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Why boring government matters
November 1, 2018 | | Financial Times | Brooke Masters.

The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, by Michael Lewis, Allen Lane, RRP£20, 219 pages.

John MacWilliams is a former Goldman Sachs investment banker who becomes the risk manager for the department of energy. He regales Lewis with a horrific catalogue of all the things that can go wrong if a government takes its eye off the ball, and provides the book with its title. Asked to name the five things that worry him the most, he lists the usual risks that one would expect — accidents, the North Koreans, Iran — but adds that the “fifth risk” is “project management”.

Lewis explains that “this is the risk society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions.” In other words, America will suffer if it stops caring about the unsung but vital programmes that decontaminate billions of tonnes of nuclear waste, fund basic scientific research and gather weather data.

That trap, he makes clear with instance after instance of the Trump administration failing to heed or even meet with his heroic bureaucrats, is what America is falling into now.

We should all be frightened.
books  book_reviews  boring  bureaucracy  bureaucrats  cynicism  Department_of_Energy  government  Michael_Lewis  public_servants  risks  technocrats  unglamorous  writers  short-term_thinking  competence  sovereign-risk  civics  risk-management 
november 2018 by jerryking
Lunch with the FT: Mariana Mazzucato - FT.com
August 14, 2015 12:07 pm
Lunch with the FT: Mariana Mazzucato
John Thornhill

* Mazzucato’s book The Entrepreneurial State

As Mazzucato explains it, the traditional way of framing the debate about wealth creation is to picture the private sector as a magnificent lion caged by the public sector. Remove the bars, and the lion roams and roars. In fact, she argues, private sector companies are rarely lions; far more often they are kittens. Managers tend to be more concerned with cutting costs, buying back their shares and maximising their share prices (and stock options) than they are in investing in research and development and boosting long-term growth.
“As soon as I started looking at these issues, I started realising how much language matters. If you just talk about the state as a facilitator, as a de-risker, as an incentiviser, as a fixer of market failures, it ends up structuring what you do,” she says. But the state plays a far more creative role, she insists, in terms of declaring grand missions (the US ambition to go to the moon, or the German goal of creating nuclear-free energy), and investing in the early-stage development of many industries, including semiconductors, the internet and fracking. “You always require the state to roar.”
... Some tech and pharmaceuticals companies are going to extravagant lengths to reduce their taxes, one of the ways in which they pay back the state. The more libertarian wing of Silicon Valley is even talking of secession from California so they can pay no tax at all. “Won’t it be nice when there’s the next tsunami and these guys call the coastguard,” she says....
One criticism of Mazzucato’s work is that she fetishises the public sector in much the same way that rightwing commentators idolise the private sector. She appears stung by the suggestion: “I’m from Italy, believe me, I don’t romanticise the state.” The challenge, she says, is to rebalance the relationship between the private sector, which is all too often overly financialised and parasitic, and the public sector, which is frequently unimaginative and fearful. “When you have a courageous, mission-oriented public sector, it affects not just investment but the relationships and the deals it does with the private sector,” she says. Europe’s left-wing parties could have run with this agenda. Instead, she says, they have “absolutely failed” to change the political discourse by obsessing about value extraction rather than value creation, by focusing more on taxing big business than fostering innovation.

====================================================
The Chinese get the state to do that risky and costly, research and the development to keep them ahead.

The US does the same, but just keeps quiet about it so it doesn’t spoil the narrative.
“The parts of the smart phone that make it smart—GPS, touch screens, the Internet—were advanced by the Defense Department. Tesla’s battery technologies and solar panels came out of a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Google’s search engine algorithm was boosted by a National Science Foundation innovation. Many innovative new drugs have come out of NIH research.!” http://time.com/4089171/mariana-mazzucato/
activism  books  breakthroughs  DARPA  de-risking  Department_of_Energy  early-stage  economists  fracking  free-riding  innovation  Mariana_Mazzucato  mission-driven  moonshots  NIH  NSF  private_sector  public_sector  semiconductors  Silicon_Valley  sovereign-risk  state-as-facilitator  value_creation  value_extraction  women 
august 2015 by jerryking
James Schlesinger: A controversial figure of the Cold War - The Globe and Mail
Mar. 27 2014 | The New York Times News Service | by ROBERT D. McFADDEN.

* “America at Century’s End.”.....a 1989 book by James R. Schlesinger.

James R. Schlesinger, a tough Cold War strategist who served as secretary of defense under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford and became the nation’s first secretary of energy under President Jimmy Carter, died at age 85........A brilliant, often abrasive Harvard-educated economist, Mr. Schlesinger went to Washington in 1969 as an obscure White House budget official. Over the next decade he became chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, director of Central Intelligence, a cabinet officer for three presidents (two of whom fired him), a thorn to congressional leaders and a controversial national public figure.

His tenure at the Pentagon was little more than two years, from 1973 to 1975, but it was a time of turmoil and transition. Soviet nuclear power was rising menacingly. The war in Vietnam was in its final throes, and United States military prestige and morale had sunk to new lows. Congress was wielding an ax on a $90 billion defense budget. And the Watergate scandal was enveloping the White House.........Mr. Schlesinger, a Republican with impressive national security and nuclear power credentials, took a hard line with Congress, and the Kremlin, demanding increased budgets for defense and insisting that America’s security depended on nuclear and conventional arsenals at least as effective as the Soviet Union’s.

