Quotulatiousness

July 26, 2016

Craft brewing has a growing trademark problem

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Techdirt, Timothy Geigner predicts that the craft beer market is getting close to trademark armageddon … they’re running out of punny names they can legally use for their beer:

With all the trademark actions we’ve seen taken these past few years that have revolved around the craft beer and distilling industries, it seems like some of the other folks in the mass media are finally picking up on what I’ve been saying for at least three years: the trademark apocalypse is coming for the liquor industries. It’s sort of a strange study in how an industry can evolve, starting as something artisan built on friendly competition and morphing into exactly the kind of legal-heavy, protectionist profit-beast that seems like the very antithesis of the craft brewing concept. And it should also be instructive as to how trademark law, something of the darling of intellectual properties in its intent if not application, can quickly become a major speed bump for what is an otherwise quickly growing market.

All of this appears to have caught the eye of Sara Randazzo, blogging at the Wall Street Journal, who notes that the creatively-named craft beers that have been spewing out of microbreweries across the country may be running out of those creative names.

    As today’s Wall Street Journal explores, legal disputes in the beer world are becoming the norm as new craft breweries spring up at a rate of roughly two per day. Trademark lawyers have gotten so used to the beer disputes that they are now turning on each other. Some dozen lawyers are contesting San Diego lawyer Candace Moon’s attempt to trademark the term “Craft Beer Attorney,” which she says she rightfully deserves.

Within the rest of the post, Randazzo highlights one dispute between craft brewers in order to give a sense of just how small these belligerent parties are. It’s a dispute that escaped even my radar, despite what has become something of my “beat” around Techdirt. Three professionals with day jobs decided to make a go at brewing craft beer and named their company Black Ops Brewing, the pun resting upon “hops” used in their beer, while also serving as a nod to their family members that served in the military. Three guys making beer, but the trademark dispute came almost immediately.

The problem is that once you’ve been granted a trademark, you have to defend it early and often or you’ll lose it. This means tiny companies with a couple of trademarked products are pretty much required to lawyer-up and threaten to go nuclear at the faintest hint of an infringement for fear they’ll lose the right that they’ve claimed. The gains from pursuing a possible infringement are usually tiny and the legal costs almost always outweigh any “winnings”, but the risks of not doing so are potentially huge. This is an example of a perverse incentive in law.

July 17, 2016

QotD: Regulating Napa County

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Quotations, USA, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… at each tour we typically got the whole backstory of the business. And the consistent theme that ran through all of these discussions was the simply incredible level of regulation of the wine business that goes on in Napa. I have no idea what the public justification of all these rules and laws are, but the consistent theme of them is that they all serve to make it very hard for small competitors or new entrants to do business in the county. There is a board, likely populated by the largest and most powerful entrenched wine makers, that seems to control the whole regulatory structure, making this a classic case of an industry where you have to ask permission of your competitors to compete against them. There are minimum sizes, in acres, one must have to start a new winery, and this size keeps increasing. Recently, large winemakers have started trying to substantially raise this number again to a size greater than the acreage of any possible available parcel of land, effectively ending all new entrants for good. I forget the exact numbers, but one has to have something like 40 acres of land as a minimum to build a structure on the land, and one must have over 300 acres to build a second structure. You want to buy ten acres and build a small house and winery to try your hand at winemaking? — forget it in Napa.

It took a couple of days and a bunch of questions to put this together. Time and again the guide would say that the (wealthy) owners had to look and wait for a long time to find a piece of land with a house on it. I couldn’t figure out why the hell this was a criteria — if you are paying millions for the land, why are you scared to build a house? But it turned out that they couldn’t build a house. We were at this beautiful little place called Gargiulo and they said they bought their land sight-unseen on 3 hours notice for millions of dollars because it had a house AND a separate barn on it grandfathered. Today, it was impossible to get acreage of the size they have and build two structures on it, but since they had the barn, they could add on to it (about 10x the original size of the barn) to build the winery and still have a separate house to live in.

This is why the Napa Valley, to my eye, has become a weird museum of rich people. It seems to be dominated by billionaires who create just fantastically lovely showplaces that produce a few thousand cases of wine that is sold on allocation for 100+ dollars a bottle to other rich people. It is spectacularly beautiful to visit — seriously, each tasting room and vineyard is like a post card, in large part because the owners are rich enough to care nothing about return on capital invested in their vineyards. The vineyards in Napa seem to have some sort of social signalling value which I don’t fully understand, but it is fun to visit for a few days. But in this set-piece, the last thing the folks who control the county want is for grubby little middle-class startups to mess up their carefully crafted stage, so they are effectively excluded.

