Down to the corporate side!

The Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement was a government policy in the People’s Republic of China during the 1960s and 1970s. From Wikipedia: “privileged urban youth [were] sent to mountainous areas or farming villages to learn from the workers and farmers there.”

A lot of economists and economic historians study aggregated data, e.g. gross domestic product, inflation, trade flows, or productivity.

Such a high level approach is valuable. However, the macro perspective by definition misses the details. A macroeconomist will typically explain productivity growth by referring to increases in (human) capital and total factor productivity. But how exactly do concrete changes lead to higher output? Continue reading “Down to the corporate side!”

The most devastating cyberattack in history

Wired has a great article (warning: long but worth your time) on last year’s cyberattack. It started as part of the Russian cyberwar against Ukraine. Almost immediately, companies around the world became collateral damage. Andy Greenberg’s Wired story highlights the impact on shipping giant Maersk.

Just to illustrate the vulnerability of IT systems:

Maersk’s 150 or so domain controllers were programmed to sync their data with one another, so that, in theory, any of them could function as a backup for all the others. But that decentralized backup strategy hadn’t accounted for one scenario: where every domain controller is wiped simultaneously. “If we can’t recover our domain controllers,” a Maersk IT staffer remembers thinking, “we can’t recover anything.”

The total damage caused by the attack has been estimated at $10 billion…

A prediction about Turkish government debt

The central government debt of Turkey was 28 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of 2017.

Although making financial predictions is usually a fool’s game, I’m pretty confident that by the end of 2020, the central government debt of Turkey will be higher than 40 percent of GDP.

My prediction is based on the ongoing crisis. Private debt tends to become public debt in these circumstances. Because the debt is dollar-denominated, it cannot be inflated away.

Check this post in 2021!

If this was financial assistance, I’d hate to see the opposite

The European support program for Greece ends today. Some called the program a bailout, others assistance or solidarity. Whatever you call it, the outcome has been abysmal.

Greece fared worse than the US during the Great Depression. Emerging markets recovered faster from financial crises than Greece did. The only countries that have shrunk more than Greece in the past ten years are failed states like Libya, Yemen, and Venezuela.

“Congratulations” to all who were responsible for this “success”.

What type of banker are you?

Some years after the crisis of 2008, Dutch journalist and anthropologist Joris Luyendijk set out to learn more about the people in the financial industry. Through a series of interviews with bankers, he was able to paint an impression of what it’s like to work in London’s banks. Continue reading “What type of banker are you?”

Een boek schrijven is werken

Professor Jonathan Holslag neemt een sabbatjaar om na te denken en te schrijven. Blijkbaar is het zelfs op de universiteit lastig om diepgaande analyses te maken. Iedereen kent het wel: je dagen zitten zodanig volgepropt met vergaderingen, mails en andere administratieve overhead dat je bijna niet meer aan je hoofdtaak toekomt.

Academici hebben nog het voordeel dat ze hun papers kunnen gebruiken als basis voor een boek. Bij mij was dat niet het geval. Hoewel ik in een bank werkte, is Hoe bankiers geld scheppen niet gebaseerd op mijn toenmalige job. Toen ik besliste om mijn boek te schrijven, nam ik ontslag. Alleen zo kon ik voldoende tijd vrijmaken. Continue reading “Een boek schrijven is werken”

Knowledge management is not a fad

In his excellent article Who owns a scientist’s mind?, historian Douglas O’Reagan describes how business managers have tried to protect the know-how of their companies. Firms own real estate, machines, software and patents. But how can they control the ideas and experience inside their employees’ minds?

Because the article was written for Physics Today, the focus is on the tacit knowledge of industrial physicists. However, some of its lessons extend beyond engineering.

I just want to comment on one thing. The author describes Knowledge Management (KM) as a fad:

Business interest in controlling tacit knowledge did not fade, however. It would return in several forms, perhaps most visibly in a 1990s business management fad called knowledge management (KM).

It’s true that management gurus and software vendors tend to hype expectations in order to sell ‘solutions’. But good knowledge management is very valuable to companies and most definitely not a fad.

So I was relieved that O’Reagan is more nuanced about KM later in his article. He explains how the focus of KM shifted from technology to human-centered KM1. In addition, some practices seem so obvious now that we don’t think of them as KM anymore:

At a basic level, some of KM’s key insights, such as the value of encouraging employees to maintain informal social networks throughout the industry, became even more a normal part of business than they had been.

In my own courses, I always stress that KM doesn’t imply extra tech or bureaucracy. On the contrary, if you’re doing it right, you’ll have more time to focus on your core competencies.