With operations in over 200 countries and territories, Alibaba is the world’s largest retailer and e-commerce company, one of the largest Internet and AI companies, one of the biggest venture capital firms, and one of the biggest investment corporations in the world. The company hosts the largest B2B (Alibaba.com), C2C (Taobao), and B2C (Tmall) marketplaces in the world. Its online sales and profits surpassed all US retailers (including Walmart, Amazon and eBay) combined since 2015. It has been expanding into the media industry, with revenues rising by triple percentage points year on year.
The robots, which can lift up to 500 kg, pick up densely packed bins and bring them to human pickers who place the products in boxes for shipment to customers. The robots are controlled over Wi-Fi. They say that after the 60 robots were placed into service, throughput in the warehouse has been tripled and human labour reduced by 70%.
Amazon has been running a robotics challenge to try to eliminate the human pickers. This is a video summarising the 2017 challenge in Nagoya, Japan.
Here is a video from the MIT team from the 2017 competition.
Remember when President O said that his very weak economic recovery was “the new normal.” He said that the sort of economic recovery we had historically experienced after a recession was no longer possible.
He was full of stuff. He was reading Leftist economics and drinking his team’s Kool-aid.
Hillary campaigned on a continuation of Obama policy.
D.J. Trump campaigned on an “America first” platform, unconcerned about the unfortunate history of that phrase. His key slogan was “Make America Great Again,” which he pledged to do by rolling back regulations, ending anti-business policies, promoting jobs and deals, and cutting taxes. He ran a pro-America, pro-business campaign, a breath of fresh air after eight years of our first Anti-American President.
Business confidence began to rise on the morning after the election of 2016, and is still rising. Consumer confidence is catching up, despite an amazing level of fearmongering by Leftist mass media.
And the numbers are continuing to support President Trump. I saw the jobs report for January, and happened to click on an article at CNN Business, titled “Hiring Boomed in January.” Here is a line that caught my attention:
The continued hot pace of job growth is evidence that people who may have been sidelined by the Great Recession more than a decade ago are still coming off the sidelines. Labor force participation grew slightly, to its highest level since 2013.
We are still digging out of the hole we fell into in 2008. Team Obama had simply been digging it deeper. We are only now recovering.
We are about to face a new flood of economic refugees. We need border security as soon as we can get it. President Trump needs to mobilize Army and National Guard resources to aid Border Patrol and ICE to stem the anticipated flow.
Remember what a disaster it was for Europe when four million Syrians fled their homes? Perhaps our situation is not nearly so dire, but the United Nations is predicting two million people will flee Venezuela this year. That is a lot of refugees. Many will go to Brazil or other parts of South America. Columbia is the obvious first choice for many Venezuelans, but Columbia is already flooded with one and a quarter million Venezuelan refugees. Three million people have left Venezuela in the past two years. Venezuelans are going to be headed for America.
We have observed before about the disaster unfolding in Venezuela. An oil-rich country that is strapped for cash, and, in the face of declining world oil prices, their production is down by nearly a third from levels of production of just a few years ago. That is because Nicolas Maduro has put the military in charge of Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, the state-run oil company that stole oil patch assets from oil companies two decades ago under Hugo Chavez. By not paying adequate salaries to oil industry technicians, they lost trained people, who were some of the first to flee. Now they are trying to run a vertically-integrated monopoly without enough trained workers to keep the equipment operating.
And, despite this marvelous lesson playing out in our own hemisphere, half of America now prefers socialism to capitalism.
What does it take to get video of food riots in Venezuela onto American news shows? Media silence is keeping this story from providing the object lesson we desperately need.
The rising numbers of Venezuelan refugees is the talk of all of Latin America. It is time to push it into the national conversation in the U.S.A.
I got this in my email from a friend. I, of course, had to fact-check it. Four of the items in the email didn’t pass muster, but those that did I thought some of you might, just might be interested to know.
