Wednesday 28 May 2014

Sweet Sound of Sport

Even as large swathes of the world’s population sit eagerly awaiting the start of their joyously anticipated month of football, cities burn in the host nation’s glare of protest and demonstration. Brazil’s dismal economic situation has seen a worrying lack of support for the upcoming festivities, hunger and strife acutely more present than a celebration of goals – for now. Other parts of the world are not faring much better…Eurosceptics abound as national results show worrying support for parties such as UKIP and France’s National Front, China rattles the cyber-war cage (and much of Asia as a consequence) by essentially kicking-out all US consultancy firms and related tech equipment (funny considering they just bought IBM’s server business), Middle East tension was only slightly ameliorated by the Pope’s recent visit to Jerusalem..calling upon all religions to work for “peace and brotherhood”..limitations still teem with even the kissing of two symbolic walls..but hey..nice try, we witness a sharp U-turn by once banker-loving Carney of the Bank of England, as he is now reported to declare the extravagantly compensated “lucky superstars” and blames the current environment for creating such extreme income discrepancy..he certainly will not have been impressed then with the news that one of London’s iconic towers is to be unceremoniously renamed to match its highest paying tenant (one such tenant makes delicious pancakes all the way up at the top)..from “Heron” to “Salesforce”..pity those residing tech-firms having to advertise their competitor emblazoned across their stationery..oops…time to move one thinks?

There’s a lot of aggression in the world at the moment…but we have something to hold onto, something to look forward to and even something to provide hope that there is a way out for humanity and a lasting desire for good and peace. With the resurgence in attendance of live music and sporting events, what better unifying factor than entertainment carried by the arts and sports. Almost everyone has a particular passion. Transcending culture, language and much of the time even playing its part to douse the fires of hatred and misunderstanding, that all too often develop over hundreds of years of distrust and forgotten conflicts, music and sports bring people together like no other. A wonderful evening spent at the Royal Albert Hall being delighted by a live orchestral rendition with the screening of a modern classic (Gladiator – yes ok..slightly ironic a violent film is being used to make such a point..but bear with works!) reminded the lucky attending audience of the sheer importance of music as a soundtrack to our lives. It amplified that without the emotive response dictated by the masterful control of musical instruments, the spectacle and experience of much that we hold memorable would simply be as flat-as-a-drunken karaoke singer’s Whitney Houston rendition.

Where the high-definition sword-fighting and political intrigue on the screen was effortlessly outdone by the majestic orchestral notes of power and sweetness, sheer admiration and delight for the grandeur of human creativity proliferated..tellingly with the greatest applause provided for the end-credits nod to the original composer. Bravo!

When another present day gladiator was interviewed about his apparent love for his sport, Mohammed Ali once said “it’s just a job, grass grows, birds fly, waves pounds the sand. I beat people up.” Anyone that knows the man and the history of his approach to his profession knows that is not quite how he lived it.  Ali brought a poetic wisdom to his chosen sport, sadly ironic considering he brutally submitted himself, not to mention countless opponents, to mental deterioration as a result. Without wanting to sound too philosophical, there is a certain inherent desire displayed by humanity to destroy itself, to constantly conquer and battle against those that do not for some reason or another tally their thoughts, dreams and aspirations with their own – outside the “norm” whatever the norm may subjectively be. Find yourself on the wrong side and without the overwhelming might of crowd support, you are all of a sudden subjected to Tocqueville’s long-stated “tyranny of the masses”. In the numbers game of survival, the greater absolute always wins.

What can we do to serenely conquer this dangerous and perfectly self-destructive nature? watching others battle it out for starters..and not always in such brutally violent arenas. Stadia the world over routinely extend a helpful conduit (from baseball to ice-hokey) for man’s violent nature to vent itself harmlessly through competition and the desire to win. Brazil's unhappy population will soon almost certainly revel in the communal and spiritual-like adoration of watching their skilled players dominate on the cauldron like field of their most loved sport. Their troubles will be momentarily forgotten and hopefully lastingly diminished. Despite George Orwell negatively describing sport “as war without the bullets”, most people would gladly chose the bullet-less form and adhere to Nelson Mandela’s strong belief that “sport laughs in the face of all discrimination".

