An apex predator known as an activist investor has escaped its cage and is now attacking social issues. What happens to Harvard is a sideshow. Ackman’s billionaire tantrum represents a far more dangerous virus that has plagued humans throughout history: the concentration of power.
The collapse and rebirth of the Valley’s preeminent private company was the most bewildering business story of 2023 and an object lesson in a truth that’s hiding in plain sight: When capital and ideals clash, capital smothers ideals in their sleep. The end of the charade that OpenAI was a nonprofit signals the beginning of the end of ESG.
We are always ready, and want, to believe that this time it’s different, we will do good while making billions. The last big corporate jazz hands was the ESG movement, purporting to prioritize environmental, social, and governance concerns over shareholder returns. Succumbing to this siren call, we abdicated our responsibility to discipline corporations and curb the externalities wrought by the pursuit of profit, believing instead that one profit-seeking entity could cajole another profit-seeking entity to seek something else.
When a “nonprofit” takes a billion dollar investment from a for-profit, it has been bitten by the dead and is now also a profit-seeking White Walker.
Which reminds me (somewhat) of some comments made by Derek Bok, a former president of Harvard, with respect to higher education: Institutions choose survival over morality.
John Gray in the New Statesman.
The catastrophic meltdown in public finances that very nearly happened during Liz Truss’s short spell as prime minister was not the result of a one-off act of political folly. Her madcap dash for deficit-financed growth revealed Britain’s heavy dependency on global capital flows and acute vulnerability if they come to a sudden stop. Since then, UK government borrowing costs have risen. Quantitative easing after the financial crisis of 2007-08, the costs of lockdown, and energy subsidies have left colossal levels of public debt.
In effect, the British state is operating as a highly leveraged hedge fund.
It won’t end well.
Private equity has become such a force in dermatology that job postings now emphasize when the business is “NOT private equity.”
People have always been stupid, and everyone is stupid some of the time. (Note: Professor Cipolla’s definition is people whose actions are destructive to themselves and to others.) One of society’s functions is to prevent a tragedy of the commons by building safeguards to protect us from our own stupidity. We usually call this “regulation,” a word Reagan and Thatcher made synonymous with bureaucrats and red tape. Yes, Air Traffic Control delays and the DMV are super annoying, but not crashing into another A-350 on approach to Heathrow, not suffocating as your throat swells from an allergic reaction, and being able to access the funds in your FTX account are all really awesome.
The NHTSA is one of the many boring state and federal agencies critical to a healthy society. Before the Food and Drug Administration, the sale and distribution of food and pharmaceuticals was a free-for-all. The Federal Aviation Administration is the reason your chances of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 3.37 billion. Next time someone tells you they don’t trust government, ask them if they trust cars, food, pain killers, buildings, or airplanes.
The hope is that better access will reverse the decades-old brain drain and attract higher-paid workers from Cardiff and beyond. Vikki Howells, Labour member of the Senedd for Cynon Valley, says: “The main challenge is not unemployment, it’s low-paid employment. It is not a shortage of jobs: it is a shortage of jobs paying a decent wage so you don’t have to rely on food banks.”
Adidas has withdrawn a request to US authorities to block the Black Lives Matter movement from trademarking a design featuring three parallel stripes.
Because of how the politics of it looked (pun noted)…
I dare not show the image, but the BLM had the eponymous words in a black font, with three horizontal parallel lines in green underneath the text.
What next: the whole of geometry?
The first thing to understand is that “Silicon Valley” is actually a reality-distortion field inhabited by people who inhale their own fumes and believe they’re living through Renaissance 2.0, with Palo Alto as the new Florence. The prevailing religion is founder worship, and its elders live on Sand Hill Road in San Francisco and are called venture capitalists. These elders decide who is to be elevated to the privileged caste of “founders”.
Error? Era? Hope so.
But few people are capitalists when threatened by losing money they regarded as safe and nobody is better than a capitalist at explaining how essential their wealth is to the health of the economy.
In the mosaic floor of the opulent atrium of a house excavated at Pompeii is a slogan ironic for being buried under 16 feet of volcanic ash: Salve Lucrum, it reads, “Hail, Profit.” That mosaic would be a fitting decoration today in many of health care’s atria.
