Infrastructure, India and Intellectual Capital

These are three very powerful “I” words – Infrastructure, India and intellectual capital. They are related in one key fashion. The failure of the US to address each of these issues has hastened its forthcoming demise as the world leading economy. China, of course, plays a key role, but we sometimes lose track of the other fastest growing economy in India, who has been creating a technology proficiency that rivals and may surpass Silicon Valley.

Per Vice News, India is well positioned for two key reasons. They have one billion people and are much more heavily focused on STEM education than the US. Even if the US had the same focus, India is three times larger and has been doing major call center and technology outsourcing for US and other companies for years. Now, they have companies that only focus on the domestic market in India. And, one other key is important. Indians who have traveled to the US to be educated are returning home rather than staying here. Why? Opportunity back home and the fact the welcome mat has been thrown away by the current US President for immigrants of color.

The other two “I” words are crucial. India is investing in their infrastructure and intellectual capital. The US has forgotten what got us to a world dominant economy. In the book “That used to be us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back,” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, it describes an America that used to invest along with a blend of local government and private funding to do great things. Now, we are more concerned with cutting revenue to dare fund things like our dilapidated infrastructure and intellectual capital.

Both the US Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have been pleading for years to invest more in our infrastructure. While interest rates were low, it was the ideal time to borrow to invest in depleted assets. Infrastructure investing also would create jobs and enhance productivity, the latter through saving of time by reducing the time when roads, canals, locks and bridges have to be shut down for repair. The President rightfully noted this need on the campaign trail and then shelved a report to do anything about it one month into his Presidency. Who says so? The man he asked to do the report.

Like India, we should be investing in new technologies and our infrastructure. Plus, we should be more welcoming of immigrants, especially those who are educated here. Innovation is portable, so if these folks leave the US, the Innovation will occur elsewhere. This coupled with a better and protective patent system will promote growth.

Like America, India is not perfect. But, they are focused on the future moreso than the US leaders are. We tend to be focused more on protecting legacy industries, than greasing the skids for new ones. Fortunately, other Americans are more forward thinking, in spite of our leaders. But, it would be nice if we helped them out more.

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Wind waltzes across Texas

Relatively unknown to many Anericans is the rapidly growing success of renewable energy in America. California is the significant leader in solar energy and Texas is the predominant wind energy state.

As reported on CBS Morning News this week, there are 24,000 renewable energy jobs in Texas mostly in the wind sector. That is more than 1/3 of coal jobs in the whole country. Further, over 16% of the electricity produced in Texas comes from wind energy at the end of 2017.

What may be surprising is former Republican Governor Rick Perry deserves credit for pushing a bill to expand the electric grid to draw power from the wind turbines. This action is vital as to power cities, the electricity has to be transferred from the plains areas where wind blows so strongly.

This makes Perry’s relative silence on the subject frustrating in his role as the director of the Department of Energy. He is doing the heavy lifting for the President as he pushes for more coal use. With the renewable energy jobs growing at double-digit per annum clip, one would think Perry might want to talk about expanding the nationwide grid.

Let me close with a reminder of the town of Georgetown, TX that is 100% powered by renewable energy. Republican Mayor Dale Ross noted in the CBS news interview that he is a Reagan Republucan, but breaks with his party on climate change. Ross, a CPA, wants to meet with the President as his Town Council voted to select the lesser and more predictable cost model for energy which is renewable energy.

Too many people debate renewable energy as a jobs vs. environment issue. This is an old argument and is no longer true. The market forces and development have made renewable energy more affordable. As a result, the jobs are growing. Just think of the wind waltzing across Texas.

Two experts raise concern over US treatment of allies and tariffs

I watched two separate interviews, one last week on PBS Newshour with a representative of the Council on Foreign Relations and one this morning on CBS Morning News with Ian Bremmer, the head of The Eurasia Group. I felt they both framed the issues and concerns very neatly.

