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Opinion: Biden’s infrastructure plan must look to the future, not wrap itself in a nostalgic view of past American greatness


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Project Syndicate)—President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan is likely to be a watershed moment for the American economy, clearly signaling that the neoliberal era, with its belief that markets work best and are best left alone, is behind us. But while neoliberalism may be dead, it is less clear what will replace it.

The challenges that the United States and other advanced economies face today are fundamentally different from those they faced in the early decades of the 20th century. Those earlier challenges gave rise to the New Deal and the welfare state. Today’s problems—climate change, the disruption of labor markets due to new technologies, and hyper-globalization—require new solutions.

Capitol Report: Biden says he’s ‘prepared to negotiate’ on infrastructure as he meets bipartisan group of lawmakers

We need a new economic vision, not nostalgia for a mythicized age of widely shared prosperity at home and global supremacy abroad.

On climate change, Biden’s plan falls short of the Green New Deal advocated by progressive Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But it contains significant investments in a green economy, such as supporting markets for electric vehicles and other programs to cut carbon-dioxide emissions, making it the largest federal effort ever to curb greenhouse-gases.


Economics is different from an arms race. A strong U.S. economy should not be a threat to China, just as Chinese economic growth need not threaten America.

On jobs, the plan aims to expand employment offering good pay and benefits, focusing, in addition to infrastructure, on manufacturing and the growing and essential care economy.

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The role of government

New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only 1 percentage point of gross domestic product, and is projected to pay for itself eventually.

A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue. Even if the plan were nothing more than a big public investment push financed by taxes on large corporations, it would do a lot of good for the U.S. economy.


We need a new economic vision, not nostalgia for a mythicized age of widely shared prosperity at home and global supremacy abroad.

But Biden’s plan can be much more. It could fundamentally reshape the government’s role in the economy and how that role is perceived.

Traditional skepticism about government’s economic role is rooted in the belief that private markets, driven by the profit motive, are efficient, while governments are wasteful. But the excesses of private markets in recent decades—the rise of monopolies, the follies of private finance, extreme concentration of income, and rising economic insecurity—have taken the shine off the private sector.

At the same time, it is better understood today that in a complex economy characterized by so much uncertainty, top-down regulation is unlikely to work. Regardless of the specific domain—promoting green technologies, developing new institutional arrangements for home-care workers, deepening domestic supply chains for high-tech manufacturing, or building on successful workforce development programs—government collaboration with nongovernmental actors will be essential.


If it succeeds, the example it sets of markets and governments acting as complements, not substitutes—demonstrating that each works better when the other pulls its weight—could be its most important and enduring legacy.

In all these areas, the government will have to work with markets and private businesses, as well as other stakeholders such as unions and community groups. New models of governance will be required to ensure public objectives are pursued with the full participation of those actors who have the knowledge and capacity to achieve them. The government will have to become a trusted partner; and it will have to trust other social actors in turn.

In the past, each excessive swing in the state-market balance has eventually prompted an excessive swing in the opposite direction. The Biden plan can break this cycle. If it succeeds, the example it sets of markets and governments acting as complements, not substitutes—demonstrating that each works better when the other pulls its weight—could be its most important and enduring legacy.

Biden’s unhelpful framing

In this regard, it is unhelpful to view the Biden plan as a way to restore America’s competitive position in the world, especially vis-à-vis China. Unfortunately, Biden himself is guilty of this framing. The package will “put us in a position to win the global competition with China in the coming years,” he recently argued.

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It may be politically tempting to market the infrastructure plan in this fashion. In an earlier era, the prevailing fear that the U.S. was losing its edge to the Soviet Union in ballistic missiles and in the space race helped catalyze a national technological mobilization.

But there is much less reason for fearmongering today. It is unlikely to buy much Republican support for the plan, given the intensity of partisan polarization. And it diverts attention from the real action: if the plan increases incomes and opportunities for ordinary Americans, as it should, it will have been worth doing, regardless of the effects on America’s geopolitical status.