Amidst rioting which continues to spread across France, and has become much more a sign of general dissatisfaction than a specific protest over fuel taxes, French President Emmanuel Macron made a nationwide televised address today. Here is a version with English translation from France 24 English.
He spoke for thirteen minutes, which I can summarise as “blah, blah, blah”.
He’s going to raise the minimum wage (that’s sure to help!), encourage employers to pay year-end bonuses which will not be taxed, make overtime tax free, and—wait for it—ask large enterprises and and the wealthy to “contribute”. And he wants to “discuss” immigration and identity.
I’m sure the gliets jaunes will be immediately mollified and go home to watch football.
This has become a familiar problem in politics. At the moment that any news item comes along, media hacks want to be able to report on what reactions and consequences will result from the item. Politicians become immediately anxious to influence any outcomes in a direction favorable to them. Pundits have to have something clever or ponderous to say about everything. And, if it is international, all eyes are on the President to see how he will respond.
No; I am not about to talk about President Trump. I am thinking about President George Herbert Walker Bush. The memorial chatter in observance of his death has got me irked. He is rightfully being remembered as the great statesman who presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he was called “gracious” and “statesman” and “reserved” in ways to deliberately contrast with President Trump, in hopes of making President Trump look bad by comparison. That was a very different time with very different circumstances. Current motives for lauding President G.H.W. Bush are transparent.
Now there is a spate of “he was actually horrible” reaction pieces. Here is an example of the c**p I mean:
Especially compared with current occupant of the Oval Office, George H. W. Bush was a dignified figure who served his country steadfastly in war and peace. He represented a center-right, internationalist strain of Republicanism that barely exists today. But it doesn’t make sense to canonize him.
I remember the G.H.W. Bush Administration days. I recall all the histrionics over the open discontent coming from behind the Iron Curtain, which was building because Mikhail Gorbachev was holding steady on his course of “Glasnost,” which was translated as “Openness.” I also recall mass media giving voice to lots of chatterers who were urging President Bush to “do something!” These were counterposed with chatterers expressing high anxiety about things going badly wrong if he did the wrong something. There was a huge debate raging over just what America should do to take advantage of the situation.
President G.H.W.B. was the right man for this circumstance. He was a cold warrior, well-acquainted with all the players, including China. He was well known by most world leaders. Nobody thought he would act rashly, and he was circumspect. In this case, by “circumspect” I do not mean to say that he was risk-averse, but, rather that he exhibited a pattern of careful and well-informed decisionmaking: “a careful consideration of all circumstances and a desire to avoid mistakes and bad consequences.”
There was a great storm of confusion and loud voices urging all sorts of action, and all sorts of fearmongering about what America might do to exploit the situation. President G.H.W.B. started calling heads of state, beginning with Gorbachev and proceeding all the way down the roster. This was something he had been doing all through 1989, since the unrest in the Eastern Bloc presaged the unrest in Russia. I recall some Important People predicting that, just as Luis XIV’s reforms let the pressure off just enough for the French cauldron to boil over in 1789, so Russia would explode in a massive bloodletting, and that the unrest would be a great opportunity for America to exploit.
Bush was calling to reassure everyone that America would not act rashly nor aggressively, and, if assistance was wanted, would help the Russian people to back away from generations of Communist rule, and that he looked forward to embracing his Russian friends as free partners on the world stage. The central message was that President G.H.W. Bush intended to donothing, and allow the Russians and their client Soviet partners readjust their internal affairs without American meddling. This had been his consistent message to Gorbachev all through 1989.
You are probably familiar with several aphorisms to the effect of, ‘when things are going in a good direction, don’t get in the way.’ But that is really hard do; to refrain from acting when there is a daily clamor for you to act.
