Memia 2020.08: Going all-in on H₂ 🌊🔋⛽ // Covid-19 😷 enough already // Ministry of data // Back to basic // Income portfolio design // Next up: ultra-globalisation
Expand your bubble
Hi / Kia ora
Ben Reid here with another issue of Memia, my weekly roundup covering new tech, strategy and global change (of which there is *rather a lot*, right now). All with a slant from my corner of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand. Please feel free to forward this email - and you can sign up here if you haven’t already.
Covid-19 😷 enough already
So we’re nearly through our first week of national bubble lockdown here in Aotearoa. Other countries around the world are dealing with the pandemic with varying degrees of success. Or not. There is massive uncertainty about how things are going to play out short and long term. We are living through unprecedented and historically revolutionary times.
Who could have predicted this 1 month ago:
But news and commentary about Covid-19 has reached saturation point for me - it’s become so incredibly hard to peel my eyes away from news sites and social media and do something else productive. So, here are my top 5 Covid-19 reads from the last week - after that, let’s talk about something else (mostly).
Here’s the race we’re trying to avoid running in altogether:
New Zealand appears to be one of the only countries in the world where a national strategy of suppression rather than mitigation has a chance of succeeding. (Sweden is now the only Western country actively following a mitigation strategy, watch closely…).
The NZ government’s “go hard and go early” move to Level 4 lockdown was substantially informed by modelling carried out by Prof Shaun Hendy and team at Te Pūnaha Matatini (TPM) Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE ): Suppression and mitigation strategies for control of COVID-19 in New Zealand. From the Exec Summary:
“Suppression [strategies] can only delay an epidemic, not prevent it, but may buy enough time for a vaccine or treatment to become available. Mitigation strategies [which] aim to control an epidemic so that herd immunity is acquired by the population without overwhelming healthcare systems…are likely to be very high risk…A combination of successful suppression, strong border measures, and widespread contact tracing and testing resulting in containment could allow periods when control measures can be relaxed, but only if we can reduce cases to a handful.”
Here’s an interview Shaun gave to RNZ. The TPM model is being refined daily and being actively used by the Covid-19 response team in government.
Thinking more broadly: this is the clearest example I’ve seen of the value of transparent and robust data modelling to support public policy and decision making. (By the way TPM subsists on annual funding of less than NZ$3m!!!) Imagine if *all* major public sector policy decisions were made this way going forwards: if ever there was an argument to invest in data science as a core capability of Government:
I’ve often thought that StatsNZ could be up-purposed to be the “Ministry of Data”…effectively responsible for maintaining the open data underlying a “digital twin” model of the nation.
And yes, there are many limits to using data models - this week I’ve been plodding through Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an unknowable future co-authored by former UK central bank governor Mervyn King, which argues persistently against using probabilistic modelling in the real world. But also check out this review in violent disagreement: Are economists really this stupid?
Here's a challenging speculative scenario: Covid-19 immunity as the new passport? Riffing on this…is a worldwide Covid-19 immunity register the driving use case for a global blockchain-based identity system? Could NZ reopen as a tourism destination, but only for those with immunity? Refer as well:
Last week, I covered the RBNZ’s approach to Quantitative Easing (QE): friend Raf Manji writes in Interest.co.nz: NZ shouldn't get sucked into overseas style QE or asset purchasing. He suggests instead direct funding of infrastructure projects and increased income support (see below).
And can your ideology cope with coronavirus? Entertaining, particularly:
“…now that it’s gone, perhaps people might realise that capitalism wasn’t so bad after all. And, who knows, the snowflake generation might just have second thoughts about socialism too — once they’ve been conscripted as farm labour.” 😱
Back to basic
To UBI or not to UBI? That is the question right now as employers begin laying off workers all around the world and we head into what is likely to be the heaviest economic recession in decades.
The US government is implementing helicopter money stimulus to the tune of US$1200 per adult and US$500 per child. (Cash will take at least 3 weeks to arrive - another reason to live in NZ! Incidentally they could have saved up to US$617M in distribution costs by implementing a sovereign digital cryptocurrency, but that’s for another day…)
In the UK: the Financial Times is supportive of UBI as well: Universal Basic Income is an affordable and feasible response to coronavirus
Here in New Zealand: action group Basic Income NZ / Te utu tika hei oranga i Aotearoa lays out a convincing argument for a UBI: Pandemics and the need for Basic Income, including:
“Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) staff registering people for jobseeker support are likely to be overwhelmed...the system was designed to try and force people into full-time employment and was not designed to cope with an economic downturn resulting from a pandemic.”
Currently there’s a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures (mine included) going around for an emergency Aotearoa UBI at the same level as superannuation.
There are those arguing against a kneejerk response: think tank The NZ Initiative published a policy paper: Stay On Target advocating targeting of emergency relief: the paper suggests tax changes that could improve cash flows for businesses and individuals - and also suggests an extension of New Zealand’s Student Loan Scheme to cover every New Zealander. Worth considering.
