A Krafty Lesson About 21st Century Consumers


Velveeta

The Golden Triangle is an interesting management concept. This magical object allows you to easily build any two sides. The third side, however, is more difficult, and expensive. “Good, Fast, Cheap” is one of the most common golden triangles. Want a good fast car (maybe a Tesla)… not Cheap! A fast and cheap computer… it may not be good, and break after a week. How about a tablet? Well built (good), and cheap? Bet it’s not fast!

The economy is filed with these Triangles. When these triangles fail, it can have catastrophic consequences! Today, we will look at a specific economic Triangle that drives how corporations create and sell products.

  • Consumers: In Capitalism, consumers are the most important element of Supply & Demand. All demand starts with the consumer. When consumer need is not met, that market may simply fade away.
  • Producers: When individuals or corporations identify an unmet need, they race to create new products to fill that need. Some can identify needs purely by gut instinct, but most require marketing firms, survey data, and experts to convert ideas into products.
  • Investors: Producers (especially start-ups) need investors to finance new products. Investors, in turn, want assurance that consumers will buy the product. Some investors just want a profit, while others demand a good reputation, socially positive activities, protection of the environment, and more.

Simple, right? Yet, it can be incredibly difficult to build and manage this three-sided relationship. Consider the Oldsmobile. Once an icon of the American car industry, by the late 1980s the brand lacked excitement. Thir reaction was to launch a new ad campaign, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile!” Millennials may be asking, “What’s an Oldsmobile?” That’s a great question! Oldsmobile is a multi-billion dollar brand went extinct in 2004. Which is the big “ah-ha” for today’s discussion!

Should designing new cars have been given a higher priority than new ads? Maybe. Too many big corporations fail to address life or death problems, even when they are aware of them. If industry giants can’t solve their problems, how can smaller firms survive? Let’s examine Kraft-Heinz, one of America’s best-known food companies, and a corporation in decline. Let’s see what we can learn!

Big companies always want to be bigger, so in 2015 Kraft and Heinz (two of America’s biggest food companies) merged. Change was coming to America’s food industry. Younger customers no longer trusted big food companies. Millennials want small farms and organic products. They don’t want genetically modified, chemical-filled, highly processed foods. With hundreds of iconic brands between them, Kraft-Heinz could feel secure against the growing winds of change. Or so they thought.

Heinz was founded in 1869. Before refrigeration. Before even commercial canning. Heinz dominated preserved foods… pickles, relishes, condiments, and foods made with brine or vinegar. American consumers could buy pickles and sauces from Heinz rather than making these products themselves, saving homemakers millions of hours of work. More importantly, the move from home to industrial kitchens meant far fewer cases of botulism and other deadly forms of food poisoning.

Kraft was created in 1923. Originally, it was a cheese company at a time when almost no homes had refrigeration. Soft, mild cheeses spoiled quickly. Cheeses that lasted a long time were often quite pungent, and not to everyone’s taste.  Processed cheese (like Kraft’s Velveeta), were mild but long-lasting. Even without refrigeration! Factory processed foods gave America a miracle food and a good value!

Homemakers no longer needed to work from sun-up to sun-down. Soon other manufacturers came up with new miracle foods. In a poorer world, food that never spoils was a great thing! But we soon learned that food additives have consequences. “Forever Food” may be devoid of nutrients, and taste.

Consumers once trusted big companies and valued their products. Now the opposite is true. Big corporations know this. They’ve learned to create small firms, or at least the illusion of small firms, to introduce “all-natural” and artisanal products. In the short term, this may work, but consumers when consumers discover the big corporate ownership of those “small firms”, they become even more cynical.

In the 20th-century big food, firms developed scientific testing facilities to identify new foods preferences. Like Kraft “Easy-Cheese”, a spray can of processed cheese. I doubt that customers specifically asked for aerosol cheese. But surveys, marketers and food engineers turned perceived needs into this product. And Easy-Cheese was a success… for a while.

Today aerosol cheese is out. WAY OUT! All chemical-filled foods are out. Infinite shelf-life is no longer a consumer desire. Kraft executives have known this for a long time. Yet, they continue to manufacture foods from 50 years ago. Food designed for consumers that no longer exist.

Kraft’s corporate reluctance to eliminate or change venerable but no longer desirable products has had consequences. Kraft, not surprisingly, was reluctant to inform stockholders about their downward spiral. But as a public corporation, this reluctance was bordering on misrepresentation to shareholders. Regulators demanded action, Kraft’s stock price tumbled, the CEO and the head of marketing were removed. Most recently, Kraft wrote off $14 billion in corporate value. Consequences.

Consumer demand changes rapidly. Kraft-Heinz must have a board of directors that understands consumer demand and can act quickly. Did you know that women shop for groceries twice as often as men? Then why is the Kraft-Heinz Board of Directors more than 80% male (mostly, older men)? Companies run by people who don’t buy their own products can easily fall out of touch with customer demand.

When a Board of Directors lacks diversity, it becomes risk-averse. A lack of diversity means a lack of personal experience with new (or different) markets and products. New technology and globalization are accelerating change. Big corporations that are still operating like 20th-century firms will struggle in the coming decades, and some will fail.

Not just Kraft, but most big food companies are struggling with the all-natural, no chemical, cruelty-free requirements of the modern consumer. Newcomers like Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger seemingly came out of nowhere and are now worth billions of dollars. Established brands should have identified the huge (and unmet) demand for plant-based meat products. Established brands like… Kraft-Heinz.

Kraft was wall aware of the market. 15 years ago Kraft bought Boca Burger, a leading plant-based “meat” producer. Clearly, Kraft could identify food trends. The buy-out increased BocaBurger’s sales from $40 million to $70 million in its first year. But in the last 5 years? We are in the middle of the hottest plant-meat market the world has ever seen, yet Boca Burger lost half of their market share. Kraft should have dominated this market. Yet Boca Burger is headed towards obscurity.

This isn’t just a food industry issue. Big car companies face major changes as vehicles become electric and self-driving. Yet today’s innovation and excitement often come from new, small firms. In an age of incredibly fast transformation, big corporations have an Achilles heel. They cannot move quickly. Add to this the often smothering culture of the big corporation, and even when small firms are bought by big corporations, the spirit of innovation may not survive. Small and innovative “DNA” can’t always be transplanted.

Good, Fast, and Cheap have been the legs of the golden triangle for Kraft and Heinz for the last century. These are probably still the right legs, but the definitions have changed. Good means more than “stays fresh (forever)” or “made in a sterile factory”. Organic, natural, no preservatives, sustainable… have all moved up in importance for consumers. other large swings in definition and desire will follow. Will today’s big corporations be able to keep up with these changes?

Probably not. Many very recognizable brands died in the transition to the 21st century. Arthur Andersen, ASK Jeeves, Blockbuster, Borders, Compaq Computers, Friendster, General Cinema, Kodak, MCI, Netscape, Pontiac, RadioShack, Saturn, TWA, US Airways, the WIZ, and Woolworths… to name just a few brands that could not survive, or could not survive on their own. As the speed of transformation increases, so too will the speed at which old corporations die.

What do you think? Will we see most of the old corporations die off in the next few decades? Is there still time to save old corporate America? SHOULD we even try? What do you think?

 

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The Not So Little Truck That Could!


E-Truck

A 45 ton truck… with no gas tank!

2020 is expected to be the year of the electric vehicle, a turning point where EVs become a mainstream option for consumers. Every car company has announced an electric or electric hybrid option for 2020. With a simpler engine, far less maintenance, and a lower cost for fuel, electric will make sense for the majority of car owners. After a century of innovation, the gasoline engine hasn’t got a lot of room for improvement, but electric vehicles will get better and better over the next few decades.

Some EVs today cost a bit more but will save money over the vehicles lifetime. In another year or two, even the base price will be lower, making EVs a slam dunk winner. Of course, there are a few other trends that will also favor the use of EVs.

For example, 2020 will also be the year that the Sedan Dies! Sedan style vehicles are just not selling. Every car company is phasing them out. Not just individual models, all sedans. No more produced, no more developed. GONE! Consumer vehicles will primarily be SUVs and pickup trucks. And maybe something new?

Electric vehicles provide new options for designing a car. For example, you can place motors in the wheel hubs. This makes it simpler to deliver 4-wheel drive. Plus if any single motor fails, the car’s software can rebalance the power (and steering) and off you go. Without a gas engine under the hood, everything past the dashboard can go.

A new design could shorten the car profile by several feet, making for a lighter and more efficient vehicle. Alternatively, the dashboard could be moved to the front edge of the car, expanding the passenger compartment by 50%. Move dashboard instruments onto the windshield and the front of the car could be one big window. Make the car self-driving and you don’t need a driver’s seat.

A more conservative design could use moveable seating, allowing you to convert from a traditional layout (driver’s seat facing forward) to a “mobile office” (with all passengers facing each other), by pressing a button. Changing the configuration would be as easy as changing the adjustment features on your seat.