President Bush was faulted for inaction, called a “dumb lucky bystander,” trashed daily in the press. He was even called “a wimp;” which is a stunning description of a man who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross while piloting 58 torpedo bomber missions from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
You have to remember that this was back in the days of Leftist mass media hegemony. There were only the three alphabet networks, Public Broadcasting, and a brand-new little-known phenomenon, a cable channel dedicated to full time news broadcasting. CNN was new and was just one of 100 cable channels competing for attention in the relatively new world of cable. The only conservative publications were Commentary and National Review, both with miniscule circulation then as now. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal was the only widespread source of conservative thought in America. The New York Times and the Washington Post dominated the national conversation, much more back then than now.
There was little in the way of talk radio. Rush Limbaugh had started in 1988 with 56 stations, the year after the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, and was barely on over 100 stations at the time. (Otherwise, talk radio was mostly local, interviewing local commissioners and municipal department heads, or discussing health issues with a local doctor, or national shows that talked about music and Hollywood celebrities.) The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine allowed the major media organizations to quit maintaining a balance of “liberal” (Leftist) commentary and conservative commentary.
So media was a Leftist project, but most Americans did not recognize just how far left it had become. This allowed President Bush to be slandered daily with little in the way of countervailing defense. There were still a hundred or so conservative daily papers in those days, but they were overwhelmed by the flood of Leftist ink and Leftist broadcasting.
President G.H.W. Bush had his defenders, including the most stalwart Bob Dole. But on the national scene, he was holding steady, reassuring the world most evenings by telephone to encourage everyone to simply let the Soviet system collapse without meddling, and not to worry about all the fearmongering from the press. When the Berlin Wall fell, there was a new round of fearmongering about American meddling, which kept G.H.W.B busy soothing political anxieties around the globe in early-early morning or very late-night phone calls.
By the time of the 1992 campaign, the Soviet Union had collapsed, with total casualties less than a hundred, not millions. Boris Yeltsin had been leading the new Russian Federation for a year, and the whole subject was considered “old news” as far as American mass media was concerned.
Saddam Hussein miscalculated badly. He mistook American inaction during a clear moment of opportunity to be an indication of American weakness and of President Bush’s personal weakness. He invaded Kuwait, which he had wanted for a very very long time. His minions treated Kuwaitis badly. News of atrocities, and refugees, slipped out of Kuwait.
The ruling family of Kuwait had an important personal friend in George H.W. Bush; they had had warm acquaintances for many years. He told Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait or else. Then, to back up his threat, he requested that the Pentagon get to work in earnest on war plans.
But the situation was complicated by the fact that there was no Soviet counterbalance to American power, and the Europeans were going nuts about American cowboys swaggering around the world and breaking things. There was all sorts of Congressional carping about how G.H.W. Bush would lead us into a disaster. So, President Bush decided to act as the leader of a group, and then patiently pulled together a coalition. Several (seemingly) important international members decided to play coy, and so President Bush agreed not to invade Iraq, but instead to go only so far as was needed to liberate Kuwait.
He kept his promise. Even though it was clear to everyone that what would be best would be to move on in to Baghdad, President Bush kept his promise.
There were some really interesting economic changes in the 1980s. The one we best remember is the Reagan tax cut. But there was a stock market crash in 1987, and a slo-mo disaster among savings&loans that began with a high profile bankruptcy in 1985, then progressed through a number of bankruptcies until Charles Keating’s Lincoln Savings went bankrupt in 1989. The deregulation of savings&loans under Carter ended with new regulations in 1990. That was accompanied in a budget deal in which the Democrats had forced President Bush to accept a deal that modestly raised taxes, famously breaking his “no new taxes” pledge from the 1988 campaign. The American economy stalled into a mild recession in 1990.
President G.H.W. Bush huddled with his economic team, and decided that the fundamentals of the American economy were sound and that things were sorting out smoothly. He decided that the best approach was to donothing and let the power of American enterprise work things out.
Of course, mass media was full of chattering about how awful the Bush economy was and how out of touch Bush was because he was spending all his time palling around with his international friends.
The campaign began in earnest in the fall of 1991, with America still technically in recession, but with signs of recovery all around. Democratic candidates all agreed that America needed a huge jobs bill to “put America back to work.” The most robust counterpoint to that was from Ross Perot, who was spending his own millions to put the budget deficit and the national debt into the national conversation.
