Yesterday, I moderated a panel on global innovation at CES in Las Vegas, and the conversation impressed on me how thoroughly technology and public policy have become intertwined. Time was when technology companies wanted nothing to do with governments. But today, the biggest opportunities—think autonomous driving or health care data—as well as the biggest risks—think data privacy or cyber security—put the private sector and the public sector in an inescapable embrace.
Two years ago, I moderated the same panel at CES, and one of the participants was a relatively obscure French economic minister by the name of Emmanuel Macron. Today he is President of France, and some argue he has become, by default, the leader of the free world. On yesterday’s panel, Pascal Cagni, now head of Business France, talked about how Macron has changed the culture of his country by elevating the status of the entrepreneur and working to create policies—such as immigration rules that welcome entrepreneurs—to boost a startup culture. Likewise, Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands was equally impressive in describing measures his country has adopted to encourage entrepreneurship. IBM’s Bridget Karlin reminded the audience that many of the most impressive technological achievements—like sending a man to the moon or launching the Internet —came from government.
But the highlight of the day was the interview of Lyft President John Zimmer by Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which owns and produces CES. Zimmer is the antithesis of Uber founder Travis Kalanick, focused on serving customers and cooperating with local governments. “We’ve demonstrated a different approach,” he said, “which is collaboration with business and government.” After listening to him, I found myself downloading the Lyft app, to replace my reflexive reliance on Uber.
Incidentally, the 33-year-old Zimmer says he drives a Lyft car on New Year’s Eve, and several other times during the year, to stay in touch with the conditions of his drivers. That’s a worthy display of leadership.
Separately yesterday, the bitcoin bubble continued to inflate, with shares of the music centric cryptocurrency Vibe jumping 400 percent, while Warren Buffett joined Jamie Dimon in saying such cryptocurrencies “will come to a bad ending.”
And two seasoned observers of business and public policy—Robert Pozen and Bob Steel—urged U.S. businesses to invest their tax windfalls, and not squander them on share buybacks and dividends.
More news below.
Bitcoin slumps amid South Korea crackdown.
Bitcoin is down about 10%, losing more than $1,500 in value, as South Korea’s government cracks down on cryptocurrency exchanges. The country’s justice minister repeated his proposed plan to ban local cryptocurrency exchanges on Thursday—a move that would deal a major blow to one of the world’s most active cryptocurrency markets. It also came as China continues to shut down its own local bitcoin mining operations. Bloomberg
The IRS says it needs more money for tax overhaul.
While the GOP-led Congress celebrates the new tax law, it may also need to send more money to the Internal Revenue Service to implement changes to the country’s tax codes. A new report from the agency’s in-house public advocate claims that years of budget cuts at the IRS present a challenge as the tax agency prepares to make changes such as updating forms and creating new definitions, all while fielding a likely uptick in questions from taxpayers about the new law. The Wall Street Journal
Berkshire moves could hint at Buffett’s successor.
What happens when Warren Buffett eventually steps aside at Berkshire Hathaway may have become a bit clearer on Wednesday. The billionaire’s investment vehicle named Gregory Abel and Ajit Jain as vice chairmen. Calling the two men “the two key figures at Berkshire,” Buffett noted that the move was a “movement toward succession,” suggesting that either Abel or Jain could be the Oracle of Omaha’s heir apparent. The New York Times
Hyundai bets on Uber rival in Asia.
Hyundai Motor is backing in one of Uber’s ride-sharing rivals in Southeast Asia. The South Korean automaker is the latest major corporation to invest in Grab, a Singapore-based ride-hailing service. Japan’s SoftBank and Toyota Tsusho (the automaker’s trading arm) have also invested in Grab, as has China’s Didi Chuxing. Fortune
Around the Water Cooler
A new look for Diet Coke.
Coca-Cola is rolling out new flavors and a revamped can design for Diet Coke in the biggest tweak to the popular soda since 1982. The company will offer various flavor alternatives to regular Diet Coke, such as ginger lime, feisty cherry, and twisted mango. Meanwhile, the drinks will now appear in thinner, taller versions of the traditional 12-ounce cans that the company thinks will appear more to millennials. Fortune
KodakCoin strikes again.
The investing furor over everything cryptocurrency continued to bolster the shares of the struggling Eastman Kodak, which made a splash this week with its announcement that the 130-year-old company is jumping on the blockchain bandwagon with its own cryptocurrency. Since the debut of KodakCoin, the company’s shares have increased more than 300% (rising as much as 90% just on Wednesday). Fortune
NYC sues Big Oil.
The New York City government brought a lawsuit this week that blames the world’s five biggest public oil companies for the city’s rising spending on combatting the effects of climate change. The lawsuit names BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, while claiming that those companies create 11% of all the world’s greenhouse gases and that they do so with full awareness of their collective impact on the environment. The Washington Post
Fighting a deadly virus with cows.
A potentially major medical breakthrough could be on the horizon in the form of genetically modified cows that can help protect humans against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, aka MERS, one of the world’s deadliest viruses. Fortune