New options and efficiencies mean big changes for the car industry. Even bigger changes are likely for niche vehicle. Consider the mining industry, with their super-sized trucks and specialty vehicles. For example, coal mining is basically the science of blowing the tops off of mountains, digging up the coals seams, and then getting the coal to where it will be used. Usually, there is a road going up the mountain and a lot of very big trucks taking the coal back down the mountain, or to the nearest coal trains.

Interestingly, mining roads are often privately owned. These single-use roads have simplified rules compared to public roads. Also, private roads are not subject to the regulations public roads operate under. It is much easier for private road owners to introduce self-driving vehicles.

Once the coal seam is exposed, god-awful big empty trucks go up the mountain, and then god-awful big truck full of coal go back down the mountain. Pretty simple, right? Because the truck is big and coal is heavy, a lot of gas is burned moving coal around. However, when you change to an EV (a HUGE EV) you no longer need any fuel.

I don’t just mean you don’t need to buy gas. Nor do I mean that some big solar or wind farm provides the power. What I mean is that by driving up and down the mountain you create your own power. Did I hear, “Whaaaaaaat?” Allow me to explain.

Look at a simple electric vehicle, such as an electric bicycle. Most e-bikes have their motor in the hub of the rear wheel… just like putting motors in the wheels of a car. If you apply (electric) power to the motor the wheel turns. Apply more power and the wheel turns faster. But if you manually turn the wheel, the motor becomes a generator and the motion of the wheel generates power.

Sounds like a useful feature! And it is! On an electric bike (or any EV) this is often used to recharge the battery. Tinker with this and you have a “regenerative brake”.  You can increase the resistance so that every turn of the wheel generates more and more power, which creates greater braking power.

Our titan of an EV, the Elektro Dumper (or eDumper), has regenerative brakes. Great big ones! On day one, you start with a full charge, heading up the hill empty (a mere 45 tons). Every site will be different, but the battery will probably still have 80% of the charge left at the top of the mountain. It only takes a few minutes to load 65-tons of coal. The truck then heads downhill, with brakes (Regenerative brakes) on full all the way down. As long as the eDumper can drive downhill with a full load, no recharging is needed… ever.

According to the manufacturer, Kuhn Schweitz, the greater weight on the way down the hill not only recharges the batteries, but each eDumper will produce megawatts of surplus power every year that can be sold back to the power grid. No fuel and it makes money while you drive, by generating excess electricity. All the while still doing the same job of moving coal around as a gas-powered truck. That is a GAME CHANGER!

The switch to EVs will revolutionize Detroit… Ummm Kansas? Ahhhh… Tennessee? Well, wherever we build cars today will be revolutionized. Temporarily at least, a lot of new factories will be built. But a surge in EVs will mean the sunset of the petroleum industry. And a huge change for Agriculture, since 10% of the “gasoline” you buy at the pump is actually Ethanol (alcohol, mostly made from corn).

Of course, Millenials are the biggest wildcard of all. They want a small carbon footprint, they don’t like cars, many don’t even want to drive. What Millennials do want is, bicycles! Manual, foldable, rented or electric… bicycles are everywhere. Trendsetters and entrepreneurs are trying electric scooters, with mixed results. And ride-sharing services like UBER are converting car owners into ex-car owners.

The eDumper is just one example of how electric (and self-driving) vehicles will gain a foothold in America, and then become integrated into day to day life. Driving on a private road is simpler than driving in the middle of a city or on a crowded highway, but each step brings new car technology closer to everyday use. Battery production will ramp up, batteries will become smaller, and prices will fall quickly. Batteries are one of the most expensive components of an EV. Lower prices will catapult the EV ahead of its gas-guzzling competitors.

What about you? Thinking about buying an EV? Waiting for a self-driving car? Giving up on owning a car and just getting an UBER account? Tell us what you think!

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The Trump You Know


Trump 2

The 2016 election was a bit… strange. OK, it was VERY strange! Perhaps stranger than anything else in our lifetime! Today, we will look at just one of the Stranger Things. Specifically, how did Donald Trump win enough votes to become President without any clear history of Conservative, Liberal or any other recognizable political beliefs? Or was this a carefully developed plan to keep his beliefs hidden? And that’s the subject of today’s blog!

In 2016, Donald Trump was a major figure in New York City, a self-professed billionaire (still waiting for those tax returns!), a very recognizable real estate brand, a casino operator, a television celebrity, promoter of famous (or infamous) products, and a frequent guest on popular (if not mainstream) talk shows like the Howard Stern show. Yet, despite all his national visibility, Trump left virtually no political footprint.

In the process of becoming a Presidential candidate, you make public a lot of statements and you tell the world about your political beliefs. Once public, they are set into the concrete we call “major media coverage”, and exist forever, just a Google away. Members of the Republican OR Democratic party MUST work their way up the political ladder and pay their dues, long before running for the highest office in the land. In order to attract the support you need to keep moving up, you need to attract reporter and news stories. That leaves a big footprint on the political landscape.   

Occasionally, someone rich and famous enters politics for some very specific personal benefit. A local political office, like a seat on a zoning board. This allows them to gain some advantage for some property they own, while still remaining relatively anonymous. Likewise, taking a position in a private or government regulatory group, such as the National Dairy Council, could give you a great deal of power and anonymity, assuming that all of your interest are very confined to all things Dairy-ish.

But the National stage is different. You need issues. Big issues that are interesting to enough voters to get you elected. It could be housing, education, the military, agriculture. There are a lot of big issues out there. A candidate from a religious background might tell us how they are concerned about the nation’s morality. Military officers can be a legitimate voice for improved international security.

Regardless of the theme, a politician who seeks national office also seeks ever-larger forums to announce their views…. reporters, talk radio, articles, youtube. You want your views to be heard, and you want to leave behind a record of those views.

But not Trump.

Trump has been interviewed many times since he became “a thing” in the 1980s. His first big interview, with Tom Browkow in 1980, may have said it all. Brokaw asked, “Mr. Trump, what’s left in your life? You’re 33 years old, you’ve got all this money.” Trump’s response was, “I just want to keep busy and keep active and be interested in what I do. That’s all there is to life as far as I’m concerned.” That really does seem to everything there is to say about Trump.

Consider his career. He is a very well known Real Estate developer, but aside from some disagreements with local politicians, we’ve heard little about his politics. He was a Television Celebrity, but there we only learned that he loves beautiful women and money. Was this the result of a decades-long plan to eventually run for the Whitehouse? Or did he just never think very much about national politics and international issues?

What we can tell is that he was focused on New York City and on his properties. New Jersey came up a lot, but only when he had a casino. Florida is in his thoughts, but those thoughts were mostly about golf and his favorite getaway in Florida, Maralago. International travel? No surprise, he mostly travels where there is Golf or a property deal.

Trump didn’t belong to the Republican or the Democratic parties, but he publically supported Hilary Clinton. Does that mean that he is a rich, liberal Democrat at heart? Probably not, since he ran as a conservative Republican. Yet even as a Republican, he has been firmly against key Republican issues, like free trade and globalization. Free trade and globalization are the bedrock of the modern “Ronald Regan” Republicanism. Before the 2016 election, this was sacred ground for the Republican party.

But Trump has a Foundation, right? That must mean something! The Trump Foundation was created to “distribute proceeds” from his best-selling book, “The Art of the Deal”. It was shut down in 2017 by the New York State Attorney General’s office due to mishandling of money. When it was alive, it wasn’t active and Donald Trump had not personally contributed for more than a decade. We’re not going to find much insight here.

Trump’s most famous book, “The Art of the Deal” was a bestseller, but it’s “ghostwriter”, Tony Schwartz tells us that Trump didn’t write any of it (he just answered questions), and it is a fraud. Many ghostwriters actually write the entire book on their own. The fraud that Schwarts is pointing to is about an investigative piece by the New York Time, which found that Trump’s wealth comes from money illegally transferred to Donald Trump by father, not from the financial triumphs of Donald Trump. The book is fiction. According to a number of other ghostwriters, Trump never wrote those and they too are… shall we say aspirational rather than factual?

Undoubtedly, many biographies are similarly “unauthentic”. But Trump’s books will not tell us much about who Trump is. Which is how he entered the 2016 election as a political enigma, a blank canvas where others could project their hopes and dreams.

Could. For the last couple of years, Donald Trump has been making up for lost time and telling the world what he thinks, while those who know him have been sharing stories of the “True Trump”. As a result We have become used to news stories that begin with, “The President of the United States” and end with “porn star”. Sometimes more than one porn star.

That’s a problem for some supporters. Like Evangelical Conservatives. They felt that Trump could leave his past behind him… and they could forget about the divorces, flashes of anger and profanity, the petty personality, the massive ego, the scandals… and become a political leader. Or not. Every year Trump gets more… Trumpy… not less. In 2020 Christian supoporters need to choose between their public beliefs (blessed are the meek, the Bible, Jesus) and their desire for power (much less Jesus-like).