The campaign of 1992 was really ugly if you were paying attention. Pat Buchanan ran a strong primary challenge in which he decried the national debt, trying to leverage some of Ross Perot’s work.
Bill Clinton emerged soon as the favorite Democrat. He had southern charm, a boyish grin, and spoke about being a “New Democrat.” His wife was a career lawyer lady popular among the Planned Parenthood wing. He could carry all those Southern conservative Democrats along with all the Leftist coastal Democrats and the rust belt union states. The pundit class agreed that he had what it would take to unseat an incumbent.
What nobody except Rush Limbaugh was talking about was that mass media was working as an extension of the Democrat campaign.
Media talking heads started saying that Bush was so focused on international events that he did not care about domestic affairs. Their spin was that his energetic and careful restraint on the international front caused him to neglect domestic issues. The recession was blamed on Bush, and the actual causes were ignored. Democrats raised the hue and cry, and mass media amplified it.
They also reinforced it through dishonest reporting on the economy. They reported every bit of economic news, maintaining a careful accounting. But that is not how Americans learn news. Bad economic news was reported, and good economic news was reported. Then the bad news was repeated, while the good news was shelved. Bad news got talked about, and good news did not get talked about. Reporters asked questions at news conferences about bad news, but not about good news. Chattering shows dwelt on bad news and ignored good news. Editorials focused on bad news and not good news. If much of the American economy is dependent on “consumer confidence,” then the whole economy resisted recovery because consumer confidence was killed by constant media focus on bad economic news.
James Carville famously observed that Clinton’s main message was “it’s the economy, stupid.” This sound bite leveraged the mass media narrative in a way that was condescending and arrogant, which was what made Carville such a good hatchet man.
At every opportunity, at the Convention and all through the fall campaigning, G.H.W. Bush kept saying that all the indicators were that the economy had bottomed out in the early spring of 1992, and that the American economy was robust, things were building up, and that the best thing to do about the economy was to donothing.
He was ridiculed. He was mocked and and scoffed. He was called “out of touch.” He was called an out-of-touch elitist who never did his own grocery shopping. In an effort to address that, he went grocery shopping, which turned out disastrous when it became clear that he had never seen a checkout scanner in use. He was widely mocked for that, although grocery scanners had only come into widespread use in the past five years. The optics were bad.
And he was too genteel to call out the reporters who rode Air Force One for their poor and unfair journalism. They continued to carry bad economic news to boost Bill Clinton.
And in the third ring of this circus H. Ross Perot stole enough votes away to throw the election.
Clinton Economy ?
George H. W. Bush lost in 1992 and Bill Clinton became president. He had his massive jobs program introduced and passed in the House. It was spiked by Bob Dole in the Senate. Dole killed it so dead that it never was mentioned after that.
Mostly it was forgotten because it was not needed. Other economy-boosting measures introduced by Democrats also died. What happened was that the Fed kept interest rates low, and that was all that was needed for the American economy to recover. It was more than a recovery. It was a booming economy.
So, what Bill Clinton actually did for the economy was to donothing, because Bob Dole prevented him from doing the stupid stuff he had promised while campaigning. He even won reelection in 1996 on the basis of his wonderful economic performance.
Bill Clinton and the Democrat-Media Complex are still taking bows for the wonderful economy of the 1990s. Nobody ever observes that it was G.H.W. Bush’s (and Bob Dole’s and Ronald Reagan’s) economy and economic policy that initiated it and provided room for American ingenuity to flourish.
In the July reports on the first half of 1993 a report came out that said that the economy was great, all indicators were up, and things looked really rosy.
What went unreported was a little paragraph in which it was noted that the bottom of the recession had been reached in March of the previous year.
What G.H.W.B. had been saying about the economy was exactly true. But Americans were never told that.