I know zero about wines, but from other industries this seems to be a recipe for senescence. It would surprise me not at all to see articles get written 10 years from now about how Napa wines have fallen behind other, more innovative areas. I have never been there, but my friends say newer areas like Paso Robles has an entirely different vibe, with working owners on small plots trying to a) actually make a viable business of it and b) innovate and try new approaches.

Warren Meyer, “My Nomination for Corporate State of the Year: Napa County, California”, Coyote Blog, 2016-07-08.

July 13, 2016

Thirty years of corporate anti-harassment training has made no difference at all

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Amy Alkon on the not-very-surprising discovery of a recent US government Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study that after three decades of corporate anti-harassment training, no discernable difference in workplace harassment can be detected:

Anti-Harassment Training Doesn’t Work

But let’s keep it up so we can feel like we’re doing something. (More on that below.)

By the way, as I’ve written before, referencing the work of evolutionarily-driven law professor Kingsley Browne, men give each other shit — in the workplace and as a way of competing with each other.

Sure, there’s a point at which this can become toxic, but if you can’t take a joke or a bit of teasing, maybe you need to strengthen up so you can make it in the work world, as opposed to demanding that the work world conform to nursery school niceness standards.

Then again, you can always stay home and just care for the kiddies while your spouse braves those, “Hey, nice pants, dude!” jokes.

By the way, men’s competitiveness comes out of evolved sex differences — how men are the warriors (and competitors) of the species and are comfortable in competition with each other and with hierarchies in a way women are not.

Sex differences research Joyce Benenson explains that women group in “dyads” — twos — and are covert competitors, engaging in sniping and casting out any women who seem to stand out as better than the rest. (Women seem to have evolved to show vulnerabilities rather than strengths to other women in order to show they are trustworthy — which may be why women tend to be apologizers and put themselves down.)

July 8, 2016

Leonard G. Lee, 1938-2016

Filed under: Business, Cancon — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 13:21

Leonard Lee obituaryClick to read full obituary at the Lee Valley website

June 30, 2016

Do Unions Raise Wages?

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 7 Apr 2015

Do unions raise wages for workers as a whole? If not, can unions raise the wages of some workers? The answer is, well, it depends. Unions have the ability to restrict the supply of labor to a job, which can increase wages for some workers. However, unions can also lower wages. For example, work stoppages and strikes supported by unions can slow down economic growth, lowering real wages. To illustrate this, we take a look at what happened to Great Britain’s economy during the 1970’s union strikes.

It’s important to note that unions are not just about wages — they can be helpful in protecting workers from arbitrary abuses and maintaining positive workplace relationships.

Finally, we ask — are there differences between professional associations and unions? How are they similar? Watch to learn more about how unions affect the economy.

JC Penney tries to supersize their clothing market

Filed under: Business, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The US clothing retailer recently launched a new campaign aimed at a larger target market:

You can see the commercial logic, of course. America’s obese population is growing — both numerically and horizontally — and JC Penney sells clothes. Someone has made the brilliant decision to market this once-respected brand to women who wear fumigation tents as prom dresses, and who think of Cool Ranch Doritos as a food group.

In fact, realizing how easy it is to sell to fat women I might announce a line of tea biscuits called “Milo’s Virtuous Snacks” with inspirational quotes on the boxes, such as, “You’re amazing even though you ate the whole pizza,” and, “Don’t worry that your left arm is numb, that’s just your FIERCE shining through.”

They’re $19.95 for a box of 10, but you can’t put a price on a woman’s self esteem or wellbeing. Well, JC Penney has I suppose, but my point is I too can profit from your inevitable painful death via type 2 diabetes, alone in your married sister’s attic. Of course I’m a fair bit cleverer than JC Penney: fattening up these cows will just create inventory for my other business — safari parks.

(I’m lobbying to make it legal to hunt any man over 20% body fat. But only with tranquilizer darts — I’m not a monster.)

In the long run though, this sort of business strategy doesn’t work. JC Penney is joining the ranks of consumer products companies following a bizarrely quixotic business model — help your customers feel good about themselves until they drop dead from obesity-related illnesses. The problem? When they die, they stop buying your XXXL clothing.