Ironically, Trump’s beliefs may not matter. In 2016 Trump ran against a candidate that a lot of people love to hate, Hillary Clinton. More than a few pundits tell us that many voters didn’t so much vote for Trump, as they voted against Hillary Clinton!

Michale Moore, a staunch Trump opponent, predicted that Trump would win because, “Hillary… is hugely unpopular — nearly 70% of all voters think she is untrustworthy and dishonest. She represents the old way of politics, not really believing in anything other than what can get you elected…. the kids don’t like her, and not a day goes by that a millennial doesn’t tell me they aren’t voting for her… The enthusiasm just isn’t there.”

If Hillary Clinton runs in 2020, Trump just might win by default. But against anyone else… ANYONE ELSE… it’s a different election. In the last election, Trump was the contrarian. He pointed out flaws in everyone else’s policies. But no one could nail down what Trump believed in or planned to do once in office. Trump even said he had several “Secret Plans”, but never revealed them. Here are a few of his campaign promises:

  • Renegotiate NAFTA: The new deal, the USMCA, was signed by the Presidents of the US, Canada, and Mexico in 2018. But it was not been ratified by the US.
  • The Wall: Mexico would pay for a wall to keep immigrants out of the US.
  • Healthcare: He said that it would be easy to draft a better healthcare plan than the one Obama put in place. And a cinch to get everyone to vote for it.
  • Iran: Obama’s “nuke” deal with Iran was “the worst deal ever”. It only stopped nuclear development for 10 years. Trump would immediately stop it, forever, and as a bonus stop all missile development.
  • Industry: Trump will make more industrial jobs than ever before in history.

With policies attached to his name, it’s going to be a very different campaign. Undoubtedly, he will Can Trump continue to attack his opponent’s policies (as every politician does), but can he defend? We know that he hates being asked questions in press conferences, how will he react to reporters questioning him about his Presidency? Will the debates be carefully monitored and controlled or will the candidates face off directly with each other. Will Trump even agree to a debate?

Trump may be many things, but now he supports many things. He has backed policies. He is now the Trump you know, and not just “the other Candidate”. What do you think? Has the last couple of years been the Presidency you hoped for, or are you looking for a new candidate? Tell us what you think!

 

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Supply & Demand: The Secret Power Behind Capitalism!


Balance 2

Millennials don’t trust Capitalism. While Capitalism has done enormous good, self-interest sometimes takes precedence. Yet, Capitalism survives. And continues to evolve. New dialects of Capitalism are built on the original foundation, but the dynamic balance between Capitalists and Public interests is constantly changing. Let’s dive right in and look at where Capitalism is headed!

While Capitalism has evolved, its foundation is recognizably that of Adam Smith’s, The Wealth of Nations. Published in 1776, it was a runaway bestseller, placing “Supply & Demand” front and center for Capitalism. This simple, yet incredibly powerful concept, is so simple that Capitalists sometimes forget why it’s important.  

A healthy balance between Supply & Demand (especially Demand) is critical to the health of Capitalism. Let’s turn back the hands of time, to just prior to Capitalism, to the early 1700s when it was still the age of…

Monarchies: America grew up as Monarchies declined. Kings led the economy and created the laws. The legitimacy of the King came through their “Divine Right”, their appointment by God. Which could not be questioned!

Yet, Enlightenment philosophers (including the Founding Fathers of America) did question that right. They asked, “If Kings lead by God’s command, why is there famine, economic collapse, plagues, and natural disasters under Kings? Why do Kings squabble over land that God gave to other Kings? Why didn’t European citizens have a better life under Divinely appointed leaders”? Their conclusion was that Natural Rights (life, liberty, and property) come from the People, not the crown.

American Democracy: Democracy and Capitalism were cousins that grew up together. Capitalism placed political legitimacy in its citizens. Capitalism placed economic control of the economy in the same hands. Citizens (consumers, the People) are the “Demand” in Supply & Demand. Elections address political Demand, and the free market addresses economic Demand.

However, America’s Democracy and Capitalism were both tempered, or indirect. For example, before 1913 many senators were appointed by state assemblies, rather than voted in by citizens. The Electoral College (a remnant of those earlier days) can, and recently did, reverse the popular vote in a Presidential election.

Capitalism had similar restrictions. Early Capitalists wanted to sell the products that citizens wanted to buy, but before marketing existed… how could you know what citizen/customers wanted? In a day of less-sophisticated customers, simpler products, and local Capitalism, it wasn’t much of a problem. Capitalists sold into the market where they lived and worked. The needs and wants of Capitalists and the needs of customers were very similar. Demand by proxy (corporate owner, bankers, etc.) was good enough.

Industrial Capitalism: By the late 19th-century, farms replaced by factories, Capitalism was national (and becoming global), and products were more sophisticated. New processes, chemicals, pollution, undesirable byproducts, and deals with unsavory people in faraway places, made corporate decision making more complex.

It is difficult for a single Capitalist (or board) to act as the proxy for millions of customers. When factories were in one city (or continent) and customers in another, Capitalists learned how difficult it was to balance the Demand of two very different populations. Often, you had to choose winners and losers, of often to the detriment of whoever was far away and out of sight. Without a strong attachment to either group, a Capitalist might simply choose their own interests over the Demands of customers.

As long as Capitalists and Corporate executives reflected the mainstream beliefs of America… at least the parts of America that mattered… this proxy for Demand worked well enough. In the 1950s, America’s idea was a middle-class college-educated one income suburban dream house. But soon, women graduated from college and became wage earners, minorities wanted suburban homes, educated consumers asked uncomfortable questions, today’s luxuries became linked to tomorrow’s environmental nightmares. The time for proxies was running out.

Monopolies: As corporations grew larger, industries consolidated, and monopolies were born. Monopolies tended to artificially prevent competition, violating a core concept of Supply and Demand… the free market… and distort or ignore Demand.

In the late 19th to early 20th century, monopolies were everywhere. Oil, coal, steel, salt, sugar… you name it and there was a monopoly. Monopolies kept prices high and prevented innovation. Luckily, Democracy came to the rescue. Capitalism worked overtime and after decades of effort, monopolies were dismantled.

Communism: Karl Marx, the person most associated with Communism, and influenced by Adam Smith’s writing, predicted that Capitalism was about to evolve into something new. If Capitalists replaced Kings, surely the government would replace Capitalists. Marx theorized that Communism would take place in an advanced nation (England or Germany), with well-developed democracy, industry, and many union workers. But it didn’t work out that way.

Instead, Communism took root in 50 underdeveloped nations. Lacking Capitalism, Democracy, or even an industrial base few allowed for Demand. Instead, Communists had a “command” economy where the government directly controls what factories produce, how property is used, and who gets which resources. Command economies don’t ask what citizens want, they dictate what a good citizen should want, attempting to socially engineer citizen desires.

The results? 48 of 50 Communist states died, leaving just Cuba, and China. Let’s give Cuba a pass. Is China still Communist? Then why do so many Chinese Communist officials own corporations, sit on corporate boards, or own equity? 20th-century Communists would be aghast! We’re going to need to wait and see where China is headed.

Fascism: Another type of command economy. Fascism fuses government and business leaders into a single organization that runs the nation. For a while, Italy and Germany were seen as the future of Capitalism. But Fascism died quickly after WW II. Another example of the dangers of distorting Demand, or substituting elite opinions for the Demands of the people. 

Socialism: After WW II, the colonial empires collapsed. and the last elements of Monarchy fell away. And American Capitalism spread around the world. France, Germany, and England were the most likely candidates for ongoing Capitalism, but their more extensive labor union history meant that national elections would dwell more on social protection than in America. National health care, guaranteed unemployment benefits, and extensive worker protections defined European Democracies.

Scandinavian nations were equally interested in social issues but also took great pride in their ancient forests and pristine beaches and rivers. Environmental protection became an important element of their political contract with citizens, and later in their Demand for goods. In the 20th-century, these differences seemed dramatic. But by the 21st-century, every Democratic nation adopted some or all of these social programs.

Consumer Capitalism: Towards the end of the 20th Century, the global economy evolved from industry to service and data.  How much steel or coal was consumed by industrial firms became less important to the economy than the number of new homes, cars, and iPhones that consumers bought. Direct consumer Demand, not the desire of corporate leaders, drove the economy.

Wall Street had grown enormous, partially because bigger corporations need more services, but mostly because the average citizen was investing in Wall Street. By the 1990s huge retirement funds poured money into Wall Street, which in turn invested in corporations. Governments unions now invest trillions of dollars in corporations around the world.

Consumers… Citizens… The People… directly determine Demand. Marketing rapidly matured, trying to predict and direct consumer demand. With varying degrees of success. More recently, “social media” bypassed traditional marketing in consumer and political arenas. The Internet-connected world is struggling to define the role of social media. Are they the new intermediaries, just a distraction, or perhaps a dangerous new stage in our economy and our politics?

