Tuesday, February 19, 2013

There is something wrong with this picture

Dear Colleagues

I drafted this post almost exactly 2 years ago ... but the theme of my observation back then is much the same today. It highlights a management issue that I remember from my days as a corporate manager ... talk is easy, but getting the results, not so easy, and a manager's job is to make sure that there are results. For this the best management tool is good accounting and reporting.
I have just stumbled on the following article originally from Reuters.
The text of the article is set out below for convenience.

I have posted a comment as follow under the title "There is something wrong with this picture!":
The article describes a huge disbursement of money ... about $10 billion a year for six years, and yet there is really nothing anywhere that talks about how much money has been spent and with what results over the past decade.

There is great happiness in much of the international malaria research and control industry because disbursements are an order of magnitude bigger now than they were a decade ago ... but metrics about the performance of this expenditure is glaringly absent.

With billions of dollars flowing, it is pathetic how little performance feedback there is ... a totally irresponsible situation, but the norm throughout the global official relief and development assistance (ORDA) industry.

I am a former corporate cost accountant and CFO who has done a fair amount of consulting in the ORDA arena. The scale of the lost and wasted funds is outrageous.

Peter Burgess

U.S. effort to fight malaria focuses on women
2010-04-22 22:22:01 GMT (Reuters)

* $63 billion plan to include drugs and mosquito nets
* Greatly expands 2005 initiative with $10 billion a year
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON, April 22 (Reuters) - The U.S. government announced a $63 billion, six-year plan on Thursday to accelerate efforts to fight malaria, mostly in Africa and focusing on women and children.

The aim is to reach 450 million people, or about 70 percent of the highest-risk populations in sub-Saharan Africa. The plan is to use insecticide-treated nets, indoor insecticide spraying, preventive treatment of pregnant women, and treatment of infected people with artemisinin-based drug cocktails.

The work through the Global Health Initiative will keep trying to integrate with each country's preferred approach to fighting malaria, which infects 247 million people globally and kills nearly one million a year, mostly children.

"The United States will invest $63 billion over six years to help partner countries improve health outcomes, with a particular focus on improving the health of women, newborns and children," reads the report, issued by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The full report is available at www.pmi.gov/resources/reports/usg_strategy2009-2014.pdf.
A major goal is to affect most of Africa by cutting malaria rates in half among the 450 million people targeted, the report says. It also aims to limit the spread of malaria parasites that resist treatment in Southeast Asia and the Americas.

The program will distribute nets and help spray against mosquitoes that carry malaria parasites. But it will also try to build public health capacity and also seek to integrate anti-malaria efforts with work to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and so-called neglected tropical diseases.
Without prompt treatment, malaria can cause severe illness, coma and death. There is no vaccine but prophylactic drugs can help prevent infection. So can efforts to eradicate mosquitoes.
In 2005, the U.S. government released a five-year, $1.2 billion malaria initiative targeting 15 African countries.

The latest plan released expands on this, rolling out anti-malaria efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria as well as up to seven additional countries.

"The selection of the seven additional countries will be based on population, malaria burden, health infrastructure, and availability of other donor funding," the report reads.

In March, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership said funding to combat malaria must be more than tripled to be effective.

The group, backed by the World Health Organization, said total annual funding was about $2 billion at the end of 2009, but $6 billion a year was needed.

In the worst-hit countries, malaria takes up 90 percent of public health spending.

Resistance to chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, the cheapest malaria drugs, is common. Artemisinin combination therapy drugs made by firms like Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis can cost up to $11 over the counter.

Do capital markets allocate resources efficiently?

Dear Colleagues

Do capital markets allocate resources efficiently? YES ... but!

I learned academic economics 50 years ago ... and learned that markets were an efficient way to allocate resources.

But as I recall, I was also taught that a condition to having a functioning market was for the information being used by the market actors had to be good.

Listening to newsfeeds like Bloomberg News it is very easy to understand why the allocation of resources has been so bad. While corporate profits look healthy (in the first quarter of 2010) the economic health of society has a whole (in the USA) is a mess. This is not at all surprising. The only measures that are talked about are those that relate to corporate profit, stockmarket prices and GDP growth ... and various subsidiary metrics that help to move these measures.

