Asian business is reforming. Its emerging multinationals will change the way we all live ... BUSINESS power follows economic power. In the 1920s British firms owned 40% of the global stock of foreign direct investment. By 1967 America was top dog, with a 50% share. Behind those figures lie cultural revolutions. The British spread the telegraph and trains in Latin America. American firms sold a vision of the good life, honed by Hollywood and advertising. Kellogg’s changed what the rich world ate for breakfast, and Kodak how it remembered holidays. The next corporate revolution, as we describe in our special report this week, is happening in Asia. This too will change how the world lives. ... rules that have governed Asian capitalism for the past two decades are changing. Asian firms are having to become brainier, more nimble and more global. ... The immediate motivation is underperformance: growth has slowed, and Asian shares have lagged American ones by 40% in the past three years. Three deeper trends are also at work. First, labour costs are rising, not least in China, and East Asia’s workforce is ageing. Second, Asia’s middle class is becoming more demanding. They are no longer satisfied with fake Louis Vuitton handbags; they want clean air, safe food and more leisure, and are madly in love with the internet. Third, competition has intensified from Western multinationals, which have invested $2 trillion in Asia. They also now use the same cheapish labour, and they generally have much more sophisticated supply chains, brands and R&D.
- Also: The Economist - Business in Asia: How to keep roaring < 5min
- Also: The Economist - Megatrends: Q & Asia < 5min
- Also: The Economist - Governance: Avoiding the dinosaur trap < 5min
- Also: The Economist - China Mobile: Get up and dance < 5min
- Also: The Economist - Hutchison Whampoa: Now for the fat-cow years < 5min
- Also: The Economist - Globalisation: The fear factor < 5min
- Also: The Economist - Convergence: One world < 5min
On the road, down the bottle, and across the border with Boston’s greatest competitive bagpipe band. ... the average Bostonian is most likely to associate bagpipes with parades, funerals, and the Dropkick Murphys. There is, however, an insular group of competitive pipers who can harness the sharp, searing cacophony of the instrument—part atonal yawp, part skull-splitting drone—and make it sing. Those graced with such virtuosic skills are rarely the ones performing at your neighborhood bar on St. Patrick’s Day or marching down Main Street on the Fourth of July. To hear their talents, you need to head to far-flung Scottish festivals and Highland Games, where bands battle one another for international supremacy. ... while they may be insane, they’re not crazy in the manner of Sonny Barger or Tommy Lee. Instead, their brand of lunacy is a rabid fanaticism for an instrument rooted in medieval warfare. Each competitor on this bus has devoted an ungodly amount of time, patience, and dollars to one of history’s most misunderstood musical pursuits. For the love of the ancient craft, they don wool kilts and knee-high knit “hose” in the dog days of summer, marching through open fields and baking in the sun. Band members include wunderkind teenagers who attend bagpiping summer camp, drum freaks who spend hours debating color schemes of snare shells, and professionals from every rung of the career ladder, who burn through a year’s worth of vacation days when competition season arrives. ... the World Pipe Band Championships, an annual event that attracted 30,000 spectators last year and was streamed live to U.K. audiences on the BBC.
Keeping a 3-year-old girl away from Disney’s princesses is a lot like trying to get through January without hearing about the Super Bowl. Since Walt Disney lumped Sleeping Beauty, Belle, and its other poofy-dressed ladies together under the brand Disney Princess in 2000, the market for all things pink and sparkly has skyrocketed. Princess merchandise—dolls, clothing, games, home décor, toys—is a $5.5 billion enterprise and Disney’s second-most-profitable franchise, after Mickey Mouse. ... Disney doesn’t manufacture most of the Princess products. It licenses them to all sorts of companies: Glidden makes pink and purple wall paint, Stride Rite makes sparkly shoes. In toys, the most lucrative Disney Princess license is dolls. Specifically, 12-inch Barbie-esque figurines that girls can dress and undress until the dolls’ hairdos get tangled, they’ve lost their shoes, and it’s time to buy another. ... Mattel has worked with Disney since 1955, when it became the first sponsor for the Mickey Mouse Club, and it’s been the company’s go-to dollmaker since 1996. Last year, Mattel put the size of its Disney Princess doll business at $300 million, though analysts at Needham say it’s closer to $500 million. ... The princess business disappears on Jan. 1, when Disney packs up its glass slippers and takes them to Mattel’s biggest rival, Hasbro. ... Hasbro, meanwhile, has traditionally kept to the boys’ side of the toy aisle, with brands such as Nerf and Transformers. But it has big plans for the princesses.
