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  • Jack Lau

Open Source Software and Growth for All - We cannot just "download" and not "upload&q


Over the weekend, a list of numbers flashed across our screen as we were doing our research. In particular, I was reading through the Economist magazine and got some interesting data from different articles. Instead of presenting a view right away, let's see what we saw:

  1. Google does 4 billion searches a day --- we mean EVERY day. (Compare: the world population is about 7.6 billion)

  2. The big tech companies today provide about US$280 billion worth of "free" service a year to the public. Think Search, Maps, Instant messages…. (Compare: In Hong Kong, if you can maintain a profit of roughly about $3M a year, you can go public.)

  3. The top 3 technology companies in Silicon Valley has a combined market capitalization over US $1 trillion (yes, 12 zeros) ; yet they only employ around 137,000 people. (Now please compare that to the Big 3 in auto industry in 1990 --- GM, Ford and Chrysler, which had a market capitalization of US $36 billion and employed 1.2 million people.)

  4. Average life span of the S&P 500 companies is only 18 years nowadays. (Compare: Back in the late 50's, they were 61 years before vanishing.)

Now, have you heard of the "elephant graph"? (See below. The x-axis is the percentile of people in terms of wealth and the y-axis is the growth of any sector of people in a 20 year span from 1988 to 2008.) Essentially, the "elephant graph", as used by economist Branko Milanovic, illustrated how people's wealth grew in a 20 year span for different percentile of the world population.The graph shows that people who had been able to enjoy growth in wealth in the past 20 years have either been the rich in the advanced nations (the top 1% percentile of global population, Point C) and the median sector (mostly due to the rise of the Chinese and Indian populations, Point A). Those who have done reasonable in the world in the past, the top 20% folks (mostly from advanced nations, Point B) have not really seen any growth for a jaw-dropping 20 years. And, the shape of the graph looks like an elephant; hence the name the "elephant graph".

So, what are we saying? Now we are no economists, ….

  1. But, as China is entering into a more matured growth phase, will we see a hump in the median sector down the road? Who else could be the growth engine?

  2. Let's do some simple math, with the top companies not engaging in manufacturing and yet commanding an even more dominant share in the economy, fewer people will for sure control and drive the economy. The Top 3 auto in the 90's was worth $37 billion employing 1.2 million people. Today, the top 3 Silicon Valley tech companies today are worth $1 trillion employing 137,000 people. Crazy math here, but does it not mean that in the old days, each person in the "top" industry commands about $30,000 in economic "expectation" (o.k. We have substituted market capitalization to expectation by the public). And it is about $7,300,000 per person in the top 3 tech companies today?

  3. On top of that, technology companies are a newer specie. It is not clear how long they last. It does really feel like the great wild west. Winners take all and losers get none. Moreover, for tech guys, winners are not guaranteed perpetuity. Think Nokia and Blackberry. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why a lot of entrepreneurs opt for selling their ventures once they receive certain value rather than hanging in there and fighting another round. On top of that, there is a strong incentive for the incumbent to buy startups for technologies and talents. Business schools around the world teach people that mindset actually.

Pundits for sure can drive a myriad of conclusions from different angles. However, here are a few of our thoughts:

  1. Manufacturing: It is really difficult to engage a large workforce without manufacturing (logistics or service industries of course can be another area which employs a lot of people). Unfortunately, we cannot fit too many Disney lands in a city or even a continent. Yet, manufacturing is not sustainable in the long run without technologies, research and development and probably brand awareness. And, if technologies are one of the most important keys, what can we do? How can we leverage technologies really to benefit the mass, especially if the current sentiment is not to engage in manufacturing? And, think of the Pearl River Delta region in China. We already have a lot of manufacturing. Does it make most sense from a macro point of view to do both pure software kind of technology with the purpose of enabling more manufacturing? If Tesla can be manufactured in an expensive California city, as long as we can create value and demand, Southern China will be perfect. So, what do we need? Brand awareness? Technology superiority fight? Patent Protection? We have always loved the Tesla story. (By the way, we admit that this is not the end yet. Who knows given the production challenges and ever shifting consumer taste…). It seems that we have quite some ingredients already, and lacking just a few spices. Come on guys… Let's use our collective wisdom to fill that gap. Once the manufacturing is dead, it takes a lot of effort and time to get them back. Manufacturing, in our humble opinion, is a must for a vast region. Without which, we can never close the wealth gap. (By the way, people have been arguing that manufacturing is really the back rock of a sustainable economy for a long time. We are just echoing the obvious.)