There is no dialog about the horrible state of almost all metrics about the commons, whether it is the state of the land, the sea or the air, all of which have been treated abysmally as dumping grounds for the effluent of a "profitable" affluent society. There is no dialog about the lack of investment in (US) infrastructure, or even its maintenance! There is nothing about the consumption of scarce resources ... they have no "cost" in conventional profit accounting!

There is no dialog about the level of unemployment ... except in the context of unemployment being a drag on possible consumer spending growth ... nothing about the value impact of the family and the community where an unemployed worker lives. There is no dialog about the tremendous value in having the population well education and trained. There is no dialog about the value of having a healthy population. All of these matters are seen as a drag on profit ... but without having any metric of the value of these things, which in the bigger context are way more important than corporate profit in determining quality of life and happiness.

For the last fifty years markets have allocated resources to making profits ... and in this the markets have been very effective.

Over the same time period, organizations like the World Bank have allocated resources to "projects" that have been "designed" to achieve social goals like progress out of poverty ... and it is fair to say that the moneys disbursed by the World Bank have really done very little to achieve these goal. Something is wrong? Something is missing? Where there has been success, it appears that most of the success has come from something else ... like, for instance, profit seeking capital flows, that "spilled over" into social progress!

What this suggests is that the market mechanism flowing into the private sector is way better process than a "designed" project flowing through the public sector with all the baggage of bureaucracy ... but it also suggests that the metrics being used to measure market performance need to be metrics that embrace the social dimension as well as the profit dimension. This is (of course) what Community Analytics (CA) is doing ... but only in a limited way, and not yet reaching the capital market as a whole.

While some decision makers in the capital markets will choose profit maximization no matter what, and ignore the value destruction element of the investment ... some part of the market will choose to have a portfolio that reflects not only profit performance but also value performance. With this there is hope that capital markets will then start to allocate resources efficiently, and the distortion of the market in favor of profit where there are metrics rather than value where there are no metrics, can end.

Change the way the game is scored, and you change the way the game is played!

Peter Burgess

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The vital importance of a value agenda

The global economy is in a state of suspended animation ... the leadership in the financial and corporate sectors seems unable or unwilling to do anything significant to get the economic system into a state where it is able to serve society in an equitable way.

The financial and corporate leadership point to government as the villain ... whether it is in Europe or in the United States ... but it is their own failure that is the real problem.

Chairman Bernanke and the US Federal Reserve has done as much as is reasonable for them to do ... maybe more than they should have ... in an attempt to goad the economy into delivering more jobs. In my view they are effectively 'pushing on a piece of string' and their efforts are likely to come to nought. The problem rest with the people who run the financial sector and the people who run major corporations.

I was a corporate CFO and I understand the dynamic of business operations and profit. In a money profit world it is easy to make more profit ... fire a well paid American in the USA and recruit an underpaid Chinese worker in China. This is the business model that has worked so well for Apple and a host of other famous ... infamous ... American companies.

But the bankers and corporate executives should be thinking not only about profit for investors and executives, but also impact on society both in the USA and around the world. In my view, the purpose of economic activity is to produce goods and services that satisfy needs. The processes that produce also employ workers and the wages enable people to pay for what they need. This is the multiplier at work. Without wages, a business will eventually have no market.

In the short run profits go up when wages go down.

In the long run when wages go down, market demand goes down, profits go down ... and companies go down.

Courtesy of a creative financial system, demand has been pumped up by creating credit to replace wages ... something that is totally irresponsible and stupid.

The Central Banks are able to created 'State Money' Commercial Banks are able to create 'Bank Credit' or 'Bank Money' These players are only interested in financing economic activity that produced money profit ... they will not do things that are important ... valuable ... needed ... but not money profitable. I argue that there should be a way to have a 'Job Bank' that can create 'Job Money' so that people can be put to work and  be paid to do things that our society needs, but for which there is no appetite in the existing financial and corporate sector to initiate.