I listened to the audio version of this interview while running errands this afternoon. As usual, Thomas Sowell demonstrates his clear as light thinking about topics as diverse as his journey from Marxism to libertarian conservatism, the disastrous impact of minimum wage laws and welfare on youth, both in the U.S. and worldwide, and the damage being done by affirmative action to bright minority students mis-matched with the élite educational institutions to which they are admitted.
OK, the last post about standards drifted way off topic, or so it seemed to some. I tried to get a screen grab of an interview with the owner as seen on FOX News. Since I could not get a direct link to the clip, I grabbed it and reduced it in size to post. Unfortunately the video clip is still too large, even after I reduced the resolution by 50%, so here is the audio from the clip. The video just included stock footage that many have seen before. The point is that he took the effort to exceed standards, deeper pilings, special windows and accepting the fact that the first floor would be swept away.
TKC 1101, you were right. You have been consistently correct on the American economy. I have enjoyed your anecdotal approach to the underlying economy, the bottom-up view that told us that President Trump was on the right track to put America back to work and make America great again. The gang of smart people at BallDiamondBall are similarly vindicated.
You are going to enjoy this article, even though you have to go to National Review to read it. Deroy Murdoch has a great article up, titled “Obama Didn’t Build That.” D. Murdoch uses a few good illustrations to completely dismantle Obama’s efforts to take credit for the Trump economy.
Murdoch’s illustrations come from a White House press conference that was held on September 10. Sarah H. Sanders hosted while Kevin Hassett spoke. K. Hassett is the Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. I will provide links in the comments.
The Trump economy rocks.
I had a good laugh listening to NPR’s “Marketplace” coverage of the stock market highs. They tried to look past all those bright thick silver linings to find little patches of dark cloud that they could focus on. Other NPR shows have been very similar for many months. They try so earnestly to let us know that most of the news is bad if you just know where to look. They have to look really hard, and they can generally find some metrics that are not much different than they were under Obamanomics. I enjoy the transparency of their frustration. But “Marketplace” had me howling as they explained that other markets are down while ours is up, tried to brush it off, and then admitted that they are perplexed that, considering the international trade war, global investors are betting on Trump and America.
Here is an excerpt from the Politico, who seem to be cheering for a “Blue Wave” in November:
Hassett denied his appearance was prompted by a Friday speech in which Obama said, “When you hear how great the economy’s doing right now, let’s just remember when this recovery started.” The current economic expansion began in mid-2009, six months into Obama’s first term.
Trump replied shortly afterward at an appearance in Fargo, N.D.: “He was trying to take credit for this incredible thing that’s happening. … It wasn’t him.”
The dispute goes to the heart of Trump’s arguments this fall. Facing ugly projections for a GOP rout, the president is trying to persuade voters to stick with Republicans by arguing they’ve delivered an economic turnaround. But many major gauges on economic growth and job growth were just as strong during parts of the Obama years, even without Trump‘s deregulation and deficit-boosting tax cuts.
“One of the hypotheses that’s been floating around,” Hassett said in the briefing, “is that the strong economy that we’re seeing is just a continuation of recent trends.” But “economic historians will 100 percent accept the fact that there was an inflection at the election of Donald Trump, and that a whole bunch of data items started heading north.”
TKC 1101 has been bringing us an occasional cheery message from his experiences as a business consultant. He anticipated the trend, spotted early signs, and has kept us posted with updates. I really enjoy those posts. Thank you for the encouragement.
My own experience is in a sector that lags the general economy. The vibe has been positive for months, and it is beginning to show up in terms of real work.
We began a key milestone task this weekend. We started to narrow down where we will buy our last residence.
I know the usual key criteria but they all fall by the wayside:
1. Overlapping fields of fire
2. High ground
3. Good location when Yellowstone blows, or the Cascadia fault goes, or Mt St Helens does a repeat
4. Water supply
5. Ability to hinder access by explosives when the starving urban mobs roam the countryside.
So we settled on the really important criteria:
1. No Income tax at the State level
2. Single level house- the knees , hips and ligaments have seen better days and stairs are the enemy.
3. Must have three bedrooms so one can house the office and gym
4. Must have AC and Internet, the two elements of an advanced society.
5. Must be reasonable distance from grandchildren and children.
It is a bittersweet task as we drove the ever shrinking zone of opportunity. It is the reality of time shrinking as we go along our usual paths, day by day.
