The reason is that the code is required to be on a global rather than a local-area network– with the potential for millions of users with diverse hardware, software and settings– and thus the potential for crashing much more easily.

Read the book to learn about the then-options available to entrepreneurs seeking funding for their projects.

The Age of Heretics

The Book of the Week is “The Age of Heretics, Heroes, Outlaws, and the Forerunners of Corporate Change” by Art Kleiner, published in 1996. This is a description of the consciousness-raising theories, thinkers, psychological researchers and organizations that spurred different ways of thinking, and futurism, in some American workplaces starting in the 1940’s.

A study of group dynamics of eleven-year old boys conducted by Kurt Lewin in the 1940’s tested three different scenarios. They examined democratic, autocratic and socialistic models of leadership. The most mature group was found in the first model. The second spawned a form of Nazism. The third model’s group members displayed resentment of lazy and non-cooperative individuals. In the 1960’s, a similar study done by Michael Maccoby among CEO’s yielded similar results.

In the mid 1940’s, management consultant Eric Trist found that people work well when their workplace culture consists of a bunch of small communities– each group sees how they fit into the system as a whole, working toward a common goal. He transferred the application of his theory to small groups of some of Procter and Gamble’s employees. They worked well together too, reaping handsome rewards for their employer and themselves. However, the author failed to mention whether they were unionized.

The program was kept top secret, lest the company’s competition copy them. In the early 1970’s, a similarly successful corporate culture was duplicated in Topeka, Kansas at a dog-food plant of General Foods. But upper management was still resistant to adoption of the democratic method of work.

In the mid-1960’s, Saul Alinsky was another heretic  (or arguably, hero or outlaw) who effected change. He pioneered shareholder activism to help underprivileged communities fight back against socially irresponsible corporations. He had local residents adversely affected (for instance, by pollution) by a major employer in a community, purchase stock of the employer in order to give those residents a voice at the company’s annual meeting.

The author wrote that the birth year of Amory Lovins, patent applicant for magnetic resonance imaging, was 1951 (which might not be accurate). Nevertheless, in the mid-1970’s, the brilliant scientist raised the alarm on environmental destruction of earth, suggesting that people harness solar energy, build wind farms, and heavily insulate their buildings. He proclaimed that nuclear power was horribly inefficient because it generated excessive heat.

It might be recalled that in the mid-1970’s, Ralph Nader confronted numerous hegemonic groups of individuals who lacked a moral compass. He “seized the day” during which the Watergate investigation revealed that “… a blustering, vicious, foulmouthed spirit lurked behind the presidential image.”

In the early 1970’s, Royal Dutch/Shell’s management structure and intellectual capacity to think ahead was anomalous compared with other major American oil companies.

Read the book to learn of how Shell formulated an accurate prediction of the oil industry a few years hence, and how it weathered the international storm (hint– the storm involved crisis-fabrication, a tool used by manipulative, power-hungry, greedy leaders everywhere); learn of the fate of a management consulting organization that spread its gospel to lots of workplaces; and much more.

The World According to Monsanto – URGENT POST

The Book of the Decade is  “The World According to Monsanto– Pollution, Corruption, and the Control of Our Food Supply” by Marie-Monique Robin, published in 2010.

The author wrote, “When one dissects Monsanto’s activity reports (contained in 10-K forms [annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States]) since 1997, one is struck by the place taken up by litigation.”

There are no companies that can fairly be compared to Monsanto in terms of payments to victims for irreparable harm, permanent injury and wrongful deaths caused by the environmental damage done by Monsanto. They couldn’t possibly compete. But the following is a summary of recent expenses of the legal bullying of, and financial punishments handed down, to Monsanto.

Monsanto’s 2017 annual report’s footnotes showed $33 million in expenses associated with “environmental and litigation matters.” The company’s 2015 Restructuring Plan included $167 million of the same kinds of aforementioned expenses and “a SEC settlement.” The cost of goods sold was $101 million. That means, its litigation expenses exceeded the costs of producing its products. Besides, annual reports don’t normally contain the exact phrase “environmental and litigation matters.”

