The Tech layoffs…again

The news these past few weeks have been a bit depressing in Seattle as Amazon annouced it was laying off 18,000 employees and Microsoft followed a couple of weeks later saying it will be laying off 10,000. Google, who has a large presence in Seattle announced they will be laying off 12,000. To be clear not all layoffs are in Seattle, just a little over 3000. It is always hard to take this type of news, especially when people you know are getting let go. The driving force is diving economies, fueled by events beyond any indiviuals control. As humans we are programmed against uncertainty (though I would argue that is when you have great opportunity), it makes people anxious, we do not like that. It takes both a physical toll and mental toll. Lost sleep, stress etc..It is not just Seattle, as the economy dives companies like Goldman Sachs are laying off people. With all the doom and gloom, specifically on tech it is easy to fall prey to dystopian scenarios, but to be clear all is not lost.

It is hard to believe but I have now been over 30yrs in the tech industry and during that time I have now seen several periods of “bust” and econmoic uncertainty. Starting with sitting in a hotel with my wife and 1 yr old child in Sante Fe, New Mexico and watching CNBC as the entire market went bust, including Microsoft stock and my net worth dropping by 50%. The dotcom bubble had burst. The scenario in this one was a overhyped new world order under the guise of the Internet. Honestly the sentiment was not wrong it was just too early for the tech that would eventuallly power the web. The following month would watch many people and companies in a daze as retirenment plans were put on hold, big purchases postponed and too many internet startups went bust. The industry and the time had to do a reset, luckily for many who lost their job in the startup community the big boys were still hiring and many who I had watched leave Microsoft all of a sudden returned.

Looking back on the dotcom “bubble”, there were a number of Wall St gurus hyping stocks that had no real business model (Charles Gasparino’s book “Blood on the Streets” is a excellent source on this topic). Inherently Wall St is a very emotional entity and gets caught up in its own hype quite easily . At that time online trading was fairly new and it brought in a lot of new particpants, who got caught up in the hype. First stop: the tech workforce. It was a crazy time. As a Microsoft employee some of the startups I worked with gave me stock (before Microsoft cut the string on this activity..dang Jeff Raikes). For a brief while I could have sold those stocks at a 150k profit….I learned a lesson as I made less than 20k. But in the end the dotcom bubble would be a minor set back and valuable learning as the future would provide more grim reminders, but in between these “tidal” events the tech industry was doing fantastic.

The next fail was not one of hype but one of false economic expectations. Capatalism is a beautiful thing and in many ways perfect, but that perfection is not just wealth creation but wealth destruction. It is also controlled by humans, who in their greedy lust do very damaging things. In 2008 that came to fruition. The financial institutions in an effort to expand their market created new financial vehicles in an effort to spread risk. Providing loans to people where they could buy a house and not start payments for six months (just one example). All of a sudden you had people buyimg real estate investments, where based on their current level of income realistically they could not afford. Seem obvious that it was a bad business model. But as I said Wall St gets caught up in its own hype. When the bubble finally burst we had a huge issue of capital flow, when a market has no capiltal it ceases to become a market. Fear gripped the United States and quickly went global. That is a vey high level overview and a lot of great books have covered the subject better than I (One of many I recommend is Andrew Ross-Sorkin’s “Too Big to Fail”.). The fear in created was very real.

At Microsoft, as we met with customers time and time again we all heard in the sales force, “I need to do more with less”. All of a sudden the standard Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, instead of having a annual true up where the customer pays for more licenses we were being asked to true down as they wanted to pay for less licenses. Companies did not need more copies of Microsoft Office, they needed less as they no longer had 10,000 employees they had 7,500. At Microsoft annual company meeting Microsoft COO Kevin Turner tried to calm the troops by sharing a favorite Sam Walton Story (Kevin came to Microsoft from WalMart). Sam had said, “In times of econmic uncertainty there are those that participate and those that do not. The latter always gains marketshare”. I thought at the time Microsoft was going to use its large cash reserve to ride the wave, invest in our customers during the downturn and come out stronger on the other end. How wrong I was. The next day travel was cut as budgets were slashed. At Microsoft we had to do more with less. We were participants.