  2. Open Source software: In the above mentioned passages, we never quite talk about this. Here is our simple thought. In the $ per person economic value hypothesis, we have ignored the open source phenomenon. Open source is by definition free. So, there is no market capitalization of an open source software to speak of. Yet, without open source software, we will not see a majority of the companies we see today. From the simple programming languages to the operating systems to the application packages, they are all free and have allowed start-ups to build products. Where would we be if iOS or Andorid could not ride on the Linux platform? Where would we be if programming languages are proprietary? Since open source software platform are mostly done by volunteers/universities/companies without direct real revenue, we cannot assign $ per person directly. Then, this is the trillion dollar question: If a region does not get involved in Open Source actively, how can they develop the culture of innovation and instinct of technology directions? How can they generate massive number of talents? And, really, if the companies in the region are only "taking" and not "giving", how can they be a technology leader? And, without being a technology leader can they then transfer the know-how and enable cooler technology which hopefully can benefit more people? You cannot be a society which just "download" and never "upload" if you want to be a leader. It is not quite possible to attach a direct economic value to a piece of software such as UNIX and Linux. But, we sure don't think you can have someone develop a system such as iOS or Android without the insights and talent pools. And, without the likes of an iOS and Andorid, how can you build a factory that dominates the mobile phone manufacturing and command a premium.

References:

On "elephant graph":

https://oregoneconomicanalysis.com/2016/07/01/the-elephant-graph-graph-of-the-week/

On the importance of manufacturing:

http://rooseveltforward.org/six-reasons-manufacturing-central-economy/

上週末,在我們做研究時屏幕上閃過一系列的數字﹐特別是在閱讀經濟學人雜誌時﹐從不同文章中看見很多有趣的數據。我們暫且不做分析,只把這些數字列出看看:

· 谷歌一天做 40 億次的搜索 --- 我們的意思是每一天。 (比較:世界人口約76億)

· 矽谷各大科技公司目前每年給公眾提供約US $ 280億的“免費”服務。想想“搜索”﹑“地圖”﹑“即時消息”......。 (比較:在香港,如果你能每年保持盈利約 $3M,你可以去上市。)

· 前3大矽谷技術公司擁有總市值超過US $ 1萬億(是的,12個零)﹐但他們只僱用約137,000名專業人員。 (現在請比較,1990年汽車業的三大巨頭︰通用汽車公司﹑福特和佳士拿,市值只有US $ 360億,卻僱用了120萬人。)

· 今天標準普爾500強企業的平均壽命僅18年。 (比較:在50年代,他們是61年。)

你聽過“大象圖表”嗎? (見下圖。 X 軸是人們的財富分佈; y 軸是1988-2008年這20年來的財富增長)。從本質上說, “大象圖表”是經濟學家布蘭科·米拉諾維奇,用來分析世界不同人口的財富在20年的跨度是如何增長。圖表顯示,大增長來自發達國家的富裕人士(C點)﹐以及來自主要是中國和印度的中產階級( A點) 。可是在發達國家的中產或高中產階層 (B點)﹐竟然在過去20年沒有任何增長。大象圖表的结論是財富只會越來越不均等。由於形似大象﹐故被取名為“大象圖表”。

那麼,我們在說什麼?當然我們不是經濟學家...。

但是,由於中國正在進入一個更加成熟的發展階段,我們還會看到中位數的駝峰型曲線嗎?有誰可能成為以後的增長引擎?