I am exploring the various financing , including a reverse mortgage. I do so love the idea of a bank forced to wait until the last one of us kicks off to get their money back.
I do figure I can make a case to St Peter that “I need five more years so I can really piss of my banker”. He might go for it.
A comment John made (#18) on a recent post by 10 cents (“Programming Question”), reminded me I had reviewed one of John’s books. The review was posted a while back on the legacy site. As this is one of the most worthwhile books I have ever read, I thought it should be posted it here.
A work of non-fiction is understood in a context. A great work actually articulates the context before anybody else gets it. A review of such a book may go seemingly far afield, if the book’s power can be construed to provoke and, indeed, license the inspired musings of its readers. Such is the case here, as “The Autodesk File”’s roots are deep in the intellectual, technological, economic, financial, and even spiritual soil of this, the spring garden of the information age.
When was the last time you couldn’t put down a book which had not a single murder, courtship, love or sex scene? OK, I’m not counting some ancillary trysts consisting of mergers and takeovers, which some might construe as sexy, or at least allude to being on the receiving end of a certain Anglo-Saxon gerund. This book contains no obscenities, save a rare mention of taurine spoor. That serves as a welcome reminder: important ideas and even emotions are amenable to description sans vulgarity.
Lest one think this a narrow commercial exposition, “The Autodesk File” is in the public domain in multiple formats. Neither is it a mere exposition of commerce. About half way through, amidst essays explaining the nature of businesses dealing in intellectual property (rather than capital-intensive equipment), the reader is treated to a short science fiction story whose theme is no less than a plausible tale of the origin of human life. Our bodily construction is, after all, prescribed in lines of code, albeit compressed into helixes wound around themselves then wrapped around histones. Like some of their software counterparts, they, too, must be unzipped before use.
Also punctuating this eclectic opus are quotes from Aristophanes. It is a tour de force, a truly awe-inspiring account of much more than the building and workings of one trailblazing company. It encapsulates the noblest of human aspirations, idealizations, creativity, ingenuity and critical self-examination; inescapable is the conclusion that voluntary cooperation and exchange of ideas, knowledge and capital is a great boon to the world at large. If a business is built to serve the needs of customers by creating products of the highest possible quality, greed is not a good; it is irrelevant. Also inescapable is the perhaps ironic conclusion that ongoing success requires continual vigilance, lest arrogance take hold. The fruition of critical self-examination can be seen in renewal of that same humility which was so essential in powering that first whiff of success.
Nonetheless, apart from arcane sections dealing with technical matters of computer hardware and programming (these, too, may be great for the cognoscenti; this writer simply knows too little), this book is a spellbinder. Readers may be surprised to be persuasively regaled with the fundamentals of various disciplines, including economics, finance, taxation, corporate law, engineering, computer science, thermodynamics, rocket science, quantum mechanics, cosmology and the nature of reality. That is, readers who don’t know John Walker. For those who do, none of this is surprising.
Have you ever had a million dollar idea? I have – lots of ‘em. Have I turned even one of those ideas into a product? Nope. Why not? Because I lacked the understanding, the talent, and the single-minded discipline to even get one idea off the ground. This book, edited by Ratburger’s own John Walker (himself author of most of the collected writings), is a chronicle of birth, growth, crises and maturation of Autodesk Inc., whose products helped unleash the creativity and productivity of millions of people. It did so beginning with a key insight: that the infant personal computer was a general tool and not a specific workstation. As a general tool, through the intelligent design of software, it would rapidly evolve in utility in virtually every field of endeavor, beginning with design. Design, in this line of thinking, is a logical first step down the path which aims, eventually, to capture all of reality in the box we call a computer. This stunning insight occurred while all the rest of us still went through our days typing on an IBM Selectric, without once even using the word “computer.” Way back then in 1980, virtually none of us thought about computers or any of the other words and things without which our lives today would be unimaginable. Historically speaking,1980 happened yesterday.
