Why Nations Fail, does this apply to Texas?

Why Nations Fail is a fascinating book, by Acemoglu of MIT and political scientist, James Robinson. They posit that economies that have abundant natural resources can be easily captured by groups that become politically powerful. The authors view is that an abundance of natural resources, which may seem like a blessing, often turns out to be a blessing for a select few and, for the rest of a country’s citizens, a curse. It’s called the natural-resource curse.

east-texas-oil-field[1]The natural-resource curse is well understood economic equation, there are a number of papers on it, this one by Sachs and Warner, the show that countries with great natural resource wealth tend nevertheless to grow more slowly than resource-poor countries. Resource-abundant countries tended to be high-price economies and, benefited by the few.

With the media here in Texas, and especially Austin, currently focused, on prices, the tax burden; the impact of the thousands of people moving  Texas;  and John Stewart Daily lampooning Texas, from inside Austin itself; and an increasing sense of conflict among ordinary people, I wonder if Texas, through it’s natural abundance of land, oil, shale oil isn’t in fact setting itself up to fail?

Certainly ahead of next weeks mid-term elections, the 10/1 Austin City Council election, the vote on Prop-1. all the signs are there. While the abundance of natural-resources has lulled people into a false sense of security, allowing various groups to drive conflict in order to gain control of the State Institutions. Classic theory in practice.

While this would normally be something you’d expect in 3rd world countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola, Venezuela and Nigeria, is it so impossible that it could happen here?

The signs are that it is. Texas is increasingly dropping in national ranking, and internationally worse still. Despite the abundant wealth garnered from the Oil boom, and the more recent Gas/Shale boom, the bulk of that money resides indeed in the hands of the few. Texas has

Oxfam has a solution paper to the natural-resource curse. It starts by saying “get your hands on the money”. In this case, I think rather than get our hands on the money, it would be better to follow Norways lead and create a world leading Sovereign Wealth fund and use that to improve the State, and services that Texas itself has. What are we currently doing?  Raiding the rainy day fund to improve the roads, the rainy day fund aka The Economic Stabilization Fund, or the Texas version of a sovereign Wealth Fund, nice.

Travelling for your job: Survival Tips

I wasn’t sure which blog to post this on, in fact I thought I’d already posted in to my more work related blog, turns out I hadn’t. I’ll be heading back to Texas A&M again next month to give a talk on career and personal development, and these were the slides I used to guide the talk last time.

Anyone that hasn’t traveled much for business, when you list the countries you’ve been too, think it’s something like Matt Harding, I doubt this represents his real travel experience.

If I remember this time, I’ll record the talk and transcribe the points into something more consumable. In the past I’ve had my talks video recorded, but I think being able to post in here text format would be useful. During the talk, which is mostly focussed on the pluses and minuses of corporate travel, I also discuss, How to handle person life issues (family leave, eldercare, illness, accidents, reoccurring illness) professionally; Thinking about and preparing for mid-career and long-term career prospects; The joys and expectations of working in a large company.

If you are interested in a more technical presentation, you can see the slide and lecture notes from when I gave the distinguished lecture at Texas A&M, 2011, here.

The Great American Ripoff: The High Cost of Low Taxes

Americans pay almost four times as much as the citizens of other wealthy countries for things such as retirement security and health care on the private market – 10.6 percent of our economic output versus an average of just 2.7 percent among OECD member states.

via The Great American Ripoff: The High Cost of Low Taxes | Connecting the Dots, What Matters Today | BillMoyers.com.

Bill Moyers website has a great perspective on the whole state vs private industry, tax vs pay debate. It shows that Americans for the most part want what the government provides, well-maintained infrastructure, safe food and clean water, efficient firefighting and policing, Medicare and Social Security and virtually every other government-provided service you can name. Most Americans though think that a lower tax bill – especially for federal taxes — The article shows, with figures, that those low taxes actually work against the economic interests of most Americans.

That’s because we pay ridiculously high out-of-pocket costs for things that are provided by the public sector in other developed countries. The difference is quite dramatic.