What Comes Next?: This brings us back to the Millenials. They deeply distrust Capitalism, and they have little love of the political system. They have examined both Capitalism and Democracy. Ever since the “1 Percenter” protests on Wall Street, they have conflated both. The political elite, economic leaders, the wealthiest people. In the minds of the Millenials, they are pretty much all the same. And the Millenials are not completely wrong.

A well-publicized fact is that a couple of dozen families control as much wealth as the poorest half of the world (i.e 3.8 billion people). The ultra-rich have long since blended their political and economic interests. Why don’t you? If you believe in Global Climate Change, but your political representatives simply will not read or acknowledge the scientific evidence, why not go directly to corporations with your demands.

Consider where the political and the business side of the world are on issues like Climate Change. Ted Cruz from Texas believes, “climate has been changing from the dawn of time… (and) will change as long as we have a planet Earth.” That’s very progressive for Ted who used to say, “global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers.”

Compare this to statements from ExxonMobil. On their website, they commit to “addressing the risk of climate change by reducing our emissions, helping consumers reduce theirs, and advancing research to find new low-emissions technologies for the future.” Global Climate change is all over their communications. They admit it is real and they say that carbon… including carbon from ExxonMobile… is the cause.

The Millenials might be onto something here! Corporations, around the world, are realizing that social issues, the environment, how companies treat their workers (or even their products… such as cruelty-free meats and Free-Trade goods) are important to this generation of consumers. Or to phrase that differently, these issues matter to THEIR consumer and THEIR Investors.

This explains the rise of Impact Investors, who are interested in more than just the traditional “bottom line”. Impact Investors are asking for a double bottom line. They want profitability AND, and a better world. I would go so far as to say, they DEMAND it.

Adam Smith’s concept of Supply and Demand has always been very simple. But understanding Demand can be very complex. Especially when your firm does not represent the values of your customers. Millennials DEMAND a double bottom line from both. Companies that survive the 21st century all need to learn how to listen to that demand and deliver the solutions yoyr customers want!

What do you think? Have your opinions about your part in the economy evolved? Did you move from a consumer to an advocate for certain types of products or for “social good” based corporations? Talk to us and let us know what you think!

 

 

 

 

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The Big Payoff: IDD Adult Employment


ROI-return-on-investment

America is THE Capitalist nation. That’s why not just American citizens, but our Government, really needs to understand some basic Capitalist ideas. Like “Return on Investment” (ROI). For example, President Trump’s trillion-dollar tax cut was supposed to raise wages and pay for itself. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case. Mitch McConnell says the problem is entitlement programs, which cost a lot but get little or nothing in return. Is either argument true? Does Washington understand ROI? Let’s dive in and see how true Capitalism could drive more enlightened government spending.

Let’s look at the example of employment for Intellectual and Developmentally Disabled (IDD) adults. Few American’s have heard the term “IDD”, but most know the term “Autism”. Autism is just the best known of a number of intellectual and cognitive disabilities… Down’s Syndrome (which is genetic), cerebral palsy (resulting from birth issues), meningitis (a brain infection), and of course physical impact to the brain (Traumatic Brain Injuries, or TBI).

Until recently, IDD received little attention. A new generation of drugs greatly aided individuals with depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders, providing a great deal of attention for these disorders. Unfortunately, there are many different forms of IDD and no obvious cures. Promising treatments are on the horizon, but insurance may not pay for the next miracle cure. Still, even without a cure seismic changes have occurred in the IDD world.

In the 1960s Down’s syndrome meant a life expectancy of just 10 years. Today Downs syndrome adults live to be 50 or older. Life expectancies have expanded across the entire IDD spectrum. However, the government, which pays for and regulates most IDD service providers, takes a very long time to adjust to change.

Even though IDD children live to be adults, services are still focused on childhood… primary school education, pediatric medicine, and family support in these early years. Issues of adulthood, higher education, employment, and living an independent life isn’t the focus, making these issues a struggle for IDD individuals and families.

Even with today’s limited medical technology, many more IDD adults could function as a fully-engaged member of society. The greatest wish of every IDD parent is for their child to grow up, get a job, and live a dignified life. Yet, due to this outdated model of IDD life, the government is not focused on employment, and 80% of IDD adults are unemployed.

It is vitally important that the government makes this shift, and avoids the coming IDD crisis. Let me explain.

  • In 2004 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tested children and determined that 1 in 166 were autistic. Today the number is 1 in 59, and rising.
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) affects 2.5 million Americans every year. But Millenials text while driving, and traffic accidents (and TBIs) are up
  • The NFL and college/high school sports have suppressed or distorted evidence of TBI’s. Only now are TBIs, especially in young athletes, being diagnosed.
  • Improvement in obstetrics allows women to have children later in life. This has led to an explosion in the number of Downs syndrome births.
  • Many factors have created this hidden IDD crisis. More IDD individuals, with longer lives, and the government is still playing catchup.

Many IDD adults are “work ready”. Yet once they approach adulthood, their services are terminated. IDD families are very familiar with this service “Cliff”. Adults with IDD should be focused on college, jobs, and living on their own. Instead, they and their families scramble to re-establish basic adult IDD services before they fall of the “Cliff”.

If adult services focused on employment during this transition, America would gain enormous financial benefits. What are these benefits and how would IDD adults contribute to society? Let’s start with…

DO WE NEED IDD WORKERS? Yes, we do! The economy is humming along at just 4% unemployment. Businesses are complaining about the lack of workers, especially for entry-level urban jobs. Shifting demographics led to fewer young workers. And Millenials increasingly reject traditional entry-level jobs. We have a brewing employment crisis, yet there are workers who can fill open positions. IDD workers.

ARE THERE BARRIERS? Definitely! Some employers are uncomfortable offering jobs to anyone who is different. Some IDD adults have physical or intellectual disabilities that are too severe for employment. However, the number who can fill many of America’s entry-level jobs is quite large.

While autistic adults can have idiosyncrasies that make employers cautious about hiring, hyper-focus and high IQs often makes them exceptional high-tech workers. Ford Motor, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, SAP, and other firms formed the Autism at Work Employer Roundtable, to facilitate autistic employment in high-tech and finance.

At the other end of the employment spectrum, IDD adults are often regarded as exceptional workers, who are far easier to retain and motivate in entry-level positions than their non-IDD coworkers. IDD workers are the solution for many of America’s most difficult to fill positions!

WHO CAN WORK? Most IDD conditions are best defined as a spectrum rather than a single condition. Conclusive tests are rare. Down’s syndrome is an exception. It is extra code in the 21st chromosome and can be verified. Diagnosis of intellectual development often requires waiting until a child is older, and can react to questions and tests.

As previously discussed, children diagnosed with autism rose from 1 in 166 in 2004 to 1 in 59 in 2014. A frequent quote is that over the next 10 years 500,000 autistic children will become adults, or 50,000 every year. Other IDD disorders are less well documented, but an extremely conservative estimate would be to double this population to 100,000.

Not all of these individuals can work. So, let’s make another very conservative estimate. Assume that just 35% to 50% of these IDD adults are “work ready”. Interestingly, Forbes Magazine estimates that 35% of the IDD population successfully enrolls in a college. If someone can take college courses, can they perform work in a supermarket or a coffee shop? I’d say, “Yes, they can!”

But we’re not quite done. Not everyone who is “work ready” is in a position to work at any given moment (I’m in school, out sick, on vacation, working but only part-time, left one job and looking for another, etc.). This “frictional unemployment” is why unemployment never reaches 0%. Deducting general unemployment (currently 4%), as well as the 15-20% of adult IDD who do have jobs, yields an “excess” unemployment rate of 76% or between 1 and 1.5 million IDD adults who are able, available, and ready to work.

WHAT WILL THEY EARN? Every parent wants their child to have a good income, great benefits, and work that their child can be passionate about. For IDD families, any job at all is often an unachievable dream. Yet, with just a small effort, our  “work ready” IDD adults could have real jobs. At the low end of our estimate, we will use the new minimum wage of $15 per hour, or $30,000 annually.

At the high end, we could use the average US income ($48,000) or the median US income ($61,000). However, the best number is RPE (revenue per employee). In addition to paying their own salary, workers must pay their share of the building they work in, utilities, insurance, advertising, profits, and other costs.

RPE is usually calculated by industry, with utility workers generating $1.6 million, industrial workers generating $360,000, and supermarkets generating just $200,000. Other entry-level industries fall in this low range. Let’s use this for our calculations.

CAN GOVERNMENTS SAVE MONEY? Absolutely! Cities, states, and the federal government tax the revenue generated by IDD adults. Over a lifetime, using the ranges we’ve discussed, each individual will generate between $1.2 and $8 million. The entire “work ready” population, for 40 years of work, will generate between $1.2 and $12.2 trillion dollars. Not millions, not billions, that’s trillion with a capital “T”.  A staggering number that is hopefully… too big to ignore.