No one knows for sure why some societies are more innovative than others. The United States is a highly inventive society, the source of a host of technologies -- the airplane, the atomic bomb, the Internet -- that have transformed the world. Modern China, by contrast, is frequently criticized for its widespread copying of foreign inventions and creative works. Once the home of gunpowder, printing, and other transformational inventions, China is today better known for its knockoffs of almost every imaginable product: cars, clothes, computers, fast food, movies, pharmaceuticals, even entire European villages. The United States gave the world the iPhone; China gave it the HiPhone -- a cheap facsimile of a groundbreaking American gadget. ... Some see deep cultural roots to the pervasiveness of copying in China. But a more common view is that China fails to innovate because it lacks strong and stable protections for intellectual property. ... But American anxiety and anger over Chinese piracy are misplaced. Copying is not the plague that American business leaders and politicians often make it out to be. In fact, far from always being an enemy of innovation, copying is often a critical part of creativity. Although copying has a destructive side, it also has a productive side. Nearly all creations rest on prior work, and the ability to freely copy and refine existing designs fuels fields as varied as fashion, finance, and software. Copying can also foster stronger competition, grow markets, and build brands.
Olympic officials and anti-doping advocates tout the ever-lengthening frontier of drug testing as a deterrent and an assurance that they will pursue athletes who dope, even years after the fact and right up to the statute of limitations. But the system for disqualifying those athletes, reshuffling results and reallocating medals is so cumbersome and prolonged that, by the time it plays out, economic and psychic payoffs for the new recipients have long since evaporated. ... "The reality is that the only people to get punished in the sport from doping [are] the clean athletes." ... Delayed medals never quite add up to full gratification for athletes. Instead, they symbolize the butterfly effect of an altered trajectory. The difference between gold and silver alone can swell to seven figures over a career. Prize money can sometimes be restored, but that's generally a pittance compared to the contractual and commercial opportunities that vanish, impossible to re-create. And there's no way to reconstitute the pomp and emotion of the moment. ... Only half of the summer sports medalists disqualified over that period had positive drug tests during Olympic competition. The other medals were stripped based on retests up to eight years after the fact, or evidence unearthed by law enforcement (such as in the BALCO investigation) or the scrubbing of a sanctioned athlete's results over a period of time, as was done in Lance Armstrong's case. WADA's statute of limitations is now 10 years.
It should be emphasised that Europe’s success was not the result of any inherent superiority of European (much less Christian) culture. It was rather what is known as a classical emergent property, a complex and unintended outcome of simpler interactions on the whole. The modern European economic miracle was the result of contingent institutional outcomes. It was neither designed nor planned. But it happened, and once it began, it generated a self-reinforcing dynamic of economic progress that made knowledge-driven growth both possible and sustainable. ... In brief, Europe’s political fragmentation spurred productive competition. It meant that European rulers found themselves competing for the best and most productive intellectuals and artisans. ... A possible objection to this view is that political fragmentation was not enough. The Indian subcontinent and the Middle East were fragmented for much of their history, and Africa even more so, yet they did not experience a Great Enrichment. Clearly, more was needed. ... Political fragmentation existed alongside a remarkable intellectual and cultural unity. ... If Europe’s intellectuals moved with unprecedented frequency and ease, their ideas travelled even faster. Through the printing press and the much-improved postal system, written knowledge circulated rapidly.