Be careful what you “Like”

I’ve noticed recently that Facebook has been heavily promoting “Like Walmart” in my timeline. Facebook helpfully not only shows me which of my friends “Like” Walmart, but it also provides a link to their timeline, I guess so I can hop on over and ask them useful questions about Walmart?

Well Facebook, you are not going to socially shame me into liking Walmart. Sure I shop there when I have no alternative. I bought my current Netgear router there, it was the only place in town that had one when I needed it; many people in small outlying areas use Walmart as they no longer have an alternative and 90% of Americans live within 15-minutes of a Walmart. Except, many of them have forgotten or didn’t know that when Walmart came to out of town, it killed main street and many if not all the small, often local businesses, run by local families. But still, Walmart “always [has] low prices” so thats OK.

Rather than “Like” Walmart, I’m left wondering why my friends like them? Really, a company that has a GDP bigger than 169 countries, many of which provide healthcare; Walmart is one of the most profitable businesses in the world, est. profits $34,800 profit EVERY MINUTE of EVERY DAY, and won’t provide healthcare for its’ employees. How can you like that?

Of course the Facebook promotion of Walmart isn’t just an act of kindness, its almost certainly driven by payments from Walmart itself, or an agency acting for Walmart. It’s also likely that you are seeing other “Like” promotions, and if you are not seeing Walmart, maybe either none of your friends “Like” Walmart or you already do. Anyway, Statistics Brain has some great numbers on Walmart, here.

Remote working…

A lot has been posted online about the decision of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, to end remote work at Yahoo!

As usual the interwebs erupted with a lot of people not involved, spouting out their opinion on why she was wrong to do this, and their opinions on the effects. Even I just replied to a comment in my last “balance” post wondering how it would work out at Yahoo. Then I read this, a great piece on the Business Insider War Room. Bingo. It makes perfect sense, when the system is broken, you need to fix it and I’ve worked on a number of distributed teams and find this quote nailed it for me.

“Camaraderie is built by working together. You wouldn’t have a basketball team and have 5 players working in separate gyms on their jump shots.” Gimbel said. “They might be better shooters but they wouldn’t know how to work together.”

Apparently, Best Buy have followed suit, they are certainly facing similar problems at a business level. Who next?

Balance, or lack of it

One of the things I commonly say to high performers is

When you live on the edge, sometimes you’ll fall off

it’s from a lifetime of trying to succeed.


One of the things that was a recurring theme of my work 5-10 years ago, as a senior technical leader at IBM, and as part of the professional review board for both Senior Consulting IT Specialist, and IBM Distinguished Engineer, work/life balance. Google has thousands of links to blogs, articles and books on it.

One of the most interesting experiences I had on work/life balance, was down in Australia. After presenting on professional development, and high performance engineering, I was asked about work life balance. What the questioner said was, and I remember it clearly to this day:

Australians work to live, they don’t live to work, how do you see us being able to achieve the same results?

I was floored. Truth is I didn’t know. Gladwells book Outliersmost people focus on the 10,000 hours as a total, but miss the point that for many, that 10,000 hours that Gladwell calls out, comes in a short period of time, often at a huge impact to other aspects of our lives.

This week I came across this blog by Chris Oxford, CEO of the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. Oxford says:

It is not just the hours you put in at work; it’s that it owns your head. You think about work in the shower and on vacation, and you get lost in all of the ideas while you are sitting at dinner. It is exciting and dangerous.

and nails it when he says

 I loved my family, I felt good about what we were doing at work, and I assumed I could maintain the balance. Five years later, I had three Inc. 500 plaques hanging on my wall — and I was divorced. This is the danger of the balance propaganda. You think you can have it all, and you wind up losing what means most to you.

Think you are different? Think you can have it all? Think again. Those that appear to have it all, especially politicians who are held to some higher value, don’t. They are either cheating their constituents, cheating their family, or cheating on their partner. Cheating doesn’t require another person, it requires a mistress called work.