Sunday, 4 July 2010

U.S.’s Startup Myth; China’s ‘Ford Moment’: Commentary Review

Job-Creation Faith Is Misplaced

Recently an acquaintance at the next table in a Palo Alto, California, restaurant introduced me to his companions: three young venture capitalists from China. They explained, with visible excitement, that they were touring promising companies in Silicon Valley. I’ve lived in the Valley a long time, and usually when I see how the region has become such a draw for global investments, I feel a little proud.

Not this time. I left the restaurant unsettled. Something didn’t add up. Bay Area unemployment is even higher than the 9.7 percent national average. Clearly, the great Silicon Valley innovation machine hasn’t been creating many jobs of late -- unless you are counting Asia, where American technology companies have been adding jobs like mad for years.

The underlying problem isn’t simply lower Asian costs. It’s our own misplaced faith in the power of startups to create U.S. jobs. Americans love the idea of the guys in the garage inventing something that changes the world. New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman recently encapsulated this view in a piece called “Start-Ups, Not Bailouts.” His argument: Let tired old companies that do commodity manufacturing die if they have to. If Washington really wants to create jobs, he wrote, it should back startups. (July 2)

Andy Grove
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So Far, Capitalism Rules

If these factory strikes continue, China may have to go Communist.

It’s tempting to wonder which way China will go. Will it side with demands for higher pay and let strikes broaden? Might it clamp down on this budding Solidarity-style movement to protect the all-important export machine? Or will workers demand a true Communism -- not just one that abhors Google?

So far, China has taken the first path, going more the way of capitalism than Communism. It raises the specter of a “Henry Ford moment” in the most populous nation, with both good and bad implications for the global economy.

First, the good news. China’s leaders are taking a page from the industrialist who built Ford Motor Co. In 1914, Ford doubled the average automaker’s wage to $5 a day. It made his Model T more affordable to them and provided a model for a stable workforce that formed the core of the U.S. middle class.

It’s a dynamic China needs more of, and signs are that it’s spreading before our eyes. The positive domino effect it unleashes would create a growing domestic market for products factory workers produce. It would accelerate China’s shift from exports to a consumer-led economy. (June 28)

William Pesek
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Banking Bill Invites Meltdown

The financial overhaul bill set for passage sometime next week is supposed to “bring accountability to Wall Street.” In announcing an agreement between the House and Senate last week, Senator Christopher Dodd noted that “the American people have called on us to set clear rules of the road for the financial industry to prevent a repeat of the financial collapse that cost so many so dearly.”

The final bill, though, does little to prevent a systemically important bank from failing, and makes it far more difficult for regulators to assist one seeking to avoid failure. This all but insures that the system-wide calamity the bill should be trying to prevent will, in fact, occur again.

Most of the systemic risk in the U.S. is now carried in the six largest bank-holding companies (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley). The bill lets them off easy: none is to be broken up and the effort to lower the risk they take on was diluted. (June 28)

Roy C. Smith
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EU Mulls Sovereign Default

The notion that default might be the only sensible exit strategy for an indebted euro nation is finally gaining traction with the authorities. With global financial markets still in a state of disrepair, investors would be wise to tread softly amid the potential nightmares.

A draft European Union document, dated June 25 and scheduled for discussion July 12-13, was obtained this week by Bloomberg reporter Meera Louis. The draft suggests the forthcoming stress tests planned for the region’s banks should assess the dangers posed by “exposures to sovereign risk.”

That’s a euphemism for asking whether banks would blow up if a government couldn’t pay its debts. Including that scenario in the analysis is an admission that the prospect of restructuring has, in the minds of the euro’s apparatchiks, moved up the scale to “possible” from “out of the question.”

On June 28, the Bank for International Settlements weighed in with its annual report. Cheery reading it is not. (July 1)

Mark Gilbert
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--Editors: John Lear

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