June 27, 2016

The twisted incentive system for government bureaucrats

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Coyote Blog, Warren Meyer explains why bureaucrats so often make what appear to be incomprehensible decisions and then double-down on the decision despite any irrational, economically destructive, or humanitarian consequences:

I want to take an aside here on incentives. It is almost NEVER the case that an organization has no incentives or performance metrics. Yes, it is frequently the case that they may not have clear written formal metrics and evaluations and incentives. But every organization has informal, unwritten incentives. Sometimes, even when there are written evaluation procedures, these informal incentives dominate.

Within government agencies, I think these informal incentives are what matter. Here are a few of them:

  1. Don’t ever get caught having not completed some important form or process step or having done some bureaucratic function incorrectly.
  2. Don’t ever get caught not knowing something you are supposed to know in your job.
  3. Don’t ever say yes to something (a project, a permit, a program, whatever) that later generates controversy, especially if this controversy gets the attention of your boss’s boss.
  4. Don’t ever admit a mistake or weakness of any sort to someone outside the organization.
  5. Don’t ever do or support anything that would cause the agency’s or department’s budget to be cut or headcount to be reduced.

You ever wonder why government agencies say no to everything and make it impossible to do new things? Its not necessarily ideology, it’s their incentives. They get little or no credit for approving something that works out well, but the walls come crashing down on them if they approve something that generates controversy.

So consider the situation of the young twenty-something woman across the desk from me at, say, the US Forest Service. She is probably reasonably bright, but has had absolutely no relevant training from the agency, because a bureaucracy will always prefer to allocate funds so that it has 50 untrained people rather than 40 well-trained people (maintaining headcount size will generally be prioritized over how well the organization performs on its mission). So here is a young person with no training, who is probably completely out of her element because she studied forestry or environment science and desperately wanted to count wolves but now finds herself dumped into a job dealing with contracts for recreation and having to work with — for God sakes — for-profit companies like mine.

One program she has to manage is a moderately technical process for my paying my concession fees in-kind with maintenance services. She has no idea how to do this. So she takes her best guess from materials she has, but that guess is wrong. But she then sticks to that answer and proceeds to defend it like its the Alamo. I know the process backwards and forwards, have run national training sessions on it, have literally hundreds of contract-years of experience on it, but she refuses to acknowledge any suggestion I make that she may be wrong. I coined the term years ago “arrogant ignorance” for this behavior, and I see it all the time.

But on deeper reflection, while it appears to be arrogance, what else could she do given her incentives? She can’t admit she doesn’t know or wasn’t trained (see #2 and #4 above). She can’t acknowledge that I might be able to help her (#4). Having given an answer, she can’t change it (#1).

June 26, 2016

The Micklethwait Alpha

Filed under: Business, Government, Liberty — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Feb 2013

Brian Micklethwait describes a hypothesis of his regarding the overall effects of state intervention as compared to market liberalisations.

This topic is discussed in greater depth here: http://libertarianhome.co.uk/2013/02/…

(Linked yesterday, but too good not to get its own posting.)

June 25, 2016

Canada’s massively counter-productive protectionist racket

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At (of all places) the CBC, Neil Macdonald explains why the Canadian government maintains a ridiculously low limit on what Canadians can purchase from other countries without packages being subject to duty, tax, delay, and possible damage:

As any Canadian who’s ever naively bought anything on the American version of eBay (or, for that matter, any U.S. retail website) must by now know, Ottawa is determined to spoil your bargain.

If the purchase is a penny over $20 Cdn, a federal customs agent can intercept it, open it, delay it, add federal and provincial sales taxes, and, depending on the origin of the merchandise, perhaps pile on some duty charges — basically protectionist taxes.

By the time the government is done, the price of the package can easily rise by 50 per cent. And of course customs brokers usually have to wet their beaks, inflating the final cost of the average package by another 20, 30 or 40 per cent.

Basically, Ottawa has ensured that shipping across our border is such an expensive, paperwork-heavy pain that a lot of American merchants and eBay sellers simply don’t bother shipping to Canada.

The system actually seems designed to be burdensome and sclerotic.

Normally, you’d assume it’s all about increasing the federal government’s tax revenues … the CRA must be raking in the bucks, right? Not at all:

… by keeping that purchase threshold at $20 instead of giving Canadian shoppers a break and raising it to $80, Ottawa spends about $166 million to collect $39 million in additional taxes and duties.