An additional insight guided Autodesk’s ethos: that personal computers would grow exponentially in processing power and become useful by ordinary people (with no computer or programming skills) to undertake virtually any task. Autodesk’s first product,AutoCAD, moved design from a small number of dedicated, expensive CAD workstations operated by highly-trained people, to desks virtually everywhere where drawing might be needed. In the process of “squeezing too much code into too small a box,” Autodesk did not compete with previous generations of single-purpose CAD workstations which cost 10 – 50X as much. Instead, it created and increased a market for CAD by the same orders of magnitude, by bringing this tool to the 98% of designers and draftsmen who could not afford dedicated CAD workstations.
In less than one year, this new company had a hit product. Time to rest on one’s laurels? How about after the IPO? Time to coast? Not quite. Going into the CAD business – and that is the business, as opposed to the software business (read the book to learn why), is something like launching a rocket from Earth and hoping to land on a comet and send back data – all except that the precise trajectory of the comet cannot be known, and its surface material and contours are completely unknown. The difficulties were perhaps not unlike those encountered by the ESA’s $1.8 billion Rosetta/Philae spacecraft which did rendezvous and land on comet 67P. Philae’s tether harpoons failed to fire, so the probe bounced and wound up in a permanently-shaded spot (due to an unanticipated hard surface, they likely would not have worked anyway), preventing use of solar power. Batteries enabled an estimated 80% overall mission success. AutoCAD’s launch – with $59,000 in capital, mid-course hardware and software corrections and “landing” on users, by contrast, remains successful to this day.
“The Autodesk File” attributes success to the company’s understanding that it represented what it coined “The New Technological Corporation.” This is an an enterprise which does not conform to traditional capital-intensive business, as it can deploy intellectual, debt-free leverage. Such businesses embrace an unpredictable but essential element: “wild talent.” This talent is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success when it comes to creating software, which is unlike most all prior businesses. Rather than capital, such entities require a peculiar kind of talent – one which grasps the present desires of a market, knows what is possible with present hardware and the correctly plots the trajectories of both the market and evolving hardware. I believe it to be objectively true that the editor is faithfully and humbly describing the truly awe-inspiring talent he, himself, brought to Autodesk. Other such individuals, like Jobs or Gates, are known in the early computer and software businesses. Few, however, have operated as willing members of an extended team with humility, dedication to excellence and human decency. If nothing else, “The Autodesk File” shows how this can be accomplished.
Attempts to find individuals with “wild talent” are most difficult, maybe impossible. “Wild talent” illustrates the essential difference between aggregate information, traditionally used by analysts to “value” companies which trade on public exchanges, and actual events which take place within any company. For instance, money spent on R&D is aggregate data which subsumes the activities of many employees of a given company. Whether it means the company will grow really depends on what individual employees accomplish. When it come to software, the outcome will be notably different for R&D teams which play it safe versus ones which continually push the envelope of what may be remotely possible. Intellectual leverage is such that the cost of failure of 8 out of 10 ideas is far outweighed by success in only 1 or 2 of them. The presence of such loyal individuals is also a bulwark against hostile takeovers. You can lead a programmer to the R&D department, but you can’t make him plink – at least not in the way which is essential to success.
Perhaps most revealing about this unusual book is the ongoing critical self-examination engaged in by the primary author. These analyses were distilled into the form of internal company communications as essays and information letters.At many points in the journey, the author is able to adumbrate the – sometimes previously un-articulable – principles which guided his often momentous insights. These usually arose in chaotic circumstances with incomplete information. The essential humility of this approach is demonstrated at various points in the book. Repeatedly, the author makes clear the importance of open communication and understanding of the roles of all the other parts of the company. A programmer, for example, must understand management’s plan, what customers want, how a product will be marketed and shipped, what competitors are doing, etc. Only then can a “wild talent” be effective.