Gladiatorial prowess was a sport often used in ancient Rome to delight and placate the baying crowd. Nothing was more efficient in spreading the image of might and power as gory renditions of historic battles fought and won by Rome’s imperious forces, creating a powerful and coherent link between a people – strengthening the very fabric of peace and cooperative living amidst those that shared the same values and felt the same support. We need this now more than ever. In today’s world and our own restless always-connected-online-crowds, we can equate this to global televised sporting events…in fact, with so many distractions all around us - from “KimYe” getting married (harmless fun)…to which of the One Direction not-so-squeaky clean boys is getting high on more than just love - the only event that appears to have us stop and collectively gather these days is either a live music performance or important sporting event. The World-Cup…our modern day Gladiatorial event…is due to take place in a couple of weeks, pitting global teams against one another for 90 minutes at a time, causing entire national populations to stop their daily activity and vent their various emotional hang-ups in a (mostly) non-violent manner, apart from the usual Italian primadonnas prancing around and LatAm teams..bafflingly stumbling over imperceptible obstacles, the beauty of the sport unifies and delights in no other way.   

Whilst some only see a growing divide between the inhabitants of this wonderful world we all share, others are doing what they can to bring us all closer together and provide a more level-playing field, aiding those that would otherwise be left behind to enjoy many of the better pinnacles of human achievement. Google has just announced it is moving into working-prototype production of 100 fully automated vehicles, intended to be deployed on the streets of forwardly-eco (hippie?) thinking California. It is the brainchild of the Google X camp, part of those moon-shots we looked at last week and a real triumph for ambition in the face of legal and regulatory hurdles, moving streets closer to cleaner, safer and possibly more enjoyable journeys - no steering wheels and pedals to contend with will leave a lot of free time “behind-the-wheel”, to be filled, no doubt, with endless hours of Google internet related fun…or those riding with an actual human that is attracted to them, may be able to find other ways to relish the journey..go long heavily tinted windows!

South Korea may well be spared a few blushes as a result of this great innovation, they had begun to allocate special “female parking bays” in busy shopping mall carparks, that are..err..quite a bit wider than the normal parking bays. Oohh..Touchy. No one is saying women need more space when gently manoeuvering their vehicles into a tight spot…noooo…but hey..with Google’s help no one will have to anymore!

Let’s hope we are still allowed to kit-out those cars with fantastically powerful entertainment systems so we might all listen to music and watch live sporting events. Brazil’s mood will surely turn the instant the first whistle is blown in what is today’s modern equivalent of Rome’s Coliseum. Bringing together the world for even a month does great things to help us avoid autonomously hurtling down a path of destruction, rather helping us serenely drive down the music-filled road to peace.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Another Round of Blossoming Moon Shots!

Flowers are in bloom all around the Chelsea Flower Show this week, with the masses strolling down from Sloane Square to marvel at some of the elaborate displays of nature’s greatest colour show. Although definitely full of colourful characters, things are not so lovely and pompous around the geopolitical scene at present…Turbulence abounds! We’ve just seen Putin succeed in his negotiations with the Chinese to conclude a massive ($450bn over 30 years) gas deal..Prince Charles also helpfully and ever-so-subtly comparing him to Hitler in recent conversation…no abating of tension between Western influence in Ukraine trying to counter the perceived threat of Russian Soviet-era manoeuvres, continued volatility in global markets as some rise to new record highs (US) others seem stagnated (Japan) and a muddle of indications making for difficult interest rate decisions (Eurozone)…and..stop admission that the Mediterranean diet’s mix of olive oil, salad and plenty of fish…is indeed healthy..thanks for the confirmation! Nowhere seems safe, disease-spreading mosquitoes are threatening southern Europe and moving into the UK, even a report on bird migration sadly implicates modern day buildings in causing mass in-flight-deaths-by collision due to confusing reflections from an abundance of glass window panes. Stop checking yourselves out birds..vanity is a sin!  