讓我們做一些簡單的數學。今天頂級企業雖不從事生產但卻有驚人的經濟影響力。在90年代3大汽車的市值是370億卻有120萬名從業員。今天,前3大矽谷高科技公司價值1萬億卻只僱用137,000名專業人員。那是不是說從前的三大汽車公司每人只值$ 30,000的經濟期望(O.K. 我們用大眾經濟期望代替市值)﹐今天三大矽谷巨頭每人卻是值730萬? 每人的價值多了很多但人數卻也少了很多。

最重要的是,科技公司是一個新的品種﹐目前還不清楚他們可生存多久。感覺就像狂野的西部﹐勝者為王﹐敗者為寇。此外,科技公司的勝利者也不能保證永久生存。看看諾基亞和黑莓﹐或許這就是為什麼很多企業家選擇一旦獲得一定的價值便出售他們的企業,而不是繼續進行另一輪戰鬥的原因之一。世界各地的商學院實際上也鼓勵創業家把出售公司成為主要的目標。

從以上的數字﹐權威人士肯定可以從不同的角度得出千萬結論。然而﹐這裡有一些我們的想法:

製造業:一個沒有製造業的社會真的很難創造大量的職位。(物流或服務業當然可以僱用很多人才)。可惜的是,一個城市或甚至一個洲也不可能有太多的迪斯尼樂園。我們絶對不是第一個討論發展製造業的重要性。許多人也呼籲製造業是經濟增長“最重要”的因素。(http://rooseveltforward.org/six-reasons-manufacturing-central-economy/)

然而,從長遠來看製造業是不能沒有技術,研發或品牌。如果技術是最重要的關鍵之一,我們能做些什麼?特別是如果目前的社會情緒不是在搞製造業﹐我們如何利用技術真正惠及群眾?既然在中國珠三角地區,我們已經有很多製造工業,我們如何好好利用這優勢?

比方說,我們可大力在一些區域發展一些有利產品獨特性的軟件﹐然後把它們用在產品上並在南中國生產。想想電動車公司 Tesla特斯拉﹐居然可以在昂貴的加州生產﹐因為它有利用獨有的技術 - 最好的軟件和最好的電源技術。 如果 Tesla 特斯拉都能在昂貴的加利福尼亞州製造,只要我們能創造價值和需求,中國南方將是完美的。那麼,我們需要什麼?品牌意識?技術優勢?專利保護?我們總是喜歡 Tesla 特斯拉的故事。 (順便一提,我們承認這可能不是一個永恒的成功故事。誰能估計將來的生產挑戰和不斷轉變的消費者口味...)。看來,我們已經有相當的成分條件,只缺乏些香料。來吧!就讓我們用集體智慧來填補這一空白。一旦製造業消失是需要大量的精力和時間才能讓它們回來。製造業,以我們的愚見,是一個區域必須的。沒有它,我們永遠不能縮小貧富差距。

開源軟件:在上述段落中,我們從來沒有談及這項重要的技術。以下是我們的簡單思維。在經濟價值來說,我們都忽略了開源的重要性。開源的定義便是免費和自由的。所以,開源軟件是沒有市值可言。然而,沒有開源軟件,我們將不會看到大多數今天成功的公司。從簡單的編程語言,操作系統到應用包,它們都是免費的,初創公司用它們打造產品。如果iOS或Andorid不能利用免費的Linux平台,會怎樣?我們會在哪裡?如果編程語言是專有的會怎樣?由於開源軟件平台主要由志願者/大學/公司在沒有直接的實際收入下完成,我們不能直接地分配價值。

這可是萬億美元的問題:如果一個區域沒有積極涉足開源軟件,他們如何參與最創新技術的發展,怎能洞悉先機?怎能理解甚至改變世界技術路線?。怎能產生大量人才?而且,說真的,如果一個地區的公司只“下載”,而永不“上傳”,他們怎麼能夠領先技術?

可能不是這麼容易直接把經濟價值附加到某個如UNIX和Linux的軟件。但是,我們肯定沒有這些開源軟件﹐iOS或Android不可能這麼順利誕生。而沒有像iOS和Andorid的技術,你又怎麼能建立主導地位的手機工業和指揮溢價。


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