James Surowiecki - Quotes

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Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, allowing us to do things more quickly and efficiently. But too often it seems to make things harder, leaving us with fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals, and cars with dashboard systems worthy of the space shuttle.

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, allowing us to do things more quickly and efficiently. But too often it seems to make things harder, leaving us with fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals, and cars with dashboard systems worthy of the space shuttle.

In the heart of the Great Depression, millions of American workers did something they'd never done before: they joined a union. Emboldened by the passage of the Wagner Act, which made collective bargaining easier, unions organized industries across the country, remaking the economy. ---->>>

The financial crisis of 2008 was not caused by investment banks betting against the housing market in 2007. It was caused by the fact that too few investors - including all of the big investment banks - bet too heavily on the housing market in the years before 2007. ---->>>

The essence of procrastination lies in not doing what you think you should be doing, a mental contortion that surely accounts for the great psychic toll the habit takes on people. This is the perplexing thing about procrastination: although it seems to involve avoiding unpleasant tasks, indulging in it generally doesn't make people happy. ---->>>

Since the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland wants to remain a part of Great Britain, and since Ireland itself has shown little interest in reunification, the IRA's prospects for success through political channels have always been limited. ---->>>

The ban on sports betting does exactly what Prohibition did. It makes criminals rich. ---->>>

Academics, who work for long periods in a self-directed fashion, may be especially prone to putting things off: surveys suggest that the vast majority of college students procrastinate, and articles in the literature of procrastination often allude to the author's own problems with finishing the piece. ---->>>

If someone really wants my company's business, why shouldn't he be able to do everything he can - including paying me off - to get that business? Because bribery encourages people to make decisions based on the wrong criteria, which means in the business world that it distorts the efficient allocation of resources. ---->>>

If you thought the advent of the Internet, the spread of cheap and efficient information technology, and the growing fragmentation of the consumer market were all going to help smaller companies thrive at the expense of the slow-moving giants of the Fortune 500, apparently you were wrong.

If you thought the advent of the Internet, the spread of cheap and efficient information technology, and the growing fragmentation of the consumer market were all going to help smaller companies thrive at the expense of the slow-moving giants of the Fortune 500, apparently you were wrong.

Markets work best when there's lots of information available and a historical track record to go on; they excel at predicting things like horse races, election outcomes, and box-office results. But they're bad at predicting things like who will be the next Supreme Court nominee, as that depends on the whim of the president. ---->>>

You can't fuel real economic growth with indiscriminate credit. You can only fuel it with well-allocated, long-term investment. ---->>>

Technological innovation has dramatically lowered the cost of computing, making it possible for large numbers of consumers to own powerful new technologies at reasonably low prices. ---->>>

Tough times have always lent themselves to nativist sentiments and closed-door policies. But in the case of highly skilled immigrants, these policies are a recipe for stagnation. ---->>>

Pop music thrives on repetition. You know a song's a hit when you've heard it so often that you'll be happy never to hear it again. ---->>>

Besides great climates and lovely beaches, California and Greece share a fondness for dysfunctional politics and feckless budgeting. ---->>>

The desire for reinvention seems to arise most often when companies hear the siren call of synergy and start to expand beyond their core businesses. ---->>>

In the business world, bad news is usually good news - for somebody else. ---->>>

Life insurance became popular only when insurance companies stopped emphasizing it as a good investment and sold it instead as a symbolic commitment by fathers to the future well-being of their families. ---->>>

The stock market has an insidious effect on C.E.O.s' moods, because of its impact not just on their companies but on their own bank accounts. ---->>>

Intellectual-property rules are clearly necessary to spur innovation: if every invention could be stolen, or every new drug immediately copied, few people would invest in innovation. But too much protection can strangle competition and can limit what economists call 'incremental innovation' - innovations that build, in some way, on others. ---->>>

In confusing stock options with ownership, corporations confuse trappings with substance. ---->>>

Patrimonial capitalism's legacy is that many people see reform as a euphemism for corruption and self-dealing. ---->>>

The Internet has become a remarkable fount of economic and social innovation largely because it's been an archetypal level playing field, on which even sites with little or no money behind them - blogs, say, or Wikipedia - can become influential. ---->>>

If being the biggest company was a guarantee of success, we'd all be using IBM computers and driving GM cars.

If being the biggest company was a guarantee of success, we'd all be using IBM computers and driving GM cars.

