Value chain TV

Back in the 90s, a colleague who’d joined our office from America demanded to know what, exactly, got made in Britain. Nothing got made or done here; that was his basic position. At the time, I thought the best answer was to point to things like aerospace, pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Not so many internationally recognised consumer goods, true, but then a sensible person surely has to realise that certain things such as washing machines – whatever the nationality of the brand – tend to get made and sold locally owing to transportation costs. Now if I’d been smart like Newsnight’s Evan Davis, I could have gone a bit further and eulogised stage one of the value chain: activities such as research and design. These things happen in Britain too. Davis has made a whole BBC television series that describes the value chain in the clearest, simplest terms. I wonder if his examples aren’t a bit dated (ARM, Glaxo) but it probably doesn’t matter: I think it’s good to have the idea spelled out.

Compare and contrast with another BBC series that’s supposed to be about business. Yes, that would be The Apprentice. Now you might object that this is really just an entertaining reality show that trades on the self-destructive antics of eager twenty-somethings, but I’d point out that there’s clearly a strong normative component to the show as well. Sir Alan is the voice of the no-nonsense business-minded serious person. His two advisors are practically schoolteachers. They hover over the apprentices and their default attitude is one of disapproval; you can see it in the set of their chins. Now, every few episodes the apprentices get sent to a Soho consultancy for twenty-four hours in order to get something made. Supposedly the apprentices design things during this time period. An iPhone app, say, or a new perfume. Of course, it’s actually the professionals at those consultancies who do the designing; the timescale being ultra-short, they roll out some basic, reheated product. This is as you’d expect: real design is much, much harder; the difficulty of it underpins the possibility of making money at it. The problem with The Apprentice is that there’s next to no recognition of the reality. The Apprentice view of stage one value chain activity is that you do it by marching into the design studio and ‘giving a steer’ to the creatives, who will then work all night. At the end of the all-nighter, the delegator gets to pluck the fruit; the designed product.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Sir Alan’s company is not so much about computers these days.

Flight of Fancy

If there are, famously and waggishly, only two places in France — Paris and the provinces — what of other European countries? In the common imagination, the literary tradition, in culture as a whole, and of course for a fanciful exercise like this, in gross stereotype. For the UK, which I do not know very well, maybe there’s London, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Germany seems much trickier to me, perhaps because I do know it well. Berlin of course, and Bavaria, and then? German Suburbia? In the case of Germany, The Past, and specifically that part of the past from 1933 to 1945, looms largest in the world’s imagination. But I am not sure whether that fits with this scheme. Russia, fittingly, has more: Moscow, St Petersburg, the Caucasus, Siberia, the Gulag, the Provincial City, the Rural Provinces and maybe the Far East. Smaller countries, I will rashly opine, waver between one and two: the Capital City and Everywhere Else or just the Capital. What do you think?

On being partisan, while unsure of your own party

The all-you-can-eat reasons buffet is open at the Telegraph. Charles Moore says that tuition fees are unfair on students in general:

The poll tax went wrong because it came in, for many, at punitively high rates, with more losers than gainers. You got the bill long before you got the benefit of better-run councils. Tuition fees may incur the same problem. The loss is certain, the gain uncertain. From the autumn of 2012, the fees will almost triple to £9,000 per year, a sum that less than 10 per cent of the population (and virtually no students) could pay out of post-tax income. So most students will incur debts amounting to more than £30,000.

While also being unfair to those students who happen to have wealthy parents:

If you are a citizen of Bahrain or Brunei or Brazil, you can get your child into a pretty decent British university without his or her grades getting more than a cursory glance, because you will be paying the full fees, for which that university is desperate. That option is not open to British students – an anomaly which Mr Willetts was trying to address with his “gaffe” this week.

In conclusion, a one-two combo of special pleading and mincing:

The Conservative part of the Coalition has made a point of not sucking up to those who Mrs Thatcher used to call “our people”. That may be acceptable as part of the “we’re all in this together” theme of recession. But once “our people” start to feel positively persecuted, they will take their electoral revenge. You cannot build the Big Society – let alone a Tory election victory – by disrespecting the leading 15 per cent of its citizens.

A third of whom can’t afford the £9,000 p.a. tuition fees out of their post-tax income. You also have to ask: what’s the mechanism of this ‘electoral revenge’, exactly? Voting Lib Dem? Voting for UKIP? Labour? Is he still the editor?

Thursday ambiguous usage link

If your mind isn’t fitted to the world, you’re in want of a better understanding. If the world isn’t fitted to your mind, you’ll be wanting to do something about it. The concept of direction of fit could have been put to good use here:

Suppose an alternative history in which big-box stores, Wal-Mart and others, were unionized,” [Krugman] says. “You could easily imagine that you could have a large number of service-sector workers who were, if not like autoworkers, like manufacturing-sector union workers in the golden age of private-sector unions.” He thinks for another minute. It might not have been Utopia, he says, but it could have been France. But now these possibilities seem further away than ever. Part of the basic loneliness of economic study is that you are always looking back, at data sets that are already completed. And so you realize your vision of a perfect society just as it disappears from view.

I suspect Paul Krugman understands well the difference between “realize” in the sense of grasping things, and “realize” in the sense of bringing things about. (From an otherwise very readable piece by Benjamin Wallace-Wells.)