But there’s more. If they are employed, IDD individuals would no longer need to receive disability unemployment payments from Social Security. The government would still pay for childhood programs, for medical support (perhaps at a lower rate, depending on income), and other programs, but this payment… averaging $14,800 a year… would end.  That’s $600,000 over 40 years. For all “work ready” IDD adults, its $15 to $23 billion in a lifetime. Even by itself, this is a compelling argument to solve IDD unemployment.

Also, we should consider the cost of our criminal justice system. Including prisons, police, and prosecution America pays $189 billion annually. IDD adults are just 2 to 3 percent of the population, but they are fully 20 to 30 percent of imprisoned Americans.

Why is it so high? It’s a lifetime of issues… falling out of school programs, families without resources, and a condition that makes it difficult to fit into mainstream society.  IDD adult employment cannot, by itself, keep these adults out of the criminal justice system.

What employment can do, however, is to provide IDD adults with daily socialization, ensuring that they can better interact with the police and other authorities. This lack of social skills can lead to tense, potentially life-threatening situations. Through social skills developed at work, fewer IDD adults will be a burden on the police and our court system.

WHAT’S THE ROI?: As much as $12 trillion in additional economic activity. And a modest $23 billion reduction in Federal spending. Government deficits are at an all-time high. If these numbers are not compelling enough to employ IDD adults, how big a number do we need?

And then we have the problem of America’s rapidly shrinking small towns. People are leaving, and there aren’t enough young adults to fill the entry-level jobs that are needed to keep these towns alive. In just a few years, America will follow the examples of Japan and Europe, and small towns and villages will be deserted. If we want to improve our economy and preserve small-town America, we need to fix IDD unemployment.

How do we fix IDD employment? The full answer requires a followup article, but the short answer is a new financial model created by an innovative firm that I work with… NGOH. They are a startup that will provide services for IDD adults in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Their model employes high functioning IDD adults in profitable businesses. These businesses provide needed services, employment, and tax revenues for the community while business revenues support homes for disabled IDD adults that cannot work. This self-supporting model is an innovative path towards employing high-functioning IDD workers. While providing less-able IDD adults with long-term homes and financial security.

Do you have a family member with IDD? Do you work in the industry or are you an Impact Investor looking for a new investment model? Tell us what you think, or contact us on Linked-In!

https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisniccolls/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/adriana-piltz-7aa59a16/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/thomasvanantwerp/

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Last Days Of The American Cowboy


Cowboy

Every culture has a mythology. It tells us about how we see ourselves. For example, America has two distinctly different worlds of work. On the one hand, we have highly educated and highly paid professionals… lawyers, doctors, financial experts, consultants. On the other hand today, we have highly structured and low paying work… clerks, cashiers, janitors, fast food workers, fulfillment centers, call centers. That’s the reality, but which one is our mythology? Neither! In our heart of hearts, we all want to be… Cowboys!

Cowboys? As in leather chaps, living with cattle, sleeping on the ground, and really bad food? Well… no, not exactly. But that’s the thing about mythology. It’s not meant to be real. It’s about image and style. And for American, Cowboys are a symbol of freedom. And Individuality.

When Americans think of independence, the lone, independent Cowboy, wandering America’s great open spaces on his trusty steed. Maybe our lack of remaining open spaces makes the image of the Cowboy even more important. Even the term “Cowboy” MEANS and independent outsider, a disruptor!

Remember the series Mad Men? If I said that Dan Draper was a Madison Avenue Cowboy, you would instantly know what I meant. He’s independent, he can look after himself, he has rugged good looks… you can see him as a Marlboro Man, smoking on his horse, just as the sun sets on 500 head of cattle. Cowboy.

But Cowboys have been gone for a very long time. Starting in the 1970s, that image of the independent, self-reliant worker evolved from Cowboy to  Independent Truckers. Cowboys had open spaces and Truckers had the open road. Cowboys got cattle to market, and Truckers hauled loads. As independent as they were, Cowboys would get together for annual cattle drives, and sit around the campfire swapping stories about rustlers (who could steal their livelihood). Truckers would form up into convoys, talk to each other on their CB (citizen’s band) radios, and swap stories of outwitting the smokies (who could steal their livelihood).

As Cowboys gave way to Truckers, Truckers must now give way to factory workers. Oh, Truckers will still live on, it’s a while before the robots take over. But they will no longer be Independent Truckers. In 2018, a new law took effect that requires Truckers to use an Electronic Logging Device or ELD. Now, wherever a Trucker goes, the ELD goes with him. And the Truckers ain’t happy.

In the old (old, old) days, Many Truckers were independent. They owned their own trucks, they took contracts, delivered goods, and hopefully made a profit. With a bit of luck, an experienced Trucker could make a good living. Knowing the best roads, where construction and congestion were, being a good judge of the weather, and knowing where local police were more… forgiving, made the difference between success and failure.

But GPS replaced experience, trucks became too expensive for independents to afford, and truck owners wanted to know more about what truckers were doing with their very expensive equipment. Big trucking companies did have reasons to worry. There are a lot of accidents with big rigs. Owners can be fined for many issues. Efficient fuel use is vital to making a profit. and of course, late deliveries mean that everyone is fined. Truckers once took (semi-legal) shortcuts, occasionally exceeded the speed limit, carried a bit more cargo than was strictly legal, or even took the occasional nap by the side of the road. Now every “irregularity” must be explained.

While Truckers always had to keep some sort of log of their activities (if only to track expenses), for most Truckers the ELD means you have “Big Brother” riding with you. The ELD may question you in real-time, as it tracks you minute by minute. Any variation from the set of actions the software believes that you should be performing, and you will get a call asking for an explanation. And you may be fined. The open road isn’t open anymore.

The Cowboy died away when America’s open range was closed off and turned into farms. Of course, technology had a hand in their demise. With steam locomotives, you could get cattle to market sooner, without losing weight from their long journey.

Once a computerized manager watches your every move, the old Trucker image soon fades away. ELDs will continue to take on management responsibilities, diminishing the role of the Trucker. Eventually, the long haul truck just becomes a component in a distributed factory. And Truckers become factory workers. The transportation industry is rebranding itself as Logistics, de-emphasizing people and vehicles, placing more value on software and data. The next logical step is to replace Truckers completely, with self-driving vehicles.

The ELD may give the trucking industry what it desperately needs, more reliable and less expensive methods of moving goods. But once the decisions of the ELD are valued more highly than the experience of the Trucker, it becomes a small step from telling the Trucker what to do to just driving the truck on its own.

Is this the Last Roundup for America? Is the Trucker headed for the same fate as the Cowboy? Tell us what you think!

 

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Is The Future Of Robotics… Just A Lot Of Garbage?


Garbage truck

By now it’s common knowledge, robots are on the rise. There are robot checkouts in some stores, industrial robots in factories, and warehouse robots that ensure the prompt delivery of your Amazon orders. When the bugs are worked out in self-driving vehicles, robotic trucks will dominate our roadways. Clearly, jobs will be lost. Still, robots may be able to avoid a national crisis. And that crisis is… our Garbage.

While it took decades for everyone to separating out our trash, an entire generation of Americas grew up with recycling. Still, few Americans understand that the foundation of our recycling system is our ability to send our garbage to China. Even fewer know that since 2013 China has regularly notified the world that they would enact new environmental standards to limit the importation of recyclables (the “Green Fence”). In 2018 the standards went into effect, and a year later… 90% of US recyclables are being rejected by China.

We now have a choice. Either store recyclables until we run out of space, throw it all into garbage dumps, or develop new technology and techniques to deal with recyclables (and garbage in general). However, China not only provided a location to send our garbage… THEY PAID US FOR IT! Money from China provided the financial foundation of America’s $100 billion recycling industry. Without this money, there is much less money for new recycling programs, and existing programs around the nation are collapsing.

Because we had the cheap, often profitable, option of selling recyclables to China, very little new recycling technology has been developed in America in the past few decades. From an engineering point of view, the bests option is simply to not produce all of the “recyclables” that we do. Most packaging could be redesigned to greatly reduce the total tonnage of recyclables. Go a bit further, and you can create new materials that will biodegrade so that this garbage goes away after sitting around for a while. Or you could re-engineer the whole supply chain so that it was cheap and profitable to domestically recycle our garbage.

But we did none of these things. We chose not to invest, and our recyclables took the risk-free path to China. Did I say risk-free? That’s not how the recycling industry feels now! With the sudden loss of income from China, recyclers have doubled or tripled the fees they charge to towns and cities. Many municipalities have already begun to scale back or eliminate recycling. Some towns are just sending materials directly to landfills. By the end of 2019, it’s going to get a lot worse.