It led to what was a first at Microsoft; layoffs. When it was announced it was hard to believe it was happening. It was something that was unfathomable. In hindsight it probably should have been foreseen, the employee count at Microsoft was well over 100,000 and Microsoft was struggling with its own gitrth. It probably would have had to happen anyway, the financial crisis just accelerated the path to layoffs. I missed the first round of layoffs but was not so lucky in the second. It happened ironically on Nov 4, 2009. I started on Nov 4, 1991. I wil not go into all the details but you can read about that day here . When this happens it is a frightening experience especially when you have three young sons. I would land at another job in 8 months. The thing about econmoies and tech in particular is they always rebound, not to be a financial advisor but I would always have money saved up to survive a year as these cycles repeat themselves.

Every recession has its own motion. The current one for technology folks is interesting in that it comes out of a pandemic. Many companies sufferred during the pandemic (did anyone go to Disneyland?). However for tech it was a boom period as everything was done remotely and online. How many Amazon delivery trucks did you see during the pandemic? Where schools struggled as they had to move classes to remote, in tech it was simply an email “you will not come into the office but work from home”. Where many industries were struggling, tech was accelerating. The cloud was growing, streaming services like Zoom and Microsoft Teams were thriving. It seemed the Googles and Amazons of the world would cruise through the pandemic no problem. One issue: geopolitics.

The dotcom bom/bust and financial crisis were largely Wall St created events. The current crisis of inflation and rising interest rates are more the result of global events. Vladimir Putin has a very Russian sence of history and we all know he lamented the downfall of the Soviet Empire. On February 22, 2022 he set in motion the Russian attack on Ukraine. Russia being a major supplier of oil on the global markets (second only to the United States) sent energy prices sky rocketing. This set in motion a cascade of events as prices began to rise and the Federal Reserve to combat rising inflation increased interest rates. For the first time in a long time a big impact was on food prices. When food and gas prices increase you have to make decisions about purchases and things begin to slow down. When they slow down companies are forced to make decisions: layoffs.

So here we are again. The giants all laying thousands of people off. A lot of uncertainty about the future, which leads to fear. Having now been through 3 cycles (and who knows I could still get laid off during this cycle) I am not as worried as before as every time it has happenned the tech sector has come back stronger. One thing that was ingrained upon me early in my career by Bill Gates was if you are doing 9 things right and one thing wrong, what are you doing wrong? Even though we commanded 90% marketshare we were always fearful of what was around the corner. What big opportunities are we missing? If you look at Microsoft’s big competitors they operate the same way. It just takes a technological breakthruogh to wipe away a business unit or destroy a company. The iPhone destroyed Windows Mobile and crushed Blackberry (does anyone own this device anymore?). Google right now is stressed about OpenAI and Chat GPT. When these moments happen they pull the industry to new heights, which means new jobs and new opportunities.

Right now if you are out of work, enjoy time with family, friends and reflect on your past while you position yourself for your futture. It is ok now and then to have a pause from work and assess life and what are the values that are most important to you. With each passing year I become more bullish on the tech sector as we continue to tackle new problems and new challenges. We create new innovations, most of which will fail. But those that do not will be part of reshaping the industry. With every change comes new opportunities. There will be incremental changes and big changes. Right now AI is rapidly evolving and down the road we will have Quantum computing. These are just a few things to think about during your not self determined time-out. Enjoy it and remember the future is so bright you gotta wear shades.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann Jan 25, 2023

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10 Books from 2022 I would recommend

I am part of a book group that set a goal of 22 books read for 2022. I am proud to say I read 29 so I have a fair amount of books to choose from for my top 10 list. What are my criteria? I think the first is do I remember the book and refer back to it in conversation and my thoughts. I appreciate great writing in fiction and non-fiction. It was hard to narrow down the list as a number of books I really liked did not make the list. Enjoy the list and hopefully one or two books catches your interest.

First book I recommend is Craig Whitlock’s book the “Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War”.

An engaging account of the 20 years the US spent in Afghanistan. The book highlights fundamental challenges the Military faced during their time in the country. There was no central city that controlled the economy or was there a historical seat of power. Kanduhar was called the capital, but Afghanistan was a series of regions controlled by varios warlords with different allegences and competing agendas. The poverty of the nation impacted life decisions – do I join the police force or go to the field and harvest poppies? At the end of the day when you have a family to feed you follow the money. Having a population that was largey uneducated created a series of challenges for the United States. The book covers in part 4 administrations, by far the most time is spent with GW Bush and Obama as they covered 15 of those 20 years. It was an engaging account of what went wrong in Afghanistan and why. Worth the read.