Another item included $32 million of expenses related to “legacy environmental settlements.” Monsanto recorded the settlement of its polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) legal troubles for $280 million in fiscal 2016. Lastly (finally!), the “Long-Term Portion of Environmental and Litigation Liabilities” accounts for almost 1 1/2% of the company’s “Total Liabilities” for the year.

What makes Monsanto’s excessive litigation egregious is that it has so much worldwide hegemony that it wins its cases most of the time– the company itself sues everyone who gets in the way of its profit-making, and successfully defends itself against the countless plaintiffs who have legitimate causes of action against it.

Not to mention the fact that it had basically formed a public-private partnership (largely via political contributions and lobbying), with the American government as of the book’s writing. That is why whistleblowers and activists get crushed in its wake.

Sounds familiar… Unfortunately, the reason history repeats itself so often is that human nature doesn’t change. What makes Monsanto’s case so much scarier than the situations with other, similar monstrous entities is that Monsanto has the potential to permanently contaminate nearly the entire world’s food supply, and there have already been significant consequences of that nature due to its unbridled greed. Yes, it is that bad.

Founded as a chemical and plastics company in 1901 in Saint Louis, Missouri– Monsanto went public in 1929. It made DDT, dioxin, aspartame, (and inadvertently but knowingly and ruthlessly, PCBs), among other substances that have done permanent harm to a large number of people.

As of this book’s writing, Monsanto had a presence in 46 nations and owned 90% of the patents for all Genetically Modified Organisms internationally grown. It makes billions of dollars in profit annually.

The author traveled extensively to interview numerous people to gather a voluminous amount of data on Monsanto’s quest to make the maximum amount of money it possibly can, at the expense of humanity. The scientists she interviewed– including friends and foes of Monsanto– all said they wouldn’t eat the genetically modified foods borne of Monsanto products.

The author tells lots of anecdotes about people from all different geographic areas who have been adversely affected by the chemicals and genetically modified organisms sold by Monsanto, plus about several people previously affiliated with the company and U.S. government agencies, who were clearly still loyal to their former employers. One such interviewee displayed the body language of a liar: excessive blinking when answering her pressing questions. She also pored over declassified documents that indicate outrageous corporate wrongdoing.

Monsanto’s employees currently research, apply for patents to, and sell genetically modified seeds for growing soybeans, corn, cotton and rapeseed; plus a herbicide– Roundup, an insecticide– Bt toxin, and the bovine growth hormone rBST.

The author wrote that in 1983, the American federal government set aside funds called the Superfund Program to decontaminate toxic waste sites around the nation. When some of those funds were diverted to “… finance the electoral campaigns of Republican candidates, Congress discovered that documents that would compromise the companies[,] disappeared.”

As might be recalled, the Reagan administration had a reputation for being staunchly pro-business; so much so that it made EPA worker Anne Burford and her colleague Rita Lavelle the scapegoats of a scandal after pressuring them to shred documents (which would have implicated Monsanto) and commit other crimes in connection with the town of Times Beach, Missouri– a dioxin-and-PCBs-contaminated site.

That contamination resulted in the deaths of numerous animals, serious health problems for the people there, and forced permanent evacuation of the eight-hundred family resort town.

The author spoke with several whistleblowers. All were punished by their employers. One from the EPA distributed an inflammatory memo saying Monsanto published false research results on its products. Another from the FDA wrote a report on the flaws in Monsanto’s application for approval of the artificial growth hormone rBST. He was fired in 1989, sued, and years later, won a job back at the FDA, but not one for which he was suited.