Think about that: Ottawa’s customs officials spend a net $127 million of taxpayers’ money annually, basically to keep Canadians trapped inside the Canadian retail corral.

H/T to SDA for the link.

June 18, 2016

QotD: The origin of the push for a minimum wage

Filed under: Business, Economics, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Few policies have origins as ugly as that of the minimum wage. “Progressive” intellectuals in the early 20th century supported the minimum wage because they believed it to be an effective policy detergent to help cleanse the gene pool of ‘undesirables.’ By pricing low-skilled, ‘undesirable’ workers out of jobs, ‘undesirables’ are less likely to successfully pro-create and to immigrate. The fact that the minimum wage, by pricing ‘undesirables’ out of work, thereby artificially raises the incomes of white workers was considered to be an added benefit of this social-engineering device.

Business owners and labor unions in higher-wage regions of the United States supported the minimum wage because it would dampen the competition they were under from businesses and workers in lower-wage regions of the United States.

The ethics of these early supporters of the minimum wage were despicable. But say this much for these racist, protectionist creeps: they understood economics better than do many people today (including some economists) who believe either that the law of demand is uniquely inoperative in the market for low-skilled workers or that the American market for low-skilled workers is monopsonized.* Each belief is as inexplicable as it is unsupportable.

* And monopsonization of the labor market is only a necessary condition for a minimum wage to not destroy employment opportunities for some workers; it is not a sufficient condition.

Don Boudreaux, “Quotation of the Day…”, Café Hayek, 2016-06-01.

June 13, 2016

QotD: The absurdities of many occupational licenses

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In 2012, the Institute for Justice — a public-interest law firm advocating libertarian causes — looked at the number of occupations that require licensing. Specifically, the institute looked at occupations typically filled by lower- and middle-income workers. These are not your airline pilots, your certified public accountants and your neurosurgeons; they’re the nations interior decorators, auctioneers and florists. (Yes, you read that right: In at least one state, these occupations cannot be practiced without a license.)

Why, you might ask, is the state requiring a license to decorate an interior? Are customers at risk of death from collapsing piles of pillow shams? Must we fear that they will be blinded by the decorator’s decision to pair fuchsia chiffon drapes with a chartreuse brocade sofa? Do we worry that without the threat of losing their license to keep them on the straight and narrow, these fly-by-night operators might be tempted into purchasing furniture from unlicensed auctioneers, and sourcing their floral arrangements from black-market florists?

Well, no. Mostly, these regulations benefit folks who are already plying the trade. They get helpful state legislators to protect them from competition by instituting tough licensing requirements. Their income goes up; the consumer’s wallet suffers. And people who want to follow their dreams into the industry get shut out if they lack the time to study for the licensing exams, the capital to pay the licensing exam fees (which can run in to the hundreds of dollars), or the social capital to know how to work the system.

Megan McArdle, “You’re Gonna Need a License for That”, Bloomberg View, 2016-05-17.

May 31, 2016

QotD: The minimum wage

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In truth, there is only one way to regard a minimum wage law: it is compulsory unemployment, period. The law says: it is illegal, and therefore criminal, for anyone to hire anyone else below the level of X dollars an hour. This means, plainly and simply, that a large number of free and voluntary wage contracts are now outlawed and hence that there will be a large amount of unemployment. Remember that the minimum wage law provides no jobs; it only outlaws them; and outlawed jobs are the inevitable result.

Murray Rothbard, “Outlawing Jobs: The Minimum Wage”, 1998.

May 28, 2016

QotD: “Farm-to-table” food

Filed under: Business, Environment, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We all love farm-to-table food, don’t we? The freshness, the warm sense of environmental sustainability, the delights of spending your money in the local economy. Of course we all love it.

Or … maybe we just think we love it. An exhaustive investigation by a Tampa Bay Times food critic reveals just how little of the food advertised as organic, locally sourced, non-GMO fare actually fits that description. The article is a slightly painful read, as restaurant after restaurant sheepishly tries to cover for their, um, “menu anomalies” by explaining that they totally used to buy some stuff from a local producer, then they forgot to change the chalkboard when they switched suppliers, and besides, the bus was late and the dog ate their homework. Some of these claims may even be true, but given the ubiquity of these “anomalies,” it’s hard to believe that there isn’t considerable calculation behind these unidirectional mistakes.

