Hello, Bitcoin

Bitcoin, bitcoin coin, physical bitcoin, bitcoin photoWhen I first read about Bitcoin, the open source peer-to-peer digital currency, I thought it was just another in a long line of attempts to create an online alternative to the dollar that would probably not see wide adoption.

Then I watched "End of the Road: How Money Became Worthless," and started to understand more about fiat currency and the dangers that come with depending on it.  After a friend explained a little more about how Bitcoin works and how it was designed to transcend many of our current challenges with fiat money, I went back and took another look.

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Everything on the Internet is Free!

Brian Keith Whalen rocking out at the Starr Gennett Walk of FameAfter my post this past weekend about why I think paying for access to local news reporting is worth it, I checked out some of the reasons that people who were complaining about said fees were giving for not wanting to pay.  Chief among them was the argument that "if it's on the Internet, it should be free!"

I hadn't previously thought about how mainstream that line of thinking probably is right now.  But it makes sense.  The dominant business model for so many Internet resources over the last several years has been to give away access to tools, content or other things and then either sell advertising or sell a "premium" version (Wired magazine had a good story on this trend back in February of 2008 if you want to see how much it's taken hold even in that short time).

People are used to learning of some new service or app, putting in their e-mail address and picking a password (if that much), and they're off and running to use the shiny new thing.  Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Google let users spend all day using up their resources at no charge.  You can download high quality web browsers and entire office software suites for free.  Pandora lets you listen to and discover great music all day long for free.  There are paid apps in mobile app stores, but the free or $0.99 ones get most of the attention.

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Shuman on alternative models of economic development

I have a guest editorial piece in today's Palladium-Item, End risky economic games.  I've also reproduced the edited version of the piece below.  I had originally hoped to title it "What can James Bond teach us about economic development?" but I decided that's not actually a question I want to know the answer to.  So instead the article focuses on two different labels for economic development models, coined by author Michael Shuman.

I first saw Shuman speak at a conference back in 2005.  He's an economist, attorney, speaker, author and entrepreneur, and he's written a number of books on the economic why and how for creating thriving, self-reliant communities.  In particular, he posed the labels of "TINA: There is no alternative" and "LOIS: Local Investment and Import Substituting" as shorthand names for the dominant economic development model of today (TINA) and an alternative model that he sees having great success and sustainability on paper and in practice (LOIS).

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The closing of Really Cool Foods

Groundbreaking for Really Cool FoodsIn 2007, organic prepared food producer Really Cool Foods announced that it would be building a multi-plant production complex in Cambridge City, Indiana and investing over $100 million in the area.  The announcement was met with great joy and significant incentives from state and local governments:

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered Really Cool Foods up to $3.05 million in performance-based tax credits, up to $165,000 in training grants and will provide Cambridge City officials with a $200,000 grant to assist in off-site infrastructure improvements needed for the project. Wayne County officials offered the company 50 acres of land, $165,000 in grants and a 10-year property tax abatement.

The facility opened in October of 2008 with 250 of the projected 1,000 jobs to start, and over the last few years the company has had numerous challenges reaching initially estimated milestones of investment and jobs created.

Today, the company told workers who showed up for their morning shift that the facility was closing, and in a press release sent after 9 AM, announced the company is shutting down.

A couple of initial thoughts and questions about this unfortunate announcement:

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Quantitative easing and structural unemployment

Globalization // Coming 2 a mystical cliffside near u - v.2That title really roped you in, huh?  Allow me to explain.

Earlier today I attended the Indiana University 2012 Business Outlook Panel in its visit to Richmond.  It's a group that "has presented national, state, and local economic forecasts for the coming year to business, political, and community leaders of Indiana" for the last 38 years.  I attended the same gathering back in 2005 and I have to say that today's commentary wasn't much different from what it was six years ago: "things are not great with the economy, but there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic."

As I noted in my reflections from the 2005 event, there were a couple of troubling ideas that permeated the remarks, especially from the panelists looking at global and national trends.

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Job creation at a human scale

ForgeIt's unfortunate that the act of finding or creating a job for someone has become a form of political currency.  Politicians around the country are clamoring about how many jobs they created with this program or that program, or boasting about how their job creation (or job loss) record compares to someone else's for a given time period, while many rightly ask if politicians can really even create jobs (answer: probably not).  When we set aside the political rhetoric, we remember that for most people, a job is not a statistic to be waved around in the media and that finding or creating a job is not the end of the story.

For most people, having a job is a means to other ends - making money to help provide for our families, a place where we go to be productive and feel a sense of accomplishment, a foundation on which to build a quality of life.  Most people don't want to live so they can work - they work so they can live.  And so it's disconcerting when politicians casually talk about job creation as the end in itself, without any concern for or follow-up on what that means for the people in a given community taking those jobs.

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On the 2012 City Budget Process

This entry is part 11 of 20 in the series 2011 City Council Campaign

a security guard, a stack of papersIt's been an interesting experience to watch the 2012 budgeting process for the City of Richmond, being performed by the very City Council that I aspire to join.  If I'm elected, I'll be a part of a city government that is operating under the budget that's now being considered, so it feels even more important than usual to understand how the City is deciding where and how to spend money.

As I watched various department heads present their requested budgets for the upcoming year, I observed a few things:

  • It's been taken as a given that there will be no changes in compensation for any city staff.   I'm not sure if this happens because it's made clear at the outset that requests for compensation increases will be rejected, or because the staff already know that to be true, but it's got to be a challenging experience for city workers who know that cost of living is increasing and their own pay is staying level.  I know that when the citizens of a community are feeling limited in their own financial situation, it can be an easy target to claim that this person or that person in government is making too much money, and I'm sure in some cases, those claims might be true.  But I would also hope that as a community we can recognize the value of having our city run by professionals who are compensated fairly and equitably for their work. Continue reading On the 2012 City Budget Process