Monsanto’s rBST (still currently used at some dairy farms), when injected into cows, causes them to produce more milk (translation: more money). With the hormone, other substances are also likely to get into the milk, such as pus and antibiotics. This is because the injection sites on the cows form abscesses, necessitating the administering of antibiotics to the cows. Further, with rBST, the cows develop serious health problems, like ovarian cysts, mastitis and uterine disorders. Never mind humans who drink their milk.

In an unprecedented move, the FDA changed its own rules and approved rBST in November 1993 without forcing Monsanto to reply to its concerns and recommendations.

In the late 1980’s, a genetically modified dietary supplement sold by prescription only caused serious health problems, killing at least 37 and permanently disabling 1,500. If that kind of harm was done by a regulated item meant to be eaten that was genetically modified around the same time that Monsanto was testing rBST– a part of a product that millions of people would consume, shouldn’t the FDA have been more prudent in its approval process of rBST??

Monsanto sued the dairies that said on their milk-container labels that their milk contained no rBST. The defendants were forced to change their labeling.

In the late 1990’s, there was the TV-journalist-couple who were working on a show with negative coverage on Monsanto, when their employer was taken over by Fox News. They were fired because they refused to switch from telling the truth, to lying about Monsanto.

In 2003, after the couple suffered years of emotionally and bank-account draining litigation, “The [federal] judges considered that no law prohibited a television network or a newspaper company from lying to the public. To be sure, the rules established by the FCC prohibited it, but they did not have the force of law.” No wonder journalism is dead.

Conflicts of interest abounded in the 1990’s , when supposedly scholarly journal (peer-reviewed) articles (like Science, Nature and the Journal of the American Medical Association) declared that Monsanto’s products were safe; those articles were written by people paid by Monsanto.

Reputable scientists pointed out that Monsanto’s scientific testing involved non-standard procedures, and was statistically suspect as it was of too short a duration, and had too small a sample size.

Read the book to learn about:

  • horror stories resulting from Monsanto’s underhanded tactics regarding testing and use of its products, including the herbicide Roundup;
  • its victims in Anniston, Alabama who were subjected to PCBs;
  • which of Monsanto’s products was banned in 2000 in Canada and Europe;
  • how Monsanto is active in the United Nations;
  • how deregulation perpetuates Monsanto’s worldwide hegemony;
  • which ten or so individual American government officials acted on Monsanto’s behalf, but had undisclosed conflicts of interest [there was scant room in the book to list all those who were ethically challenged Monsanto affiliates— wait, that’s redundant];
  • the percentages of all foods genetically modified in specific categories in 2005;
  • how taxpayers footed the bill for Monsanto’s aggressive use of legal and political weaponry against American soybean farmers (whom it seriously harmed by taking away their livelihoods through duress and illegally spying on them in the late 1990’s) from 1999 into 2002;
  • why Monsanto dropped its initiative to introduce a transgenic wheat, even after spending hundreds of millions of dollars in connection therewith;
  • how Mexico has been harmed by Monsanto’s transgenic corn;
  • how Argentina and Paraguay have been harmed by Monsanto’s transgenic soybeans;
  • how India has been harmed by Monsanto’s transgenic cotton;
  • how Canadian farmers have been harmed by transgenic canola;
  • what transpired when, in January 2005, the Securities and Exchange Commission launched a legal proceeding against Monsanto for corruption in Indonesia;
  • why the World Trade Organization should share some blame for allowing the worldwide spread of Monsanto’s tentacles;
  • and much more.

Endnote:  Feel free to browse other posts for additional examples of entities behaving badly under the category “Business Ethics.”

Devils on the Deep Blue Sea

The Book of the Week is “Devils on the Deep Blue Sea, The Dreams, Schemes and Showdowns that Built America’s Cruise-Ship Empires” by Kristoffer A. Garin, published in 2005.

As of the book’s writing, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean were two holding companies that dominated the pleasure cruise industry. The chairman and CEO of the former controlled almost half of the passenger capacity.