Most of America’s recycling center are just sorting centers. The actual recycling process… turning recyclables into new products… is performed in China. Carefully sorted recyclables have a higher value per ton. Recycling centers did just enough sorting to make it profitable to send offshore. But when the new environmental standards were put in place, and China rejected low quality (dirty, poorly sorted, contaminated) recyclables, the new (higher) cost of sorting made the entire process too expensive.  in 2017 we had a nearly 100% acceptance rate. Now we have a +90% rejection rate.

What are our options? What can we do to save our recycling industry? We could develop new technology that makes it profitable to turn old plastics and paper into new products, but that is going to take years… if not longer. However, there are a few promising near-term options:

Robot Sorters: If our sorting centers were more efficient, more recyclables could be shipped to China. Not my favorite option, but it is at least a short-term solution. Most American sorting centers do work manually. China’s new regulations make manual sorting too expensive. It’s simple economics. If you want to move more products, lower their cost.

Other types of robots use technology that can be used in a sorting center. Sensors to “see”, other sensors to identify different types of metal, the ability to “feel” different textures. It’s just a matter of combing tech from several different existing robots into a new model that sorts garbage. A number of robotics firms are developing sorting robots that can sort more materials in less time, at a lower cost.

As soon as 2020, these robots could be rolled out. Undoubtedly, these robots will change the cost equation, and make recycling profitable again. If efficiency and profitability continue to rise, more of the garbage in our environment may be seen as money lying on the ground… and someone will pick it up!

Robot Garbage Trucks: Small towns in America and around the world are shrinking, and are desperate for ways to provide services with a falling tax base. In most of thee municipalities, the two largest city contracts are for school buses and for waste management. Cutting the cost of waste management has become vital to their survival.

Even before the new regulations from China, towns were testing technology to reduce the cost of waste management. Trucks with a robotic arm (to lift garbage cans) have been around for a few years, and these trucks reduce the usual two-man team (driver and garbage handler) to just one. That significantly cost costs.

These trucks have sensors to distinguish between the recyclable and the garbage bin. Most of the work to date has focused on just the garbage. Due to the new changes, putting these trucks on recycling duty might ease the cost of collecting, even if it did not specifically affect sorting.

Even Better Robot Trucks: Let’s step it up a notch! A fully electric robot vehicle would cost less to operate than a gasoline-powered truck, and it would generate less pollution. With two separate bins, the truck could collect garbage and recyclables in one trip, instead of the two trips (or trucks) that most waste management systems use. And of course, if the trucks were self-driving, a completely automated vehicle would add to savings.

Robotic Enforcement: There are essentially two different recycling methods. Single-stream and Multi-stream. Single-stream is preferred by many municipalities because it is simpler for end-users. Just put all recyclables in one bin. Multi-stream uses separate bins for metal, plastic, and paper. Multi-stream reduces sorting center work and limits cross-contamination. Consider placing an empty can of tuna on top of newspapers in a single-stream bin. If you didn’t wash out the can, fish juices will contaminate the paper.

And, of course, we will always have individuals who just won’t follow orders, and the wrong materials are in the wrong bin, or they just don’t separate out anything. Robotic trucks can use their “eyes” to look into bins, or even use high-speed cameras and the bins are emptied to examine the entire contents. Those who have not sorted their garbage can be automatically fined. It may sound petty, but if contaminated recyclables have no value, the entire community pays a higher price for waste management. Is it better to fine the entire community, or just a few offenders?

So. This is our future.

Not in 100 years. Our future, next week. Go call your mayor. Ask about your recycling program. Your city is probably scrambling for a place to store recyclables for the new couple of months. If not weeks. We’ve got to do something soon, and robots may be our best short term solution!

What do you think? Is your city grappling with the new garbage crisis? Have they found any new solutions? Let us know!

 

 

 

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Capitalism 2.0: Pay For What You Use!


Past Due

In the 2nd grade, my homeroom teacher loved to have unscheduled ethics tests. Her favorite was, “As you walk down the street, and you see a wallet lying on the ground. The wallet is filled with cash. What do you do next?” The answer she was looking for was, “I would go through the wallet, find the owner’s address, and return the wallet.” My class, however, was had a more nuanced Lord of The Flies response. “Finders Keepers!”, they would yell. I have come to realize just how valuable a similar education in ethics would be for today’s financial and political leaders. Starting with…

Capitalism, Democracy, and modern Charity evolved together. Each influenced and shaped the other.  Conservative politicians revere the political model the Founding Fathers of America created. Conservative Economists might want to re-familiarize themselves with the original economic model created by early American Capitalists. It is a far cry from today’s Capitalism. Especially how public land and resources are to be used.

One of the simplest ethical concepts of Capitalism is that some things belong to you, and some things don’t. Before the Enlightenment (i.e. before Democracy & Capitalism), Kings owned the world. But even Kings had limits. All classes enjoy certain rights.

The King owned the Commons (shared land), but individuals had specific rights, such as a right to hunt on certain days, or plant at a certain time of year, or consume a certain amount of water from a pond or lake. Rights to public lands were protected by the law.

While early America often ignored the rights of Native Americas, the rights of other American Citizens were acknowledged. As America filled up and green spaces diminished, even conservative voices demanded the protection of forests and the creation of parks.

The government, however, has a special power… Eminent Domain. This allows the government to take over public and private lands. The government may need that property for its own use (a military base, a highway) or it may transfer the land to a development group (to build a factory, access oil or minerals, etc.). But such a transfer must always be for the good of the public. And property owners MUST be compensated. It’s in the Bill of Rights!

The 5th Amendment states, “… nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” If you want something that isn’t yours, you need to pay for it! The words of the Founding Fathers were carefully chosen, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Consider two businesses that are next-door neighbors. One-day business “A” realizes that they could save $20,000 a year if they dumped their garbage next door, on company “B’s” property. That’s $20,000 in extra profit, Capitalism at work!

Absurd, right? Company “A” cannot use the property of Company “B” without obtaining their permission and providing just compensation. Stealing someone’s property (or stealing its use, or degrading the value of that property) is anti-Capitalism! Taking property, or compelling labor without compensation was a big part of America’s rebellion against King George’s England.

But when the land belongs to many owners, perhaps the entire nation, some believe that these rules do not apply. “Public” land and resources are repeatedly given to private owners who then mismanage these resources, using the air, our lakes, and rivers as garbage dumps. That’s not Capitalism.

Capitalism (and Capitalists) fully account for all costs. In America, and in most developed nations, Capitalist are legally REQUIRED to account for all costs. Otherwise, they may be guilty of criminally misleading investors and shareholders, by understating financial risks. When the costs of a firm’s operations are forced upon others, these “others” are increasingly seeking restitution.

Consider tobacco. Billions in lawsuits and bad press, resulting in a major shift from Big Tobacco to “no tobacco”, or to small “Vaping” firms. Smokers may have voluntarily damaged their health. But what about secondary smoke? Non-smokers get polluted air, and small children get respiratory ailments. Tobacco-related healthcare issues cost America $300,000,000,000 annually. Penalties for tobacco firms have been relatively light. However, if big tobacco wants to dominate the new vaping industry, the next round of lawsuits will have MUCH higher penalties.

Consider the California utility firm PG&E. They failed to put the safety of the public and “other peoples” property ahead of their own profits. However, it is less clear if they violated any laws. Before they were cleared of liability in the 2017 fires, PG&E’s stock price was in freefall, and the firm had prepared for bankruptcy. After going through this process, if there are more fires this year (or the year after, or the year after) saying, “We didn’t know. And besides, it wasn’t illegal”, probably won’t cut it. Remember, not just land, but lives were lost.

When Americans have their private assets devalued without compensation, something has gone terribly wrong. In part, the fault lies with bad science, or at least early science.

A century ago, our understanding of the environment was limited. “The Solution for Pollution is Dilution”, was the formula for dealing with toxic waste. Scientists and Capitalists alike thought that with sufficient dilution (dump in a bigger lake or build higher smokestacks), pollution goes away. Dumping in the Ocean rather than the nearest lake, was a reasonable, even environmentally conscious, solution.

That was a century ago. We now know that dilution cannot solve these problems. When you dump toxins, you just send it “downstream”. Today, scientists and Capitalists both KNOW that pollution is merely passed on to our neighbors…. sometimes our very distant neighbors.

Global Climate Change has shown that we live in a closed environment. The toxins we push downstream eventually circle the globe and come back. EVERYONE is downstream, eventually. Your problem may be sent up a smokestack or down a river, but you are just transferring your problem to someone else, robbing them of their health and the value of their property. If we do not fully account for costs, we cannot know if a project is legitimately profitable.

Speaking of downstream, consider the 2017 Hurricane Harvey flood.  Houston had unprecedented, but not unpredicted rains. Environmentalists and Houston’s own City Planning warned of coming floods. Not just because of the complex science behind Global Climate Change. Houston’s direct actions ensured a future flood.

Houston encouraged and financed uncontrolled urban sprawl. Wetlands were turned into malls and housing. Once the wetlands and prairies that soaked up storm waters were paved over, it was inevitable that floodwaters would flow over concrete and asphalt, and head downhill… and into neighboring basements.

