Leadership Lessons From Hipster Central

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According to one estimate there are about 11,000 business books published every year. Many sell well and some sell millions: business advice is very big business. Companies and entrepreneurs – the active ingredients of capitalism – seem to be weirdly desperate to find out how to operate the machinery of capitalism. Leadership, teamwork and organizing are all in the mix, but what they really want to know usually boils down to this: how do you run an efficient organization?

First published on CapX: read more here

A Picture Of Cape Verde

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In the islands of Cape Verde off the coast of West Africa there is an institution called the aluguer. Perhaps ‘institution’ is too weak a word. The aluguer – from the Portuguese verb ‘to rent’ – may at first sight seem nothing more than a shared taxi in the form of a Toyota van or a flatbed pickup truck. In reality the aluguer is the backbone of society and economy: not just a bus but also an informal courier and messaging service, a small-scale cash-banking network, an ambulance, a limousine, and a theatre on wheels. Take an aluguer through the cobbled streets of Mindelo or the mountain roads of Santo Antao and you will see more than the view.

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The Descent Of Egypt

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In January this year an Italian graduate student from Cambridge University disappeared in Cairo. Giulio Regeni had been researching independent trade unions in Egypt; on the evening of January 25 he was on his way to meet an academic colleague from the British University in Cairo. According to the Associated Press news agency Regeni got as far as a security check in a metro station close to his apartment. Then he disappeared.

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Chinese Money On Sunset Boulevard

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Wang Jianlin is China’s richest man. With a personal fortune of over $30 billion, he owns businesses that range from department stores to commercial property, from e-commerce to media to tourism. But that is not enough for Wang Jianlin: in the past he has made no secret of the fact he also wants to be a Hollywood film mogul. And this year his dream has been fulfilled.

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The True Cost Of Surveillance

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The Conservative government recently published proposals for new legislation to regulate spying in the UK. The draft Investigatory Powers Bill seeks to do many things, particularly gathering up powers already contained in a lot of different existing laws and subjecting them all to a coherent oversight procedure. Most of the discussion generated by these proposals has been about the implications for liberty. But there is another and related dimension that should be considered, and that is the potential for the Bill to harm the economy.

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We Are The New Georgians

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Sometimes it seems as if Britain is surrounded by existential threat. Armed extremism, financial  upheaval, cultural confusion – all can feel like they could break a brittle, uncertain society. But these are only the headline concerns of the day. Deep beneath the headlines there is another country where real change happens, sometimes slowly, and sometimes not. At this level Britain really is in a state of transformation. It is nothing to do with terrorism, or politics, or religion. It is a lot to do with new machines, new materials, new algorithms, and new patterns of behaviour. These are things that are changing the shape of minds as well as environment, and what is really striking is just how relaxed Britain is about it. To find a historical parallel for this era of peaceful redrafting of the fundamentals one has to go back at least two and a half centuries. It is Georgian Britain that offers the best guide to what is happening today, and some clues to what might happen next.

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The World’s Most Pointless War

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Africa has had a good press this last few years. It deserves it. In most countries life is getting better, and people have more power to work, to spend, to choose. But not everywhere. And particularly not in one country that few know, that fewer have visited, and that today is on fire.

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Here It Comes: The Next Meltdown

emerging-markets-crash-1400x788The average cycle time between financial crashes is ten years. A decade is about as long as it takes for bad debts to be purged, for financial risk-taking to swing from appetite to aversion and back to appetite again. In other words, the world is about due for some trouble. The only question – usually – is where the epicentre will be. But that’s easy: it will be in the emerging economies.

First published on CapX: read more here.

 

Russia’s World of Digital Control

red-web-1400x788In the English language the words ‘spy’ and ‘Russia’ are fellow travellers. The Russian state is secretive by nature and the methods of the secret state are the methods of the spy services: surveillance, interception, and information control. All of these techniques are part of the political management system of Putin’s Russia, and they have all been greatly enhanced in the last fifteen years. Thanks to two outstanding Russian journalists, Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov, we now know much more about how Russia uses and co-opts the worlds of digital communication and information flow to monitor its citizens at home, and shape their world view. On a recent visit to London, Borogan and Soldatov joined CapX for a conversation about their recent book The Red Web on Russia’s domestic programme of surveillance and censorship.