The former noted while Trump has accurately raised concern over China and their pilfering of intellectual capital and trade deficits, he does not have a coherent strategy. It was noted that his tactics are less than effective, especially since this issue affects our G7 allies. It would be far better to work in tandem with our allies to put pressure on China, rather than place tariffs on them as well. He also noted the World Trade Organization has several levers that could be deployed to help with this effort.

As for the lack of coherence, Trump rightfully noted the intellectual capital is the greater concern, but said if China bought more goods from the US, that would be enough. If your biggest issue is theft of intellectual capital, buying more goods does not address that issue.

As for Bremmer, he has interviewed representatives of the G7 who attended the less than fruitful summit in Canada. He said the other members outside of the US all noted the relationship with the US is very far from the “10” that Trump assigned to it. He noted that between Merkel and Trump, it is about as dysfunctional as it gets. He added that other G7 countries worry that Trump has fewer reasonable voices advising him, so there is no one to reach out to that will get in the President’s ear.

What will come out as the Starburst Outburst, after the famous picture with leaders imploring Trump, he stood and agreed to sign a cooperation agreement that staff worked on until 3 am, including Larry Kudlow of the US. Then he reached into his pocket and grabbed two Starburst candies and threw them on the table saying “Angela, don’t say I never gave you anything.” This is about as demeaning as it gets, rivaling his refusal to shake her hand in the oval office.

The picture will be in future history books as a milepost of when the US turned its back on its allies. It will be in the section entitled “When the US ceded its global leadership position.” It is compilation of things that make me say this, not just the ill-advised tariffs.

They include: pulling out of an Asia-Pacific trade deal that went through without the US, announcing the pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, ignoring the pleas of allies to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, pulling out of the United Nations Human Rights council, separating children from parents at the border and adding more demands after a NAFTA deal was crafted. Then, there is the bullying, lying to and lying about our allies. Shoving the Macedonia President out of the way is as good a metaphor as any.

The United States is becoming a pariah under Trump. Until the so-called Republican leaders acknowledge this, we will continue to be such. How low must we go?

 

Pope is at it again

Last week, Pope Francis again revealed why he is a global leader. Leveraging the biblical teachings that God wants us to take care of our environment, he reiterated his concerns on climate change to oil executives. Per a Wall Street Journal article called “Pope Francis Criticizes Continued Search for Fossil Fuels at Meeting with Oil Executives,” he encouraged oil executives to find ways to leave fossil fuel energy in the ground. Per the WSJ article:

“’Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!’ he said at a Vatican climate change conference attended by top executives including Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Darren Woods, BP PLC Chief Executive Bob Dudley and BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Laurence Fink.

At the conference, co-sponsored by the University of Notre Dame and featuring nearly 20 speakers Friday and Saturday, the pope said that an estimated 1 billion people still lack electricity and noted that access to energy is an essential resource for escaping poverty. But he warned that a failure to reduce the use of fossil fuels would lead to a ‘spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.’

The poor ‘suffer most from the ravages of global warming,’ he said, through water shortages and extreme weather which in turn drive mass migration, among other ways.
Pope Francis commended oil and gas companies for adopting policies that account for ‘assessment of climate risk’ and he encouraged the practice of environmentally sensitive ‘green finance’ investment strategies. But he warned that ‘markets and technology’ wouldn’t be sufficient to stop climate change, since our ‘current economic system thrives on ever-increasing extraction, consumption and waste.’

Earlier this year, BlackRock’s Mr. Fink in a letter urged chief executives at global companies to ‘make a positive contribution to society.’ The world’s largest asset manager has played a key role behind the scenes in insisting that companies take action to respond to climate change.

Pope Francis’ meeting with oil executives and investors comes almost exactly three years after the publication of his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he called global warming a major threat to life on the planet and said it is mainly caused by human activity. In that document, which as an encyclical ranks among the highest levels of papal teaching, the pope blamed special interests for blocking policy responses and indicted the market economy for plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and future generations.”

