The challenge with architecture is that it’s like fashion but frozen in time. Imagine you were walking around NYC and you saw people dressed exactly as they used to in the 20s, 60s, 70s, 80s. You would think you are time traveling. But architecture really is as if somebody had dressed up, say in the 80s, and just wore the same outfit forever. And as it happens with fashion, some outfits are very dated, think Cindy Lauper or its architectural equivalent in NYC, the Trump Tower, or the outfits of Audrey Hepburn, and their architectural equivalent, the Seagram’s building, one forever ugly, the other forever beautiful. Some buildings survive the test of time, most don’t. Maybe towers should be designed, permits submitted and then approved…20 years later.

I was a big fan of Android, but since I got the iPhone 6 plus with the latest iOS updates, I switched to Apple.  Many have done the same.  In the US, Android has been losing market share and is now tied with Apple. The reason for this market share loss is that Google is spreading itself too thin. On Android they are losing their grip. There are too many forks such as the Xiaomi, Amazon, Samsung versions that are not controlled by Google. This translates to stock value.  If you see how stock analysts value Google and Apple stocks, around 90% of the value of Apple ($650bn) is due to iOS while around 8% of the value of Google ($450bn) is due to Android. And this is the case even though outside the US Android has 82% market share. But while Android has 81% smartphone market share Apple with less than 14% has over 80% of the global smartphone market profits. This happens because if you are a $650bn company focused on one product you are likely to beat a $450bn multiproduct company. And then there is the other vulnerability of Google which is ads. Search related ads are around 80% of the value of Google. Ads are to Google what iOS is to Apple. But in ads Google is under attack from another company: Facebook. Facebook is a $260bn ads only company that does not allow Google to crawl it. For Google everything that goes on at Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp is a black hole. But Facebook has found another way to make ads work that is not search based but instead it is contextual to whatever you are doing on Facebook. And these ads are extremely well targeted. Facebook allows advertisers to use key demographics such as geography, gender, age, income, occupation, something that Google cannot do. Moreover Facebook is way ahead of Google in mobile advertising and the fight against ad blockers. A lot of Facebook revenues comes from promoting apps and other activities that are not tackled by Google. So Google is in a bind. On its core product it has a fast growing rival, Facebook, and on its popular yet not so money making product, Android it is going against a single minded $650bn company with the biggest pile of cash in the world. And on top of that Google is doing many other projects, loon, driverless cars, life sciences, building fiber optic networks, building wifi routers, building thermostats and smoke alarms, and the whole Alphabet. My worry about Google is that a company that tries to do everything, will lose out to highly focused rivals like Apple and Facebook.  Here’s a list of some of the Google products and you will see that it’s huge even if it does not include hardware and many acquisitions. What Google should do is stop being a Jack of all trades and focus on at most two areas: the first one is search+ads+Android+chrome+maps+gmail+photos which are all one ad supported eco system and the driverless cars which has the biggest potential to revolutionize transportation. All the other projects Google should spin off, close or sell.

My friends have a hard time to believe it now, but when the Argentine military murdered David Varsavsky (yes little David honors him) we fled the country. We fled to the USA, who thanks to the intervention of Senator Patrick Moynahan, gave us political asylum. So I was a refugee. We were refugees. And I am forever thankful to the USA for saving us. I am saying this now because when I see people in Germany being so kind and accepting of those fleeing Islamic State and Bashar Al Assad and those in the USA so reluctant to take them, it saddens me. It is contradictory to see the nation that was so welcoming to us, ignoring their reality. That their lives are now in danger unarguably has something to do with the poorly handled US intervention in the region. Refugees deserve our help. Refugees are not economic migrants. They are not escaping poverty. They are running for their lives. As we were. And what’s most important, as we saw in the Balkans and Lebanon, most refugees return home, horrible fighting grounds soon become tourist destinations. As Croatia or Lebanon now are.

I am in favor of EU receiving war refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. These people are victims of horrible wars and war crimes, some partly perpetrated by EU and USA. But with a small caveat.  What I do want is that these refugees realize what religious extremism in the form of Islamic State and the Taliban and others has done to their native countries and embrace the secular culture of Europe. A Europe in which religion is a choice of some, separate from education, where atheists/agnostics make the majority of the population, where freedom of expression and gender equality are the norm and where sexual orientation is free for everyone to express. We can’t have refugees in Europe who are in favor of denying education to girls or would want to kill homosexuals, or want to kill a woman because she had sex before getting married, or because she had sex with another woman, or a man with a man, or kill somebody because she/he joked about religion, nor any type of honor killing, nor any type of domestic violence, we have to make a clear explanation of our values and laws, anyone who lives in Europe should be explained what is and is not legal over here.  Moreover I hope that those who are antisemitic, leave their anti semitic views behind. I speak from experience, I was in Syria in 2004 and was detained on suspicion of being Jewish and had to lie my way out of detention denying I was Jewish something I was very ashamed to do, but had no choice. I think we could make refugees understand this in writing what Europe stands for.  We should have them sign a commitment to the democratic values of Europe as part of their acceptance procedure. Europe is freedom, if you love freedom, you are welcome!

