Monday, December 28, 2009

Tax I can sign up for...

Not only do I hope a gas tax is no longer unthinkable, I also hope it is inevitable. Given all the pressures facing the US national balance sheet, and the failure of Copenhagen, it is really one of the few win-win solutions out there.

I think economists, even the likes of Greg Mankiw would agree.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The art of a decade

As we wrap up the first decade of the 21st century, there is some interesting (albeit inevitable) thinking about what were the trends that defined the last 10 years.

A very nice article in the WSJ highlights the “un-trend”, the lack of a single artistic trend that identifies, defines and shapes our dearly departed decade. The writer attributes this to the inability of a critical mass to form around a single thought or movement, similar to what may have formed in artistic centers this time last century…

The key factor in stylistic evolution was geographical concentration: One of the reasons that so many turn-of-the-century painters embraced cubism was that an unusually high percentage of them lived in Paris and knew one another, just as jazz took shape in New Orleans rather than Detroit.

Another problem is a coherent mass media that once helped define trends way back when…

Would Andy Warhol have become an art-world superstar if magazines like Time hadn't proclaimed that he "best plays the part of what a pop artist might expectably be"? I doubt it, just as I doubt that The Beatles would have taken America by storm without the help of Ed Sullivan.

I made a similar point about the lack of an authoritative voice in the mass media when I contemplated the next Cronkite

The main argument I have against this article is that it is too soon to make a judgment that there is no artistic trend to define Decade: 1, Century: 21. I suspect that the various romanti-cubi-surreal-isms that we assign other eras were only obvious in retrospect, after the decade had well passed-on.

The Economist makes the point that the real winner is the blockbuster, which is still able to corral people to one place around one screen, but these blockbusters do not a trend define. (Can’t find the link now, just go to and hunt around for the link if you’re interested.)

We are living in an era of fractured audiences and fractured art. What will be interesting is that someday (maybe in this decade) someone will be able to present a huge big (and sustainable) idea across the fractured mediascape.

The word “sustainable” is important because right now we get a lot of huge ideas on our Facebooktwitteryoutube page, that are big, exciting but ultimately fleeting (Susan Boyle anyone… and yes, I know she has an album out).

So who will present this huge multiplatform idea that stays with us? I have no idea, but it will happen. Just as the universe expands and contracts, so will the mediaspace. Now it is expanding across different ideas, technologies and genres, and that’s cool. But some sort of cosmic gravity will begin to pull that together someday and the result will be a new way of consuming all the media we’ve created.

Until that time, I’ll leave the final word with the author:

That un-trend is the only identifiable one to have emerged in contemporary American culture. As every smart pollster knows, we live in a deeply divided country, one in which not enough people agree about anything to allow artistic trends to flourish. That's neither good nor bad -- it just is. And it isn't going away.

Technology and the End of Trend

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Canada's fossilized thinking....

But Prentice says Canada didn't need to be there (Obama'a climate meeting) because it's only responsible for two per cent of the world's emissions.

Yeah, 2% of world's emissions but only 0.5% of the world's population. So Canada is a huge per capita emitter, has a huge energy sector but "no thanks" we don't need to participate in any meaningful discussions on climate change.

It is that attitude that doesn't get Canada invited to substantive talks. It is that attitude the causes Canada to slide further down the "relevant country" scale.


Feds say they didn't stand aside in climate talks

Friday, December 18, 2009

Building a VC industry, the Israel example

I recently participated in a conversation with one of the original architects of the Yozma initiative, which helped build the VC industry in Israel.

Here are some bullet points from that conversation:
• In the early 1990s, Israel’s government committed $100M as an LP across 10 venture funds
• The goal was to entice foreign VC funds to Israel to invest in companies and train local VC managers (funds were from US, Europe and Asia)
• The funds had the option to buy out the Israeli share within 5 years at a low rate (there was a pre-set formula, it turned out to be ~7%)
• 8 of the 10 funds were doing so well, they exercised the option
• The foreign funds had to have a local partner; the Yozma administrators had a veto over the who would be the local partner
• In only one instance did Yozma reject a candidate; in all other instances Yozma supported whichever local partner the foreign fund found
• Low taxes on foreign investors, no capital gains tax

The result was:
• Foreign funds came in with expertise to train and mentor the next generation of VC managers (this is by far the most important result)
• With the buy-out option, funds had the potential for additional upside at low risk (there were no guarantees for downside)
• In five years, the government got back $140M from their $100M investment
• Spawned about 70 new VC companies in Israel (which has since been pared down to about 35)

What also made Yozma a success was that there was a steady pipeline of companies ready to be funded, mostly coming out of the defense industry. Also, because Israel is such a small market and has hostile neighbors, companies have to think global from day one (as opposed to regional or local). This “global from day one” is also part of the philosophy that made Indian ITS companies so successful.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Rupert, you're right about the media!

OK, if this isn't one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, I don't know what is but yes, on one point, I actually whole-heartedly agree with Rupert Murdoch.

Here is the apocalyptic point:

The key to survival, he said, lies in giving consumers content that they want in the form that they want it — whether that be on a computer screen, mobile device or e-reader — and then charging for it.

"We need to do a better job of persuading consumers that high-quality, reliable news and information does not come free," Murdoch said. "Good journalism is an expensive commodity."

Right! Give people the quality they want, in a form they want it in, at a reasonable price, paid for in a convenient way.

It's worked for other forms of entertainment and while this isn't the silver bullet to save journalism, but it is a good start.

Generating quality journalism is a difficult process and deserves to be paid for. If we're willing to pay 99 cents for a pop tune, we should be willing to pay a similar amount to maintain one of the key pillars to civil society.

Murdoch: Media must get readers to pay for online