With educated youth unemployment in many countries at around 50%, it is clear that the leadership of our financial system, corporate organizations and government are failing. The money profit capitalist market economy needs an overhaul and some new parts. The 'Job Bank' and 'Job Money' is a place to start. And of course, the TrueValueMetrics system is a framework of metrics that will enable something like this to be done responsibly with appropriate metrics

Peter Burgess

Monday, September 5, 2011

About website: www.truevaluemetrics.org

Dear Colleagues

I have put a lot of effort into the development of a website to support the TrueValueMetircs initiative. The website is a lot better than some, but also has major limitations because of my own level of technical knowledge and inability to convert ideas into practical presentations.

One of the major concerns that is driving my work is the huge problem of data overload. When I want an answer to a simple question, I can easily get a million answers ... when I really want to choose between just two or three good alternatives.

I am also concerned that modern economists and financial analysts seem to spend a lot of time doing analysis about things that are unimportant, while really big questions do not get addressed. The dialog in almost every forum seems to have a preset 'agenda' and in the end the dialog leaves you at the end just about where you were at the beginning.

I am appalled at how little of recent history seems to be presented in current debate the way I remember it when it happened just a few years back. The rewriting of  history may be politically convenient, but it does not help to get important problems solved.

In the end all of this makes me even more convinced that something like TrueValueMetrics is needed, together with a platform that enables TVM to be used by everyone everywhere.  

TVM builds on the idea that there is technology, society, finance and metrics and together they deliver on quality of life. I see little utility in GDP growth as a useful measure of anything. In Somalia where people are starving, some GDP growth would be of huge importance, but in the USA where per capita GDP exceeds $40,000 a year there is an urgent need to consume less and enjoy life more.

None of the media conversations seems to understand how well is just as important as how big ... we have to start changing the dialog and the website truevaluemetrics.org  is a step in this direction. This link goes to a collection of material that I have found to be useful ... in due course I want to see a very specific dialog about the community and the specific association between needs, resources, activities and progress in improving quality of life. 

This is the first 'blogspot' post for several months. As time evolves more and more of the TVM work will be visible on multiple platforms.

Peter Burgess

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How to respond to turmoil in the global energy sector!

Dear Colleagues

The increasing turmoil in the oil producing countries around the world has huge risks for the continuing improvement of the US economy. To maintain profits and cash flow, many companies will very soon cut back on their investments, and consumers will cut back all they can on their consumption. It is not time for the same old same old, but time to move into a post-cheap_energy society that presently exists and get ready for tomorrow!

The following came in my email today. It was an idea used a little bit a couple of years back. Someone responded to the idea ... also below, and I have responded as well. The third item below!

This was sent by a retired Coca Cola executive. It came from one of his engineer buddies who retired from Halliburton. If you are tired of the gas prices going up AND they will continue to rise this summer, take time to read this please.

Phillip Hollsworth offered this good idea. This makes MUCH MORE SENSE than the "don't buy gas on a certain day" campaign that was going around last April or May! It's worth your consideration. Join the resistance!!!!

I hear we are going to hit close to $ 4.00 a gallon by next summer and it might go higher!! Want gasoline prices to come down?

We need to take some intelligent, united action. The oil companies just laughed at that because they knew we wouldn't continue to "hurt" ourselves by refusing to buy gas .

It was more of an inconvenience to us than it was a problem for them. BUT, whoever thought of this idea, has come up with a plan that can Really work. Please read on and join with us!

By now you're probably thinking gasoline priced at about $2.00 is super cheap. Me too! It is currently $3.08 at Arco and Costco for regular unleaded in Salem , Oregon and climbing every week.

Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to think that the cost of a gallon of gas is CHEAP at $1.50 - $1.75, we need to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS control the marketplace..not sellers.

With the price of gasoline going up more each day, we consumers need to take action.

The only way we are going to see the price of gas come down is if we hit someone in the pocketbook by not purchasing their gas! And, we can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves.

How? Since we all rely on our cars, we can't just stop buying gas.