Science is used in high schools around the world to rank students. This is especially true in Europe and Asia.  But most students score poorly in math, physics, chemistry, biology and as a result see their career choices erode.  In my view, science should be taught pass or fail with many quizzes along the way to see if students learned, but not to define future paths. I believe if science was taught this way,  if science was not used to curve students, many more people, as adults would like science.  Scientists are surprised at how many adults believe in unproven theories such as previous lives, homeopathy, ghosts, vaccines causing autism, mobile phones causing cancer, genetically modified food killing us. For politicians funding science is less and less popular. Government funding for theoretical physics for example, is at an all time low.  But if you think about it the general public mistrust of science makes sense. Why would people believe in science if science treated them like idiots. If science was used to block their opportunities. If science didn’t believe in them.

How can Germans be so generous vis a vis taking refugees in Europe? Germany will probably take around a million refugees, especially Syrians. Syrians, people who mostly speak no German, and whose culture is so different. People who have never lived in a democracy and who are absolutely destitute and desperate. Taking one million refugees is like taking one million unemployed people who are not educated in your country and whose skills most likely do not match those of your labor market. So what could make Germans want to take these refugees? Because from what I have seen it is not that anyone is putting tremendous pressure on them to take them. It is actually a popular measure in Germany to accept Syrian refugees. This while British and others are chasing them away and other than the Swedes, nobody else wants them. So here’s my theory.

I am not German but my qualifications are having a German family, many German friends and being on two German company boards, Axel Springer and Arago.

The Holocaust is a horrible trauma for the current generation of German leaders. Just like the current leadership of Israel is horrified by the fact that Jews did not violently fight their way out of the Holocaust and as a result are unreasonably violent as soon as they are attacked by Hamas or Hezbollah, the German leadership is also inspired by the Holocaust but in the exact opposite way. Germans react with extraordinary kindness.  How could our parents and grandparents massively kill innocent people, mostly Jews, by the millions, they wonder. It is not only Jews, the victims, who are traumatized by the Holocaust, Germans are as well!   For Germans today it is impossible to understand how their ancestors could have perpetrated the Holocaust. Given this situation, I think that in the German psyche, when they read about IS and their behavior they immediately relate IS to the Nazi party.  And this is not far fetched, IS is so brutal, dictatorial, that it is like a Nazi version of Islam.  So paradoxically for them, and forgetting how many Syrians feel about the Jews, (I know, I went to Syria and was arrested on suspicion of being Jewish and had to lie my way out of detention), for many in Germany, the Syrians are the “new Jews”.  And they have more sympathy for their plight than other European nations.  This time they will save them from their Holocaust.  The current generation of Germans grew up sympathizing with victims, so with Syrian people they are given an opportunity to stop the massive killing of innocents and they are taking it.  And while this decision will undoubtedly cause problems, because Germans are true romantics (I know I am married to one), they are going for this without thinking much about the pros and cons. They are driven by emotions more than by reason. Sort of how they took East Germany and gave them a 1 to 1 conversion, a move that depressed the German economy for a decade, and yet nobody regretted. Now paradoxically, the East Germans, who have benefited from  West German generosity themselves, are the ones who are rejecting the refugees. It’s the “I am in, now close the door syndrome.” But some East Germans aside, I like to see a powerful nation that is sensitive to the sorrows of others. And while from a policy point of view it’s an invitation to tension, I still admire Germany for taking those refugees. And what’s more, I think that in the end, kindness will work.  Germany has very low unemployment and an incredibly low birth rate. Education is free in Germany and young people can learn. I am optimistic that Germany will both help and in the end prosper as a result of their decision.