Wall Street has come a long way from the insider-dominated world that was blown apart by the Great Depression. ---->>>

Flexible supply chains are great for multinationals and consumers. But they erode already thin profit margins in developing-world factories and foster a pell-mell work environment in which getting the order out the door is the only thing that matters. ---->>>

Now, modern economies have a very effective mechanism for deciding if salaries are really too high: it's called the free market. That's how most people's salaries are set, after all, including those of major-league baseball players and European soccer players. ---->>>

Defense contractors are able to reap tremendous profits while rarely confronting the risks for which those profits are supposed to be the reward. ---->>>

Downsizing itself is an inevitable part of any creatively destructive economy. ---->>>

Movies' mistrust of capitalism is almost as old as the medium itself. ---->>>

Popular as Keynesian fiscal policy may be, many economists are skeptical that it works. They argue that fine-tuning the economy is a virtually impossible task, and that fiscal-stimulus programs are usually too small, and arrive too late, to make a difference. ---->>>

Self-dealing, essentially, occurs when managers run companies to line their own pockets instead of those of the companies' owners. It's been a perennial problem in American capitalism and became a real dilemma when America moved toward a model in which corporations would be run by professional managers who had only small ownership stakes. ---->>>

When Americans think of college these days, the first word that often comes to mind is 'debt.' And from 'debt' it's just a short hop to other unpleasant words, like 'payola,' 'kickback,' and 'bribery.' ---->>>

Businesses that have gone through an episode of hyperinflation become understandably alert to the threat of it: at the first hint of inflation, they're likely to increase prices, since they've learned that if they don't, and inflation hits, their businesses will be wrecked. ---->>>

Politically speaking, it's always easier to shell out money for a disaster that has already happened, with clearly identifiable victims, than to invest money in protecting against something that may or may not happen in the future. ---->>>

The world's central banks and the International Monetary Fund still have vaults full of bullion, even though currencies are no longer backed by gold. Governments hold on to it as a kind of magic symbol, a way of reassuring people that their money is real. ---->>>

The Xbox 360 is the best game console ever designed. It's fast and powerful - games look as good on the 360 as on high-end PCs that cost six times as much. It's easy to navigate and has lots of useful secondary features - the ability to play digital video, stream MP3s, and so on. ---->>>

For most Americans, work is central to their experience of the world, and the corporation is one of the fundamental institutions of American life, with an enormous impact, for good and ill, on how we live, think, and feel. ---->>>

Medical tourism can be considered a kind of import: instead of the product coming to the consumer, as it does with cars or sneakers, the consumer is going to the product.

Medical tourism can be considered a kind of import: instead of the product coming to the consumer, as it does with cars or sneakers, the consumer is going to the product.

On the simplest level, telecommuting makes it harder for people to have the kinds of informal interactions that are crucial to the way knowledge moves through an organization. The role that hallway chat plays in driving new ideas has become a cliche of business writing, but that doesn't make it less true. ---->>>

Steve Jobs was rare: a C.E.O. who actually had a huge impact on his company's fortunes. Contrary to corporate mythology, most C.E.O.s could be easily replaced, if not by your average Joe, then by your average executive vice-president. But Jobs genuinely earned the label of superstar. ---->>>

Workers who come to the U.S. see their wages and their standard of living boosted sharply simply by crossing the border. That's a good thing, and one of the best arguments for immigration reform, even if you'll rarely hear a politician make it. ---->>>

Behavioral economists have shown that a sizable percentage of people are willing to pay real money to punish people who are taking from a common pot but not contributing to it. Just to insure that shirkers get what they deserve, we are prepared to make ourselves poorer. ---->>>

Campaigns fail if they waste resources courting voters who are unpersuadable or already persuaded. Their most urgent task is to find and persuade the few voters who are genuinely undecided and the larger number who are favorably disposed but need a push to actually vote. ---->>>

Critics of consumer capitalism like to think that consumers are manipulated and controlled by those who seek to sell them things, but for the most part it's the other way around: companies must make what consumers want and deliver it at the lowest possible price. ---->>>

Disasters redistribute money from taxpayers to construction workers, from insurance companies to homeowners, and even from those who once lived in the destroyed city to those who replace them. It's remarkable that this redistribution can happen so smoothly and quickly, with devastated regions reinventing themselves in a matter of months. ---->>>

For a crowd to be smart, the people in it need to be not only diverse in their perspectives but also, relatively speaking, independent of each other. In other words, you need people to be thinking for themselves, rather than following the lead of those around them. ---->>>

I started in business journalism from the outside, so when I started writing about markets and business, I was struck by the fact that markets seemed to work well even though people are often irrational, lack good information and are not perfect in the way they think about decisions. ---->>>

In the days when corporate downsizing was all the rage, Wall Street took a lot of flak for judging companies too harshly and setting the bar for corporate performance so high that executives felt their only option was to slash payrolls. ---->>>

Solyndra's failure isn't a reason for the government to give up on alternative energy, any more than the failure of Pets.com during the Internet bubble means that venture capital should steer clear of tech projects.

