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Some Thoughts On Labor On Labor Day

When one looks back over the history of the development of the modern economy from the agricultural age, to the industrial age, to the information age, the development of a strong labor movement has to be one of the signature events. Capitalism, taken to its excesses, does not allocate economic value fairly to all participants in the economic system. The workers, slaving away to build the railroad, the skyscraper, etc, provide real and substantial value to the overall system and yet, because they are commodified and interchangeable parts, they don’t always get their fair share of the economic value they help to create. So the labor movement provides the market power that each worker individually cannot provide.

The emergence of the middle class in the developed world in the 19th and 20th centuries has as much to do with the emergence of a labor movement as it has to do with anything. And a growing middle class in turn drove economic development as the obtained earning power was spent on needs like homes, cars, education, etc.

I am a fan of the idea that labor needs a mechanism to obtain market power as a counterbalance to the excesses of markets and capitalism. I think we can look back and see all the good that has come from a strong labor movement in the US over the past 150 years.

However, like all bureaucratic institutions, the “Union” mechanism appears anachronistic sitting here in the second decade of the 21st century. We are witnessing the sustained unwinding of 19th and 20th century institutions that were built at a time when transaction and communications costs were high and the overhead of bureaucracy and institutional inertia were costs that were unavoidable.

One has to think “if I were constructing a labor movement from scratch in 2015, how would I do it?”  My colleague Nick Grossman coined the term “Union 2.0” inside our firm to talk about all the organizing tools coming to market to assist workers in the “gig economy.” But I think Union 2.0 is way bigger than the gig economy. The NY Times has a piece today on workers in a carwash in Santa Fe organizing outside of the traditional union system. One can imagine leveraging technology, communications, and marketplaces to allow such a thing on a much larger scale.

I don’t know how much the traditional union system taxes workers to provide the market power they need. But if its like any other hierarchical system that we are seeing replaced by networks and markets, the take rates are in the 20-40% range and could be lowered to sub 5% with technology.

That’s a big deal. And I suspect we will see just that happen in my lifetime. I sure hope so.

Video Of The Week: The Walkoff Homer

I apologize if you came here looking for the business/tech section and landed on the sports section. But that’s how its going to be today.

I grew up an army brat moving every year. I was a baseball fan and my teams were the A’s and the Pirates, the two most colorful teams in baseball in the 70s. When we arrived in NYC in 1983, I had two choices, the Mets and the Yankees. There was no way I was going to be a Yankees fan, so the Mets were the default choice but not one I was excited about.

A year later in the summer of 1984, I arrived back in NYC from a business trip on a steamy July night, just like this week has been, and got in a taxi at LaGuardia. Back then the taxis did not have AC so we drove into Manhattan with the windows down and the breeze in our faces. The taxi driver had the Mets game crackling on the radio, the best way to consume baseball in my opinion. The Mets had their young rookie pitcher Dwight Gooden on the mound and it was late in the game and he was striking out everyone. It was mesmerizing to listen to this kid strike out batter after batter. I got home, turned on the game in our apartment, watched the end of it, and have been a dedicated Met fan ever since.

The early years of my Met-fandom were easy. The 80s were a great time to be a Met fan. The rest of my time in NYC no so much.

But this year has been different. The Mets have pitching, lots of it. And so I’ve been watching more closely all summer long.

Last night, after dinner and after our guests retired for the night, Josh and I turned on the Mets Nationals game. Matt Harvey was in fine form and, as usual, the Mets were not hitting. Harvey stayed in an inning too long, lost the lead, and the game went into extra innings. Finally, in the 12th inning, Wilmer Flores hit this walk off homer and the Mets are now two games out of first place with Yoenis Cespedes on a plane to NYC. I think we’ll be watching a lot of Mets games the rest of this season.

Bitcoin Trends In The First Half of 2015

Our portfolio company Coinbase published a “Bitcoin Trends” blog post yesterday. It’s a quick and interesting read.

Here are my two favorite charts from it:

I’ve said this before and I will say it again, the exchange price of Bitcoin is not the most important number to look at. The things to look at are transaction volume on the network and developer adoption. On these two metrics, Bitcoin seems to be doing quite well.

Fun Friday: Summer Reading List

It’s the dog days of summer. The Gotham Gal and I spend our weekends at our beach house and I read a lot more.

Right now I am reading Dead Wake, Erik Larson’s story of the Lusitania’s last voyage.

I’m interested in what the AVC community is reading this summer.

So let’s crowdsource a summer reading list in the comments today.

Access Code

Access Code is a free 9 month mobile development program, which enables talented adults from low-income and underrepresented communities to learn iOS or Android and get jobs in the NYC tech economy. This program raises the average income of graduates from less than $26,000 a year to $73,000 a year, and brings them from the poverty line to the middle class in the process. Access Code was developed by Coalition For Queens (C4Q).

