Welcome! The articles below caught my attention this week. What are intended to be relatively objective “briefs” are preceded by dashes (——–), whereas additional material or relatively subjective comments are preceded by asterisks (********). Article titles preceded by [SR] require a subscription.
(26 April 2019): “The law that made the Internet what it is today” The Washington Post
********This is a review of The Twenty-Six Words that Created the Internet, by Jeff Kosseff, a cybersecurity law professor at the United States Naval Academy. The book was reviewed in The Wall Street Journal on August 19th but requires a subscription to read. There you would find the 26 words of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a part of the Telecommunications Acts of 1996. Here are the words:
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
As the WSJ article writes, “Section 230 shields online platforms from legal liability for content generated by third-party users.” This shield has effectively provided immunity to corporations like Facebook that simply pass through the thoughts of others. Evidently the so-called “Internet exceptionalism” provided by Section 230 has created opportunities far different than those available in Canada or the EU, where “laws don’t shield online platforms from liability to the degree Section 230 does.” I have seen the statement “Words create worlds” and, in the case of Section 230, we have a prime example. The impact of the invisible handshake could hardly be clearer.
(10 August 2019): “Business Book of the Year Award 2019—the longlist” The Financial Times
——–The longlist for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award has been released. “Sixteen titles will compete for the £30,000 prize, including a weighty history of capitalism, two books about subtle—and not-so-subtle—bias against women, and an account of how the financial crisis was contained by the policymakers who led the battle to save the global economy. Four years after Martin Ford’s The Rise of the Robots became the first tech title to win the award, books analyzing the impact of advances in artificial intelligence, digitization and online communication stand out.”
********All 16 books are very briefly described in the article. I’m currently reading one of them, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, and I am finding it to be very engaging. Early on it discusses the early athletic adventures of Tiger Woods, seemingly born with a golf club in his hands, and Roger Federer, who sampled many sports as a youth coming to commit to tennis relatively late. Specifically, Tiger is the specialist and Roger the generalist, but both came to be dominant in their sports. In developing this idea, the distinction is made between “kind” and “wicked” environments, and the argument is that specialization tends to work better for kind (relatively certain and static) environments and generalization for wicked (relatively uncertain and dynamic) environments. This theme recurs in the two-thirds of the book I’ve read. It is an engaging read. No doubt the other 15 books on the list are, too.
(14 August 2019): “As California’s recycling industry struggles, companies and consumers are forced to adapt” The Los Angeles Times
********The main lines of this article are familiar. The demand for recycled products in the U.S. has shrunk, because China will no longer accept, much less buy, our recycled products due to contamination. As a result, U.S. prices for recycled materials have fallen, so that recyclers are now making a loss where previously there has been a profit. Recycled materials, therefore, are piling up, some materials are heading to the landfill, and some recyclers are shutting their doors. This article dilates a bit about one of those recyclers, RePlanet, “California’s largest operator of recycling redemption centers,” which just shut down “and laid off 750 employees.” All this points to the need for “Consumers and industry alike . . . to brace for big changes.”
********I was intrigued by the new word, for me, ‘wishcycling,’ i.e., “the assumption that everything in the blue bin gets recycled—consumers will need to change their purchase practices, avoiding single-use containers and packaging that have no recycling value.” At the legislative level, efforts have been made “to regulate single-use containers” but lobbyists have been able to fend off these efforts to date. Ultimately, as Kreigh Hampel, recycling coordinator for Burbank, California has said, “Recycling is not going to undo the damage done by consumption.” Consumption patterns must change instead.
(20 August 2019): “CEOs Spurn Investor-First Model. Now Critics Ask ‘What’s Next’?” Bloomberg.com
********One of the surprising things that happened this week was the release of a 300-word statement by some members of the Business Roundtable, chaired by Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co. The gist of it is to restate the purpose of the corporation, moving from an exclusive focus on “shareholder value” to one where the five stakeholders—consumers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders—have “pride of place.” There have been a variety of stories this week on the statement, but this one, with a bit more time for reflection, provides a more comprehensive look at what the impact of the statement might be. In addition, it lifts up not only those who signed the statement, but also some of those that did not. Regardless of how corporations want to direct their activities, the so-called “market for corporate control” will still be at work for those corporations that focus too much on non-shareholder stakeholders.
May you have a good week!