Second book I recommend is Mark Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad”

I love Mark Twain, there is a reason he his a gigantic icon in American Literature, and one of its most influential. In “The Innocents Abroad” he takes us on a journey to Europe and the Holy Lands. The book is full of Twain’s famous wit and astute observations. The book starts in the Atlantic in the Azores before moving onto the continent. The book is two parts as Twain travels the southern part of Europe and eventually meets with Czar Alexander II on the coast of the Black Sea, before moving to the second part of the book as Twain visit the Holy Lands. Like many great writers, Twain is well versed in scripture which lends to the observations he makes along the journey. It would be fair to say that all great American writers stem from Twain.

The Third Book is “The Growth Delusion” by David Pilling

It seems we have been conditioned over the last fifty plus years to believe that all a country needs for its wealth and happiness is to grow the GDP, that mystical measure of goods and services. I had read Pilling’s previous book “Bending Adversity” about his time in Japan, where in the book he questioned GDP as a measure of success since Japan has a declining population (a trend not unique to Japan). It is a thought provoking book that provides a history of the term GDP – interestingly coined by a Ukranian economist. In the end the argument is being made, is GDP still the best way to measure the success and happiness of a nation? This book makes that open for debate

The fourth book I chose is Evan Osnos’ “Wildland: the Making if American Fury”.

America has been through a tough journey over the past several years. Evan Osnos attempts to capture what has led to this American disfunction and anger over the past few decades. He does so in three different settings. One in West Virginia where he worked post college for a local paper. The second where he grew up in Greenwich Viilage, CT once a humble community now overwhelmed with massive wealth. The third being a black community in Chicago. As he returns to these locations he finds dessolation in two areas and a loss of hope (a loss of the American Dream) and one representing the mega wealth of the 1% of America. America over the past couple of decades has become an angry nation, focused on perceived ill’s done by its government, while ignoring a larger picture in play. This book did a great job in at least providing some understanding as to what went wrong in America and why we are at a inflection point in our history.

The fifth book on my list is Erik Larson’s fantastic book “Devil in the White CIty

Erik Larson is a favorite author who chooses unique events in history. In this case it is the Worlds Fair of 1893 in Chicago. It is a duel story – one of the challenge of creating a magnificent World Expo and the other of a seriel killer. The driver for the Expo was to make something greater than the Paris Expo of 1889. A key figure was the famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead as he desired to make the worlds most amazing fair grounds. On the flip side underneath it all was H. H. Holmes believed by many to be the first modern day seriel killer. The book keeps you engaged as the Expo is under a considerable time crunch and the seriel killer gets better with practice. Fun read.

The sixth book is “There is Nothing for You Here” and given my blue collar roots one I related to

Fiona Hill grew up in the Northeastern part of Engalend. A very blue-collar part of the country and one with history in the coal mines (her father was a coal miner). An area that when Margaret Thatcher came to power was decimated by the free market, whcih Thatcher ushered in as a desciple of Milton Friedman. It serves as notice that though there are great benefits to free market economics, there will always be consequences. Fiona Hill was lucky as she was interested in Education and working her way up. She attended University of St Andrews. She eventually came to the US and worked in the Trump adminstration. She would build a career based on her education as a scholar on the Soviet Union, spending several months in Moscow in 1987 (interesting that I would visit Hungary and Czechosslovakia during that same period). She paints a story of a person, like many, who no matter where they end up our bound by their roots

The seventh book “Ghosts of Spain” returns me to Spain, where not a year goes by I do not read a book about Spain

A country that I have visited several times and one that is close to my heart. Giles Tremlett is a British journalist who works for the Guardian and lives in Madrid. If you are interested in Spanish history and culture this is a great overview of Spain and the differnet regions. It starts with the Spanish Civil War but quickly goes to the diffeent regions of Spain – Basque, Catelnia, Andalusia, La Mancha, etc..You learn about the ETA, Flamenco, etc..It was a really interesting and engaging read and one that made me want to go back to Spain. One thing he pointed out is there are not mant great academics focused on the Spanish Civil War, many are from outside (Paul Preston and Hugh Thomas). The War is not that far removed from memory in Spain, Franco died in 1975, so the pain of that era is still remembered

Th eigth book, “Leaving Las Vegas” and one that was inspired by the movie of the same name, which it was based upon

A book I had on my list since the movie came. I had heard it was an exceptionally well written book (it s also a quick read at less than 150 pages). The book is far more brutal than he movie and dives deeper into alcoholism and prostitution. What stands out is O’Briens writing. It is clean and simple and easy to connect and engage with. It is the only book he released (a few were released posthumously). He died at the age of 33 and the book was called his “suicide note”. I doubt he had a good life, it s a shame he did not realize his talent as a writer. We are all less for it

The ninth book, “California Burning” a non-fiction book that tackles “The Grid”.