The passenger capacity of one cruise ship skyrocketed from less than two hundred to seven hundred fifty in the decade after WWII. Vacation culture was changing from wintertime to year-round Caribbean jaunts. Miami, Florida was the place of embarkation.

In autumn 1965, a cruise fire caused 91 deaths, and put the industry on edge. Negligence and incompetence of the captain and crew were to blame. Nevertheless, even at that time, the travel company owner was able to weasel out of legal trouble because the ship was registered in Panama. He didn’t escape financial trouble thereafter, though.

In 1966, Miami got a new passenger terminal. The 1970’s saw the city’s docks fraught with organized crime, thanks to the port director. Starting in the late 1970’s, the TV show “Love Boat” significantly boosted the number of people of all ages who tried cruising. In 1981, the industry experienced labor trouble.

Read the book to learn how the industry evolved; how Ted Arison earned his less-than-stellar reputation; how business-savvy executives seeking to merge with or acquire distressed cruise-line assets did so through the decades, including the Princess Cruises saga; and the tax, employment and supply-chain tricks they use to maximize profits.

Appetite for Self-Destruction

The Book of the Week is “Appetite for Self-Destruction, The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age” by Steve Knopper, published in 2009. This is an account of how the American music industry, for the most part, reacted badly to the jarring changes wrought by technological advances starting in the late 1970’s.

For decades prior to the 1970’s, the music market in the United States had had a shady reputation– involving drugs, kickbacks, bribes and cronyism, among other vices.

Even after CDs proved to provide sound that was superior to plastic records, entities in the music industry supply chain resisted making CDs because it necessitated the reconfiguring of their: factories, marketing materials, store displays, etc. Modernizing everything was expensive.

In 1978, the Sony CDP-101 could play the first CD title:  “52nd Street” from Billy Joel. But only in Japan. PolyGram Records, CBS Records and Sony understood the value of the new product. Arista Records, Capitol Records and EMI didn’t.

In addition to the widespread introduction of CDs in America by the late 1980’s, the sale of CBS Records was another disruptive force in the industry, resulting in power struggles and lots of layoffs. The old-school record labels depended on MTV, radio and music stores to distribute their wares for another decade.

The tail end of the 1990’s saw a new technology that really turned the industry on its ear:  the World Wide Web. It enabled people to create software that allowed free (no-cost and no restrictions) electronic-music-file sharing. In December 1999, the organization regulating intellectual property rights on music, the RIAA, sued one of the major organizations doing the sharing– Napster– for copyright violations. By the following summer, the latter had approximately nineteen million users per month.

Read the book to learn of the outcome of the above and other legal battles; the new 1990’s and early 2000’s music conduits and devices, their relationships to the laws on music piracy; and many other actions taken by the American music industry that have fueled the current state of digital music sales.

Start-Up Nation

The Book of the Week is “Start-Up Nation, The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, published in 2009. The authors of this extended essay ponder why Israel had, at the book’s writing, a huger number of tech start-ups than all other industrialized nations, second only to the United States’. The reasons range from the cultural to the political to the economic.

The Israeli corporate and military mentality involves: complete focus; learning from errors (which are tolerated and treated as learning experiences); constant debriefings and self-criticism sessions; endless, heated debate; and empowerment of employees at all status levels to use their initiative and resources– even to the point of upstaging their bosses with their input. This atmosphere encourages independent thinking, and discourages herd mentality and blind obedience.

Militarily, all Israelis serve a minimum of two to three years and then become reservists for two more decades. Close social ties are formed that foster business relationships later. The exceptional rising stars participate in special nine-year training programs that create  “foxes” rather than “hedgehogs.” Foxes use diverse skills from operating and maintaining high-tech equipment to imaginatively solving problems.

After serving their country, many Israelis then attend university. Finally, employers consider quality and quantity of military experience as major hiring criteria.