Self-driving technology has become a fixation for Kalanick. Developing a driverless car, he’s often said, is “existential” to Uber. If a competitor managed to get there first, it could easily replicate Uber’s core service (shuttling passengers) without its single largest cost (paying drivers). ... According to the legal complaint filed on behalf of Google’s driverless car division—as almost everyone at Waymo still refers to it—the company began investigating Levandowski last summer after learning that Uber had paid about $700 million for his months-old company. Google’s suit, filed in a San Francisco federal court, says its investigators uncovered a trove of digital evidence that hint at an unprecedented theft. According to the suit, Levandowski used his company laptop to download 14,000 design files from Google’s car project. ... At issue is a business that both companies believe will be worth hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars a year. And though both companies like to portray driverless cars as some near-term inevitability, this dispute shows just how messy the race to get there could prove to be.
As long as the public delights in seeing pompous winemakers and critics humbled, journalists will keep writing Schadenfreude-laden stories about the latest “Gotcha!” study. But these articles generally confuse absence of evidence with evidence of absence: they presume that if a handful of researchers did not find that one group of connoisseurs possessed statistically significant tasting ability, any claim to wine expertise must be a hoax. The truly interesting question is the opposite one: whether it’s possible for a critic to look smart rather than silly. ... Unfortunately, designing an experiment that gives tasters a chance to succeed requires the scientist to understand wine. They need to give the drinkers plenty of time on a small number of wines, in an odourless room with appropriate stemware; to taste the bottles and ensure they are not flawed; to choose wines that are representative of a well-known style; and to serve them at the age where they best strut their stuff. In other words, what you would need is the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity match.
On March 13, 2004, a gaggle of engineers and a few thousand spectators congregated outside a California dive bar to watch 15 self-driving cars speed across the Mojave Desert in the first-ever Darpa Grand Challenge. (That’s the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s skunkworks arm.) Before the start of the race, which marked the first big push toward a fully autonomous vehicle, the grounds surrounding the bar teemed with sweaty, stressed, sleep-deprived geeks, desperately tinkering with their motley assortment of driverless Frankencars: SUVs, dune buggies, monster trucks, even a motorcycle. After the race, they left behind a vehicular graveyard littered with smashed fence posts, messes of barbed wire, and at least one empty fire extinguisher. ... What happened in between—the rush out of the starter gate, the switchbacks across the rocky terrain, the many, many crashes—didn’t just hint at the possibilities and potential limitations of autonomous vehicles that auto and tech companies are facing and that consumers will experience in the coming years as driverless vehicles swarm the roads. It created the self-driving community as we know it today, the men and women in too-big polo shirts who would go on to dominate an automotive revolution.
- Also: The Economist - The death of the internal combustion engine 5-15min
- Also: The Drive - The Model 3 Is Further Proof of Tesla's Asymmetric War Against the Auto Industry 5-15min
- Also: Barron's - Ford Races Toward an Exciting Future 5-15min
- Also: The Verge - Detroit is kicking Silicon Valley’s a** in the race to build self-driving cars < 5min
- Also: Wired - Self-Driving Cars Are Confusing Drivers - And Spooking Insurers < 5min
- Also: The Drive - Can Sully Transform the World of Self-Driving Cars? 5-15min
16th Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) World Championship, in which teens and young 20-somethings compete for the title of World Champion in their chosen professional application. It's an event put on annually by Certiport, a Utah-based subsidiary of standardized testing giant Pearson VUE. It's also a marketing stunt, pure and simple, devised to promote Certiport’s line of Microsoft Office certifications. This allows the certified to confirm the line on their resume that claims “proficiency in MS Office” is backed up by some solid knowledge of deep formatting and presentation design. ... Ayman Ben Souira (16, competing in Word), from a small town outside of Marrakech, Morocco, had never left his country before but spoke English and some anime Japanese ... The certifications only came into being at the turn of the century, a year before the MOS competition began. They have slowly grown in popularity as school districts across the US adopted more STEM-focused curricula, including practical courses in how to use the humdrum IT that undergirds our global economy.