An area that until recently has been left to decay, is the US infrastructure. This book documents the cost of Pacific Gas and Electruc going public, where shareholder value takes precedence. Early on PG&E brought in Accenutre as a lead consultant who focused on business value (which meand cutting costs). Consequently they reduced budget in areas like safety. In Nothern California they have over 700.000 utiity poles, many very old (between 50yrs and close to 100yrs). Combine this with global warming and a very dry landscape, with high winds and you have the makings of a disaster. This led to the Camp Fire (Paradise, CA) where 85 people died. This is a facinatig book on how when mutilple things come together due to neglegence and greed that disasters occur. We take the electrical grid for granted but with increasing energy demands combined with climate change we as a nation need to rethink our investments in American infrastructure. This was a book I could not put down

The tenth and final for this years list, “The Divider” and a return to politics.

A political junkie I am. Having read Baker before I knew he was a thorough journalist and combined with his wife it made for a powerful and disturbing read, A lot covered territory covered before. Trumps disdain for military leaders who are not loyal to him, this stemming more from his lack of understanding of the basic checks and balances in the US constituion. A general lack of knowledge of why US alliance exist and their value. Trump was often called a transactional President. Coming from a business world he sought instant gratifcation, almost always in the form of dollars. What comes through in the book is his extreme vanity and lack of self confidence. When challenged it usually led to emotional meltdowns, leading to beratings of those who were in his administration. The Trump administration had high turnover and usually could be traced to the man at the top. He glorified himself at every opportunity. This book is well researched and a engaging read.

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Thoughts on Ukraine

It has been over a 100 days since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine which has led to countless lives lost and the destruction on many Ukrainian cities. All due to the lust for power and international recognition of one man: Vladimir Putin. Since the invasion we have seen an impact primarily of the almighty gas pump which to this day fuels American lives, right or wrong. We are also starting to see food shortages on top of an inflation spike which is hurting peoples wallet’s. Fingers can be pointed but in this case they will all lead back to one man, no matter what your political agenda. Global affairs is not something many American’s pay attention to until it directly impacts them. No President has ever been elected because people were passionate about his foreign policy agenda. Ukraine will not alter that, but it will impact how foreign policy is carried out moving forward, we live in a inter connected world and in the end we are all globalists whether we like it or not. Most Americans cannot find Ukraine on a map, but it will impact us in the near term and long term, funny as it may seem to some geography matters, here are just a collection of my thoughts.

There have been a number of books written about Putin, a couple I have read Stephen Lee Meyer’s, “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin” and Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy’s “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin”. I would recommend both. Putin as we know was a kid who grew up in the Soviet Union, looking towards a future in the KGB. Which he achieved and was eventually stationed in Dresden, East Germany. This is where he would be when the Berlin Wall fell. As is well noted Putin would say the fall of the Soviet Union “was a disaster”. The next decade as Russia transitioned would be a decade of disaster and humiliation for Russia as it saw its standing in the world order begin to plummet. It would also lay the groundwork for where we are today. From the ashes rose a new leader, seemingly from nowhere (ok he was from St Petersburg), to be the number two behind Boris Yeltsin and thus on the world stage Putin was born. How he rose from relative obscurity to become a virtual dictator is still clouded in mystery. He had not done anything of significant note in his past, but obviously in the back ground he must have been a shrewd player

Over the next couple of decades Russia would go through several US Presidents, but in Russia Putin would remain, even when demoted to Prime Minister he would return and consolidate power. During the decades many former Russian satellite countries would join the European Union and NATO encircling Russia in alliances with its former enemies. This can only have created anxiety within Russia (and in Putin’s mind). During this time Putin would increasingly put himself at direct odds with western Europe and push the levers of what he could get away with. Following the 2014 Sochi Olympics he would set his sites on Crimea and eventually annex Crimea. The west responded by reducing the G-8 to the G-7. Russia would interfere in the 2016 US elections and receive no punishment, with Trump in office it seemed they would skate along unimpeded. Acting like a puppet master to get what Putin wanted. But like all dictators they eventually over reach.

