Wednesday, February 06, 2013

"The London School of Economics Growth Commission, a panel of academics, former government officials and business leaders, has just published a report on how to improve Britain’s economic performance. “Investing for Prosperity” is a notable piece of work that deserves to be widely read, and not just in Britain. The report emphasizes policies on human capital, investment and innovation, and the limits of standard measures of prosperity. The latter takes up a theme recently discussed by Bloomberg View -- the failings of gross domestic product as a metric of economic success. The authors urge governments and the news media to pay as much attention to median household income as they do to GDP, arguing that it gives a better reading on living standards as experienced by most citizens. Good advice. I was especially struck, though, by the panel’s recommendations on infrastructure, because these draw attention to a broad and difficult issue that dwells just beneath the surface of many policy debates: What is the proper balance between democracy and technocracy? On infrastructure, which the panel considers a high priority, it advises the U.K. to create a 'new institutional architecture' that would 'dramatically reduce the policy instability that arises from frequent changes in political personnel and priorities, particularly in transport and energy.”The commission suggests an Infrastructure Strategy Board to advise parliament on broad priorities; an independent Infrastructure Planning Commission with new planning powers; and an Infrastructure Bank to help provide finance and counsel on the management of risk. As the report documents, the management of public-infrastructure projects has been lamentable. No private firm could survive the errors that governments have made with taxpayers’ money. One multinational review of infrastructure projects, which I warmly recommend, is aptly called “Survival of the Unfittest.” The author, Bent Flyvbjerg, a professor of project management at the University of Oxford, found that nine out of 10 transport-infrastructure projects (across 20 countries and five continents) suffered cost overruns; benefits, on the other hand, were systematically exaggerated." (Bloomberg)

"Rick Scott is preparing to defend his Florida governorship with the most expensive reelection campaign in state history, drawing up plans for a battleship-sized political operation aimed at overcoming the Republican’s deep personal unpopularity. The anticipated price tag, according to sources familiar with Scott’s plans: $100 million. Scott is no stranger to heavy spending; the former hospital care executive put some $73 million of his own money into an insurgent 2010 primary campaign and a narrow general election win. His TV ads saturated the Florida airwaves for months.
But Scott’s 2014 campaign — possibly pitting him against party-switching former GOP Gov. Charlie Crist as the Democratic candidate — won’t just be a jacked-up version of the 2010 version, knowledgeable Republicans said. In addition to darkening the sky with paid media, Scott’s team is looking at the possibility of creating a state-specific data and analytics division, either within the campaign or at the Republican Party of Florida. The idea would be to replicate President Barack Obama’s success in targeting and turning out Sunshine State voters — though sources cautioned that no final decisions have been made about the project. The RPOF has already done some deeper voter-file work, and GOP Chairman Lenny Curry spoke out after the 2012 election about the need to catch up with Democratic data-gathering and turnout operations." (Politico)

"For high-ranking public-sector officials with significant economic experience, selling out to the private sector once you're out of office is about the easiest thing in the world. Most Wall Street banks, private equity firms, and white-shoe law firms love hiring former government muckety mucks through the revolving door — it gives them a prestigious name to put on the firm letterhead and access to a world-class Rolodex, and all that's required for them to dish out is a fat salary and a ceremonial job with little actual responsibility. It was widely assumed that former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner would follow in this well-trod path, despite his repeated insistence to the contrary. (Last month, in an interview with New York's Jessica Pressler, he called the idea that he would end up on Wall Street 'extremely unlikely.') Geithner has never worked at a bank, but his deft handling of the 2008 financial crisis and his deep involvement with all of the major players would make him an instant hire at any major firm he applied to. So it's notable that instead of taking a seven-figure salary from a Wall Street firm immediately upon retirement, Geithner's first moves as a now-former cabinet member are taking a position as a 'Distinguished Fellow' at the Council for Foreign Relations and shopping a book proposal." (NYmag)

"Few things are as cool for a 27-year-old as getting to participate in the most important film of the year, let alone being the person responsible for making it happen. This year that film is Zero Dark Thirty, from the Academy Award-winning team of director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, about the killing of Osama bin Laden. And the producer is Megan Ellison. Although distributed by Sony, it isn’t a studio picture. Bigelow and Boal weren’t interested in financing that had even the barest strings attached to the military, as has been the case with some studio films. Instead the couple made the rounds of independent financiers, many of whom found the project appealing. But Megan, the daughter of Larry Ellison, the co-founder of the Oracle software company and the third-richest man in the country, with a net worth of $41 billion, was ready to write a check for the entire budget, which would eventually reach $45 million. In the space of a year, the young Ellison has become the most talked-about independent financier in Hollywood. Pretty but a bit overweight, with hunched shoulders, she has a slacker vibe. She drives a gray ’89 Aston Martin or rides one of her motorcycles, often has a Camel cigarette in hand, and rarely wears makeup. Partial to butch, grunge chic, she usually wears a uniform of army boots, denim jeans, and a hoodie pulled over the T-shirt of an old-school rock band, like Led Zeppelin or AC/DC. She can come across as well read and shy, but then might say something strangely blunt and uncomfortable and laugh at it. She talks extremely fast, especially when trying to make a point, with her words getting caught up in one another, or slowly and deliberately, especially when she’s upset. 'Megan reminds me a little of John Grady Cole,' says director Andrew Dominik, referring to the 16-year-old cowboy who rides into Mexico in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. 'She is not going to argue with you, but she’s going to do what she wants.'" (VanityFair)

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