But we CAN have an impact on gas prices if we all act together to force a price war.

Here's the idea: For the rest of this year, DON'T purchase ANY gasoline from the two biggest companies (which now are one), EXXON and MOBIL.

If they are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit.

But to have an impact, we need to reach literally millions of Exxon and Mobil gas buyers. It's really simple to do! Now, don't wimp out on me at this point...keep reading and I'll explain how simple it is to reach millions of people!!

I am sending this note to 30 people. If each of us send it to at least ten more (30 x 10 = 300) ... and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000)... and so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth group of people, we will have reached over THREE MILLION consumers .
If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted!

If it goes one level further, you guessed it..... THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE!!!

Again, all you have to do is send this to 10 people. That's all!

(If you don't understand how we can reach 300 million and all you have to do is send this to 10 people.... Well, let's face it, you just aren't a mathematician But I am . so trust me on this one.

How long would all that take? If each of us sends this e-mail out to ten more people within one day of receipt, all 300 MILLION people could conceivably be contacted within the next 8 days!

I'll bet you didn't think you and I had that much potential, did you! Acting together we can make a difference.

If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on. I suggest that we not buy from EXXON/MOBIL UNTIL THEY LOWER THEIR PRICES TO THE $2.00 RANGE AND KEEP THEM DOWN. THIS CAN REALLY WORK.

Someone responded to this as follows. I was delighted to see someone looking hard at the issues in a more comprehensive way. I have not shown his name at this juncture, but hope to be in contact with him soon.
Dear xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

This is an excellent plan.

Unfortunately, though, its basic premise is misguided. Low gas prices are exactly the opposite of what we need. We will not rid ourselves of our dependency on this non-renewable, environmentally disastrous resource by focusing our efforts on driving down its prices. Continued reliance on hydrocarbon fuels is a losers game.

The only way to really change things is to accelerate work on finding more efficient, cleaner, and more renewable energy sources. As long as we keep gas prices low, there is little motivation for entrepreneurs and large energy companies to do so. What we need to do is help create an economic environment in which it makes sense to invest in the new and better energy technologies.

For consumers to be motivated by exactly the same kind of short-term, self-interested thinking that they abhor in industry is folly. It's like the luddites smashing looms.

Following the action plan proposed by Ms Mates may produce short term relief, but it is sure to produce long term grief.

I urge you to think it through.

Signed xxxxx
I have responded as follows. My response has some of the perspective that is built into TrueValueMetrics.
Dear Colleagues

Thank you, xxxxx for raising this question. The United States, and to a lesser extent Europe have created extremely energy intensive societies at the same time that they have created amazing innovations in productivity.

Sadly the metrics that are used to measure progress of society are fatally flawed. Corporate performance is simply money profit, with society better when it is bigger ... higher GDP, more consumption, higher stock market ... etc etc.

But society really is about quality of life ... happiness, reduced worry, family and friends, jobs, income, retirement, safety and security, good health, good education, good opportunities, beauty, spiritual support, etc. The metrics for this are conspicuously absent from the everyday dialog about economic and business performance.

In a responsible society there would be a financial reserve set aside so that we have the funding for energy when the FREE oil resources are gone. Norway is doing this. Kuwait has been doing this since the 1970s which explains why they had the money to pay the USA and others to get Iraq out of their country in the early 1990s! But the USA runs on low price energy that cannot last. The emergence of China and India as middle class economies changes the demand equation ... and people's democracy in most of the oil producing countries will change the supply equation. If there is war in the oil producing areas then supply equation is even more compromised.

The oil industry engineers are technologically amazing ... but they are not good corporate citizens for the United States, the places where they operate or the planet as a whole. They can find and exploit new resources better now than in the past, but they are merely facilitating more rapid consumption of these finite limited resources. Their profits and payout to their stockholders are based on accounting that puts ZERO cost on the oil in the ground. The reality is that these zero cost natural resources have taken a zillion years to produce, and one day we will have to be doing that in real time to have energy equilibrium for the planet.

Does this matter? You bet it does. In my own little way I want to see better metrics so that the real issues that we ought to be facing are in play!