Putin is steeped very deep in Russian history and with that he saw a nation in Ukraine that shared what he believed was a common history together with Russia. Strategically the black soils of Ukraine have always been the bread basket of Europe. Ukraine also has desired ports in the Black Sea. Ukraine from a Russian perspective was a very attractive land grab and could create a land bridge to strategic ports in Ukraine. By annexing Ukraine it was in Putin’s mind a win for Russia and for Ukraine, problem being Ukraine had no intention of becoming a Russian satellite. As has been noted the expected welcoming of Russian troops into Ukraine did not happen, instead we have had a bloody war and now then a common shared history, one bent toward resentment and hatred. This shared history was not as glorious as Putin would have us think as one can discover in Miron Dolot’s excellent book “Execution by Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust” When communism showed up in Ukraine in the twenties the results were disastrous and let many Ukrainians to starve to death. Stalin was a ruthless leader. History has along arc, and Ukarinians have not forgotten the suffering at Russian hands.

A second point is the global world order, which since the fall of the Berlin wall has been dominated by one nation: the United States of America. We have lived in a unipolar world, much to the dismay of many nations. Putin came of age and grew up in a bi-polar world, where it was the USA and the Soviet Union. Putin would love nothing better than to see Russia return to the international stage in a place of power. The short answer is that will not happen, not with Russia. However the idea of a bi-polar world will happen, that other power being China. A big reason comes down to GDP. Russia’s economy is small compared to the US, where as China’s is at 70% compared to US GDP and growing and gaining. Russia’s is less than 10%. You can view GDP info here. Even though Russia has a very strong military their ability to keep pace with the US and China will be limited do the availability of money. In the need all great militaries need funding. To have great funding you need a modern and growing economy to achieve your ambitions.

Putin made some significant strategic mistakes. Most significantly he felt NATO was not as strong as it had been during the cold war. Which to a large degree was true as NATO had struggled for purpose since the fall of communism, the one exception being the Balkan War under President Clinton (that would also cause a split between the west and Russia). He under estimated the United States. It seems a common mistake, but President Biden to his credit rallied the allied forces and has built a stronger and now expanding NATO. Putin has done what was seemingly impossible, he has caused Sweden and Finland to seek membership in NATO. Neutrality has been part of Sweden’s DNA for over a century, but frankly Putin left them little choice (since I started writing they are now accepted into NATO). Putin gave NATO a renewed purpose. In the background watching very closely and taking diligent notes is China as they have a similar grievance called Taiwan.

There have been of late chips in he alliance. Recently President Macron in France stated, “We must not humiliate Russia”. I understand the spirit and historical context, but in this case he is just wrong. The Balkan War was a case in point where Russia was simply not listened to and shown any respect. The difference being in that war it was Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic who pursued geocide, which required international intervention. In this case Putin instigated this series of events and he will have to suffer its consequences. Macron comes across like a long line of French Leaders starting with Charles DeGaulle trying to carve out a position of power as a world leader, it has had limited success. That being said he is the one western leader in constant contact with Putin, which is better than a closed line. Right now a lot of attention at the negotiation table is finding a way for Putin to get out of Ukraine unscathed, Putin at the time this writing does not seem interested. The only thing Macron can buy him is time.

Economic pain being felt today and the foreseeable future will be the one thing that could cause the alliance to start to fracture. In my opinion it is also a opportunity. A main export for Russia is oil and much of the economic pain we see today stems from this . A gas prices rise so does the cost to get goods to market causing the prices of food to increase and this causing a spike in inflation. Our vacations will be scaled back as it is expensive to fly or drive anywhere. Going to restaurants is increasing in price, so we may have to eat in more. All this happening on the back drop of recovering form Covid, which has consumed us for over two years. The one thing in America that seem to be misunderstood by many is we do not set oil prices, even though we are the largest single producer of oil at 14% OPEC controls 37%. OPEC also controls 4/5 of global oil reserves. We are just a part of a global market place. Renewable energies can help offset costs at the pump as I am sure Tesla owners are very happy they are not on gas. This moment in time can be sure to accelerate that growth, but it is a long term play and will not help in the short run

Probably most concerning is not just the increase in food prices but the potential now for food shortages. Both Russia and Ukraine are major grain exporters In 2021 Ukraine exported 107 tons of grains and oilseeds. Much of that cannot move now do to ports being bombed along with grain silos. In terms of wheat exports Russia ranks number one, while Ukraine is number five. Having two countries in top 5 that are at war impacts global food prices. It is one thing to not be able to afford gas, but when food snot available people will begin to suffer and starve to death global opinions will change very quickly. In a world of social media and instant content, photos and video’s of people starving will have a major impact on peoples mental health.