Scientists told Houston that they would create killer floods. A recent study by the University of Iowa determined that the excessive construction magnified the damage by 21 times, creating $125 billion in property damage and the deaths of 68 people.

Houston’s leadership sold the natural protection that the previous generations of Houston business owners and homeowner enjoyed… and needed! Yet, the City never compensated business or home owners for this sale. Nor did they even announce that they chose to make this enormous transfer of wealth, even after enginers form Houston’s City Planning department verified research on the looming disaster.

The Governor, backed by Senator Ted Cruz and fellow Texas “conservatives”, had a solution. Request $125,000,000,000 in Federal aid and have the rest of the nation pay for what looks a great deal like criminal neglect. And then, Houston can get back to paving over their wetlands. Is it just me, or are these “conservatives” acting like socialists?

True Capitalists, however, are standing up and demanding that projects must clearly state negative impacts: bad environmental policies, gaps in worker safety, failure to address sexual harassment, inequitable compensation, illegally holding back required benefits, punishing whistleblowers.  Having a clear statement… and accounting… of both positive and negative impacts are a vital part of the ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) and Impact Investor movement.

Bad Capitalists have done grievous harm to the legacy of Capitalism. Luckily, however, Capitalism is self-correcting. Bad Capitalists have pushed in one direction. Now, a new generation of Impact Investors is pushing back. They want greater transparency and a more honest accounting of corporate operations. Hidden and unaccounted for costs are a red flag. That’s one of the reasons why Impact Investors are interested in “B” corporations. B Corps (and similar certifications) require independent third-party audits. These audits cover not just the obvious financial issues, but less obvious social costs as well.

With the extra little push from Impact Investors, Capitalism can not only become safer for investors, it can also return Capitalism to its roots as the single greatest source of optimism for a prosperous future! What do you think? Are you tired of your kids telling you that all Capitalism is evil? Have you heard that Impact Investing is just misguided socialism? Share your opinions with us!

 

 

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Capitalism & Social Good: The World’s Greatest Super Team


Partners

Charities and Foundations do good, across the globe. Schools, hospitals, museums, environmental groups, senior homes, and animal rights… not-for-profits get the job done! Not-for-profits have a special place in society because they do so much for society. But not-for-profits are struggling. Big changes in the economy could close many not-for-profits, shredding America’s social fabric. Can not-for-profits be saved? Will the good guys win in the end? Let’s dive right in and see!

For the last thousand years, Charity meant the Church. But 200 years ago, the Enlightenment arose. The age of Kings ended and the age of the citizen dawned. Citizen groups… fraternal orders, unions, public charities… offered alternatives to Church charity. The American Revolution rebelled against the King and separated Church from State, giving birth to a hundred constitutions around the world. It was also the age of Capitalists. Replacing Kingly decrees with Capitalist fundraising. And “good works”.

Early Capitalists were strange creatures. By day, Robber Barrons mercilessly crushing competitors, destroying unions, and manipulating financial markets. By night, donned the robes of Philanthropists… aiding the poor and forging a better world. J.P. Morgan, John Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, the list goes on and on. It was their support that created the world’s great museums, libraries, hospitals, and schools.

Some truly wanted to do good. Others did good because their fortunes REQUIRED a better world. Andrew Carnegie built over 2,500 libraries across America. Not because it was a nice thing to do, but because Carnegie’s factories (the world’s most technologically advanced) needed literate workers! In fact, he needed more literate workers than the market could provide. So, he took steps to change the world on his own.

Henry Ford famously paid workers twice the standard wages of the time. Good guy move? Sort of. Henry Ford paid more but wanted more. Ford wanted to best workers AND he wanted workers that could afford to buy his products. Capitalism didn’t accidentally uplift humanity, it was a conscious and intentional outcome of capitalism since it’s earliest days.

Then there’s Milton Hershey, the Chocolate King. He didn’t just build an orphanage, but hired those orphans as managers, eventually gifting the orphanage with his candy empire. Why? Because Hershey believed in the Protestant Work Ethic. That work ethic says a lot more than, “Everyone should work hard.” This philosophy included support of the community, being charitable, and never becoming TOO rich. Up until the 1800s, protestant communities regularly had Jubilee years, when personal debts were forgiven.

Capitalism and Charity worked hand in hand. Some philanthropists funded charities directly, while others funded Foundations, ensuring that good ideas would survive long after an individual philanthropist passed away. While building bronze statues to immortalize yourself was popular at the time, funding social good was seen as a better way of achieving immortality by some of the world’s greatest Capitalists.

Capitalists regularly placed the good of the world before their own interests. Pharmaceutical companies cured the great killers, diseases that regularly claimed millions of lives. Often with minimal profits. A diagnosis of diabetes was a death sentence. Desperate victims would pay any price for insulin. Yet the patent for insulin production was sold in 1920 for just $1. Insulin creator Fredrick Banting said, “Insulin belongs to the world, not to me.”

Nor was banting was not the only scientists to give away his life’s work for the good of the world. The Polio vaccine was also given away for the same reasons. Altruism was not just an oddity in the medical world. John Walker, the inventor of the humble friction match, gave away his patent. John Walker went on to make a fortune selling his own brand of matches. But, it was his concern about protecting the people of the world from fires caused by earlier and more dangerous types of fire starters that caused him to give away his patent. Golden Age Capitalists regularly weighed personal vs. public good and often chose to put the good of the public first.

Compare entrepreneurs from a century ago to the ever-smirking Martin Shkreli.  He manipulated the price of insulin to boost profits, killing patients who could no longer afford insulin. Or, the sociopathic Elizabeth Holmes and her decade long, $7 billion medical scam, selling medical diagnostic equipment that never existed. Just a bunch of bad capitalists? Or did Capitalism itself become tainted, ignoring its own origins, and becoming something less than true Capitalism?

Capitalism and social good always worked together, but the relationship continues to evolve. Just like biological evolution, sometimes you end up with a dead-end. Like the Saber Tooth Tiger. At first, it makes perfect sense. Bigger tiger, bigger teeth. You get a superior predator. Up to a point.

Beyond that point, the biggest and most powerful may no longer be the most efficient. As Capitalism evolved along strange and unexpected paths, the assumption that Capitalism cannot help but do good, and the relationship between Capitalism and Social Good, may no longer ring true.

How did this happen? Through a thousand small changes. Globalization unanchored corporations from communities, and community resources… people, workers, the environment. Private corporations became public, driven by the short-term profit demands of stock analysts rather than the vision of a company owner.

Charities still work with philanthropists, but a new generation of billionaires is less interested in old Foundations and Charities. Instead, they want to change the world through their own efforts. With software that makes hailing taxis slightly easier. Or an app to vacation in someone’s apartment. Or maybe a better dating site. The social good expectations of new Capitalists have fallen very far indeed.

But there are exceptions. The 21st century gave birth to Impact Investment and… perhaps… Capitalism 2.0. Impact Investing (green investing, social good investing or good guy investing) isn’t just soft-hearted or misguided investing. It is a return to the Golden age of Capitalism, with a twist. In the last Century, social good was implied in Capitalism. In our less innocent age, Impact Investors come right out and tell you that they are so interested in social good. And that they will pay for it.

That payment might be a lower rate of interest or making an investment in an unusually risky project or even supporting a project that no one else understands… IF a project can materially improve the world. As Impact Investing becomes increasingly popular and research departments have more case studies to examine, it looks like Impact Investing is a profitable way to invest.

Good guy investments are good partially because… well… bad guy investments are bad! It seems too obvious to state, but when you consider the history of bad investments on Wall Street, maybe we do need to be reminded!

Bad investment ideas and bad investment partners often show up with very bad ideas, that have very tempting (and very unrealistic) returns. These investments often end badly. Ask tobacco investors. Firms that hide or distort information are bad for investors. Big oil and coal held back knowledge of Global Climate Change, and those firms may soon see a huge hit to their valuations. Sometimes you just have straight-out frauds, Bernie Madoff. For a long time, people thought that he was a legitimate stock trader, who just happened to deliver mathematically impossible returns.

B (Benefit) corporations are a recent innovation and a new type of corporation. They must explicitly state their “benefit” (reduced pollution, developing low-cost housing, education for the poor) as part of the certification process that gives them”B” status. Your goals are then enshrined in corporate filings, and your benefit (not your shareholders) will receive the first distribution of profits. Yet, the B Corp can be very attractive to Investors.

Companies like Danone. At $24 billion in sales annually, they are one of the largest food companies in the world. Or Natura, a Brazilian based cosmetics firm that acquired Avon in 2019, making them the world’s 4th largest cosmetics firm. Both firms have transitioned to B status, and many other major corporations are starting the process.