What do Chelsea flower displays, Google’s founders and the likes of Elon Musk have in common? Well..the human attribute of putting on something special and trying to amaze and delight for the benefit of others. Dream big, reach beyond your grasp, push it to the limit, go beyond the comfort zone - all adages intended to keep an individual aspiring to greatly ambitious goals and aims. The current (newly-recycled) moniker for such “out there” enterprises by a budding generation of well-meaning and extremely well-funded philanthropic adventurers…“Moon Shots”. When you consider that Google is the world’s most valuable brand…once again taking the top spot after losing out to Apple for the last few years and with notably almost 80% of firms that dominate the 100 most valuable brands being either US or European…one might suggest that it is the “right thing” for such a highly regarded and financially powerful firm to create inspiration for a new generation (the same way the likes of Rockefeller and Carnegie did in the early 1900s). Without inspirational leadership and dreams being turned into reality by determined groups with limitless resources, much of the innovation witnessed in the 20th Century would likely not have been realised…certainly not in such a compressed time (some may predictably argue the “creative destruction” of two atrocious World Wars here – and they would be correct). From industrial production techniques to aviation, home comforts to nowadays commonplace breakthroughs in power production and medicine, the world owes plenty to the altruistic and wondrous characters that have never accepted “no” for an answer and dared to dream big for us all. We pin our hopes and those of humanity on a new generation of hoody-wearing Moon-Shot protagonists now.

Whereas a wonderfully creative flower display will elicit delight and surprise for some, wildly aspirational space travel dreams and re-usable rocket schemes (such as those touted by the Space X and Virgin Galactic endeavours), carry the dreams of bringing space to the masses and - maybe a little more down-to-earth, the next generation of air-travellers. Just as those A380s are being equipped with totally legitimate mile high clubs (have a look at Etihad’s enticing double bed in its new Residences class!) the new pioneers of our time are thinking about travelling from Hong Kong to New York in a flash – under 2hours to be more precise. That would be incredible. It has been long known that flight through the stratosphere (where the air is at its thinnest) and taking advantage of the earth’s natural rotation would allow for the longest flight routes to be made in relative blink-of-the-eye time. With Elon Musk’s Space X recent successful Falcon 9 soft-landing taking massive strides towards the space-travel market, Richard Branson’s dreams appear more commercially (not to mention savvy)-minded, as his Virgin Galactic works towards a new revolution of earth-bound travel. is one of a number of truly inspirational movements that expresses the best of what we might still have to offer as a people. We need something bigger than the everyday mundane to be reminded that we are all in this together. We need inspiration through seemingly outlandish undertakings that belong in the realm of science-fiction…and we’re not talking about attempts to modernise the classic Star Wars saga here for Episode VII…even though bringing back Harrison Ford’s beloved Han Solo a masterstroke by JJ Abrams…we’re talking of fact changing, all-consuming, dream reaching innovation. Crazy to think you might one day take a day-trip to the moon, lunch whilst gazing down on Earth and return home? Catch an asteroid and extract its abundance of precious materials? problem for these energetic modern-day Carnegies.

If man doesn’t think big and think for others, taking advantage of their own vast resources just as Carnegie, Rockefeller and other great pioneers of previous generations did (brining us innumerable advances in modern technology), we would never truly develop. The current crop of “Moon Shotters” are daringly and wonderously striving to create an entire new movement of like-minded and unselfishly motivated pioneers. One only has to look at the massive leaps modern surgery has made in the last 10 years to appreciate the meaningful applications of constant thirst for discovery and advancement.