“The Autodesk File” is a much-needed reminder that human beings are still capable of doing awe-inspiring, creative and even noble things; that they can voluntarily collaborate and, working in their own self-interest, set off endless waves of non-zero sum games in their wakes. This is also a success story, then, a chain of decisions, clearly rooted in the philosophy of Classical Liberalism – in some of its untidy and altogether messy human details. Without aiming to, this story affirms the primacy and value of the individual, both as producer and consumer; it convincingly shows that communication – positive and negative feedback – between individual, voluntary buyers and sellers – is the essence of what a market is. This is in contrast to statist dirigisme, where aggregate data and arrogance rule, in derogation of the value of the individual.
Diametrically opposed to today’s received collectivist wisdom, “The Autodesk File” shows how individuals create markets where none previously existed, to the betterment of all. From those roots emerge timeless operating principles: 1. build the best products, period – with open architecture so as to invite developers to customize and find as yet undreamed uses (an essential form of feedback for software companies), thereby further expanding markets; 2. invite, quickly assess and respond to this feedback from customers in the form of improved new releases; 3. employ owners, not merely ‘investors’ – pay well for results – with ownership whenever possible. This is a story which demonstrates the huge difference between owners, whose time preference is long and investors focused only on the forecast for the next fiscal quarter. The tyranny of industry analysts, a form of economic lunacy where short time preference is brutally and pervasively enforced on behalf of “investors,” operates so as to threaten the short-term existence of sound public companies which actually attempt to pursue the best long-term business practices.
In a somewhat philosophic interview around the tenth anniversary of Autodesk, the author/editor describes the operation of a new “design cult” of engineering as a “form of creationism, which thinks its members are so omniscient that they have no need for market-driven evolution to perfect their efforts.” This view, coupled with the information letters, again displays an essential humility in the ethos of Autodesk. Management must lead toward explicit goals. Every part of the organization must understand and communicate with all others, particularly as it affects product development. This is not the typical hierarchical corporate ethos. Neither is it anarchy. Management must lead, but not without listening, understanding and explaining.
It is difficult for this writer to refrain from drawing parallels to the author’s description of this “design cult” of engineering. Such an attitude is not surprising, given that we live in a society which increasingly and officially denies the existence of a supreme being, while at the same time acting – through a “cult” of increasingly centralized authoritarian government – as though it were omniscient and omnipotent; as though its policies have no unintended consequences; as though no cost is too high to accomplish its goals, whose only feedback is its own reverberating positive-feedback echo chamber. It is hard to know which cult is imitating which. In either case, the state-erected obstacles to starting and running a business, while not emphasized, are on display in this epic. This common ethos of the state and large corporations has inevitably given us today’s pernicious corporatism.
It may be that the most significant intellectual error of our time is the belief that society can be modeled and manipulated as well as physical reality now can be, thanks in large part to private companies like Autodesk. Unlike government, though, companies are forced to relearn their limits – i.e., lessons in humility are given, at least annually, and enforced as necessary by balance sheets and owners. The fear of going out of business would be a highly salutary fear for modern government to experience. Instead of a healthy humility, however, the state often displays antipathy toward private enterprise – ironically, the very source of its own financial power. The public relations nature of this attitudelikely represents either envy of private successes and/or virtue signaling in an effort to garner votes in the incessant lust for yet more power.
God is traditionally described as a jealous God. Do you suppose that our deity/government has its own version of the Ten Commandments, the first of which explains its animus toward private enterprise? “Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me…” …otherwise put, “Trust me. I’m from the government.” “I’m here to protect you from those big, bad, corporations.”
Thus, as you may see for this reader, the story of Autodesk led to much contemplation of human nature and the whole spectrum our interactions – both voluntary and coercive. It is an inspiring and epic tale of the utility and nobility of voluntary cooperation.