Solyndra's failure isn't a reason for the government to give up on alternative energy, any more than the failure of Pets.com during the Internet bubble means that venture capital should steer clear of tech projects.

The history of the Internet is, in part, a series of opportunities missed: the major record labels let Apple take over the digital-music business; Blockbuster refused to buy Netflix for a mere fifty million dollars; Excite turned down the chance to acquire Google for less than a million dollars.

The history of the Internet is, in part, a series of opportunities missed: the major record labels let Apple take over the digital-music business; Blockbuster refused to buy Netflix for a mere fifty million dollars; Excite turned down the chance to acquire Google for less than a million dollars.

Making loans and fighting poverty are normally two of the least glamorous pursuits around, but put the two together and you have an economic innovation that has become not just popular but downright chic. The innovation - microfinance - involves making small loans to poor entrepreneurs, usually in developing countries. ---->>>

Nike used to be known as Blue Ribbon Sports. What's now Sara Lee used to be Consolidated Foods. And Exxon was once Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. These were name changes that worked. But for all the ones that do, there are 10 or 20 that don't. ---->>>

Of course, looking tough on inflation is part of any central banker's job description: if investors believe that inflation is going to get out of control, you end up with higher interest rates and capital flight, and a vicious circle quickly ensues. ---->>>

Publishers, naturally, loathe used books and have developed strategies to depress the secondhand market. They bring out new, even more expensive editions of popular textbooks every three to four years, in a classic cycle of planned obsolescence. ---->>>

The reason advertising is governed by fear, after all, is that most agencies rely on just a few clients to bring in the lion's share of their revenues. ---->>>

Although oil is a commodity, it's still not a commodity like coffee, which, thank God, we will have with us always. At some point the oil will run out. ---->>>

Unlike fuel-economy standards, the most common method of reducing demand for oil over the past thirty years, a gas tax doesn't tell people what kind of car to drive. It simply raises the price of gasoline and lets people adjust their behavior accordingly. ---->>>

Until the nineteen-seventies, Western countries paid little attention to corruption overseas, and bribery was seen as an unpleasant but necessary part of doing business there. In some European countries, businesses were even allowed to deduct bribes as an expense. ---->>>

The challenge for capitalism is that the things that breed trust also breed the environment for fraud.

The challenge for capitalism is that the things that breed trust also breed the environment for fraud.

We assume that good-looking people are smarter and more effective than they really are, and that homely people are the reverse. ---->>>

Punk rock has never really had much patience with musical virtuosity. Actually, it'd be more accurate to say that for most of its history, punk has been actively hostile to virtuosity. ---->>>

Developing countries often have hypertrophied bureaucracies, requiring businesses to deal with enormous amounts of red tape. ---->>>

Being unemployed is even more disastrous for individuals than you'd expect. Aside from the obvious harm - poverty, difficulty paying off debts - it seems to directly affect people's health, particularly that of older workers. ---->>>

In American politics, 'Europe' is usually a code word for 'big government.' ---->>>

Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably smart - smarter even sometimes than the smartest people in them. ---->>>

If companies tell us more, insider trading will be worth less. ---->>>

Most corporate name changes are the result of mergers and acquisitions. But these tend to be unimaginative. ---->>>

Moviegoers love the intricacies of a crime all the more when it's for a good cause. ---->>>

On Wall Street, fraudulent schemes tend to thrive during economic booms, and to blow up when times turn tough. ---->>>

Sometimes even a smart crowd will make a mistake. ---->>>

The oil market is especially sensitive even to a hint of expansion or contraction in supply. ---->>>

In conditions of uncertainty, humans, like other animals, herd together for protection. ---->>>

The fact that industries wax and wane is a reality of any economic system that wants to remain dynamic and responsive to people's changing tastes. ---->>>

The fundamental problem with banks is what it's always been: they're in the business of banking, and banking, whether plain vanilla or incredibly sophisticated, is inherently risky. ---->>>

Companies have long gathered data to break down their customer base into specific segments. Now political parties have become adept at micro-targeting, too, using data on shopping habits, leisure activities, voting histories, charity donations, and so on, in order to pinpoint likely supporters and the type of appeal most likely to win them over. ---->>>

Linux is a complex example of the wisdom of crowds. It's a good example in the sense that it shows you can set people to work in a decentralized way - that is, without anyone really directing their efforts in a particular direction - and still trust that they're going to come up with good answers.

