What went on last week:
1. Cyprus passed a bill to privatise its utility companies.
It was part of the deal required for Cyprus to get the next tranche of her bailout package from the IMF. And I’m pointing it out because it’s definitely a case of neoliberalisation at gunpoint.
Does anyone else think that it’s a bit stupid though? And I’m not talking about being pro-labour and pro-unions and all the standard opposition to state-owned enterprises. I just think that, if this were a business and not a government that we were talking about, you would almost never advocate getting rid of productive assets in order to get a loan.
And here’s a question: if you owned a utility company, would you sell it? Hell no. If it was in a bad way, you’d hire McKinsey to come in and advise you on a restructuring. You’d get EY or Deloittes to come in and set up new systems of control. You’d get some strategic partners. You’d get new management and some guidance on structuring salary packages. You’d try to fix the thing before you gave up on it.
Just declaring that “States can never run good businesses” seems like an appallingly naive thing to say. Especially when you have Singapore standing in the wings going “Ahem. And us?”
2. Amazon’s security checkpoint case will go to the Supreme Court.
(Former) Amazon.com workers are taking Amazon.com to court for not paying them for time spent in security checks.
It’s interesting because it’s so difficult to know where to draw the line. You don’t pay employees for their time spent getting to work. You don’t usually pay them for their time spent waiting to swipe into the office, or their time spent parking their car. It’s just part of the employee’s cost of getting to work.
But these workers spent up to half an hour each day waiting to be patted down. After all, if you work all day in an Amazon.com warehouse, it’d be quite easy to sneak something small and valuable into a purse or a pocket. Hence the security checks.
Now the Supreme Court is going to decide whether these workers should be paid for that time.
3. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announces that China is aiming to grow by 7.5% this year.
Whenever I read these announcements, I smile a bit wryly. These statistics will come out of a state-controlled statistical office. Meaning that the Chinese economy will grow by however much the Party needs the economy to grow.
Is that cynical? Maybe. But it’s a bit difficult not to be. After all, why would the Party admit to a low growth figure? Ever?
4. Bernanke’s price tag is around $250,000 per hour.
I saw Bernanke speak in person last week, in his second public engagement since he stepped down from the Fed.
His first appearance was in Abu Dhabi, where he apparently got paid $250,000 for a 40 minute conversation. And Abu Dhabi’s bankers paid $2,000 a ticket to see him.
This really places my complaint from last week Thursday into perspective. Those bankers should have flown to Johannesburg for the day, because the all-in round trip would have been cheaper.
5. Bitcoin bank Flexcoin shuts down after losing some bitcoins.
Canadian-based Flexcoin lost $600,000 worth of bitcoins in a hacker attack (that is: 896 of them). A statement:
“As Flexcoin does not have the resources, assets or otherwise to come back from this loss, we are closing our doors immediately.”
So if you have bitcoins, put them into cold storage. It makes me think of an economist article I read last week, where a group of hackers said that the only system that they had not managed to penetrate was one where the business owner in question kept everything on a floppy drive which he removed and took home with him at night.