If your firm ever plans on attracting employees or investment dollars from Millenials or Gen Z, attaining B Corp certification should be a top priority. These generations are cynical and want a lot more social good than their predecessors. B Corp status will be as important in attracting human capital (in both definitions “capital”) as “Certified Organic” has become in attracting in consumer purchasing power.

But what about Charities and Foundations? If Charities do the heavy lifting in social good, they are n the businesses that Impact Investors should invest in! But there is a problem. Even “good guy” investors are primarily built to work with for-profit corporations. Impact Investors could lend money at zero or nearly zero interest, but they need to get back their capital so that it can circulate through other investments.  Government contracts are often very specific, and many exclude for-profits.

Banks can loan money to both for-profits and non-profits, but many lenders are less comfortable working with non-profits. Whether it is an Impact Investor, a Bank or a private lender, non-profits all lack a fundamental tool for raising capital… the ability to sell equity.

Interestingly, I’ve been working with a not-for-profit called Nicky’s Gardens of Hope, an organization created to build long-term residences for disabled adults. We ran into this very same issue. We could have incorporated as a not-for-profit or a for-profit. But each option created different limitations. Even a B Corp, was not able to address all of our issues.

So we created something new, BRRM (the Balanced Risk Revenue Model). This starts with a for-profit B Corporation and then combines it with a not-for-profit. The two operate in a unique, but highly efficient way. This resulting structure provides the benefits of both types of organizations while making it easier for Impact Investors to invest in it. By reducing these barriers to investment, Impact Investors can fund Charities as easily as for-profit corporations.

B Corps and BRRM are just the newest tools for Impact Investors to realign Capitalism with its originals goals. Impact Investors, B Corps, and BRRM could be the team-up that Capitalism has been waiting for… at least, that’s my Niccolls’ worth!

Want to be a superhero? Write a comment, tell us about your work with Impact Investors or look me up on LinkedIn!

https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisniccolls/

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America’s Revolution Rolls On… Capitalism & Democracy Are Still Evolving and Improving the World!


During the recent G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, President Donald Trump was asked what he thought about Vladimir Putin’s statement that “Western Liberalism” is becoming obsolete. Unfortunately, Trump didn’t know the difference between Classical Western Liberalism (the philosophy that created capitalism) and San Francisco liberals. 200 years later, Liberalism is still going strong, but cracks are showing in the foundation, and Capitalism and Democracy are being challenged. What do those challenges mean to a 21st Century citizen? Let’s dive in and see!

Before Liberal philosophy, we had Monarchies and rule by Kings. Monarchs controlled most (or all) of the nation’s political and economic power. Below the rulers were aristocrats, then military leaders, and other classes until we hit the “lower class”, peasants, serfs, slaves, etc. The class you were born into was the class you died in. Birth (and your subsequent class) determined your job, where you lived, if you went to school, who you would marry, and every other aspect of your life.

Liberalism said power comes from the people, not Kings. Citizens choose their leaders (Democracy) and choose where they put their money and labor (Capitalism). With Democracy and Capitalism as the new center of society, class systems began to fade away. Individuals would choose their own fate. In a “classless” society, education became universal instead of the privilege of just a few. Managers and Officers were no longer appointed based on birth, personal ability and ambition mattered!

Suddenly, individuals from the most humble background could rise up in society. Human capital became more valuable than land or Royal privilege. This didn’t happen all at once. It started with a series of writings that challenged the old order, which led to political movements, and eventually revolutions. Writings and politics started in Europe, but the first big revolution was here in America. America WAS the revolution!

Separated by an Ocean, English citizens (soon to be Americans) didn’t need a King. A decade later, France agreed and had its own revolution. How important was the American revolution? Over 50 nations have flags with three different color stripes, or a “Tri-Color”. France adopted the Tri-Color flag as a tribute to America’s “Red, White” & Blue” flag. For two centuries, America was literally the very model of Liberal philosophy.

The Age of Kings passed just a short time ago. We started World War I with a King in England, a Kaiser in Germany, the Tzar in Russia, an Emperor in Japan and scores of lesser monarchs. Just three decades later, after WW II, the Age of Monarchs was ending. Kings were retired to make room for the rights of the individual. Without Monarchs the world’s wealth exploded, life expectancy nearly doubled, and contagious diseases were eradicated. We even traveled to other planets! Strong evidence that humanity no longer needs Kings. Yet… there are those cracks in society.

Throughout the 20th century, Capitalism was an undeniable source of social good. Capitalism provided resources and economic drive to develop vaccines, to provide clean drinking water, build schools, and raise our standard of living enough to enjoy longer lives. But by the 21st century, Capitalism had changed.

Capitalism created outsourcing and automation, eliminating many higher paying “trades”. New technology is replacing high-paying jobs, like financial analysts and research professionals. Self-driving vehicles will take away well-paid jobs that do not require a college degree, while Artificial Intelligence will drain away employment from lawyers, doctors and MBA’s and other individuals with higher degrees.

The to Pew Research Center, one of America’s most prestigious sources of independent research, reports that U.S. compensation has been stuck since the mid-1960s. Capitalism once guaranteed growing prosperity. Now it is a zero-sum game, and it may soon only guarantee a jobless future.

More than the economy is at stake. We watched big corporations intentionally ignore the latest scientific evidence on global warming. Then we learned that scientists working for big oil companies made these same discoveries decades ago, and those corporations chose to keep the information secret, so as not to affect their stock valuations.

But big oil was not alone. Big pharma once sought to cure the ills of the world and is now responsible for 50,000 Americans a year dying from intentional over prescriptions of Opioids. Wall Street firms that once fueled the economic engines of the world placed profit in front of national or global good and collapsed the world economy. The #MeToo movement exposed how widely corporate America permits or even encourages sexual assault and rape, rather than confront powerful stakeholders and managers. For young Americans growing up today, they are in the age of Corrupt Capitalism.

A new generation of Capitalists imagines an improved Capitalism that makes the world better. Impact Investors have identified the problem. Corrupt Capitalism always tries to keep positive consequences (such as profits), while transferring negative consequences (pollution, social inequality, depletion of public resources) to the public, without any compensation. It’s cheaper to dump toxins in a river and let the people downstream deal with it than to reduce your pollution. Especially if you are never fined for damaging the world around you.

Formerly the poster child for the “evil corporation”, big oil is starting to reform. ExonnMobil has acknowledged that petroleum puts carbon into the air, and causes global warming. However, they still resist the idea that they should pay for the damage their products cause.

Impact Investors want to account for a corporation’s impact on the world, both good and bad. Corporations that improve the world, should be credited and have a higher value. Corporations that degrade the world, receive a penalty and are worthless. When the financial value of a corporation reflects their impact on the world, corporations are motivated to take more actions to improve the world. Not a bad concept!

Impact Investors represent over $300 billion of capital, just in the U.S. Another $18 trillion in investments are controlled by government pension funds that have agreed to the United Nations ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) guidelines, which follows goals that are supported by Impact Investors.

Impact Investors and ESG principles have been supported by a new type of institution, the “B” Corporation. Corporations (for and non-profits) have been the instrumentality of Capitalism for the last two centuries. But lately has been an understanding that something else was needed, leading to the creation of the Benefit Corporation (or “B” Corp). The “B” is a social good… preserving the environment, developing low-income housing, inventing affordable medicines, improving social equality… above shareholder profits, normally the highest priority for corporations. B Corps require independent audits to confirm that they truly performing according to their “Benefit” goals.

B Corps and Impact Investors will be a force for good. But the B Corp is typically a For-Profit corporation. What about the Charities and Foundations that have driven so many good causes? The next stage in B Corps could be BRRM or the Balanced Risk Revenue Model. BRRM allows for-profits and Charities to work together while preserving the best aspects of both types of corporations. I could go on and on about BRRM, and I will, but in another blog.

Full disclosure… last year I started working with Nicky’s Gardens of Hope, a new Charity to care for Autistic and disabled adults, to develop their operations. While some incredibly good services for disabled adults exist, they are rare. For-profits are too often focused on shareholder profits and non-profits are often too dependent on government funding (which is unreliable at best). Instead of choosing one model or the other, we’re introducing BRRM as a third alternative, providing the best financial features of both worlds, while still keeping the needs of disabled adults foremost.

There are many other innovators out there, and many in the financial world that are converting from traditional investors to Impact Investors. Impact Investors are learning that when corporations intentionally generate bad outcomes (think tobacco, big oil, gun manufacturers), eventually negative value can wipe out earnings. Good investments in good people, doing good things… usually have few skeletons in their closets that can wipe out their value.

Capitalism has proven to be one of the greatest engines of change in human history. If we choose to use that power, America can change the world. Again. The tarnish on Capitalism and Democracy can be wiped away by new good deeds. A new generation of Capitalists wants to ready to return Capitalism to its origins, and possibly make the next decades the greatest in human history! I don’t know about you, but joining this American revolution is the best way I can think of to spend my 4th of July!

What do you think? Is it time for Capitalism 2.0? Tell us what you’re thinking!

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