First published on CapX: read more here.

Chinese Competition? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

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What’s the biggest economic risk from China? A GDP growth crash? A bond price meltdown? Low-cost knock-off competition? Copyright theft and counterfeiting? Actually it is quite likely that the answer is none of the above. The biggest risk from China is competition, but not the sort of cheap-and-cheerful competition that Western companies have grown used to. It’s something much more scary than that.

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China Hasn’t Crashed. Yet.

1chinaFor as long as I can remember I have been reading financial reports about the coming ‘hard landing’ in China – and explanations from the financial wizardry as to why there won’t be a hard landing as long as the Communist Party is in charge and in funds. Last week it seemed that the wizardry had finally been proved wanting, with consecutive days of near 10% falls in the mainland and Hong Kong stock markets, and enough downs and ups in Western markets to make it seem as if the day of doom was close to hand. Is this the end of the China boom? Is it the beginning of the next recession? Could this be the final, violent phase of the global crash that began in 2007?

First published in Capx.co: read more here

Corbyn Has Found the Fear

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Jeremy Corbyn, an awkward unclubbable left-wing activist who thinks Venezuela is the model of how a society should be managed, is coming closer to winning the leadership of the Labour Party, Britain’s main opposition party. Of all possible responses from Labour to its humiliation in the recent general election, the Corbyn surge is the least-expected. The Conservatives cannot believe their luck. The focus-group centrists of Labour are banging their heads on their keyboards in despair. The great mass of disinterested onlookers are going ‘what? who? why?’, before changing channel. And Corbyn surges on.

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India Needs a Total Reset

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Earlier this year, India’s finance minister used the occasion of his budget to declare a truce. There would be no more multi-billion tax raids on big foreign companies in India. Investors could rest easy: the days of ‘tax terrorism’ were over. One month later, the London-listed Cairn Energy opened a brown envelope to find that the Indian authorities were demanding $3.2 billion in extra tax. Cairn had just joined countless other investors who have learned that India’s economy is schizophrenic. It will extend one hand as a friend, and the other as an enemy. If India is to get anywhere near its massive potential, it needs treatment.

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How to Crack the Knowledge Code

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Why is Switzerland so rich? Why is Portugal so poor? And what exactly is the recipe for going from poor to rich? These are the sorts of questions that development economists and policy folk from a thousand think-tanks spend their days and nights puzzling over. But according to a group of economists and data-crunchers at Harvard’s Center for International Development, the answers may not be as elusive as some fear.

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How to Lose a Lot of Money in Africa

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If you haven’t heard what investors call the “Africa Story”, here it is. Africa south of the Sahara is on a roll. The once debt-ridden disaster zone of the world economy is back on its feet, and fighting. Sub-Saharan Africa is now growing faster than any other region of the world: from bankruptcy to boom in the space of less than a generation. The only bad news is that Africa is back in debt. And for some African economies, debt will turn to disaster. Soon.

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Egypt’s New Pharoah

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Last week a suicide bomber killed himself in a failed attack at the Temple of Karnak in the Egyptian city of Luxor. A day later the attack was claimed by a group claiming to be part of the Islamic State movement, the same group that claimed responsibility for a rocket attack the previous week in Egyptian-controlled North Sinai. In the same week there was a gun attack at the Pyramids of Giza to the south of Cairo.Is Egypt slipping back to the dark days of the Islamist insurgency of the 1990s?

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The Dream Economy

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Doubtless you have heard of Uber, the online taxi-hailing service. Most likely you have heard of Airbnb. And Snapchat? Probably. Dropbox? Very likely. Spotify? Of course you have. Even if you haven’t used them yet they are sitting there on your smartphone, just waiting for the day when you suddenly find that you want whatever it is they offer. But be quick: most of these companies will soon be forgotten.

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The Corporate Death Wish

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If all goes according to plan, the next few weeks or months should see many if not most of us made measurably poorer. It’s nothing to do with taxes, crashes, or meltdowns. It’s nothing to do with politics. It’s something that will happen as a result of a well-established routine run by investment banks, financial advisors, and a host of big companies with very familiar names. It’s a kind of capitalist death wish, and something that hasn’t been seen for a while – but now it’s back.

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