Like Adam Smith said “In civilized society [man] stands at all times in need of the co-operation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few.” And for his own purposes spelled out how complex the manufacture of a simple workman’s shirt was. But here is a nice topical outline of the division of labour going into an object of the moment – the Wimbledon tennis ball manufactured by Slazenger. Click through from the image to the article outlining all the steps in making the ball and showing how what turns up at Wimbledon has been responsible for travels of over 80,000 kms
I didn’t know this – until my son told me. From this website.
Sometimes it is necessary for doctors to get access to the heart either for diagnosis or treatment. The simplest way to do this might seem to be to hack open the chest and have a look at the organ itself. Obviously this has massive risks and while even today opening the chest is risky, in the 1930s it would have been almost certainly fatal. Werner Forssman studied corpses and decided it would be possible to pass a thin tube, or catheter, along blood vessels and directly into the heart. Needing to discover whether this would be possible in still living humans he decided an experiment would be in order. He cut open his arm and threaded the tube up and into his heart. A small slip could have torn a major vessel and led to his death but he still needed to prove he had reached the heart. So, with the tube dangling from his arm, he walked from the operating room to an x-ray machine, and took the pictures which showed he had been successful. For this bit of scientific derring-do he shared the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1956.
Naturally two thirds of the current Troppo garage – both the Merc sports and “Rooter” – will be made available over some mutually convenient weekend to any Troppodillian who is able to earn a Nobel Prize in similar fashion.
Attentive Troppodillians will be aware of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation which I chair. After looking awfully like our ‘runway’ was coming to an end (as we stay in startup land) our first and still flagship program is growing strongly. Here’s a news story from South Australia.
If you’re interested, relax back on an armchair and watch this 27 minute doco as if it were Australian Story. It’s entertaining and inspiring.
Though if you want just the highlights in the condensed version – they’re here – in a 6 minute video
This video is a bit more focused on the building of the program – ie it’s co-design with its intended beneficiaries
I saw a preview tonight. Incredible, fabulous stuff. Go if you can.
Well everyone in my family and extended family are proud of Angus Gruen, my nephew who left Paris (thus avoiding dinner with his uncle and a burn under the seine in the Troppo Mercedes Sports 350 SE), turned up jetlagged and sick at Monash Uni to participate in the Physics Olympiad. It involved a gruelling schedule in which the whole of first year uni physics was downloaded into his and others’ brain over the course of two weeks. Yes, just two weeks folks. I think there are about twenty people in the country who make it to the Olympiad and you have to get into the top eight to represent Australia at the next stage. And . . . Angus has just been informed that he did!
And if you listen to this podcast you’ll discover that he gives a good account of himself in an interview – not an easy thing to do. It’s very hard to avoid ums and ahs especially without practice. So congratulations Angus. We couldn’t be prouder of you.
In physics we’re used to the idea that at different scales and at different stages of some process, very different things happen. We inhabit Newton’s world of medium sized things and speeds – planets, trees, footballs and travel at walking, driving or flying speed – even space station speed. When things get very big or fast – intergalactic or close to the speed of light – very strange things happen that defy our own intuitions. And inside atoms when things get even weirder. Likewise during a ‘phase transition’ of some matter from one phase to another – from solid to liquid for instance – strange and counterintuitive things happen.
Well something slightly similar has happened on the internet where transactions costs have fallen to near zero. And strange and fascinating things are happening. Anyway, I’ve been mulling over this for a while now, and verily, along comes this compelling OECD study of the internet. So I’ve written it up in this week’s column in the Age and SMH.
ECONOMISTS usually hate monopoly. But one of last century’s most flamboyant economists – Austrian finance minister turned Harvard professor, Joseph Schumpeter – thought it indispensable to economic progress.
Here’s his argument: Companies innovate to capture some fleeting market power with innovation until their competitors catch up. But they can’t innovate without funding research and development. And doing that requires them to use what monopoly or market power they have by raising prices above production costs.
In economists’ models, ”perfect competition” involves a multitude of companies disciplining each other so all are forced to take the price at which any are prepared to sell – the cost of production. But Schumpeter argued that this wasn’t just an unearthly ideal type that can never exist (in economists’ models, perfect competitors all exist in a timeless steady state with identical skills, technology and expectations). He argued that, even if it were possible it wasn’t desirable, because perfect competitors are so busy competing they have no margin to fund innovation.
If Schumpeter showed us the upside of monopoly, there is (alas), a mighty downside. Even if they’ve won their position from past innovation, even if they’re competing against others, large incumbent companies often become conservative and lazy.
Where fixed R&D costs are high enough – in pharmaceutical innovation for instance – perhaps we still can’t do without large monopolistic companies. But for a few decades now we’ve been running an experiment between two uses of our telecommunications infrastructure: The telephone network in which a few large companies are what economists call ”monopolistic competitors”, and the internet, which offers a close approximation to perfect competition. And the results are compelling – and fascinating. Continue reading