Free markets for beans

Everyone knows Starbucks. Some of you might even know their strict copyright policy.

Here is a picture I took today in Santiago de Chile:

Everything from the interior to logo design is derived from the original – which interestingly has a shop on the same street just two hundred meters from this one. What can you say? In my opinion this is a creative way to increase competition and customer choice. Conservatives may talk about problems with intellectual property but I think they won’t ever win if we go and ask caffeine addicts like me.

Social policy issues inspired by Santiago

My first post from Santiago de Chile. We moved here a few days ago for the summer. My wife is working at the Finnish embassy until the end of August.

First social policy issue I came up with was the problem of air pollution. It’s really heavy here. I haven’t seen such but in Delhi and there they had some natural explanations. But here everything is man-made. This whole 5 million-people city is in a deep valley and nature should show us the andes in all directions. What we see, however, is just “dust” – 360 degrees.

Why do people live here? One Finnish guy I met who came here 4 years ago said you won’t think about it but at the start. His comment made me think are we just so fucking flexible up to stupidity?

My second policy issue is somewhat related: why on earth do the people here produce just ranch and mining products for world markets? What would happen if this place called latin america would really push themselves into those “clean” computer and software industries?

I wrote something related into Open Magazine where I tried to make the case that this part of the world is culturally at the same level as US and Europe – and on the net the culture fundamentally rules. I hope.

Corporations and social policy

Interestingly, what was called right wing in the 70s is called left wing in the 00s. In the past, the critique was targeted at the too-big-state. Today, we are talking about corporate power.

Now that the world is run by big companies and businesspeople for instance in Finland are more interested in what happens in Nokia than the national parliament, corporate social reponsibility is a relevant political issue.

Few days ago Mike Moore announced that Disney banned the distribution of his latest film. Of course, Mike exaggerates the facts and his film will be distributed (by some other company) anyway. However, his announcement makes excellent guerilla marketing. The announcement went through to almost all possible media worldwide. It makes you ask if corporate ownership concentrates, how can we guarantee freee speech and other basic freedoms the democratic civil society was once built on?

Some weeks ago EFFI published something related in Finland. We wanted to ask what is Nokia’s social reponsibility if it pushes corporate ownership from factories and material assets to ideas and abstract things such as computer programs and information processing on the Internet. Our little newsletter went through to all possible media in Finland. The message was Nokia’s influence to social policy – if their policy decisions that follow global US based multinationals are pushed through, then what is the role our little democratic parliament?

This is not leftism. Sure, there are old 70s-style extreme-freaks around and one may call them globalization activists, green anarchists, post-communists or whatever. But if you talking about free-choice, pro-market people, in the ‘Hayekian’ sense of the word, we are not at the left. We are neither conservatives nor socialists. We are the liberal front.

I want my free wifi!

Reading this slashdotted piece on how free wifi is advancing in Estonia made me think deep once again. Why the hell free wifi hasn’t become popular outside northern California … and Estonia?

The point is that wifi is not a business case. I figured this out in early 2001 when I was living and testing the first hotspots in San Francisco Bay Area. Go any coffee shop in the states and you’re most probably online. Many places are free. Starbucks via T-Mobile is one of the most expensive – around 5 euros for an hour or something like 30 per month. Typically you’d go for 20 per month.

In Finland, the mobile internet has been since 1995 or something the GSM (or GPRS for the name’s sake) modem speed. It’s a big joke. Because people don’t experience wireless net they don’t get it. If you haven’t ever watched TV you don’t need it.

Occasional free wifi in a city is a totally different experience from the current closed airport and hotel hotspots. I remember when I returned from California in the late 2001 with my wifi card installed. I found out the biggest operators had started wifi tests. I call them: in order to use any of them I’d have needed to subscribe something like hundred accounts to my big company. The situation hasn’t changed ever since! When do they get that wifi is first and foremost consumer technology?

Finally, my 5 cents. I tried to push free wifi in Finland to EFFI’s agenda in fall 2003. Unfortunately the whole idea has been somehow frozen to a draft stage. Maybe people aren’t interested in wifi after all?

The problem with popular business media

This weekend I browsed once again through the few latest issues of Finnish Talouselämä, a kind of lousy Forbes for the locals.

I have a problem with the mainstream magazines about the economic life (including business and finance to be sure). They are all like soap operas: most talk about local success stories, persons and firms. In every number they run the names and pictures of “top” CEOs and companies as if they would present “the economy”.

The problem is that we don’t get even real-TV quality. They have have little if no analysis. A journalist calls a big company, asks around, takes a phographer with and they shoot some smiling suitefellows. Or maybe it is the hottest startup, which just got millions of venture capital. Or the new prime minister talking “business”. The guru speaks. The economy demystified. One liners. There you go.

I am so lucky to subscribe to The Economist. It’s been the last three years the only magazine I subscribe to. They have independent analysis. People and firms don’t jump out of the economy just because they sell. The name of the journalist does not matter. Just because the bigger picture rules. On the top of all that, The Economist has an own “invisible hand” argument and a courage to write quality analysis about the stuff lamers won’t even mention. The normative economics of drug policy, religion, you name it. And the magazine is still mainstream in its own category.

I recently read from somewhere that most of the readers of The Economist are from the United States. After all, there are people there who think themselves. Highly recommended (*****)