13 April 2007

Two Lessons in Capitalism

This will be my first and last comment on the Don Imus matter.

Imus has lost his job over ill-advised words uttered in reaction to the women's basketball championship game. I was never a fan of his, but since he has always been rather easy to avoid, I can't say I have any aversion to him either and won't feed the frenzy by citing the phrase he used here.

The only value to the whole thing is as a quick lesson in capitalism as a self-policing system. Imus was apparently confident he could ride out the storm so long as he attracted large numbers of listeners/viewers (his program was initially a morning radio show, though in recent years its been simulcast by a television network). The viewers would attract advertisers, and advertisers would defend him to the network bosses as needed.

But advertisers don't only want the raw audience numbers. They want to know what a show is going to do to their brand. They want to know whether their association with your show is going to help them or hurt them in the eyes of potential customers.

For a very few days after the initial comment, Imus' network bosses stuck by him, suggesting that a two-week suspension would be sufficient. It was only when the show's sponsors started pulling out (not because numbers dropped -- but because of the idea of a brand) -- that the network brass changed their mind.

If I had any reason to believe that the FCC was behind Imus' fall, I'd be ticked off. But it appears that this was simply how freedom works. Imus had his run -- now somebody else will get that airtime in the everlasting whirl of "creative destruction." Let it whirl.

Second lesson: batteries. There's a story in today's Wall Street Journal about car batteries, hybrids, etc. Of course, there are plenty of engineering geniuses in the US, but there's been little incentive for them of late to concern themselves with pushing the frontiers of battery performance.

Two years ago, General Motors executives decided to look for a new battery that would power a new generation of gas/electric hybrids, letting them leapfrog Toyota. The search led them to Toyota's back yard, in both national and corporate terms. Several GM honchos had a meeting in Japan with their counterparts at Panasonic EV Energy Co., Ltd.

There was, they found, a limit to how much their hosts would tell them about how their new products work. Why? Well, because Panasonic is a subsidiary of ... Toyota. It isn't clear from the article whether the GM execs were aware of that corporate affiliation before they made the trip.

Anyway, now that US based car makers have got the message that this is an important subject, there ARE incentives for the development of a US-based leading-edge batteries industry.

Some of the homegrown experts work for this outfit: http://www.a123systems.com/html/home.html

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.