Some are far too short-term minded when it comes to these matters. True that China has had thousands of years of history in leadership and we are maybe past the peak of the US Empire, yet there is always time for more. We are not in the same world order. People are now connected. We are almost a collective conscience. The weight of this collective conscience is overwhelmingly good..rather than being led by a few who try to do good (or we at least judge as good) the masses can now use the herd-mentality to achieve outsized results by taking inspiration from those worth admiring. Through YouTube, Twitter and other forms of social media, a breakthrough in deepest rural China can be immediately transposed for the greater dissemination and benefit of all. Technology we have created in the last 50 years should, if handled correctly and by discerning characters, provide immeasurably exciting innovations over the next 50 years. Embarrassingly, even with all this wonderful technology and incredible will-of-development with such outlandish desire, human error has led to France’s snazzy new trains being too-wide for the majority of stations they will have to squeeze through! The reason? Measurements provided by the railway operator passed onto the train constructors only took into account stations built in the last 30yrs, forgetting the older, significantly narrower platforms. A dismal lack of historical knowledge and a simple yet hugely consequential kink-in-the-human-armour proving a costly mistake here. Would be hard-pressed to describe those engineers as Moon-Shot enthusiasts, more apt…maybe Shot-in-the-foot.

Back to the Chelsea flower show and as I look out of the window observing the stream of visitors to indulge upon its wonderful natural creations, a reminder of how the simple things in life often stimulate the most joy. The average age of these visitors seems to be on the north side of 60, yet they still manage to consume over 1,000 bottles of champagne (just a quiet night of clubbing for most Russian and Arab St Tropez party-goers) and tellingly over 16,000 cups of tea (anything extra put in there from bring-your-own care home flasks we think?!). The Brits are truly great at putting on such traditional shows- not even the weather can spoil..well…not too much at least. Despite Prince Charles causing an international political uproar with his “witty” Putin-directed jibe, he did succeed in getting his way with the neighbouring Qatari-owned project at the Chelsea Barracks, successfully delaying the beginning of construction after boisterously opposing plans for the massive luxury-development. Construction permission has finally been granted and we now all await the classy and cultured new inhabitants - will they be drinking tea or champagne at the flower show next year…hmmm?

As our impressive Moon Shot pioneers preach, it’s not enough to be replicating what others are doing, you have to have to be at the tip of the pinnacle, staring into the unknown. Show me something more unknown than deep space exploration and I’ll tip my tipsy-flowery-hat to you!

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Layercake London

When is cake worth £183m? wonderful London of course..splendidly expensive London that is..the city where he that is bored of it must be bored of life…walking around with one eye on the calendar, counting his non-dom-res days. Where the great and good come to see and be seen. Full of culture, history and plenty of billionaires..72 at last count, they may be neither cultured nor have moral histories, but they’re here. From multi-billion-pound overtures by US firms à la Pfizer/AstraZeneca, record numbers of Big-Ben gazing tourists (16.8m in 2013..topping Paris..sacré bleu!), battles to expand an over-stretched Heathrow (recently overtaken by Dubai’s monster-hub) and talk now by the Bank of England that interest rates my rise within a year due to the strengthening economy (next year’s forecast increased from 2.7% to 2.9%  growth), a multitude of factors are converging on this increasingly strained, yet somehow still effectively functioning Uber-app-loving bastion of wealth. From homes in a rather ugly apartment building overlooking Hyde Park (selling for £160m now), to newly-built mansions on Bishop’s Avenue swiftly-selling at £22m (can you spot the one moving money out of an iffy jurisdiction?) everything is increasing in price as this safe-haven for those that have made it - and others looking at them wondering how they made it - continues to grow in allure, further cementing itself as truly the world’s capital.