Linux is a complex example of the wisdom of crowds. It's a good example in the sense that it shows you can set people to work in a decentralized way - that is, without anyone really directing their efforts in a particular direction - and still trust that they're going to come up with good answers.

Unlike most government programs, Social Security and, in part, Medicare are funded by payroll taxes dedicated specifically to them. Some of the tax revenue pays for current benefits; anything that's left over goes into trust funds for the future. The programs were designed this way for political reasons. ---->>>

As technology improves, on-screen avatars look more and more like real people. When they start looking too real, though, we pull away. These almost-humans aren't quite right; they look creepy, like zombies. ---->>>

Being out of a job can erode people's confidence and their sense of possibility; and employers, often unfairly, tend to take long-term unemployment as a signal that something is wrong. ---->>>

If we want our regulators to do better, we have to embrace a simple idea: regulation isn't an obstacle to thriving free markets; it's a vital part of them. ---->>>

If you work for Google or Apple, stock options give you a chance to share in the increasing value of the company. In the N.F.L., nothing like this happens; the players, though rich, are just working stiffs like the rest of us. ---->>>

In practice, downsizing is too often about cutting your work force while keeping your business the same, and doing so not by investments in productivity-enhancing technology, but by making people pull 80-hour weeks and bringing in temps to fill the gap. ---->>>

Speculators get a bad rap. In the popular imagination they're greedy, heedless, and amoral, adept at price manipulations and dirty tricks. In reality, they often play a key role in making markets run smoothly. ---->>>

When all is said and done, cheap gas is an illusion, because our reliance on gas creates a whole series of costs that aren't factored in to the pump price - among them congestion, pollution, and increased risk of accidents. ---->>>

You might think of consumption as a fairly passive activity, but buying new products and services is actually pretty risky, at least if you value your time and money. ---->>>

All things being equal, letting people make decisions for themselves will produce smarter outcomes, collectively, than relying on government planners. ---->>>

Corporations hope that the right concept will turn things around overnight. This is what you might call the crash-diet approach: starve yourself for a few days and you'll be thin for life. ---->>>

In the auto industry, there's one thing you can always count on: if a new environmental or safety rule is proposed, executives will prophesy disaster.

In the auto industry, there's one thing you can always count on: if a new environmental or safety rule is proposed, executives will prophesy disaster.

In the struggle between capital and labor, more often than not capital has won, because the real source of value for most companies has historically been the hard assets that they owned and controlled. ---->>>

It may be that the very qualities that help people get ahead are the ones that make them ill-suited for managing crises. It's hard to prepare for the worst when you think you're the best. ---->>>

The value of a currency is, ultimately, what someone will give you for it - whether in food, fuel, assets, or labor. And that's always and everywhere a subjective decision. ---->>>

What an economy really wants, after all, is not more investment per se but better investment. It wants capital to flow to companies that will create value - not in the form of a rising stock price but in the form of more goods for less cost, more jobs, and rising wages - by enhancing productivity. ---->>>

What corporations fear is the phenomenon now known, rather inelegantly, as 'commoditization.' What the term means is simply the conversion of the market for a given product into a commodity market, which is characterized by declining prices and profit margins, increasing competition, and lowered barriers to entry. ---->>>

In industries where a lot of competitors are selling the same product - mangoes, gasoline, DVD players - price is the easiest way to distinguish yourself. The hope is that if you cut prices enough you can increase your market share, and even your profits. But this works only if your competitors won't, or can't, follow suit. ---->>>

Instead of mindlessly tossing billions at or taking billions from the Net as such, investors should be spending their time making sure that it's the future Fords and General Motors of cyberspace that are getting the capital they need. ---->>>

Political risk is hard to manage because so much comes down to the personal choices of policymakers, whether prime ministers or heads of central banks. ---->>>

There are certainly valid reasons for taking a company private, and it's also possible that C.E.O.s perform better when monitored by a small number of owners in a private company rather than by the dispersed and often uninterested shareholders of a public corporation. ---->>>

In order to work well, markets need a basic level of trust. ---->>>

The U.S. is excellent at importing cheap products from the rest of the world. Let's try importing some human capital instead. ---->>>

