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Thought Starters

Thought Starters: the outlook for the global and the Chinese economy, India’s middle class, the growing importance of migration and publishing in the digital age

Thought Starters provides me with a chance to look through articles, research and opinion pieces, highlighting interesting trends, developments and changes in the world you and I live in. This edition looks at forecasts for the year ahead, China’s economy and India’s middle class, migration’s growing role in contemporary societies, publishing in the digital age and lots more.

The Economist has published its forecast for the global economy which sees a further shift in momentum from emerging to developed markets, although India, China and Indonesia are seen as top performers:

Emerging markets losing their grips

Malcolm Scott takes a closer look at the slowdown in China’s economy, suggesting that it’s not nearly as significant as some of the more vociferous critics are suggesting:

China's slowdown in context

India as The Economist’s figures above suggest, is one of the powerhouses of the global economy and the country’s growing middle class is seen as providing enormous opportunities for local and international brands. The problem is there are wide variations in estimates of India’s middle class depending on the spending power you apportion to the Indian rupee as the Research Unit for Political Economy shows:

Some estimates of India's middle class

The Wall Street Journal in its profile of demographic trends has taken a closer look at the globe’s growing migrant population. Kim Mackrael and Charles Forelle in their broader analysis of immigration contrast Canada’s more assimilationist and economically driven policies with those of Europe. Whilst I’d argue that Europe is currently in a very different position to Canada due to its proximity to Syria, it does provide some valuable pointers as the continent faces an ageing population:

A growing migrant pool

Angus Hervey provides an important reminder that for many important human development indicators things are on the up (although this is certainly no argument for complacency). Among the indicators he points to are reductions in poverty, malnutrition, polio, infant mortality and AIDS deaths and improvements in universal education, internet access and financial inclusion:

Global poverty has reached a record low

Felix Salmon looks at the maturing of the fintech sector as it  focuses on providing tangible improvements on services offered rather than rhetoric about turning the financial sector upside down:

The problems such fintech companies are trying to solve aren’t the type that can be tackled by a few hyperactive coders in a garage. Rather, they require dozens of different skillsets, not to mention the ability to manage them all. In that sense, the startups are becoming much more like the banks they’re seeking to disrupt. That’s Lunn’s Great Convergence. No one believes the banks are going to solve these problems. The trillion-dollar question is, can the fintech companies do something important and socially useful before they, like the banks, become bogged down in regulation and bureaucracy.

Om Malik reports on how the movement towards a software enabled world has moved a lot of business categories into a winner takes all market (eg Amazon, Uber, Google). It’s also worth adding that innovations in technology and business strategy can see even these advantages quickly fall over time if management aren’t vigilant:

This loop of algorithms, infrastructure, and data is potent. Add what are called network effects to the mix, and you start to see virtual monopolies emerge almost overnight. A network effect occurs when the value of a product or service goes up with the number of people using it. The Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe called it Metcalfe’s Law. Telephone services, eBay, and Skype are good examples of the network effects at work. The more people who are on Skype, the more people you can call, and thus the more likely it is that someone will join.

While physical book sales in the US are on the up according to Nielsen BookScan figures, ebooks are heading in the opposite direction with a consolidation around the Kindle and Kobo platforms according to Michael Kozlowski’s report:

In a few short years most digital bookstores will be out of business and Amazon and Kobo will likely be the only players left standing.  The only digital bookstores that will survive will be companies offering both hardware/software solutions to encapsulate people into their walled gardens.  The destruction of the digital book market has already been set in motion and nothing will stop from the industry from collapsing.

In 2013 Amazon created a media storm by announcing they were working on drone delivery with commentators debating whether this was a real story or a public relations stunt. Two years on and the pathway to drone delivery looks clearer. Dan Wang looks at where drone logistics have proven successful and where we’re likely to see it make real inroads in the near future:

Amazon Drones vs Current Delivery Options

As we start a new year we’re seeing various commentators giving their prognosis for the year ahead. Fred Wilson and Bob O’Donnell make good starting points.

