Imperialists caught at their own rules

Free trade is a system that has been imposed by the US on the world, and they have spent a great deal of efforts to get most countries there. Finally even China was admitted to the club. Mission accomplished? Too well indeed!

Most countries around the globe have restructured to meet the challenge of open borders by applying the American handbook. By exporting its model, the US became relatively less competitive. 

And China woke up thanks to Uncle Sam's orders. The millennial empire, with now millions of highly skilled and motivated engineers and businessmen, is back from oblivion . Suddenly the US are losing their hegemonic position.

Free trade used to be convenient; Mr Trump now thinks otherwise. However foolish we think Donald is, this is a sign of times. Like Japan 60 years ago would copy what Americans were inventing, they overtook the car industry. The same is happening with China. At a different scale. 

Pax Americana has always been ruthless. We cannot expect it to have changed. But the playmates have changed and Donald wants to change the rules of the game on the way because he is losing...


I miss the communists

When I was a kid, the world was scary but clear: we hated the communists and felt jeopardised by their armies. The good ones were the Americans, the bad ones the Reds, who spied on their citizens, killed millions of them, had a horrible economic system. It was not difficult to make an opinion and there were numerous examples of glorified dissidents who happily made it to the West. 

Maybe because this threat disappeared, free reeling capitalism mixed with technology became post capitalism, where wars are fought over the markets or the internet, where power is not exercised by force but by seduction. We lost sight of our enemies, cannot name them anymore, and we see them everywhere. In parallel, academic studies show that never had so few people on earth died a violent death. 

The more connected the better. Written 30/10/2016

We are all very concerned for our planet. Actually the most concerned are the rich, who paradoxically contribute over proportionally to exhaust it.

The answer is more connectivity. Think about transportation for a minute: they cause 26% of CO2 emissions. Then think Uber and Google car. One minute of sci-fi… Today I have to drop the kids at school, run errands, go to work. The 7:30 driverless Uber car stops in front of the house, picks up the kids, and 6 more of their schoolmates on the way. Yes, we ordered a collective Uber.

But I love too much my 30 min of quietness to go to work. So I order a private Uber, which picks me up at 7:40 and drops me at the office with no further stop.

An MIT study showed that driverless car could reduce by 80% the number of cars to travel as much as today and reduce oil consumption drastically, eliminate parking lots, traffic jams, accidents, etc. And we would always be on time or have to find other excuses than the traffic. And forget about expensive railways and the likes. Wonderful.

We’ll just have to make sure in the process that the car won’t drive us directly to the police station or lock us up until we have paid our bills, or the bills Google gets a commission on to cash them in.

Build a better world!

This note was written one and a half years ag, before the #DeleteUber campaign went viral. Today, after a couple of deadly accidents and big questioning on use of personal data by Facebook and Google, all these companies' stocks are dropping. I would not burry them too early though: their technology can really do a great deal to save the planet, as long as it is strictly regulated by elected lawmakers who give us the feeling that we are safe and secure using them. 

Can you trust big business? Written 27/11/2016

News that European governments were starting to investigate Whatsapp on the use by Facebook of its customer data reminded me of the mystery of “ethics”.

Facebook, when they acquired Whatsapp a few years ago, promised they would never use Whatsapp customers’ data. It was definitely the thing to say in order to get the deal approved by lawmakers. Last august they told the world otherwise: they would now use customers’ data. Whoever believed in the first promise was ingenuous. And ignorant of what a listed company’s first commandment is: shareholder value.

Facebook board’s duty is to serve shareholders, i.e. the stock exchange (and Mark Z) – who appoint them. The choice facing Facebook’s board at any time is to know what will make most profits, make the share price increase and maintain the company alive (for the foreseeable future). Two years ago the choice was: make a promise (or a lie) or lose the deal that was going to add lots of value. Earlier this year their choice was different: exchange information and increasing the accuracy of advertising, maybe face an a temporary image problem or fines or legal costs, or abide by their word? Obviously they found that the former was the most sensible thing to do. So in the world of capitalism, where a shareholder could fire you for not maximising shareholder value, the board did the right thing.

Value of a word or freedoms of customers are secondary to primary values they are rewarded for. Do we live in a world of gentlemen where a company’s (or for that matter a chairman/founder/owner’s) word is its tie? No. We live in a world of perpetual value optimisation.

What is true for Facebook was true for all electronics companies when the delocalised from the US or Europe to China or India, and will be true again when they move from China to Vietnam because Chinese people cost too much; or for all steel corporations for that matter; or for their clients, employees etc.. The logic is there and we won’t stop its consequences unless we change the logic. 

All of us in our own environment invariably try to optimise our choices to get better rewards: social prestige, power, money, love – mostly love. People used to accept the dominance of their barons when they were gentlemen (there were no e-mails or cameras to check on). Now we accept their dominance when they are rich and famous. 

The Effect of Storms. Written 10/11/2016

The Atlantic Coast of South America is experiencing a strong erosion: every storm is reducing the beaches and last week 21 houses fall into the sea in a quiet Uruguayan beach. Why? Because the slow increase in sea level, by the centimetre, comes into effect on storm days. And the effect has been impressive over the last decade.  Every storm claims more dunes.

The same is happening with the social networks and informal information sources of the new era: one day you hear a soccer player died while he is perfectly well,  tons of conspiration theories,  news on your neighbour, fan club, etc. pollute our environment and make us always less capable of knowing what is true, verified or not. In most cases, the buzz on social media seems harmless. Until a storm comes.

I would compare the US elections to one of these storms: choosing the most powerful person on the planet has always created strong winds. The 2016 election is the first one in more than one aspect. First, the very fact that a Donald Trump can be candidate, like Pepe Grillo was in Italy for instance: Being famous is enough to get you a ticket to run for president. Throwing affirmations at the public is enough to make a part of it believe in them. Conveniently organizing Wikileaks, for the profit of whom, is enough to throw a campaign into disarray. Airing a soundtrack of a candidate’s abusive language. You name it, all this garbage is thrown into the public and the public  - me included – has no clue what to start with that, and becomes so disgusted that in the end of the day we end up thinking that all politicians are the same corrupt lot.

Popular intuition that things are not working is correct: the formerly highly successful American integration model does not work anymore, people are losing their jobs and politicians cannot do anything about it, the rich get richer and the middle class is losing ground.

Cambridge Analityca

Power of big data has been clear for a long time but for some reason nobody seemed to care. As if everybody didn't realise that their data, while they can be used for "good" purposes (precise targeting of advertising), they can also be used for evil to serve others' interests. For example to help somebody to power, though it remains to be seen if this really works. But what if insurance companies refuse to give me health coverage because my data is correlated to a pattern of people who have costly conditions?

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