I believe that people from every community and background should have the opportunity to learn to code, gain jobs in tech, and pursue entrepreneurship. By working deeply within local communities to identify talent, C4Q is creating a tech community that is representative of the diversity of New York, with cohorts that are over 50% women, 60% African-American or Hispanic, and 50% immigrants. Furthermore, they serve the 65% of New Yorkers who don’t have a college education. If you never graduate from college in New York City, your average lifetime income is $27,000 a year. C4Q rigorously selects the top 5% of applicants, and opens new career opportunities in tech and entrepreneurship for them. There are graduates who are former administrative assistants who have now become mobile developers at companies such as Buzzfeed and an Egyptian immigrant raised in Queensbridge Public Housing has graduated from Y Combinator and raised venture capital.

The New York community is generously contributing time, skills, and funding to these efforts to expand opportunity for others. C4Q is able to provide these programs with the support of leaders in technology, business, and philanthropy such as the Robin Hood Foundation, Blackstone, and Google. Many leaders in the New York iOS and Android community are involved with curriculum, teaching, and mentoring — including Otra Therox and Ash Farrow of CocoaPods and Art.sy, Brian Donohue, the CEO of Instapaper, as well as Kevin Galligan of Touch Lab, organizer of DroidCon NY and the NY Android Developer meetup.

In our recent Techcrunch Disrupt interview, I spoke about the need for the tech community to be civically engaged and the importance of expanding access to education. Many organizations are solving this problem by teaching coding in schools and increasing the K-12 STEM education pipeline. Providing coding training to underserved adults who can fill tech jobs, as Access Code is doing, is another part of the talent equation that can make significant immediate impact. If you feel like you can support this effort with your time or your money or by hiring Access Code graduates or by teaching a class, please do so.

Carrying Two Phones

I’ve been carrying two phones for the last week. I’m trying Google Fi on my Nexus 6 and so I put my TMobile sim card into my old iPhone and now I’ve got two functioning phones.

I’ve never liked carrying two phones. It creates cognitive dissonance for me. I like the simplicity of having one phone that does it all for me. And that’s the way I’ve operated since getting a cell phone over twenty years ago.

However, because most of my apps are completely interoperable across iOS and Android and sync data in the cloud, it almost doesn’t matter what phone I take out of what pocket right now.

I can do gmail on my Nexus 6 and then pick up my iPhone and the reply is there. I can take photos on both devices and they are all in Dropbox syncd across both devices. Instagram Snapchat and Twitter work identically on both platforms and it doesn’t matter which device I use to access them.

The phone number on the device does matter a bit but I’ve forwarded my Google Fi number to my TMo number so I get all my calls and texts on my iPhone. Sadly the forwarding doesn’t work in reverse which means my iPhone becomes the default voice and texting device in this current setup. It would be cool if you could virtualize a number across both devices and make that irrelevant too.

What this experience has taught me is the device and OS almost don’t matter anymore. If I want a big screen to read on I pull my Nexus 6 out of my pocket. If I want small and light, I pull out my iPhone.

I might stick with this two phone approach for a while. Google Fi is not available on iOS yet and as much as I want to move to Fi from TMo, I don’t think I want to be locked into any device or OS. And the cool thing is you don’t have to be locked in anymore. The smartphone and the smartphone operating systems have become a commoditized layer of the tech stack and users are benefitting from that.

Feature Friday: Wifi Calling

So I’ve been using Google Fi on my Nexus 6 (the only phone it is offered on right now) and put my T-Mobile sim card back into my old iPhone which I bought from T-Mobile.

So now I’m carrying two phones for the time being and both have wifi calling on them.

T-Mobile has offered wifi calling on their phones for a long time now.

And wifi calling is one of the features that comes with Google Fi.

I happen to be in our beach house this long holiday weekend where the cell coverage is basically non-existent and in places like this wifi calling is a godsend.

As I understand it, wifi calling offloads your voice and data services from the carrier’s network onto a wifi network if the wifi network has a stronger connection to the Internet. This all happens seamlessly and you don’t have to do anything to cause this to happen.

What’s particularly great is I can be on a call in my house on wifi calling, leave and get into my car, connect the phone to my car’s audio system, drive away and wifi calling will move the call over to the carrier’s network without dropping it.

I’m not sure why all carriers don’t offer wifi calling as a standard feature of their service. It reduces congestion on their networks, extends their networks, and provides a great utility to their customers.

I really like it.

Fun Friday: Airbnb vs Hotel

The Gotham Gal and I have been on two weeks of overseas travel. We’ve been in four hotels and one apartment over that time. And I must say the apartment is much more relaxing than the hotels.

Which leads me to the question of where folks like to stay when they travel. In the title of this post I called it Airbnb vs Hotel, but what I really mean is do you like to stay in someone’s apartment/home or in a hotel? The former category could include VRBO, Homeaway, Airbnb, a friend’s apartment, or something else.