Category Archives: Innovation

John Tamny – The End of Work

John Tamny – The End of Work

John is a friend, former colleague, and occasional editor of mine. His enthusiasm and optimism are infectious. Rather than pushing papers across a desk or standing at an assembly line, every year there are more and more careers opening up for people passionate about sports, cooking, writing, the arts, and even video games. This is because growing mass prosperity makes such jobs possible. So long as government uses a relatively light approach to taxation and regulation, this process will continue. As general prosperity grows, so will the number of possible “passion jobs” that pay well enough to put food on the table.

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Brad Stone – The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

Brad Stone – The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

More Amazon’s corporate history than Bezos’ biography, though it does discuss his life story and how he came to his approach to business and management, and what he hopes to do with his wealth. As an avid sci-fi fan, his interest in space exploration is more than skin deep, though his plans for his Deep Blue company are still unclear.

Lots of good stuff in here about innovation, competition, and the pluses and minuses of Bezos’ severe office culture and his unusual, and refreshing, emphasis on the very long term. Students of Schumpeterian creative destruction will find this book to be almost a case study.

Joseph Schumpeter – Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy

Joseph Schumpeter – Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy

Schumpeter was famously pessimistic about capitalism’s long-term prospects. But he was equally dismissive of Marxian socialism as a viable replacement. He instead foresaw a long slide into Fabian-style socialism-lite. Such a system is benign and boring for the most part, which seems harmless enough.

The trouble is that prosperity comes from taking risks–starting a business, inventing new products or business models, and displacing the old and replacing it with something better. People seem to prefer safe mediocrity to risking excellence, and in the long run, Schumpeter thinks that is what people will get.

A lot of people hope Schumpeter was wrong. He seems to have hoped so, at least.

Schumpeter also outlines his famous theory of creative destruction, which is easily his most influential idea.

Haughty in tone with occasional flashes of wit, this 1942 book is a classic for a reason, though I can only hope its flaws are deeper than I suspect they actually are.

Michael Ruhlman – Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America

Michael Ruhlman – Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America

This one belongs in the small pile of Most Interesting Books of the Year. It is a fun and informative look at an underappreciated institution of modern life: the grocery store.

Ruhlman combines Deirdre McCloskey’s appreciation of progress and seeming inanities that aren’t, with an appreciation of the entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking that go into a seemingly hum-drum industry.

Ruhlman spent a great deal of time with the brothers who run Heinen’s, a mid-size grocery chain based in Cleveland, and shares their insights on a changing business. His late father, who was fascinated by grocery stores and changed with them over time, also looms large.

Along the way Ruhlman dives into the surprisingly interesting history of grocery stores, and speculates how they might be changing in the future. Maybe staples and non-perishables will soon be mostly delivery-based from companies like Amazon or Peapod, while traditional grocery stores will shift to hosting specialized fresh food departments–a little like the separate butchers’ and bakers’ shops of the old days.

Ruhlman also talks to farmers, livestock producers, and hopeful purveyors of new niche products such as energy bars and salads, along with a few natural-food and nutrition quacks. Refreshingly, Ruhlman mostly calls them what they are.

While Ruhlman rightfully decries the faddishness of many diet and nutrition trends, he is not entirely immune to food ideology himself. At one point he unironically compares breakfast cereals to nuclear weapons–don’t tell north Korea! A genuinely enjoyable read on a surprisingly important subject, despite its occasional faults. Steve Horwitz reviewed the book in more detail here.

Tim Peake – Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Space

Tim Peake – Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Space

A book-length Q&A session with an astronaut who spent six months on the International Space Station. The tone is friendly and conversational, and the questions are good—Peake drew from public responses using the Twitter hashtag #askanastronaut.

His answers cover everything from training, liftoff, the various irks and quirks of life on the ISS, from food to using the bathroom, what space smells like, what happens when you sweat inside a spacesuit in zero-gravity, and the scary thrill of reentry. I can see this book appealing to younger space enthusiasts, too.

Walter Isaacson – Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson – Steve Jobs

A biography of the Apple co-founder. Isaacson captures Jobs’ multifaceted character. Jobs created life-changing innovations that improved millions of lives in fields as diverse as hardware, software, movies, music, and retail. He cofounded what would become the world’s most valuable company, and untold thousands of jobs. His minimalist design aesthetic has influenced countless other industries.

But Jobs had an artist’s difficult temperament, wasn’t much of a father, and could be hurtful to people he loved and who loved him. His odd new age beliefs are partly to blame for his likely avoidable death from pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed at an early and likely treatable stage, but insisted on holding off medical treatment for nearly a year, preferring instead such measures as an alternative diet. Jobs was a great man, but not a good one in all ways.

CEI Press Release: CEI Criticizes European Union’s Antitrust Decision Against Google

The European Union announced its decision today to fine Google $5 billion in an antitrust case involving the tech giant’s Android operating system. Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) regulatory experts lamented the decision.

CEI fellow Ryan Young said the following about the news:

The European Union’s $5 billion antitrust decision against Google’s Android operating system could cause immense consumer harm by requiring Google to provide an inferior product for no good reason.

The decision is reminiscent of the EU’s similarly baseless crusade against Microsoft in the 1990s and 2000s. Not only are Google’s Android operating system, Chrome browser, Maps, Calendar, and other applications already available free of charge to consumers, but Google provides consumers easy access to competitors’ software through its Google Play app store.

Just as consumers used Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer browser to install Firefox and other competing software they liked better, unsatisfied Google users have easy, often free access to competing products. They can also leave the Google ecosystem entirely by buying an Apple iPhone. The real threat to innovation and consumers here is the EU, not Google.

CEI Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews also commented on the decision:

Dominance and popularity are not the same as a coercive monopoly. The European Commission is behaving in protectionist fashion, not in a manner benefitting consumers, and the fines are inappropriate, unwarranted, and plain wrong. Google is no monopoly, as the existence of Apple’s iPhone and other options attest; and there is always some new disruptive technology on the horizon (remember the MySpace monopoly? The AOL one?).

Different vendors have the right to test out different business models without interference from regulatory authorities, and consumers have the right to accept or reject them. And the core justification, the European Commission’s idea that people, otherwise capable of downloading millions of files on Play and iPhone mobile stores, cannot substitute a search engine or other preinstalled app is absurd on its face.

There are many ways that predatory antitrust adventurism, such as that of the European Commission and the United States alike, must be reformed to prevent future damage to the technology sector. The very phrase “competition commissioner” is internally contradictory, and stands in stark contrast to the phrase free enterprise.

Read more from CEI’s Wayne Crews: “European Regulators Wrong on Google Fine, Wrong on Antitrust Policy