Thinking long term Russia will become a pariah state. To the west. It’s one solace being it will have a welcoming market in China. However if Putin thinks this will be a game played on equal footing over time he will be sorely disappointed. China has its own global global ambitions and if Russia can help further those, great, but Russia will be the junior partner in that relationship. If you read Rush Doshi’s book on China “The Long Game” , China has time and is targeting and building the Chinese Century. Russia is not included and will not be a equal partner. It will be interesting how two big ego’s in Xi and Putin handle that relationship.

For Ukraine, Putin has done an accidently masterful job of creating a Ukrainian national identity. Not that it did not exist before, but Putin portrayed it as one with Russia. Now it is most definitely not one with Russia and now a country aligned with western Europe and seeking a future in the west and not the east. I do not think this will be as a member of NATO but down the road I could foresee a European Union membership (they have applied and willlikely be accepted). They have existing status within the EU just not as a full member. Given they are an agricultural power house they would be welcomed. In the short term Russia will still try and hold sway over this decision.

With all that Putin has done wrong and despite the significant investment of Western allies, it seems unlikely that Ukraine can holdout forever. Russia is a superior military with resources, so it will likely secure the eastern part of Ukraine and the southern coast. In the short run they will succeed but Ukraine will continue to resist and you will have a lengthy spell of an insurgency in the regions Russia has captured. They will continue to have access to weapons from the west. Not to mention Russia will be vulnerable on her borders with Finland and Poland. They have given NATO a purpose

Will the global order change? It most certainly will, that has been inevitable for some time with the rise of China and their One Belt, One Road initiative. Russia is looking to exploit that change and make themselves relevant on the world stage. Putin recently declare a end to the unipolar world (might as well have said the United States world), which is true and the reverberations will be felt for decades, in fact probably the remainder of the century. How we handle and more importantly balance that relationship will be critical for future generations. In America we often view the world through American eyes. What is outside our borders does not matter. But as we can tell what has happened in Ukraine has impacted us. I am sure when Hitler annexed the Sudetenland many US citizens said it would not impact them, it i seasy to get comfortable in your own home, in America we seem to excel at that. For long time we have lived in a global economy, and a global community. Driven in large part by the United States market driven economic policies. We are a connected global community and when that balance gets disrupted the cracks in the system start to become magnified, which s what we are experiencing now

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann June 28, 2022

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Ice Blue, Blood Red

Since the Reagan era there has been a large move away from the federal government. As he so eloquently said “Government is not the solution to your problems, government is the problem”. Though I am personally not a big Reagan fan, I have to give credit where credit is due as his influence on our country was immense. Not all of it good. His ideas officially ended when Donald Trump was elected. But the conservative movement without him would have been nothing. A big part of Reagan was shrinking federal government, but to be realistic though the attempt was made to shrink the federal government, the problems that governments deal with were not destroyed. They were just transferred to the states, which in many ways made sense. States are not like Federal government they have to balance the books, they do not have the Federal Reserve, they cannot print dollars and issue T-Bills. They can issue bonds, but these are passed by state voters. As I write the sidewalks I voted on several years ago are finally being made, through bonds the city of Shoreline issued. Is doing things at the state level a good thing, it all depends on the issue.

People in the country are always moving, in fact since 1492 people in the US have been moving as the country expanded. Before independence we had pioneers. People moving west, before and after independence. Seeking new opportunities, seeking new lives it was the spirit of the frontier (it also was in the spirit of genocide of native Americans). It was romanticized in print and later in film. In current times that spirit still exists as people exit cities like Detroit and Cleveland going to where opportunity is available, cities like Seattle and Austin. We are a entrepreneurial country, Ford is now replaced by Amazon and Microsoft. As Ford exported its economy so a new one was needed to be built, but that is something America excels at. In many ways the spirit of the pioneer lives on in America, to be honest it is just part of the American DNA.