Finally, it’s worth watching Extra Credit’s review of China’s Sesame Credit which has seen the Chinese Government collaborate with Tencent and Alibaba on gamifying good behaviour by Chinese citizens. A case of Nudge theory heading in a distinctly dystopian direction:

The featured image is an INTI mural from the Artesano Project in Nagua, Dominican Republic.

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Thought Starters

Thought Starters

A mixed collection of materials looking at societal trends and the impact of technology on the way we live.

We’re seeing a rapid growth in some of the developing world’s major cities as rural populations migrate in search of better economic opportunities. Joel Kotkin takes a critical look at this phenomenon, pointing out that there in many cases isn’t the necessary demand needed for unskilled labour that will lift these populations out of poverty:

Here’s the difficult truth: Most emerging megacities, particularly outside of China, face bleak prospects. Emerging megacities like Kinshasa or Lima do not command important global niches. Their problems are often ignored or minimized by those who inhabit what commentator Rajiv Desai has described as “the VIP zone of cities,” where there is “reliable electric power, adequate water supply, and any sanitation at all.” Outside the zone, Desai notes, even much of the middle class have to “endure inhuman conditions” of congested, cratered roads, unreliable energy, and undrinkable water.

Research from  Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers points to money being able to help buy happiness, with this correlation appearing not to even tail off for more wealthy consumers:

Life satisfaction and income

There has been a lot of talk about disruption, particularly from Silicon Valley with commentators pointing to the threat this process poses to market incumbents. Research from Ian Hathaway and Robert Litan looks to pour some cold water on this view. Among the research’s finding are  that the US is seeing a declining number of start ups which are faced with growing failure rates whilst older enterprises are taking up a growing share of the overall number of businesses:

Companies by Age

Jamil Anderlini reports on growing property prices in China with warnings of a property bubble.  This could have serious negative effects on the country’s economy. A frightening prospect given the size of the country’s population and economy and the role on effect for the rest of the world:

Property Price Comparison

Benedict Evans looks at the impact that mobile is likely to have on the World’s population, with its impact reaching well beyond the developed world consumers associated with the PC driven internet:

Global Adult Population

There’s been a fair bit of noise recently about the declining role of the tablet with lacklustre sales and phablets arguably providing a good enough solution for many consumers. In response, Walt Mossberg jumps to the tablets defence, arguing that there are enough use cases to ensure that the format will see continuing success in the coming years:

I believed then, and now, that the success of the iPad depended not on whether it would wholly replace the laptop, but on whether it could be the best, or most convenient, computer in enough common scenarios for which the laptop (and, to a lesser extent, the smartphone) had been the go-to choice.

Android continues to be the dominant mobile operating system among global consumers market share. Despite this, Semil Shah argues that the development of an Android mobile app should run a distant second for the majority of startup businesses:

The common wisdom used to be iOS first, Android second — but I think it needs to be amended right now to the following: “With the caveat there may be a small handful of apps which need to be on Android early, mobile startups should be iOS first (of course) and resist the urge to make Android second too soon.” For a product early in its life cycle, the return on investment often can’t be justified.

Pew Research’s work points to consumers as being less willing to discuss serious issues via social media when compared to other social channels leading to what they’ve dubbed the ‘Spiral of Silence.’

Social Debates

Competition is hotting up in the ride sharing business with Uber recruiting drivers from its competitor Lyft – a not unusual practice in a competitive market. What Farhad Manjoo points out is that despite the best effortsof Uber and Lyft, there’s little in the way of differentiation between the two which face serious risk of commodification.

 The Atlantic profiles Google’s experiments with drone delivery suggesting that Amazon’s well publicised forays into this area weren’t simply a publicity stunt. Whilst the technology is interesting, what I found most interesting was the argument that this would enable a move towards a more access based society

Those ideas, in turn, became key planks in the original conception of the “sharing economy,” imagined as one in which the world could make much less stuff because efficient, digital logistics would let each asset be used by more people.

“It would help move us from an ownership society to an access society. We would have more of a community feel to the things in our lives,” Teller preached.

In the ‘something to look forward to’ basket is Juno director Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children which looks like taking a less than flattering look at the role of technology on the way we live our lives.

The featured image at the top of the page is a piece by by Paulo Arraiano in Djerba, Tunisia and found on StreetArtNews.