Peter Burgess

Friday, March 4, 2011

Income distribution in China worse than in the USA?

Dear Colleagues

Someone suggested that I should read an article about income distribution posted on the Roubini website. I do not have access to the whole article but the start is not promising. The URL is:

I sense from the title of the article ... Just How Rich Is the National People’s Congress? ... and the first small snippet of the main text that the idea is that the fact of huge wealth in among the governing elite in China makes the situation in the United States quite desirable. This is absolute hogwash.

Here is the snippet of text.
Just How Rich Is the National People’s Congress?
Adam Wolfe Mar 4, 2011 6:04PM
A Bloomberg News article from Michael Forsythe on China’s National People’s Congress is making waves today. Coming on the heels of the failed “Jasmine Revolution” in China, the article seeks to show that the NPC is representative of the widening income gap in China.

The richest 70 of the 2,987 members have a combined wealth of 493.1 billion yuan ($75.1 billion), and include China’s richest man, Hangzhou Wahaha Group Chairman Zong Qinghou, according to the research group Hurun Report. By comparison, the wealthiest 70 people in the 535-member U.S. House and Senate, who represent a country with about 10 times China’s per-capita income, had a maximum combined wealth of $4.8 billion, data from the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics show.
In my view, the success of China is much more about many millions of very poor Chinese becoming somewhat better off. In the process the elite has also become very very rich, which is the way the enterprise system tends to work.

But the problem in the United States is that while the poor Chinese are moving up the economic ladder, the once rich Amnerican middle class is moving down the economic ladder. In absolute terms Americans are wealthy by world standards ... but they are incredible concerned about the direction of the American economy.

Until American leaders ... and that includes corporate and financial sector leaders ... take the jobs issue seriously, the USA is in trouble. President Obama cannot be a lone voice talking about jobs, when every institution in the USA is doing all it can to handle its own "agenda". Republicans in Congress have a focus on cutting government spending even though it has been government spending that successfully saved the USA and the global economy from catastrophe after many years of regulatory failure, greed and a whole lot more.

Corporate leaders have done a good job for their stockholders building back profitability ... but in the process there have been jobs lost with a huge impact on US quality of life. But that is not a corporate responsibility ... a corporate management team has responsibility to its stockholders ... and this might well be a fact of law ... but it is a bad situation for society.

And the dialog about taxation does not help. The argument goes that lower taxes stimulate the economy and create jobs ... but again taxes can be legally reduced in many different ways, but government services cannot be paid for without appropriate levels of revenue. The first job in corporate social responsibility (CSR) must be for a company to pay the right amount of taxes.

Government has a responsibility to spend money wisely, and it is true to say that there has been profligate spending in good times and then crisis job cutting in bad times. There is blame for this both on the side of the government and also on the side of the workers and their unions. But there is another issue, and that is the accounting used in government and the public sector. Most of the accounting is cash based rather than accrual based, and the balance sheets that are so important in corporate accounting really do not exist in the public sector. This means that the dialog around matters like current wages and future pensions are not included in any rigorous accounting, and over years this has become a terrible problem. Many unionized public employees are going to get great pensions that have to be paid for ... but the decisions that made this problem go back a very long time.

The concentration of wealth in China is a problem for the Chinese. The wealth differentials in the USA are different, but are also bad. Sorting it out is going to be difficult, but it must be done.

TrueValueMetrics will help because of its focus on value and the importance of a value balance sheet for all the actors in society!

Peter Burgess

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The motion is 'Clean Energy Can Drive America's Economic Recovery?'

Dear Colleagues

I would like to share this note with you. I have been contacted in connection with attending an Intelligence Squared Debate in New York. I decided that a quick note to the organizers was in order, since while the premise of the debate is interesting, it fails to address the reality that no matter how much this agenda is promoted, it will be subsumed by all sorts of other issues with bigger financial and political import.