Five years after the height of the financial crisis in the UK, as if on cue, official figures show the number of people out of work in the UK fell to a fresh five-year low of 2.2 million. The jobless rate has also fallen to a five-year low of 6.8% and the number of people in work risen to 30.4million, the highest since records began in 1971, helped by an increase in self-employment. Not surprising really, when taken in the context of a humble-cake maker’s beginning in 1920s Soho to the omnipresent brainchild of a maestro (Luke Johnson) of Halal-Chicken selling pizzeria (his Pizza Express empire)…Patisserie Valerie is to be valued at £183m when it floats on London’s AIM. No issues with Halal doughnuts there! Despite not being a part of the 26-member Shengen and causing endless headaches for especially Chinese tourists that have to endure another arduous application-process to buy even more LV handbags..oopps..meant to get into the UK..everyone seems to want to enjoy a slice-of-cake in London at the moment (particularly delicious at Conticini’s Marlyebone “Reve”!).
London has always been regarded as one of the true melting pots of the world. In today’s fast-paced ever-changing environment of tech and constant movement caused by FOMO (the annoyingly artificial yet incredibly motivating Fear Of Missing Out) it seems the city is entirely re-inventing itself virtually every month – from new exhibitions to trendy hotel openings (three in the last quarter, with more to come) and hot restaurants with three month waiting lists (easily broken into with a smoothly executed note-filled handshake), every major chain-owner and successful leisure venture wants a piece of the London-pie. Yes the media causes much of this foofaraw, yet is it simply reacting to the consumer/Twitter led fashion-setters or working to generate it? No one seems to know anymore whether the the dog is doing the tail-wagging or…
As is of often the case in such societies where the extremely rich rub shoulders side-by-side with an open and frequently blood-thirsty liberal media, some are watching those enjoying the fruits of their labour with a somewhat envious and (only slightly) overly-cynical eye, labelling the excesses of London’s Mayfair lifestyle as the Vulgaratti (whether or not they actually wear the brand from whence that lovely description is derived). Some can be excused for taking out their wit and economic frustration on those that do enjoy showing juuuuust a little too much…is it really necessary for some London-dwellers to travel around in a cavalcade and human-shield contingent larger than that of a recently visiting US John Kerry?...but that is exactly what makes London so interesting – there’s always a bigger fish sitting within spitting distance. There are the fish that like to splash about and generate waves…intent on being noticed…others more content (and subjectively more classy) to remain skimming beneath the surface, having learnt that those that should know who they are..well..they already know. Oh the joy in witnessing the embarrassed facial expression of a questionable “wanna-be” come face-to-face with the most feared peer in the ocean, a true blue whale, swimming with power rather than simply ostentatious wealth. 

Respect for power is always greater than the adoration of wealth. Once again it is that developing dichotomy of ultra-modern-wealth – ultimately the more you have..the more you begin to want more of less. Less crowds, less fluff, less of everything in everyway except the way you want it. There is a reason exclusive destinations, homes and and hard-to-find products (known to economist as Giffen goods) are more in demand the heftier their price-tag. Yes, that means people want to buy something more the more expensive it is (Cristal champagne were quick to notice this when they increased their prices by just enough to pip Dom Perignon to the top of most establishment’s lists – understanding the psychological trend of prancing in and exclaiming “bring me the most expensive bottle you have!”). Quality amidst the exclusive set is no longer a paradox of being simply unattainably exclusive by some, it must be unreachable by all others but them.

London also offers that. You want to sit at home in your private cinema room, far away from the masses as possible, in your 20metres- -below-earth’s-surface-bunker whilst watching the latest episode of the effervescent and nail-hitting-every-time “Have I got New For You”? – so be it. Or do you want to head to one of the plethora of private members’ clubs (that somehow always seem to capitulate the “private” part and let everyone in at 11pm) surrounded by an entourage of suspect looking “friends” eager to drink as much of the bar-tab your monthly account can handle, stopping only for the glare of flashing paparazzis with a mock expression of “please don’t put me in the Daily Mail tomorrow”  - nooo.,.of course not..not before your PR manager has had a chance to carefully vet and touch-up the photo first, naturally darling. How else does an (admittedly fantastically fun) restaurant in a not-so-trendy area become one of the most popular destinations by word-of-mouth - well nothing is word of mouth really when a simple tap of a screen connects you to 1 million followers that you will never meet nor mouth anything to in the true sense of the word - Chiltern Firehouse, you know who you are.