Early on in COVID-19 the idea put forth by the Trump administration was to put the onus on the states. Let them battle out for supplies and the Federal government can play back up. Quickly we discovered since it was a new virus and we were not prepared. Early on it was ventilators, some states were ahead of the curve when it came to the spread early on of COVID-19. New York needed ventilators and requested help form other states, the ugly side of this being New York could only count on blue sates to help. Other states needed to rely on contacts. to get necessary supplies. Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan leveraged his wife’s South Korean roots to get COVID tests as the Trump admin was unreliable. As they went to market states competed against each other for supplies. While people were suffering and dying the federal government turned a blind eye. There are certain problems that come about the that only the weight of the federal government can solve as they have the resources. They have access to money that states do not, states by definition have to be fiscally conservative. They have a military that understands supply lines and how to quickly create and facilitate. They can coordinate at a national level and focus on areas with urgent needs. All things that a state just does not have access or visibility to.

Now we come to another divide as it looks like the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v Wade and pass responsibility to the states. Some of the arguments I have to admit are head scratching, I guess I am not inline with the “originalist” views of the constitution. Yes abortion is not covered in the original document. Nor were women or black people (refer to Dred Scott). But what really concerns me is how differently woman will be treated depending on what state you live in. Those who are hurt the most are the most vulnerable, the poor and the uneducated. Neighboring states will also be affected. Idaho will trigger one of the most extreme abortion laws if and when Roe v Wade is overturned. Idaho accounts for 5% of abortions in Washington State, that number is expected to increase by 385% should the new abortion law be triggered. There will be a corporate effect as companies opt to move out of states they view as less supportive of their female workforce. Roe v Wade usually comes in at 65% for and 35% against, but in hi-tech companies with educated and a growing population of female employees I would think the number is even higher (Microsoft has already announced it will fly woman who need an abortion at companies expense) .

When I look at this I am not sure we have thought through the long term ramifications of pushing more and more responsibility to the states. But once Roe v Wade is overturned, given we have a very right leaning Supreme Court what is next? I think a likely target will be same sex marriage. People think we can push more and more down to the states. Like it or not what we are promoting is division as a nation. You will have states where you are not welcome based on your political views. The issue wit States determining personal freedoms is you are going to have a patchwork of freedoms across the country, no uniformity. Literally as you drive across states you could have gay marriage in one, none in the other , no interracial marriage in one, transgender rights in one etc…Then how those laws are enforced and severity of punishment will differ. In the end it will be utterly confusing and unsustainable. The only winners will be attorney’s. If I had a law degree I would focus on confusing issues as that is where the money is.

Increasingly we are becoming narrow minded and isolated in our residence of choice. People move to places where the state government and people are inline with their views. Today’s America sees its citizen retreating to what they view as safe havens. In the long run this will not make for a stable democracy. We are transitioning from blue states and red states to ice blue states and blood red states. We are becoming extreme. Where depending on your political outlook you will either be received with open arms or thrown back to whence you came. The cost will be freedom, ironic for a country that was built on those word, but at the same time hopefully we can appreciate the meaning. Right now I am not so confident. As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said “In the long run democracy is the most stable form of government, in the short run it is the most fragile”.

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 11, 2022

Categories Uncategorized

Runaway Train

We have seen tremendous technological change in the past 30 years. With every year new possibilities emerge, new opportunities. The buzz words fly by faster than we can take hold of: AI, Quantum Computing, Machine Learning, the Metaverse, Robotics etc.. Things that seemed impossible yesterday now are within the realm of reality. So much of today was what was once only a twinkle in the eye of the latest science fiction movie or novel. Now the idea or creating human forms with Artificial Intelligence is within grasp. Our ability to do gene editing with tools like CRIPR and accelerate the development of cures for diseases like cancer are within reach. The Quantum realm is in play and companies race ahead looking for answers to algorithms that usually take decades to solve into minutes . The Metaverse is about creating human connections without having to physically connect. And yet with all these new breakthroughs come huge responsibilities. Can we control what we create? Are we disconnecting from what it means to be human? Some view the question as ridiculous, some view it as real. And yet the question must be asked – is humanity safe?

Throughout history change has caused human angst. A belief that new technology will displace jobs, displace a way of life. As we moved from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy the view was there would be great job displacement. As we learned many new jobs were created as people moved from the fields to industrial warehouses. In the process they were creating huge cities and the associated economies that came with it . Even as we moved from the industrial age to the information age jobs were being created but the skill sets required to fill those jobs had evolved. We required a more educated white collar work force Technology has evolved so very fast it is not surprising that human development has not kept pace, which is why the tech industry cannot fill the jobs they have, which makes the market extremely competitive for hiring talent.