The authors provided real-life examples of how the traits Israelis possess cause them to gravitate toward entrepreneurial ventures. In 1965, in one instance, kibbutzniks digging a well hoping to find drinking water instead encountered warm, salty water. A creative academic advised them to breed tropical food-fish. By-products of the fish-farm were used for fertilizer for their olive and date trees.

Read the book to learn of additional characteristics of and actions taken by Israelis and their government that have helped them achieve technological advances in various economically rewarding areas, including medicine, auto manufacturing and computing.

Digital Gold

The Book of the Week is “Digital Gold– Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money” by Nathaniel Popper, published in 2015.

This ebook is about Bitcoin, a bookkeeping system used on various websites that distributes, records and stores the value of units called Bitcoins.

The system was created in 2009 by a computer geek who called himself Satoshi Nakamoto. His vision was to create a worldwide means-of-exchange to be used online that would be:

  • a decentralized network of users so that no one central authority has the majority of power over the system– unlike the current situations in the world; in other words, place power in the hands of the users, rather than the economic royalists. (Nevertheless, the irony is that Bitcoin has largely stayed in the realm of the wealthy computer geeks- so there has bascially been redistribution of wealth among the wealthy);
  • created and maintained by users of the system on a consensus basis rather than by the powers-that-be, whose political campaigns are funded by financial institutions, and who stay in power by doing their will;
  • anonymous (like cash– no third parties acquire the information of buyers and sellers);
  • secure (no one point of failure would mean vulnerability for the whole system, plus have protections against identity theft, malware, counterfeiting etc.); and
  • offered at a lesser cost than the current system (avoiding financial institutions with their fees).

However, no utopian vision is perfect. Various tech-startups around the world have been created to store and exchange Bitcoins. That is all well and good. In the last seven years or so, a “remarkably engaged online community” has sprung up to discuss the ideology and all the different issues attendant to the new system. Even the major American financial institutions, fearing competition, have begun to rethink the security of their online dealings, and so have assembled task forces to research how to harness Bitcoin’s loss-prevention technology.

Bitcoins are acquired by computer users who log on to a specific site on the Internet. The users get the virtual “coins” for free, but might have to pay to store them elsewhere to keep them secure.

Bitcoins are more like a security than a means of exchange like cash because:

  • The system distributing Bitcoins is like a combination slot machine and a financial market where instruments are bought and sold, and the value of Bitcoins fluctuates.
  • There’s an inherent unfairness in the system in that– technologically astute users of the system have banded together to create devices that mine Bitcoins at a significantly faster rate than individual users.
  • People can acquire a national currency such as the American dollar in many more ways than they can Bitcoins, most of them honestly– earning, borrowing, begging or stealing.

Anyway, the purpose of Bitcoins as a means of exchange has yet to catch on among mainstream consumers of industrialized countries. There is no sufficiently compelling reason for consumers to start to buy things online with Bitcoins rather than credit cards. “Why should they trust a digital code that had nothing backing it but the computers of some libertarian nerds?”

Argentina is one country where Bitcoins have been useful. The super-speedy inflation of the peso there has meant people must spend their Argentinian money the minute they acquire it or risk the inability to buy anything because they wouldn’t be able to afford it– even food. In China, Bitcoin is popular because the government regulates the yuan exchange rate in order to stem “capital flight” and sell more of its own goods to the world.

As with all human-created systems that rely on the honor system, ALL users must act ethically. One American Bitcoin-processor in particular created a drug-distribution entity called Silk Road that was deemed illegal according to U.S. law.

Another bad actor hacked into a company called Mt. Gox in Japan. All users of that service suffered. “Bitcoin users eventually went to government authorities that Bitcoin had been designed, at least partly, to obviate.”

Besides, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has been examining the legal aspects of Bitcoin as a virtual currency. Homeland Security is concerned about the fact that Bitcoins could be anonymously sent to terrorist cells overseas.

Read the book to learn much more about the good and bad consequences of the creation of Bitcoin.