Moreover, economics is different from an arms race. A strong U.S. economy should not be a threat to China, just as Chinese economic growth need not threaten America. Biden’s framing is damaging insofar as it turns good economics at home into an instrument of aggressive, zero-sum policies abroad. Can we blame China if it tightens restrictions on U.S. corporations as a defensive measure against the Biden plan?

The plan could transform the U.S. and set an important example for other developed countries to follow. But to achieve its potential, it must avoid misleading state-versus-market dichotomies and outdated Cold War tropes. Only by leaving behind the models of the past can it chart a new vision for the future.

This commentary was published with permission of Project SyndicateBiden Must Fix the Future, Not the Past.

Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, is the author of “Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy.”

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Quibi Is Shutting Down Barely Six Months After Going Live


Quibi Holdings LLC is shutting down, according to people familiar with the matter, a crash landing for a once-highflying entertainment startup that attracted some of the biggest names in Hollywood and had looked to revolutionize how people consume entertainment.

The streaming service, which served up shows in 5- to 10-minute “chapters” formatted to fit a smartphone screen, has been plagued with problems since its April launch, facing lower-than-expected viewership and a lawsuit from a well-capitalized foe.

On Wednesday, founder Jeffrey Katzenberg called Quibi investors to tell them he is shutting the service down, some of the people said.

Mr. Katzenberg and Chief Executive Meg Whitman decided to shut down the company in an effort to return as much capital to investors as possible instead of trying to prolong the life of the company and risk losing more money, according to the people familiar with the matter.

Employees will be laid off and will be paid a severance, the people said, and the company will explore selling the rights to some of its content to other media and technology firms.

The decision marks a disappointing turn of events for Mr. Katzenberg, a former

Walt Disney Co.

executive and DreamWorks co-founder who pitched the streaming service as a revolutionary new entrant to the video-streaming wars.

Quibi was designed for people who consume entertainment in short increments on their smartphones, but the coronavirus pandemic forced would-be subscribers away from the kinds of on-the-go situations Quibi executives envisioned for its users. Quibi eventually allowed subscribers to watch its shows on their TVs.

Even before the Covid-19 crisis, Quibi had its share of skeptics in the media world, since consumers already had free options for short-form video, such as

Alphabet Inc.’s

YouTube. Quibi’s bet was that it could charge subscriptions by creating higher-end content, and it paid handsomely to develop that programming. Some Quibi executives believed the venture could have been a success, if not for the pandemic, with better execution, pointing to the rise of TikTok, people close to the company said. Some of them believed, for example, that Quibi could pivot to a “freemium” model, offering some content for free while making customers pay for the top programming.

Quibi, which cost $4.99 a month, also had to compete with a growing number of rivals, with Walt Disney’s Disney+,

Apple Inc.’s

Apple TV+,

AT&T Inc.’s

HBO Max and

Comcast Corp.’s

Peacock all launching in the past year.

Mr. Katzenberg and Ms. Whitman had raised about $1.75 billion from high-profile investors including Disney, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and AT&T’s WarnerMedia.

The company spent aggressively to develop its content. Its lineup of star-studded programming included a court show featuring Chrissy Teigen, a romantic comedy with Anna Kendrick and an action thriller starring Christoph Waltz and Liam Hemsworth.

Quibi has drawn on the deep Hollywood connections of Mr. Katzenberg, who ran Disney’s movie business, co-founded DreamWorks SKG and led its animation spinoff DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., the studio behind “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda.”

The streaming service attracted blue-chip advertisers including

PepsiCo Inc.,

Walmart Inc.

and

Anheuser-Busch InBev SA,

securing about $150 million in ad revenue in the runup to its launch. Those deals came under strain earlier this year amid lower-than-expected viewership for Quibi’s shows, prompting advertisers to defer their payments.

In recent weeks, Quibi hired a restructuring firm, AlixPartners LLP, to evaluate its options, the people said. It recommended the options to the board of directors this week, laying out a list that included shutting the company down.

AlixPartners didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The firm previously handled the bankruptcy of Enron Corp.,

General Motors Co.

and Kmart.

Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Katzenberg and Ms. Whitman held a conference call with investors to explain the decision to shut the company down. During the call, Mr. Katzenberg told investors that the company decided to return $350 million in capital rather than pursue a new strategy that could have attracted additional subscribers but would have required a hefty investment, according to a person familiar with the call.