NZ actually already has an (age-discriminated) basic income: Superannuation. Plenty of over-65s are able to live very comfortably without it but that doesn’t stop them drawing it. The values underlying this arrangement are historical and anachronistic today - why isn’t Super targeted? In the same way any values system underlying targeting of emergency income relief, separating the “deserving” and “undeserving” is a rabbit-hole ideological debate we don’t have time for as the economy collapses around us…
More pertinently: the time, cost and complexity of setting up a bureaucracy to administer and enforce targeting for 5m individuals will way exceed any benefit gained. Again, speed is of the essence: the government needs to get *just enough* emergency cash into people's bank accounts quickly and avoid overwhelming the existing welfare system. So what if some people are perceived to “win” and others “lose”? ...wash it up later.
Perhaps even more pertinently: an emergency UBI will set a precedent for the future if it is popular, potentially a frontline election issue - would NZers vote to ditch it?
Personally I prefer to think about UBI as enabling better “income portfolio management” for citizens, leading to higher wellbeing (and quite possibly productivity). UBI gives people more flexibility to work zero, one or multiple jobs at any time, take career training breaks and be freer to run an intentionally designed income portfolio without an employer/employee/debt serfdom construct dominating all decisions. NZ can afford this.
Future scenario - ultra-globalisation?
Economist Cameron Bagrie writes that Covid-19 looks to be the tipping point on globalisation reversing. I’m not so sure. Retreating inside national borders (particularly our tiny, remote one) could create greater long term fragility, not resilience.
If anything I expect to see the emergence of new ultra-resilient, ultra-efficient, ultra-automated transnational supply chains - for both goods and services - which are designed to keep on trucking through emergency situations like we have currently. Get with the play, I say.
Given these two opposite ends of the spectrum, I’m developing some scenarios on what the mid- to long-term future might look like. In particular how new technologies can enable companies to adjust to new patterns of demand which may emerge. Watch this space.
Going all-in on Hydrogen
I would say that now is a good time to bring investment into New Zealand’s Hydrogen Economy forward:
Here’s what’s happened so far:
The Government outlined their Vision for Hydrogen in a Green Paper published for consultation in September 2019. Green Hydrogen is a no brainer if we’re serious as a nation about reaching zero carbon emissions. Applications include:
A new National New Energy Development Centre (NNEDC ) is being established, centred (…in our new remote working times, no longer “based”!) in Taranaki, aiming to connect the NZ energy ecosystem and facilitate new innovation.
Internationally, the challenge is economics: the target is US$2/kg by 2030 from the current range of US$2.50 to US$6.80. H2 electrolyzer manufacturers could learn a thing or two from fuel cell manufacturers about cutting costs.
Green Hydrogen is one of a small number of major national investment opportunities for Aotearoa to (1) get to carbon zero AND (2) export green energy AND (3) export accumulated knowledge and experience on a global scale. Go!
Who’s saying and doing what around NZ?
Tom Barraclough from Brainbox Institute writes: New Zealand needs to talk about using private data to combat covid-19.
(…here’s a collaboratively compiled comprehensive list of contact tracing initiatives worldwide, ht Joy Liddicoat for spotting).
PoweredByFlossie (enterprise API for salons) founder Jenene Crossan has been keeping a self-isolation video diary after catching Covid-19 on a trip to the UK. Heavy stuff, best wishes for your recovery!
Great read: visitor attraction analytics firm Dexibit founder and CEO Angie Judge writes about Covid-19: Searching for strategy in a washing machine:
“Governing by strategic plan has been replaced with management by business continuity, a feeling akin to flying the plane while building it.”
Cactus Outdoor converts their entire factory capacity to making face masks
Anthony McMahon provides a very helpful simple framework for prioritising your attention during the lockdown:
And finally, while I regularly find myself entertained by political commentator Matthew Hooton, I am not always in agreement. In this case, though, Amen:
A few signals from near and far future:
Open source 3D Printed face shields for medics - anyone with a 3D printer can download and make at home to help the war effort. 🎖️(Hyper-edge manufacturing capability => resilience.)
Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Xiaomi is building a fully automated 5G-enabled factory potentially capable of making 60 smartphones per minute. Raw materials in one end, phones out the other. (Next: make them modular. Locate them at the edge.)
Stay in your bubble: Coronavirus is transforming online dating and sex.
Some zeitgeist moments from the last week:
Tim Urban at @WaitButWhy - You Won’t Believe My Morning
… and Rotterdam Philharmonic orchestra performing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy while in home isolation:
As always big 🙏 to everyone who sent in links and feedback - and please feel free to share with a friend somewhere around the 🌎 🌍 🌏. Thank you!
More next week. Stay in your bubble.
Regards / Ngā mihi