“Sonic Boom” Quotes

Here’s the quotes I found most interesting from Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed by Gregg Easterbrook. As always, if you like the quotes, please buy the book.

“Here’s the catch: just as favorable economic and social trends are likely to resume, many problems that have characterized recent  decades are likely to get worse, too. Job instability, economic insecurity, a sense of turmoil, the unfocused fear that even when things seem good a hammer is about to fall – these also are part of the larger trend, and no rising tide will wash them away.” (xii)

“Get used to a ceaseless, low-grade sense of economic emergency, even if all goods and services are in ample supply.” (xiii)

“China was breaking ground for the most expensive public-works project in world history – a $62 billion system of aqueducts to supply the populous part of the nation with fresh water for drinking and agriculture. Once completed, that system could be rendered worthless in mere minutes by precision-guided U.S. conventional weapons. That Beijing is investing such a huge amount in structure vulnerable to rapid destruction from the air shows that the government of China believes it will never go to war with the United states.” (9)

“It’s not just that lots of techno-stuff is being developed: the stuff is becoming practical and reliable faster, and falling in price faster. That means average people benefit faster – but also that accustomed ways of doing things, and of running the economy, are disordered faster.” (18)

“For the next half-century or so, until the human population stabilizes, running out of ideas will be a greater danger than running out of petroleum.” (22)

“Trying to dictate the outcomes of economic change is like trying to dictate the outcomes of biological evolution – tampering with one influence will change all others in so many unpredictable ways that the effort will just never work.” (34)

“Until such time as there may be post scarcity economics, economic change will bring an endless tumult of improved living standards wrapped with ribbons of stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction. Even in the boom years – and a lot of boom years are coming – we’re going to feel unhappy about the economy. We’ll feel unhappy because nothing will seem permanent. And nothing will be.” (34)

“The most basic reason job insecurity keeps rising is “churn” – the modern economy creates plenty of jobs but also destroys many, leaving everyone constantly uncertain.” (43)

“Like autoworkers, many in the media think, “if only change would stop, then we’d be fine. Change is not likely to stop, and probably cannot be stopped.” (44)

“Ideas – business innovations, inventions, movies – are rising in value compared to labor and resources, while ideas are becoming easier to produce for sale than was once the case, since it costs a lot less to manufacture an idea expressed as better software than an idea expressed as a better refrigerator. As ideas become worth more than resources or labor, pay premiums will rise for people who have marketable ideas. That is all but certain to mean excessive wealth at the top.” (49)

“Does it seem as though no matter how much you know and learn, you’ll never really be on top things? Guess what – you won’t.” (65)

“If you did nothing all day long except try to understand what was happening in the world economy, by the time you figured it out, things would have changed so much that your knowledge would no longer be valid. There’s a reason economists spend far more time studying the past than analyzing the present!” (65)

“At every moment, something happens somewhere; we check obsessively, looking for some larger trend of good or bad, but in most news there is no larger trend.” (66)

“Historically, innovation has produced recoveries, while protectionism has only ensured an industry’s doom.” (75)

“A dollar spent on research and innovation today may become a hundred dollars later, while a dollar cut from costs today will never be more than a dollar.” (82)

““To succeed in the globalized era, you can be the lowest-cost producer for an established product or you can have a fundamentally new innovation that disrupts the marketplace,” says Harry Rein, who once ran the venture division of General Electric. “How many American companies are going to be the lowest-cost producer? A few, but not many. That means disruptive innovation will be essential to future U.S. economic growth. And you’d better have a steady supply of disruptive ideas, because even many good ones won’t last long.” (115)

“IBM had one of the most important, most successful and most disruptive ideas in business history, the PC, and the idea lasted twenty-four years, until the company sold off the remains of that business. IBM disrupted a market, only to be counterattacked by more disruption.” (115)

“Generally, venture capitalists are fearful of the very first product in a new field, as the first often paves the way while the second or third makes the money.” (116)

““To me, the word pioneer sounds like the word poison,” says Michael Moritz of Sequoia.” (116)

““Investing in start-ups is like buying lottery tickets, and praising venture capitalists as business geniuses is like saying a lottery winner was a genius at selecting tickets,” says Jay Watkins, a California venture capitalist.” (117)

“Google, eBay, Webvan, Kozmo – they were all lottery tickets. The sense of accelerating disruptive change – that economic ideas can quickly become a big success and just as quickly a huge flop – is likely to get worse during the Sonic Boom, making economic decisions seem more like wagering and less like rational planning.” (118)

“Free-flowing information makes it easier for other businesses to find out what is being done successfully, and to imitate that success.” (128)

“Because valuable business ideas tend to originate in developed nations then be copied in developing nations, the increasing speed and ease of commoditization will tend to make American and European growth and employment even more turbulent – while broadly benefiting everyone, by driving down prices.” (128)

“A novel twist on an existing concept is the most common form of innovation.” (133)

“If the product is free, then it is impossible to undercut the price.” (133)

“Qingdao Refrigerator Collective, a classical old-Communist enterprise accomplished the trifecta of old Chinese economics: it had a monopoly, treated workers terribly and still managed to lose money.” (150)

“In practically all aspects of free economics, no one is in charge. That reality is central to understanding both why the global economy is getting so much more productive, and why the global economy is causing so much more anxiety.” (152)

“Slavoj Zizek, a Marxist philosopher from Ljubljana, recently noted, “Capitalism is the sole social organizing structure in world history hat is rendered stronger by its own instability. This is part of the genius of capitalism. Instability does not cause it to collapse.” (152)

“Experts in economics often seem to have so little to say about where the economy is headed – in contrast to, say, medicine, aeronautics or physics, where most specialists could present a reasonably accurate forecast of what’s likely to happen in the next decade or two.” (163)

“Since the mid 1970s, small business and start-up firms have created more net U.S. jobs than big business.” (164)

“Not too long ago, if you asked yourself, “Where is the economy?” you could answer, “There, at that factory.” That answer doesn’t apply today, and wont’ ever apply again. Not too long ago, if you asked yourself, “Where is the competition?” you could answer, “A hundred miles away, at that other factory.” That answer also doesn’t apply today, and won’t ever apply again.” (195)

“In every case, after the turmoil was over, people considered the new condition superior to the previous one – and then hoped to stop any further change.” (196)

“People have always extolled the past and feared the future. In nearly every case, the future has turned out the better place to be.” (196)

“Rather than finding a job, more and more Americans and Europeans will be expected to create a job.” (196)

“As the global economy becomes more volatile, the future may hold as much fear of falling down the economic ladder as promise of climbing up.” (198)

“Most things will get better for most people – but unless you live in a poor nation, don’t expect that to make you any happier.” (199)

“Nonspecific mild unease about life in general may be much of society’s fate for decades to come, if not indefinitely.” (200)

“The global Sonic Boom now beginning will cause the kind of clamor associated with actual sonic booms. Relatively small changes throughout the world will result in window-shaking that seems all out of proportion, just as with actual sonic booms. You won’t be able to yell at the pilot, because the Sonic Boom has no pilot. You won’t be able to complain about navigation, because no one has the slightest idea what destination the international economy is moving toward.
No matter how crazy and chaotic events become, probably things will turn out fine; probably with each passing year the world will, on balance, be a better place than at any point in the past. Whatever comes next, bear in mind the high-tech economic muddle of a Sonic Boom world is a thousand times preferable to military conflict, isolationism or authoritarianism. A chaotic, raucous, unpredictable, stress-inducing, free, prosperous, well-informed and smart future is coming. Just remember to cover your ears.” (210)

Liked the quotes? Buy the book.

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