With the US President announcing his intention to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, other global leaders, like Pope Francis are continuing the push. Ironically, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders voted (the day before Trump’s announcement to leave the Accord) to obligate the company leadership to inform them of what they are doing to address climate change. Fortunately, US cities, states and businesses are picking up the baton dropped by the President. The US has passed the tipping point on renewable energy, in spite of the President and his EPA head’s efforts.

Pope Francis should be commended for leading the charge. Taking care of the least of us has been a mantra of this leader. I recognize he is not perfect, but is concern for people and the environment is meritorious. And, unlike Messrs. Trump and Pruitt, the pope is a scientist, with a Masters in Chemistry and has worked as a chemist.

Relationships with countries are vital

There are no perfect people, so we cannot expect perfect leaders. There are also no perfect countries, so we cannot expect perfect agreements among countries. To respond to these short-comings, we must do our best to value relationships.

This works for people as it does for countries. An ambassador noted America’s strengths are its military might and its relationships with other countries. Our relationships predate the existing leadership team, so it is imperative to nurture them. This will help us resolve problems as they arise.

This is not just a US problem where its current front man acts rashly and chaotically, breaks commitments and agreements and lies more than he does not. He has made America less trustworthy and other countries are finding a need to seek better agreements with others that do not include the US.

The imperfect European Union is experiencing significant tension with the pending Brexit, the current difficulties in Italy and the growing nationalistic movements in EU countries. This is made worse by targeted social media efforts by countries that would benefit from a dysfunctional EU and US. Russia is one of those countries and they have been accused of such targeting.

A key part of these relationships is a financial one. The global economy is larger than it otherwise would be due to these relationships. If each country only tried to maximize its own profits in a zero-sum effort, the total pie is smaller and we all lose. This concept is called the Nash Equilibrium, which won John Nash a Nobel Prize in Economics.

Yet, it is more than that. These relationships make the world more secure and safe. The nationalists argue the opposite, but the more commerce is intertwined, leaders work harder to nourish those relationships. A strong EU makes Europe safer and prosperous. A strong relationship with the US and other countries does the same.

Yet, these agreements are imperfect. Not every citizen within a country may benefit equally from a global economy. There is a graph called the “Elephant Curve,” which is a silhouette of an elephant with its trunk raised. The body forms the rampant growth in income of the poorest workers around the world, while the trunk represents the even more significant growth in the highest income earners. The trough inbetween represents the middle income earners who are seeing stagnant incomes, who are in more flourishing economies. This trough has led to populist politicians who over-simplify the problems and come to short-sighted solutions.

Their needs must be addressed, but first we must understand the causes are more than the global economy. The larger threat is techonology advancements. Through our relationships we must invest together on addressing these issues. If we do not, we will create zero-sum contrasts, that will cause even more tension. The rise of fascism in Germany evolved out of dire economic circumstances after WWI.

This last example should inform us of why working collectively is so important. We must value our relationships and make them as beneficial as possible. Going it alone may seem like a good idea to some, but we need to think through the benefit of trade and mutual investment in each other.

If this concept sounds theoretical, let me explain it better by BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Toyota and Nissan making cars in America, with GM and Ford making cars around the world. And, Chrysler is owned by Fiat, an Italian company. Jobs are created as we invest in each other’s countries. This is true for other industries and suppliers. And, we may be less inclined to create war, when so much is invested in each other.

Messers. Trump and Pruitt – it is the Environmental Protection Agency

Almost one year ago, the President of the United States announced a plan to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord making the US a very isolated country on the world stage. That announcement both betrays and galvanizes further the significant efforts and science behind America’s push toward renewable energy and conservation.

Yet, that is only part of the attack by this administration on our home planet. Under the tutelage of Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency, has decided to have an all out war on science and the environment. The orchestrated removal of climate change science data accessible by the EPA website and the repositioning, demotion or firing of some scientists, is indicative of a parent wanting to mask the fact they do drugs from their kids.