We also viewed this change to job security and job displacement as immediate, but it is more like a slow drip. Today in America we have a homeless crisis. Go to any city New York, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles etc..You will see tents and litter strewn everywhere and anywhere. Like a plague slowly crossing the cities. We blame government, we blame people and in the intense crossfire of these arguments offer no solutions. Technology has played its role as well as good paying jobs were increasingly automated, reducing opportunity for many as we transitioned from a manufacturing economy to a service a economy. Those that had stopped their education at high school could not compete in the new knowledge economy. Jobs that came with good pay and benefits in the manufacturing world do not exist for the most part in the service economy. With the advent and advancement of robotics there will be disruption in the service economy and more displacement. To be clear tech played a part but we cannot lay everything at its feet, there is a lot more to this problem, but that would be another blog.

The difference this time around is human replication. We have grown accustomed to tech taking away manual labor. Discussion today around returning the manufacturing base from abroad to the US is usually met with skepticism, as most people realize those jobs have been replaced with robotics and the idea of shops floors filled with hundreds of happy line workers is pure fantasy and not within the realm of reality. Capitalism is not here for happiness it is here for profits (do not argue with me on this, argue with Milton Friedman). Thus the move to offshore and automate was met with great Wall Street enthusiasm, profits now, consequences not my problem. If Wall Street could profit on human suffering they would do it. They live a shallow existence.

The tech sector is hyper competitive. A continuous race against time and the competition. We like to say we have a moral compass, but when push comes to shove we lack perspective and ideals fall by the wayside. From a historical standpoint we only need to look back to the cold war and the development of the atom bomb. After the United States detonated two bombs in Japan we ended WWII and set the globe on the path to potential nuclear holocaust. The Soviet Union following the second world war immediately set put on a path to catch the United States, there could be no world where there was only one nuclear power. The lead scientist was nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov. who ultimately in 1949 succeeded in detonating a atom bomb. But as time went by he saw what he had created and became a leading member of the nuclear disarmament movement and would be placed under house arrest in the Soviet Union. The race for global supremacy was underway, frankly we are lucky to still be alive. That race continues but more and more it has moved to the private sector. Luckily the private sector is not building atom bombs, but in the explosive times we live in it often feels like we are sitting on one.

As I said tech is a hyper competitive space where the fear of being left behind drives everyone in the industry. It fuels the day. If you make a mistake or are caught napping the results are disastrous. IBM was the king of tech until in a meeting with Microsoft discussing the licensing of MS-DOS for IBM PC’s, Bill Gates said, “We get to keep the software licensing rights?”. IBM said “ok” and the rest was history. Since that time the carnage the industry has left behind is legendary. The Lotus 123, WordPerfect, IBM OS/2, Real Networks, MySpace, a half dozed search vendors who never envisioned an economic model until Google destroyed them all, Microsoft Zune too little too late, the launch of the iPhone destroyed mobile phone providers overnight etc..The list is long and the cost to those who did not see is in the trillions. The industry cannot stop, it cannot pause, only delivering empty promises to “realize your potential”, for many that is a life of hopelessness. Because at the end of the day tech speaks to the highly educated, not the masses.

The race for the future is non-stop, governments can try and slow down, but given the snails pace they move at, by the time they decide the industry has moved on. We measure success by growth (simple view is growth = $$$). We are constantly pushing the envelope to find that new greenfield opportunity. Technology has expanded its footprint into all walks if life, into all industries, everyone looking to use for some level of advantage. Some things will provide great benefits to humanity like health care from cancer search to gene editing tools like CRISPR (though there will be moral consequences). Let’s just hope we do not put a huge cost to these breakthroughs .

Tech visionaries always see a glorious future. They are the Willy Wonka’s of our times, living a life of fantasy. They really are the last people we should trust. Many live life styles in the clouds not seeing what people in the gutter must suffer through. When you live life on the mountain top its easy to see the vast beauty of the world, but these are broad strokes that hide the gritty details and the cruel reality of what is on the ground. As we move ahead in this ever quickening environment more people will be displaced, as we move to AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), maybe even replaced. Once momentum reaches a certain velocity it becomes impossible to turn on the break, to slow down the train. It will seek more advancement, more profit, and more returns. The advancements we will see in the next 25yrs will be breathtaking, though the consequences of those changes may be damning.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 2, 2022

Categories Uncategorized