And it’s not hard to figure out why: Consumers don’t really want to buy farm-to-table food. What they want to buy is the moral satisfaction of farm-to-table food.

A consumer who is actually looking for vegetables picked no later than yesterday morning and trundled to their table at the peak of freshness probably isn’t going to be satisfied with the corn that just spent a few weeks bouncing around in the back of a truck somewhere; the products will be noticeably different in flavor. On the other hand, for a consumer who’s just looking for moral satisfaction — well, the nice thing about selling intangible qualities is that there’s no discernible difference to the consumer between being told that they’re consuming locally grown foods and actually doing so.

Megan McArdle, “Dining Out on Empty Virtue”, Bloomberg View, 2016-04-15.

May 21, 2016

“Social media needs social relevance to disguise the narcissism at the center of its appeal”

Filed under: Business, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Daniel Greenfield explains how Facebook got into the business of “curating” your user experience:

Despite the denials, the stories about Facebook’s bias are real. But the bias isn’t there because of the company’s new technology. Facebook is biased because of its reliance on the biased old media.

Facebook’s trending topics wasn’t the automatic system that the company wanted people to think it was. Instead it hired young journalists with new media experience to “curate” its news feed. And plenty of them proved to be biased against conservative news and sources. Meanwhile someone at the top of Facebook’s dysfunctional culture wanted to play up Syria and the Black Lives Matter hate group.

Mark Zuckerberg’s fundamental mistake was recreating the biases and agendas of the old media in a service whose whole reason for existing was to allow users to create their own experience. The big difference between social and search is that social media is supposed to let you be the curator.

But, like Facebook’s trending topics, social curation was another scam. Facebook users don’t really define what they see. It’s defined for them by the company’s agendas. This includes the purely financial. It would be foolish to think that the fortunes that Buzzfeed spends on Facebook advertising don’t impact the placement of its stories by Facebook’s mysterious algorithm. And there is the more complex intersection of politics and branding in an age when business relevance means social relevance.

Twitter piggybacked on the Arab Spring to seem relevant. Facebook has used Black Lives Matter. Social media needs to be associated with political movements to seem more important than it is. Zuckerberg doesn’t want to head up a shinier version of MySpace that was originally set up to rate the attractiveness of Harvard girls. Being socially relevant is better for business. Especially when the business is vapid at its core.

Social media needs social relevance to disguise the narcissism at the center of its appeal.

May 17, 2016

Charles Stross updates a classic WW2 field guide – a dot-com sabotage manual

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Many people have noted that the sabotage techniques listed in a Second World War espionage manual seem to have somehow migrated into a lot of management texts in the last few decades. Here he imagines what an updated version of the manual might look like:

In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services — the predecessor of the post-war CIA — was concerned with sabotage directed against enemies of the US military. Among their ephemera, declassified and published today by the CIA, is a fascinating document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual (PDF). It’s not just about blowing things up; a lot of its tips are concerned with how sympathizers with the allied cause can impair enemy material production and morale […]

So it occurred to me a week or two ago to ask (on twitter) the question, “what would a modern-day version of this manual look like if it was intended to sabotage a rival dot-com or high tech startup company”? And the obvious answer is “send your best bad managers over to join in admin roles and run their hapless enemy into the ground”. But what actual policies should they impose for best effect?

  1. Obviously, engineers and software developers (who require deep focus time) need to be kept in touch with the beating heart of the enterprise. So open-plan offices are mandatory for all.
  2. Teams are better than individuals and everyone has to be aware of the valuable contributions of employees in other roles. So let’s team every programmer with a sales person — preferably working the phones at the same desk — and stack-rank them on the basis of each pair’s combined quarterly contribution to the corporate bottom line.
  3. It is the job of Human Resources to ensure that nobody rocks the boat. Anyone attempting to blow whistles or complain of harassment is a boat-rocker. You know what needs to be done.
  4. Senior managers should all be “A” Players (per Jack Welch’s vitality model — see “stack ranking” above) so we should promote managers who are energetic, inspirational, and charismatic risk-takers.
  5. The company must have a strong sense of intense focus. So we must have a clean desk policy — any personal possessions left on the desk or cubicle walls at the end of the day go in the trash. In fact, we can go a step further and institute hot desking — we will establish an average developer’s workstation requirements and provide it for everyone at every desk.

This would explain some of the management policies at a few places I’ve worked at over the years…including the software company where I first met Charlie.

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