Does all this in-your-face excess and joyful living bring with it a sense of increased danger as well? A recent incident in a top-notch 5 star hotel in Knightsbridge (that was not made public) saw a visiting guest have a dress stolen right from the closet it was hanging in, only to be told by hotel staff to “prove it” - well, there’s a notion of guilty until proven innocent clumsily mixed with an incredulous lack of customer service nor appreciation of an influentially negative TripAdvisor review. Power was always in the hands of the customer, now it is in a million customer hands…in an instant. The overall crime trend has been confirmed as falling in London however and these incidents are thankfully more rare than common –for now. Further discussions this week of rising animosity towards the super-island of wealth that London represents in an otherwise more modestly recovering nation making headlines, however the boiling-masses have not begun to spill out of their increasingly boisterous UKIP-pans quite yet.

From start-ups to world-class conglomerates, London not only offers a geographically superior locale for its workforce and ambitions, it offers a near-perfect and malleable combination and balance of the work/life divide. Yes there are often hiccups (at this point you mention the weather..although there are those that appreciate the rain!)..nowhere is perfect..and there are many other cities around that are great to live in, as diverse and culturally varied this world is, yet London is arguably in a league of its own at just being..well..great. Few places exist where such an amalgamation easily blends and truly mixes – where other cities profess diverse ethnic melting-pots yet in reality express close-knit clans only mixing during the day, London effortlessly glides through. 

In a city where the biggest discussion topic one encounters in-an-always-magnificently-educational-black-cab-ride is either the weather or latest celebrity sighting, allowing those that can to tightly-embrace all the city has to offer, is almost also worth putting up with seemingly diamond-encrusted desserts.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Capitalism’s AlibabaMad Men

Don Draper stares at the menacing IBM360, a massive room-filling monstrosity, bringing as much fear and loathing as a real beast of violence might elicit. He menacingly mumbles to the new-tech salesman “I know what your game is..the best game since the beginning of time”. Despite being slightly (errrm..yeah..only slightly Don) inebriated and worse for was the 60s in NYC after-all..the scene depicted is quite telling given the latest tech revolution (now Alibaba’s announcement of what may be the world’s largest ever IPO) and talk once more of inequality in the capitalist world, as exemplified in the widely-reviewed and variously digested “Capitalism In the 21st Century” by Thomas Pikkety. The only thing more surprising that the economics tome tops’s bestsellers list, that the author of the book half the US is devouring is..French! Oh la la…What about those freedom fries now huh all you swooning intellectuals in Boston? Seems we are more egalité when times are tough. So what do Mad Men’s protagonist Don Draper, Monsieur Pikkety and Alibaba have in common that we might extrapolate from? Let’s find out…

I’m not going to pretend I have read Pikkety’s book yet (I doubt most of those ranting and raving on the net in either support or opposition have done so either) but the general message is that return on capital has outstripped economic growth in the last few years to such an extent that the level of inequality we have reached is again closer to the point of pre-war haves and have nots (the Economist has a great “pretend like you’ve read it” article for most to content themselves with). These are of course themes that have been discussed on this very blog in many shapes and forms and it is intriguingly a sign-of-our-times to see such an economics book that doesn’t glorify drug-dealing statistics for the benefit of hype (you know who you are Freakonomics guys) rise to the very top of the Bestseller list. Where did it all start and how have the “haves” accumulated such capital prowess in the first instance? One must extrapolate that in times of harsh post-war rebuilding, those that have moved the fastest and accumulated the most (like savvy land-buyers in bombed out Central London in 1947) then profit handsomely when the next downturn occurs – paradoxical to the masses but a trait of unequal growth and sheer expression of the old-age business lesson rich grandparents preach by the fireside “buy land and own things”.

Don’s point in the latest episode of Mad Men - a fantastic series that provides a window to the past, allowing us to explore what has brought us to this particular consumption-age through the psychological evolution of one point he is asked..”does advertising work?” his reply..”on some people”…surely outdated now given most tech-firm’s valuations and other media-conglomerates are based on little more than potential advertising works on ALL of us - is the replacement of people and human thinking by machines. A powerful message when we analyse the incredible revolution of what has essentially been psychological warfare by the increasingly tech-ed up and analytical advertising world. We have not quite yet neared the realms of such insightful and thought-provoking movies exploring the worlds of self-aware (hence autonomous thinking) machines such as “Her’, however there are now swelling indications of a new generation advancing stage of the tech-revolution, with the rise of problem-solving machines and the cutting-edge industrial revolution of 3D Printing – sitting at home and ordering up a new pair of sneakers from Alibaba will mean literally having them “glued together” by a whizzing machine sitting on your desktop – wrong size sir? Let’s make it again..instantly. 

