Friday, January 4, 2013



I have often been told that Seattle has a climate “just like Ireland.” I haven’t checked the figures but, based on personal experience, I have to disagree. Certainly, both get a lot of rain and comparatively little snow, but Seattle lacks the damp chill that seems to pervade Ireland, is significantly less windy, and seems to be blessed by more clear blue skies and sunshine.

Today is just such a day though the temperature is below freezing. It’s the kind of weather that seems designed for fast walking, clear thinking, long underwear, and gloves.

Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy: Markets, Speculation and the State

In the spirit of clear thinking, let me point you towards what appears to be a fascinating book—albeit its title scarcely gets the heart pounding.

I haven’t read it yet, but I have seen the author, venture capitalist William Janeway, interviewed, and he speaks a great deal of sense. He is also a highly successful venture capitalist who believes government has an essential role in a modern economy, and supports his thesis with facts. This is a pleasant and realistic contrast to the beliefs of many Right Wing ideaologs who believe that “government should be drowned in a bathtub”—if I may quite Grover Norquist a little loosely.

You know it is a strange thing that we don’t think more about the nature of the economic system that has such an extraordinarily strong influence on our lives. You don’t have to be an economist to do so. You just need a reasonable brain, a willingness to accept facts, and the ability to follow the logic of an argument.

Yes, you are absolutely right. It probably is a lot to expect.

The key point to recognize is that capitalism—like ice-cream—comes in many different flavors, and that some are delicious; and others are horrible. War flavored ice-cream is the pits—and is the color of blood. Could it be that the U.S. needs to look for a tastier version? The evidence would suggest that to be the case.

Let me quote some of the reviews from the Amazon site:

"Bill Janeway, a key creator of modern venture capital, tells the amazing story of the intersection of economics and innovation. This book is essential to anyone who wants to understand technology and how its creation will be financed for decades to come." - Marc Andreessen, co-creator of the Internet browser, co-founder of Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz

"This is a masterful historical and conceptual analysis of the Three Player Game between the state, private entrepreneurial innovation and financial capitalism. The state has a key role in funding scientific research that leads to innovation. Amply funded by financial capitalism, innovation is a source of long term growth. But speculative funding of innovation is also associated with asset and credit bubbles that end up in financial crashes. A Minsky-inspired synthesis of the financial excesses of Schumpeterian creative destruction, this book should be required reading for all." - Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at New York University and Chairman of Roubini Global Economics

"A revelatory exploration of the complex dynamics underlying the innovation economy and the inherent roles of speculation and waste as experienced by one of the great venture capitalists and political/economic thinkers of our age. This book provides an powerful framework for dealing with the economic challenges we are facing today. It couldn't have come at a better time!" - John Seely Brown, Former Chief Scientist of Xerox Corp and Director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)

"Janeway applies keen insights from his experience as a venture capitalist and creates a vision of the interaction between governments, financiers, and firms that shows what institutions society must develop to foster innovation. I believe that Doing Capitalism will help all of us, whether academics, private sector leaders, or government officials, to see beyond shallow political dogma and move to a deeper understanding of challenges of technological advance." - George Soros, Chairman of Soros Fund Management


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