The grip of financial self-interest in US health care is becoming a stranglehold, with dangerous and pervasive consequences. No sector of US health care is immune from the immoderate pursuit of profit, neither drug companies, nor insurers, nor hospitals, nor investors, nor physician practices.
Avarice is manifest in mergers leading to market concentration, which, despite pleas of “economies of scale,” almost always raise costs.
Yep. Don Berwick on fine form.
Such data bears witness to an old trade union adage – if you want to kill someone and get away with it, first set up a company, then employ them. (Steve Tombs, Emeritus professor, Open University)
By design, not bugs, in the law regarding corporations and persons.
Echoing Rudolf Virchow, frequent bedfellows. The spectrum includes the UK.
A doctor at Shanghai No 10 Hospital said staff had been instructed by the city’s health commission to limit Covid diagnoses. “We are advised to label most cases as respiratory infection,” the doctor said.
“What is certain is that the government can’t afford to treat everyone for free.”
China’s National Healthcare Security Administration said on Saturday that it would fully cover hospitalisation for Covid patients, but continued to exclude complications. Hospitals are also under pressure to reduce medical costs after the national insurance fund was strained by the costs of the sprawling zero-Covid apparatus.
In the eastern city of Hangzhou, Frank Wang, a marketing manager who bought a Covid insurance plan early last year, was refused proof of illness after he developed lung and kidney infections after testing positive for the virus.
“The hospital made it clear that Covid proof is not easy to obtain as the disease diagnosis has been politicised,” said Wang, who paid more than Rmb20,000 for treatment. “That makes patients like me a victim.”
The deserving and the undeserving sick redux; more crony capitalism.
As far as Toby was concerned, Jay Crispin was your normal, rootless, amoral, plausible, half-educated, nicely spoken frozen adolescent in a bespoke suit, with an unappeasable craving for money, power and respect, regardless of where he got them from.
And from there, he wandered off into an argument with Friedrich Schiller’s grandiose statement that human stupidity was what the gods fought in vain. Not so, in Toby’s opinion, and no excuse for anybody, whether god or man. What the gods and all reasonable humans fought in vain wasn’t stupidity at all. It was sheer, wanton, bloody indifference to anybody’s interests but their own.
A Delicate Truth, John le Carré
YMMV, but for me, one of his very best.
Menthol cigarettes were first promoted to soothe the airways of “health conscious” smokers. Long used as an analgesic, menthol evokes a cooling sensation that masks the harshness of tobacco smoke. In the competition to capitalize on the growing menthol market, the industry’s marketing experts “carved up, segmented, and fractionated” the population, exploiting psychology and social attitudes to shape product preferences.
Uber’s main project has always been regulatory, not technological: that’s why it funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into passing California’s Proposition 22, a law that legalized worker misclassification and banned unionization.
The irony? Uber is a “bezzle” – JK Galbraith’s name for “the magic interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the victim does not yet understand that he has lost it.” Uber is a scam and it will never be profitable.
This quote is actually from an article about washing machines, water supplies and ‘wastage’. But it just reminds me of the technical and intellectual debt that is drowning health care and the NHS
That balancing act reminds me of something engineer and professor Deb Chachra wrote in one of her newsletters. She wrote, “Sustainability always looks like underutilization when compared to resource extraction.”
Nestlé document says majority of its food portfolio is unhealthy
An internal company presentation acknowledges more than 60% of products do not meet ‘recognised definition of health’.
No surprises here, then.
Capitalism on the way up, and socialism on the way down is cronyism.
From this week’s Economist | Breaking through
Yet nowhere too little capital is being channelled into innovation. Spending on R&D has three main sources: venture capital, governments and energy companies. Their combined annual investment into technology and innovative companies focused on the climate is over $80bn. For comparison, that is a bit more than twice the R&D spending of a single tech firm, Amazon.
Market and state failure may go together. Which brings me back to Stewart Brand’s idea of Pace Layering
Education is intellectual infrastructure. So is science. They have very high yield, but delayed payback. Hasty societies that can’t span those delays will lose out over time to societies that can. On the other hand, cultures too hidebound to allow education to advance at infrastructural pace also lose out.
I won’t even mention COVID-19.