Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Steven Johnson on the Wisdom of Swarms

Steven Johnson, author or a number of great, thought-provoking titles including 'Emergence' and 'Where Good Ideas Come From' has just released a new book titled, 'Future Perfect'. In a post about it on his blog he includes the following quote from 'Emergence',
"To old-school progressives, the protesters appeared to be headless, out of control, a swarm of small causes with no organizing principle—and to a certain extent they’re right in their assessment. What they fail to recognize is that there can be power and intelligence in a swarm, and if you’re trying to do battle against a distributed network like global capitalism, you’re better off becoming a distributed network yourself."
The quote was written about the Seattle anti-World Trade Organization protests but, as Johnson points out, could just as easily apply to the Occupy Wall Street protesters of today. The spirit of that quote, in many ways a closing thought and not the central thesis, came to dominate discussions and derivative thinking. It is clearly a sign of the times that distributed network organizations dominate the headlines while those based on hierarchies struggle to adapt (with the possible exception of China).

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Map of the Strange Border and Banking Policies Between Austria and Germany around Jungholz

There is no shortage of interesting exclaves around the world and Jungholz does not disappoint. Like many other European exclaves, Jungholz owes its origins to Germany's Feudal era. Jungholz lies in a valley in the Alps. Once a German farmstead, it was sold to a new owner in what would eventually become Austria in 1342. Its location, completely surrounded by Germany was overlooked and eventually accepted as fact. There are no direct roads from Austria proper to Jungholz. By car, you must leave Austria, travel through Germany and then re-enter Austria in order to get to Jungholz. Accommodations have been made to ease the situation by giving Jungholz two area codes and two postal addresses, one German and one Austrian.

Perhaps the most interesting "dividend" of Jungholz's unique location is its banking rules. It has three German banks that operate a bit like their Cayman Island counterparts… off-shore banking without all the sand between your toes. As German banks operating inside Jungholz's tax-free status they offer the ability to transfer money to and from other German banks without incurring any fees. And since they operate inside of Austria, they are allowed to provide the cover of Austria's confidential banking laws which are second only to Switzerland's. One bank even has a James Bond-inspired bank product called, Goldfinger. According to an article on the Travel Intelligence website, the Reiffeisenbank offers the following reassurance to the prospective customer, “There are moments in life when you can’t compromise on confidentiality - for instance, when it comes to your money. Our Goldfinger Numbered Account makes absolute confidentiality a reality.”

Geographic isolation has its privileges.