Congressional Republicans themselves have vehemently defended the idea that preexisting conditions should not be used to deny people insurance. ---->>>

Corporate welfare isn't necessarily a bad thing. ---->>>

A long-term crisis, after a certain point, no longer seems like a crisis. It seems like the way things are. ---->>>

Real politics is messy and morally ambiguous and doesn't make for a compelling thriller. ---->>>

Art collecting has traditionally been the domain of wealthy individuals in search of rewards beyond the purely financial. ---->>>

Capitalism, after all, is no fun when real failure becomes a possibility. ---->>>

Companies often become victims of their own mythologies. ---->>>

Companies, like people, don't much like to change. ---->>>

If private-equity firms are as good at remaking companies as they claim, they don't need tax loopholes to make money. ---->>>

Of course, plenty of people don't think that guaranteeing affordable health insurance is a core responsibility of government. ---->>>

Of course, presidents are always blamed or rewarded for the state of the economy. ---->>>

Republicans like to indict Democrats as anti-corporate zealots. ---->>>

Sometimes you have to destroy your business in order to save it. ---->>>

The autocracies of the Arab world have been as economically destructive as they've been politically repressive. ---->>>

The business of America shouldn't be subsidizing business. ---->>>

The problem with venality in business is that getting outraged about it makes it easy to miss the systemic problems that venality often disguises. ---->>>

There's no debt limit in the Constitution. ---->>>

Traditionally, tours were a means of promoting a record. Today, the record promotes the tour. ---->>>

What the investment community does like is short-term measures designed to boost share prices. ---->>>

You can't be rich unless everyone else agrees that you're rich. ---->>>

You might say that economic history is the history of people learning to manage risk. ---->>>

A general principle of good taxation is that similar jobs, and similar kinds of compensation, should be taxed the same way: otherwise, the government is effectively subsidizing some jobs over others. ---->>>

A consumer-finance agency is a good thing, but it would do well to teach consumers a simple lesson: if you don't understand the deal you're making, don't make it. ---->>>

By the time of the '90s boom, CEOs had become superheroes, accorded celebrity treatment and followed with a kind of slavish scrutiny that Alfred P. Sloan could never have imagined. ---->>>

From a social point of view, it's beneficial that homeownership encourages commitment to a given town or city. But, from an economic point of view, it's good for people to be able to leave places where there's less work and move to places where there's more. ---->>>

In some respects, the video-game business is a lot like the razor business, which follows a simple model: Give away the razor, gouge 'em on the price of the blades. ---->>>

In terms of productivity - that is, how much a worker produces in an hour - there's little difference between the U.S., France, and Germany. But since more people work in America, and since they work so many more hours, Americans create more wealth. ---->>>

Standards wars involve lots of variables, and understanding them often seems more an art than a science. They generally involve just two big players, and end in a winner-take-all situation. ---->>>

The paradox of Steve Jobs's career is that he had no interest in listening to consumers - he was famously dismissive of market research - yet nonetheless had an amazing sense of what consumers actually wanted. ---->>>

The truth is that the United States doesn't need, and shouldn't have, a debt ceiling. Every other democratic country, with the exception of Denmark, does fine without one. ---->>>

Discussions of health care in the U.S. usually focus on insurance companies, but, whatever their problems, they're not the main driver of health-care inflation: providers are. ---->>>

In a world where companies increasingly know about their business in real time, it makes no sense that public reporting mostly follows the old quarterly schedule. Companies sit on vital information until reporting day, at which point the market goes crazy. ---->>>

Lower oil prices won't, by themselves, topple the mullahs in Iran. But it's significant that, historically, when oil prices have been low, Iranian reformers have been ascendant and radicals relatively subdued, and vice versa when prices have been high. ---->>>

Of course, politicians always say they're just describing their opponents' positions, even if they are in fact offering absurd caricatures, if not outright lies. ---->>>

To be sure, if you watch CNBC all day long you'll pick up some interesting news about particular companies and the economy as a whole. Unfortunately, to get to the useful information, you have to wade through reams of useless stuff, with little guidance on how to distinguish between the two. ---->>>

Biography

Nationality: American
Born: 06-21, 1967
Birthplace: Meriden, Connecticut, U.S.
Die:
Occupation: Journalist
Website:

James Michael Surowiecki ( SOOR-oh-WIK-ee; born April 30, 1967) is an American journalist. He was a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he wrote a regular column on business and finance called "The Financial Page".(wikipedia)