Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Return of Bricks & Mortar

I do a lot of reading.  Biographies are my subject of choice because no matter how historically trivial or famous, everyone has a story.  And if you pay attention, you can learn a lot -- and save yourself a ton of heartache -- by listening to them tell those stories.

The biggest lesson common to all of those stories is that life changes a lot faster than you think.

At the moment, I'm absorbing the stories of people who lived in the last half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.  That's a hugely dynamic period of American history.  John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, was born before Abraham Lincoln was elected president, but by the time he died, radio, telephones, motion pictures, airplanes, steam engines, automobiles, the War Between the States, the first world war and a host of other medical, industrial and technological inventions had come into existence, irrevocably changing every single American's way of life in a fairly short amount of time.   In just a few decades, horses and buggies gave way to cars and airplanes.  Gasoline, once considered a nuisance byproduct of kerosene refineries, provided the foundation for billion dollar fortunes.  Everything got better.  Everything went faster.

We've just gotten through a similar period.

Just a few decades ago, there was no internet. No social media. No point and click. No overnight delivery.  Telephones had rotary dials and most retail stores were closed on Sundays -- often on Saturdays, as well.

That all changed by 1998, however, when the internet got real, drastically changing the way humans interacted with businesses and each other.  Everyone and everything functioned on a 24/7  basis.  Corporate productivity and profit took huge leaps.  Stuff got cheaper. Stuff went faster.

Not everyone did so well, though.  Many commercial establishments blamed the "low-overhead" internet for their inability to sustain their "higher overhead" brick and mortar operations.  The online marketplace, they claimed, destroyed a lot of brick and mortar brands.

Nice excuses. None of it true -- especially now.

Brick and mortar is not only sustainable, but as of this writing, it's highly likely to flourish once again.  The reason is simple, but not one you'll find on any corporate balance sheet or in some self-appointed guru's latest best seller.

As of 2017, it's been nearly 20 years since the internet changed our ways of life.  Two decades is a short time to those who remember gas selling for 28 cents a gallon.  But it's a lifetime to a young, twenty-something adult who's never known anything other than pointing and clicking at a sterile, blue-tinged screen as the way to get through life.  Ask any young person about their frustrations, pressures and disappointments with the online world -- social media in particular -- and see how they respond.  I have.  They all report back the same answers:

Ineffective. Empty.  Pointless.

Okay, so maybe none of this is new you.  But here's something that might be:  The internet has created billions of very lonely people yearning for the human experience, which is precisely why bricks and mortar will come roaring back -- sooner than you think.

At this writing, we're going on three generations of social atomization, with the internet enabling billions of recluses to not socialize, as long as they use Facebook, Twitter and whatever other app is going IPO this week.  billions of posers are spending more time presenting their lives than actually living them, dying daily in their digital cocoons.

What these kids need is a place to go in real time to experience other living, warm, breathing humans.  They don't care what.  They don't care where.  It just has to be someplace real, where they can connect with other people.  And that's where bricks and mortar come in.  Mark my words, the re-emergence of totally analog retail environments is not too far off.  I'm not prognosticating a return of Sears or Woolworth or the local mall.   I'm talking about places and spaces with non-alcoholic activities incorporated into destinations whose primary purpose to shareholders may be revenues, but whose not-so-subtle agenda is to provide a gathering space with just enough purpose to drive shy, socially-ignorant millennials out into the real-time sunshine of social situations.

That's where the big money is going to be.  In and around bricks and mortar.  Out there, away from the screens and under the blue summer sky, where she can drop her car keys by accident -- so that he can be there to pick them up.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Underestimating Trump's Health Plan

You'd think that by now, Americans would have learned from their mistakes.  In this very blog, back in July of 2015, I went on record with my conviction that Donald Trump could likely become the 45th president of the United States.  At the time, anyone and everyone dismissed my opinion, only to watch him inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States more than 18 months later.

At the time, the media and those who fancy themselves as quite knowledgeable, parroted each others' polls and opinions, promoting their confirmation biases based on outmoded, narrow thinking.  In the end, there was not a Bush or Clinton in sight.  As Britain's Nigel Farage is so fond of saying after Great Britain's BREXIT stunned the world in 2016, "You're not laughing now, are you?"

With all the shock and awe we've seen the world over since 2016, you'd think that people would finally understand that the political world no longer functions in the manner to which they've become accustomed.  There really is a new world order, but it's not the one the so-called "global elitists" had in mind.  The new reality was born with BREXIT, caught fire in the United States, and at the time of this writing, is about to strike heavy blows in France, Norway and Germany.  Hungary has already left the station and Poland isn't far behind.

Which brings us to the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, a favorite target of geniuses on both sides of the aisle, none of whom has seemed to learn their lessons from recent world history.

I wish that knee jerk reactionaries would take the time to understand what's really going on, as opposed to what they think is happening.  In the first place, this isn't a "Trump" plan; it's a Congressional proposal submitted for approval.  Like every other Congressional proposal, it's subject to modification and edits long before it reaches the President's desk.  

Second, it would help if the reactionaries had real jobs in the real world, which would help them understand that major changes in practices are always implemented in phases, with the simplest, most expeditious alterations are attempted first, followed by the gradual phasing in of more complicated, time-consuming issues.   In the business world, this is how things get done: You submit a plan, phase it in, and ensure a smooth transition.  In the academic world, nothing other than opining ever gets done, so I'm not surprised this is where their thought process stops.

Third, the crucial, more complicated phases of health care overhaul include the removal of state barriers that prevent real competition amongst service providers.  While it's been proven that removing barriers to competition lowers costs for consumers (which is why your insurance bill is lowered when you bundle car and home coverage with the same company), getting states to go along with that plan is not something that happens quickly.  States make a lot of money by ensuring their borders keep competitors out, so they're not likely to give up that province any time soon.  In the meantime, Trump's plan begins the process with some, but not all, parts in play.  In essence, Phase One is just that:  the first part of a multi-phase plan.

What happens next?  What, for example, if the states simply refuse to cooperate?

My guess is that the states will first be offered some sort of compensation for surrendering their borders against competition.  If they don't fall into line, I imagine the next step -- as is the case in this new world order -- would be the Federal government creating a new corporate classification of service providers which would be Federally chartered, granted the privilege of practicing throughout the United Staes and its territories.  As such, these providers' services would be available to any United States citizen or resident, regardless of physical location.  Located online and possibly headquartered in Washington, D.C., these Federally chartered service providers would be empowered to simply bypass the states via the internet, delivering more competition and lower costs that the administration promised.

In all likelihood, service providers would jump at the chance to lower their costs:  Ridding themselves of the compliance issues commanded by more than 50 states and territories, their costs of operation and administration would dramatically decrease, while online operations would integrate nicely into an environment of centralized electronic medical records.

All of this could -- or could not -- happen.  It all depends on whether you can see beyond what is set in front of you.  If you prefer to see the long-range realities, it makes a lot of sense,  If you prefer  the short-term political rhetoric, it might not.  Given the new world order, you have to ask yourself, "Does it sound unreasonable?"  Perhaps.

But in July of 2015, so did the phrase, "President Trump."