Longreads + Open Thread
Confucius, Libra, Tech and War, Russian Gas, OSINT, Ryanair
Peter Wei of Palladium on Confucius and the Whistleblower. Whistleblowers are important, and they're sympathetic because of the power asymmetry between a single person and a big (and misbehaving) institution. But there's also an asymmetry in the other direction: they're able to come up with a narrative and to release information that aligns with that narrative—something that was a hypothetical in one context becomes a concrete plan in another, for example, or internal debates on uncertain outcomes turn into retroactive admissions of error. What this piece focuses on is what the prospective whistleblower ought to do, and on how they can use their position well.
Hannah Murphy and Kiran Stacey at the FT have an in-depth look at what went wrong with Facebook's Libra/Diem project ($). There's a great contrast here between the big tech company that remained willing to try risky new projects ("It’s a really big company and taking really big risks is hard... To give Facebook credit, the leadership was very receptive and very open. I didn’t have anyone say no, at least to meeting and brainstorming.") and the more risk-conscious partners and regulators they ran into problems with. One lesson from this for other companies is that if they're trying to launch new products and retain the perception that they're innovative, it's best to do something where the chats with regulators and the Congressional hearings occur well after the fact, rather than as a precondition to launch. (For earlier thoughts on Facebook's efforts, see this piece I wrote in Palladium in November 2019.
Ben Thompson at Stratechery on Tech and War. This is a piece you'll want to bookmark. Part of the model here is that complex supply chains pass through many countries, which can have differing views on geopolitical events. In general these complex supply chains support a lot of market value and GDP growth somewhere along the line. So any military conflict or escalation has a disproportionate effect on such companies. On the plus side, these companies hire the sorts of people who plan for many, many contingencies. So the best pilots are flying in the worst turbulence.
Der Spiegel has a look at Germany's dependency on Russian gas, and the country's alternatives. It's easy to forget that, inclusive of exploration, refining, and power production, fossil fuel investment totals roughly $800bn annually, much of which is just what it costs to maintain the current supply. Building alternatives is a lengthy process. There are exceptions to that, naturally; the US once built a 1,254 mile pipeline in 414 days, and that was with 1940s construction technology, but also 1940s state capacity.
Rest of World's Leo Schwartz has a great piece on how online analysts are piecing together public information to track the war. There has always been a population of nerds out there who like to know every detail about military equipment and tactics, but until recently it's been hard for them to scale that knowledge up in a public-facing way. This can sometimes be very powerful (note the timestamp here, though it naturally requires some filtering.
Ryanair: The Full Story of the Controversial Low-Cost Airline: I've noted before that the airline industry attracts better quality management than its economics really justify. It's still surprising that the most interesting airline executive was originally trained as an accountant, and that his first interaction with the airline he currently runs was to suggest that it get shut down. Ryanair is worth understanding because there are probably other industries where a persistent decline in costs can stimulate a lot more demand, and it's a demonstration of just how relentless you have to be to keep costs going in that direction.
Drop in any links or comments of interest to Diff readers.
What I've been thinking about lately: fewer wheat exports and higher natural gas prices are already pushing food prices up. How will governments and the private sector respond? What's an inconvenience to the developing world's middle class is starvation risk to the bottom third of the global income distribution.
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