With Europe as a potential focal point for war, he urged stronger North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces to counter Soviet allies in the Warsaw Pact. His nuclear strategy envisioned retaliatory strikes on Soviet military targets, but not population centers, to limit the chances of what he called “uncontrolled escalation” and mutual “assured destruction.”........After succeeding Nixon, Ford, for stability, retained the cabinet, including Mr. Schlesinger. But the president and Mr. Schlesinger were soon at loggerheads. Ford favored “leniency” for 50,000 draft evaders after the Vietnam War. Mr. Schlesinger, like Nixon, had opposed amnesty.....In November 1975, after 28 months in office, he was dismissed.

While often criticized by political opponents and in the press, Mr. Schlesinger was viewed by many historians as an able defense secretary who modernized weapons systems and maintained America’s military stature against rising Soviet competition.......In his 1976 presidential campaign, Mr. Carter consulted Mr. Schlesinger and was impressed. Taking the White House in 1977, Mr. Carter named him his energy adviser and, after the Energy Department was created in a merger of 50 agencies, appointed him its first secretary. The only Republican in the Carter cabinet, he was in charge of 20,000 employees and a $10 billion budget......Mr. Schlesinger’s performance was widely criticized. Congressional opposition contributed to his departure in a 1979 cabinet shake-up by President Carter.........James Schlesinger was born in New York City on Feb. 15, 1929.......He attended Horace Mann School in the Bronx and Harvard, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1950, a master’s in 1952 and a doctorate in 1956, all in economics.......From 1955 to 1963, Mr. Schlesinger taught economics at the University of Virginia. His 1960 book, “The Political Economy of National Security,” drew attention at the RAND Corporation, which hired him in 1963. He became director of strategic studies there in 1967.

Mr. Schlesinger joined the Nixon administration in 1969 as assistant director of the Bureau of the Budget, and drew the president’s attention by challenging a Pentagon weapons proposal in his presence.......In February 1973, Mr. Schlesinger was named director of Central Intelligence, succeeding Richard Helms, who had been fired by Nixon for refusing to block the Watergate investigation. Schlesinger's five-month C.I.A. tenure was stormy...... in July 1973, Nixon chose Mr. Schlesinger for the Pentagon job, replacing Elliot Richardson, who became attorney general.
books  CIA  Cold_War  Department_of_Energy  Gerald_Ford  GOP  Jimmy_Carter  obituaries  RAND  Richard_Nixon  SecDef  Watergate 
march 2014 by jerryking
Inspired, Naturally
13 Aug 2011 | Financial Times pg. 1. | by Paul Miles.

In a truly sustainable world, we would build our homes using only recyclable materials, renewable energy and without any waste. It seems impossible – and yet that is how the rest of nature operates.

Animals and plants build structures of incredible complexity without the energy-hungry high temperatures, pressures and toxic chemicals with which we process raw materials in this fossil fuel age, and without generating useless waste. Our buildings, on the other hand, are responsible for more than 40% of carbon emissions in the EU. Globally, the construction industry is responsible for 30-40 % of solid waste, says the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

It is no wonder that architects and designers are looking to the rest of nature for inspiration. They always have: Leonardo da Vinci sketched designs for a flying machine with bird-like wings; the Wright brothers studied a vulture’s drag and lift. In the 21st century, scientific advances such as molecular genetics and nanotechnology have made drawing inspiration from nature a more precise science. Biomimicry, as it’s known in the US (or biomimetics in the UK) is, “the conscious emulation of life’s genius: innovation inspired by nature”.......If we could mimic that on a larger scale, imagine the difference it would make to our building industry. We could produce our own organic “steel” at an ambient temperature, formed from nothing more than everyday atoms such as carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. The need to mine, transport raw materials, burn coal and produce toxic wastes would all virtually disappear. What’s more, the whole process would be solar-powered....The $170bn cement industry, a big emitter of carbon dioxide, is having a biomimicry-related makeover. Calera, the American company, is using waste carbon dioxide from flue gas to produce a type of cement in a process similar to coral growth. In a move that shows that the US government recognises the potential of Calera to turn cement manufacture from a process that emits millions of tons of carbon dioxide into one that sequesters it from power stations, the company was awarded $19.5m by the US Department of Energy last year.

That is a Utopian scenario but there are other areas where progress is being made. These include digital fabrication technologies such as 3D printing that can “grow” structures that breathe and work like living systems...biomimicry is heralded as one of the growth areas for this century. It is a genuinely multi-disciplinary field where, for instance, a research team comprising entomologists, engineers and materials scientists is not uncommon.......Buildings with an appearance of biological forms are not new. Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, similar to plankton in their geometry, are resource-efficient in their construction....Biomimetic architecture is certainly not as simple as creating buildings that reflect nature’s aesthetics.

A building cited as an example of biomimicry is a conventional-looking 1990s shopping centre and office block, the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe.....“Buildings that adapt to changing conditions is the way we have to develop if we are to mimic truly the low energy ways in which biology works,” says architect Michael Pawlyn, whose book on the subject, Biomimicry in Architecture,
3-D  agriculture  biomimicry  books  cement  construction  cross-disciplinary  Department_of_Energy  inspiration  Leonardo_da_Vinci  nature  sustainability 
august 2011 by jerryking

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