The Information earlier reported that Mr. Katzenberg told people in the media industry he may have to shut down the company.

The decision to hire AlixPartners came after starting a process to sell the company, The Wall Street Journal reported. Quibi pitched suitors including NBCUniversal on a sale, according to people familiar with the matter, but would-be buyers were put off by the fact that Quibi doesn’t own many of the shows it puts on its platform.

NBCUniversal declined to comment.

Quibi is also fighting a legal battle with interactive-video company Eko, which claims Quibi is violating its patents and has stolen trade secrets. Hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. is financing the high-stakes patent lawsuit.

The fight centers on a key feature of Quibi’s app that plays different videos for users depending on whether they are holding their phone horizontally or vertically. Quibi has denied infringing on Eko’s patents or stealing trade secrets.

Write to Benjamin Mullin at [email protected], Joe Flint at [email protected] and Maureen Farrell at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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Apple’s 5G iPhone Will Need to Be More Than 5G


Apple Inc.


AAPL 1.74%

is master of the upsell, but 5G might present the company with its biggest challenge yet.

The tech giant has scheduled an event for Oct. 13, when it is widely expected to unveil this year’s iPhone lineup. As is typical, the company has said nothing about its plans for what would be the 20th iteration of its iconic smartphone, not counting large-screen variants of the same models. But leaks and supplier reports all have confirmed that the next-generation 5G wireless standard will be included in at least some of this year’s designs, and Apple itself dubbed the event “Hi, Speed” on its announcement.

Nearly all of the company’s competitors—including the largest,

Samsung

—already have 5G phones on the market. But most of the world’s 5G action has been taking place in China, which accounted for more than three-quarters of 5G device shipments in the second quarter, according to Counterpoint Research. In the U.S., 5G coverage is still limited, even in major cities. That has hampered the uptake so far. IDC estimates that 4.2 million 5G smartphones were sold in the U.S. in the first half of this year—about 7.5% of total domestic smartphone shipments in that time.

Apple is widely expected to boost that. Counterpoint analyst Jeff Fieldhack predicts this year’s new iPhones will sharply increase the market share of 5G devices, resulting in such phones accounting for 20% of domestic smartphone sales by the end of the year. And several equity analysts have started redeploying the “supercycle” term used to predict strong iPhone cycles in the past—though not always accurately. Analysts project total iPhone unit sales will rise 10% in Apple’s current fiscal year ending next September, following two straight years of declines, according to consensus estimates from Visible Alpha.

That in turn has fueled Apple’s stock, which has jumped 59% so far this year even after retreating from its Sept. 1 peak. At more than 31 times forward earnings, the stock remains in its most expensive valuation range in more than a decade.

Is a 5G iPhone worth that? Probably not—if that is the only selling point. Past comparisons are problematic. The last major network transition to the current standard known as LTE took place in the 2010-12 time frame, when smartphones were still a fast-growing business globally. Apple’s first LTE device was the iPhone 5, which launched in late 2012. That device also sparked “supercycle” projections, though sales and the phone’s lower profit margins didn’t quite live up to the hype. Apple’s share price had surged 65% that year ahead of the iPhone 5 launch—and then slid 24% in the remainder of the year.

Smartphone buyers tend to be more motivated by improved features such as screen size, better cameras and longer battery life. The iPhone 6 cycle that kicked off in late 2014 turned out to be Apple’s best ever, thanks to the significant display-size boost that device delivered. And last year’s iPhone 11 Pro models with their triple-lens cameras turned out to be more popular than expected. Analysts believe those models accounted for 28% of Apple’s total iPhone sales volume for the fiscal year that ended in September, compared with the 23% for the previous year’s top-of-the-line iPhone models, according to Visible Alpha.

The success of last year’s iPhones is actually another challenge for this year’s, as smartphone buyers now tend to hold on to their devices for three to four years. Apple still has a strong base of fans willing to line up for whatever the company comes up with each year. Getting enough of them to justify a market value of $2 trillion will be a tall order.

Write to Dan Gallagher at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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