My bottom line, as always is simply that you manage what you measure ... and nothing that is of vital importance is being measured by the key institutions engaged in policy formulation and decision making, and accordingly there is a serious disaster in the making. This is what I wrote:
Dear Colleagues

Thank you for inviting me to come to the next of your debates. The motion is 'Clean Energy Can Drive America's Economic Recovery?'

I am very interested in the topic and have been for a long time ... but the current dialog about this and many other important issues really disappoints me.

There are huge opportunities but most of the time the dialog misses the point. If one starts off with the premise that technology is now more productive by an order of magnitude or two or more ... that is resource use effective ... then the progress of modern society on a global basis is rather pathetic. There are real reasons for this, notably that leadership has made poor decisions over and over again and the high powered high profile analysts and the dialog in the media avoids looking at this.

The prevailing metrics that are the starting point are fatally flawed. Most decision making ... that is allocation of resource ... metrics are simply about money and profit, about GDP growth and about the performance of the capital markets. These have some importance, but other metrics have importance as well, such as the progress in improving quality of life and issue regarding sustainability.

There are a number of well known people who have highlighted the issues around economic metrics besides myself. The huge mistakes that get made by investors and macro-economic managers as they focus on profit and growth without looking hard at the socio-economic and sustainability dimensions make it difficult to be optimistic about any future for the American economy. If profit, measured as it is now, is the only goal then the corporate community will use low cost workers and as a result will leave the American economy a hollowed out shell. The government will be asked to help unemployed more and more and more ... and it is not inconceivable that there will eventually be economic revolution in the US just as there is now in North Africa and the Middle East.

A value construct would change the trajectory of the US economy in meaningful ways. The profit one will send the US economy over the cliff ... essentially the same cliff that almost consumed the US just over two years ago.

Green jobs can make a huge difference to the United States and the world ... but it is a value construct that is an essential prerequisite in order for decision makers who have resources to flow funds into that segment of the economy. Neither the media nor the well-known academics, economists and policy analysts seem to have any deep understanding of this ... and it scares me to death.

Peter Burgess

These are points make FOR and AGAINST the motion
** The current administration expects its clean energy policies to generate 800,000 jobs over the next two years, laying the foundation for lasting economic growth.
** Consumers can save billions of dollars relying on clean energy sources and increasing energy efficiency, leaving more money to be spent on other goods and services.
** Major investment in clean energy will lead to innovation and new technology.
** Reducing dependence on imported energy frees us to spend our limited resources domestically and protects us from fluctuations in oil prices and climate change.
** The Department of Energy’s own job creation estimates are far more modest than those of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.
** A significant portion of clean energy funding has gone to foreign companies who have the advantage of having been heavily subsidized by their own governments for a number of years.
** Clean energy jobs face the same problems any other industry faces--competition from cheap foreign labor.
** A real green economy wouldn’t rely on government regulation and taxpayer financed subsidies.

Peter Burgess
Meaningful Metrics for a Smart Society
blog: http://truevaluemetrics.blogspot.com
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Of course, there is a lot more to say ... but what bothers me is that most of the people that engage in the dialog avoid the core issue of unbelievable waste of available resources while bemoaning the lack of resources that are in short supply. Nothing is going to change until profit is diminished in importance and value adding is increased in importance.

I see obscene waste when 10 or 15 million capable workers are unemployed in the USA. The reason for this is that there is not enough profit in putting these workers on a payroll to do the many things that need to be done. The economy needs a better infrastructure ... but how to profit from this. Not easy, but commuters lose millions ... billions of hours a year wasting time in traffic jams ... that comes free within the prevailing system of socio-economic metrics. If there are 15 million unemployed workers (say $400 a week) that is like throwing away about $4 billion a week of lost economic product. Actually it is worse than this because social costs go up when unemployment is elevated. Nothing will change as long as the corporate community can make no money from employing these people ... and nothing will change as long as the public sector is constrained by all sorts of rules about what they can and can not do with the budget ... and I might add, when there is no value balance sheet to hold government authorities accountable for their decision making.

It is a mess ... but TrueValueMetrics is a methodology that can help.

Stay tuned ... the truevaluemetrics.org website evolves.

Peter Burgess