Spain’s economy goes from existential threat to existential threat. It all started in the 90s with the country betting its future on the construction sector and then running out of credit by 2008. This crisis left Spain with a quarter of its population trained to do something for which there was no more demand. The crisis was aggravated by the socialist party being in denial which led to runaway deficits of over 10% of GDP. This accelerated indebtedness was combined with poor quality bank balance sheets, the result of holding so many devalued real estate assets. Fortunately Spain avoided bankruptcy and default thanks to the EU bailout and the economy started to recover. But the economic disaster, the great Spanish recession, the 50% youth unemployment opened the door to two populist movements. One is Podemos, the Syriza style Spanish fantasy that says that we can spend much more, renegotiate our debt, and somehow get away with default. This movement was extremely successful and recently won the cities of Madrid and Barcelona. And  together with this populism another flavor of blame others for your shortcoming movement emerged in force in Catalonia, the independence movement rose blaming all the economic ills of the region on Spain. This is absurd because Catalonia has been managed for generations by politicians who are as corrupt and as incompetent as the rest of Spain, went bankrupt borrowing more than any other region, and was actually saved by Spain. So when cornered, the Catalan leadership played the independence card, always a powerful way to draw attention away from you.

Spain first almost defaulted because of runaway deficits, then flirted again with financial disaster electing pro default Podemos, and now the newly gained still fragile stability is threatened by pro independence candidates in Catalonia. These leaders age that they will use the threat of not paying the 20% of debt corresponding to Catalonia as a means to gain independence.

What is the solution? A well designed independence referendum that clearly explains the consequences of independence and allows Catalans to decide on their future. The results would likely be the same as in the UK but if they aren’t nothing much will happen to Spain if Catalans become independent with their own regional debt plus their share of the national debt. But Rajoy’s hard line and the Catalans blame it all on Spain strategies are made for each other, and may result in chaos and indeed another possible near default.

Greeks voted to default.

Both alternatives were bad but staying was the better choice. Greece reminds me of my native Argentina.

Greeks vote for easy political solutions of poor economic outcome.  Both Argentina and Chile had over borrowed in 2000, Argentina chose to default. Chile did not. 15 years later we can see that Chile did much better. Argentines, who as Greeks today, also celebrated default as an act of patriotism, ended up struggling more than Chile who paid its creditors.

Recently Argentina went back into default. Few want to invest, Argentina is still an international business pariah. Chile instead, is the economic star of South America. Tsipras said he asked for a “No” vote so Greeks could negotiate better terms to stay in the euro. Greeks believed him.

They will soon learn that they were deceived. Greece will run out of euros, leave the euro and go through much more pain than it would have gone had they voted yes. Argentina still has runaway inflation, currency controls, and a fractured society of haves and have not. Exchanging pesos to dollars is still illegal, Argentines live in fear of their savings being once more raided by the government, as it will probably happen this week in Greece.

And this is in spite of having an incredible commodity export capability unavailable to Greeks. Greece has little to export other than tourism. A devaluation will attract cheap tourism, something that Greece doesn’t need. Greeks will work harder to make less euros. Not a bright future ahead.

Terrorists calling themselves Muslims killed mostly other Muslims and some non Muslims in horrific attacks in Tunisia, France, Kuwait, Somalia and Kurdistan, all today. That is already extremely troubling.  But what is as concerning is world apathy towards terrorism.  These attacks have a combined number of victims greater than the Atocha attack in Spain of 2004.  There is close to 500 injured and over 200 dead.  But we are getting so used to terrorism that media doesn’t care as much.  Children, women, tourists, worshippers all dead and my news feeds mostly talk about Uber in France. Is this another normal day? Are we getting used to a world in which hundreds die in the hands of Islamic State every day?

US spends more on health care than any other nation, yet Americans live less than those in any developed nation. US spends almost  half of what the whole world spends in the military, yet it almost loses every war. US spends more on police and incarceration per capita than any other developed nation yet it has the highest homicide and crime rates. And yet USA has the best managed corporations, the most Nobel Prizes, the best universities, the most creative and recognized writers, movie makers, artists, Internet companies. What surprises me about US is the failure to recognize how broken defense, health care and the administration of justice are. Especially when everything else in the USA is so incredibly well managed. If US cut military and incarceration spending by 20% it could give affordable college, housing, and health care to all of those who need it. And it would be probably as safe as other developed nations who offer these protections to all their citizens. If you want to understand why European countries, Australia, Japan have populations who live longer, commit less crime, go much less frequently to jail and are on the average healthier and better educated, you just need to see how they allocate their government budgets. They spend proportionately less on the military, less on police, less on the legal system, less on health care, more on redistribution of income, more on education.

Español / English

Subscribe to e-mail bulletin:
Recent Tweets