What would that mean for the last 50 years of progress the developing world has enjoyed through the out-sourcing of labour intensive manufacturing processes to feed the rich-world’s consumption glut? Entire new industries will have to be invented to digest surplus manpower the world will experience. A new paradigm begins.

Nuggets of wisdom can be found in the most obscure (not to mention entertaining) places. Would it be too much of a stretch to suggest that the constant desire and want of consumerism whipped up by the deluge of manipulative advertising/branding has significantly contributed to the capitalist world that Pikkety suggests must be taxed in almost punitive measure? When you analyse the proportion of spend by the have-nots on non-essential products (i.e. luxury items), a picture of the masses giving to the few that control those very products adds to the re-allocation of wealth - booms in real-estate and other outsized capital generating assets are supported by the decline of labour intensive industries replaced by the humble computer - machines allow the few to do the work of many..the few end up earning more and the many are left to struggle as the few grow and grow. Seems if you miss out on this evolutionary tract at an early stage, there exists little hope of catching-up.

Unless you are the founder of Alibaba that is. A humble teacher, Jack Ma first saw a computer in 1995 when visiting Seattle and after experiencing the pleasures of going “online” (one wonders what his first page visits where?!) Jack returned to China, where - luckily for him and a few other soon to be multi-billionaires (Japan’s Softbank too…in a rare example of Sino-Japan mingling) – he mimicked the best of what the West had to offer in this new online world for his own China backyard. It is a classic example of a regional need being filled by a savvy entrepreneur in the right place at the right time. Jack is a thinking man’s philanthropic billionaire at least, already pledging to give away half his fortune before it has even been monetised. It is also a frighteningly exhilarating example of the growth of the tech-industry amidst the world’s most populous nation. 

Even Alibaba only has one-third of China’s population as its client base (c.250m at last count) for now, yet that number is larger than its top-three major rivals combined in the West. The immensity of the rise of the machine in a nation where most still live off the land is the surest sign of Pikkety’s worry of inequality. It seems those moving onwards are benefiting from outsized returns in all shapes and sizes. Mobile commerce is the next big thing in China. Where once Jack Ma had to look to Seattle for ideas to kick-start his own empire, we will likely soon be replicating in London, Paris and New York whatever Alibaba’s mobile platform innovates. Hold on though, where does Alibaba makes most of its revenues from? guessed it..from Don Draper’s wonderfully sharp, subconsciously alluring advertising brilliance.

What of the danger of sensationalism and the herding mentality?  We all know that crowds can cause strange and abnormal behaviour. Everyone reading the same thing and being taken in by one line that the world’s rich are too evily rich and must be taxed to hell, is itself a dangerous development if not correctly measured. With the age of instant-viral, misunderstandings of the current economic environment may have significant (unforeseen and mostly unintended) consequences akin to Karl Marx’s publication of his own seminal work on capitalism. One aspect of Pikkety’s book that is not covered alas, is the correlation between war and inequality. Again, this worrying link has been discussed by the more astute since the first signs of the economic meltdown in 2008. We have witnessed the warning signals; Arab Spring, African tensions, increasing city riots and returning nationalistic tendencies a la Putin. Periods of massive inequality in the recent past led to two world-wars..further back we’ve seen countless clashes befalling empires from ancient China to Persia and even the demise of the Roman empire came at a peek of social inequality, despite its still unrivalled military might…did the rich simply become toooo rich?

Let’s hope most take a note out of Don’s advertising book and like he, when his creative thinking room is reconstructed for the IBM360, rather than let the pressure get to him and fight the advance, decide to pop out for a “working lunch” at 11.15am.