Pruitt has also tried successfully and unsuccessfully to let companies pollute waterways and the environment with fewer repercussions. The fact we have a global water shortage is irrelevant. He has also championed the ability for industry to question the EPA’s data. That may sound good, but industry has challenged data for years and, as a country, we do not adhere to the Precautionary Principle.

This principle states that if it is believed an industry is polluting the environment, then they must prove they are not before going further. In the US, industry has to be proven they wronged people many years after the fact. The reason Erin Brockovich is so famous is it is rare to win against industry. The sad part is people have died or been made ill by then. The Pruitt change is to let industry cherry pick data more easily. I should note the flame retardant industry used a study that had nothing to do with that issue to show the retardants were safe – it was proven they cause cancer in firefighters, toddlers and mothers.

Last week, a new report came out that noted the Outer Banks of North Carolina will be the hardest hit region by rising tides by the end of the century. Yet, the report eliminated any reference to man’s influence of climate change. It should be noted a few years earlier, the NC General Assembly refused to accept a similar finding, but paid for a report that used the past 100 years sea level increase as a guide for the future showing an increase of 8 inches versus 39 inches per the scientists. Apparently, that report has been proven faulty.

Finally, a report by the United Nations has estimated the failure to address climate change will cost the world $100 trillion in US dollars. Some have cried foul over this number, but I would add a study sanctioned by the world’s largest pension scheme (plan) investors in 2010 estimated the cost of repairing climate change problems in the $10 trillion to $20 trillion range. The key word in both is trillion.

We should recognize these numbers are guesses backed by science and some rationale. I would quibble less if the numbers are toward either end and focus on the observation that doing nothing will cost money and a lot of it. Hurricanes are more severe now when they hit shore from elevated sea levels. The costs to fix the damage run in the tens to hundreds of billions range. When you multiple just the hurricanes by these cost fixes, then one can see how the numbers can rise.

If that does not scare, there is a new term that should called “sunny day flooding.” These are days when high tides flood the streets of coastal cities when no storm is present. These days are increasing significantly in places like Miami, Hampton Roads, Charleston, New Orleans, etc. In the next fifteen to twenty years, some of these cities may have fewer non-flooding days than flooding ones.

So, Messers. Trump and Pruitt, you can choose to play ostrich all you want, but the people that care about our home need to move forward. It would be nice if you were an enabler rather than a blocker.

Media please focus on the big issues

With a man occupying the White House who has hard time with truth, civility, history and criticism, there is a bounty of things the media could focus on. And, that is part of the problem. I look at various news feeds and sources and see too many pedestrian foibles that get discussed. Yet, the countless criticisms dull our focus on the more important issues.

My concerns are several, so let me highlight those areas:

– we are borrowing from our future to make a long performing economy a little better, doing the opposite of what is needed to limit our debt from increasing from $21 to $33 trillion by 2027.
– we have ignored our allies and reasonable voices in the US to pull out of various multiparty agreements hurting trade, environment and security.
– we have pulled back several regulations making it easier for industries to pollute and ignoring the federal government’s role in fighting climate change.
– we have blamed immigration for a host of problems and focus on remedies that won’t help people or solve problems.
– we have held up the constitution as sacrosanct, while ignoring the sections on protecting the rights of all citizens, protecting the right and importance of the media and ignoring the clearly defined roles of the three branches of government. It is of vital importance to respect the judiciary’s pursuit of truth, even if the President does not like it.
– we have continued down a path which ignores truths and facts tolerating a man who makes more than a few decisions off misinformation and even disinformation. Governing well is hard enough when we use real facts, it is nigh impossible when we make things up.

Of course, there are other issues, but I attempted to group several concerns into larger categories. In closing, please remember these three cautions – we cannot shrink to greatness, we cannot continue to pee in our global swimming pool, and we must respect the rights and opinions of all people, not just people who agree with you or compliment you.