Elsewhere

* The new president of Kosovo is the youngest, the first woman and the first non-partisan person to hold the post. She will also be the last selected by the present method of parliamentary election. Her election by the parliament breaks a deadlock and averts a potential political crisis. Atifete Jahjaga, who will turn 36 on April 20, is a western-trained policewoman and had been deputy director of the Kosovo police force. According to the deal that brought her to office, future presidents will be elected directly, and the first such election will be held within six months. People who know more about Kosovo than I do are kindly invited to weigh in.

* This long post on Bulgaria’s shrinking population coins the phrase “demographic bailout.” It’s an interesting look at a corner of Europe and a set of problems that tend not to find a wider audience. Population changes and their implications have long been an AFOE theme, ably explicated by Edward. Some of his views on Bulgaria are here, here and here.

* LiveJournal, which is the key platform for Russia’s blogosphere, has been under recurring DDoS attacks in April (LJ responds). It’s not at all clear who is behind the attacks, with accusations and counter-accusations quickly turning into a hall of mirrors. What has become clear is that an important element of Russia’s civic discourse is vulnerable.

* Speaking of Russian discourse, the country’s current chief of the armed forces’ general staff, Nikolai Makarov, spoke at the General Assembly of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences and apparently delivered quite a take-down. As one expert characterized the speech, Makarov said “the various military academies and institutes continued studying the old wars, assuming that in the future, the Russian military would be called upon to fight World War II yet again, and what’s more, do it with World War II era technology and tactics.” (The Academy’s director is a WWII veteran.)
Makarov took the Russian military’s shortcomings in the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 as impetus for significant reform, and has argued that Russia largely slept through the last 20 years of military advances. Furthermore, he foresees an army in which conscripts would make up no more than 15% of the forces. That would be an epochal change in Russian military culture. Interesting developments to follow, even if you aren’t living in a place that felt the sharp end of Russia’s armed forces recently. (h/t LGM)

FIFA, South Africa 2010 and white elephants

If you have some time, please go and read Player and Referee, Conflicting Interests and the 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM), a monograph from the pan-African Institute for Security Studies, on the conflicts of interest surrounding the organization of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa at the expense of local socio-economic development. Two quotes:

At the ceremony in May 2004 announcing that the 2010 World Cup would be held in South Africa, FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter gushed to a crowd including Nelson Mandela that ‘the victor is football, the victor is Africa’. Had he wished to be accurate, however, Blatter would have lauded the real victor as FIFA and its cozy network of business associates, who have together sucked the marrow out of recent World Cups with far more success than the host countries. The South African event perpetuates this trend. At the forefront of the queue of FIFA’s business associates is a shadowy company called Match Event Services, which has been appointed as FIFA’s exclusive official accommodation provider to the World Cup. While the company officially warns accommodation providers to keep room rates low because tourists are ‘sensitive to pricing’, an investigation by the author has confirmed that tourists will have to pay Match 1000 per cent more than they would normally pay for accommodation in certain cases, such as for units at South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

The staggering cost, in other words, of the decision to ‘buy’ Cape Town one to three extra matches was R2,83 billion (Green Point minus Athlone) or R3,37 billion (Green Point minus Newlands). This is the price of 56 642 or 67 390 low-cost houses at R50 000 each: homes for a quarter of a million people and more.

Dear Socar

Dear Socar, Socar Public Relations and Socar of Georgia (if your website is working),

Normally when I put 50 lari worth of gasoline into my car, I get about half a tank. Earlier this week, I visited one of your affiliates in Tbilisi, paid for 50 lari of gas (the price per liter did not seem significantly different from the other filling stations nearby) and drove off. The needle eventually showed that I had gotten about a quarter of a tank of gas.

If I could remember exactly which affiliate I had this experience at, I would be able to avoid it. But it may just be easier to avoid Socar stations entirely. And to share my experience.

Sincerely,

Doug Merrill

The reason Bond villains always leave the room …

… before Mr Bond gets it in the knackers is that Bond villains are fastidious. They can’t stand the sight of blood.

Jack Straw, UK Justice Secretary, signing Ronnie Biggs’s leaving card yesterday:

His condition is not expected to improve. It is for that reason that I am granting Mr Biggs compassionate release on medical grounds.

Either he’s unaware of the irony of this statement, in which case he’s too stupid to be in a position to be saying such things, or else he is aware of it but chooses to let the irony remain. And that suggests a lack of self-control. Seriously, I don’t like having sadists in government.

Nevermind the Economics, Here’s Eurovision

It’s that time of year again, and this time all of Europe — except plucky Georgia! — turns to the Third Rome Moscow, home of Eurovision 2009.

In years past, we’ve amused ourselves to no end with the song contest. Here are posts at least as good as some years’ winning songs:

2008
Can’t Resist
2007
Who’s European?
Eurovision: The Quickening
2006
Zombies Finnish First (As a bonus, this post links to an article containing the clause “naked people running through streets of Helsinki, according to magenta-haired Finnish journalist.”)
2005
Andorre, null point (Also? Follow the links to the shoeblog, and then search that site for Eurovision. Captions such as “The Norwegians and their golden camel toe” or “Georgian sword yodelling” only begin to describe the fun.)
2004
Europe Unites in Song

Just in case we’re too drunk stunned busy to liveblog the event itself, consider this an open Eurovision thread.