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1 The Crimea crisscross (Khaleej Times) As tension mounts over the presence of Russian soldiers in Crimea, Moscow has warned the US against taking hasty actions. In a rejoinder to Washington’s call for caution, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said imposing of sanctions would prove to be counter-productive to the US. Diplomats stationed in Brussels as well as Poland, which is directly threatened by Moscow’s moving of troops towards the north, believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the process of reinventing the lost Soviet Empire. But there are not many takers for this claim, and reject it as an over-reading of geopolitical facts.
Adding fuel to fire is the move under way on the part of Russia to hold a referendum in Crimea, wherein the peninsula might revert to direct Russian rule. The point is that Russia is playing a poker game with the West, highlighting the so-called indispensability of Russian-speaking people in Crimea and elsewhere. By doing so and by planning to hold a vote, Moscow is out to question the credentials of the democratic West by invoking the right of Crimeans to take to the ballot box and make a renewed choice of their own. Questioning its legality and credibility will open a Pandora’s box of its own.
2 How WhatsApp reflects the economy’s trouble (Robert Reich in San Francisco Chronicle) If you ever wonder what’s fueling America’s staggering inequality, ponder Facebook’s acquisition of the mobile messaging company WhatsApp. Facebook is buying WhatsApp for $19 billion. That’s the highest price paid for a startup in history. It’s $3 billion more than Facebook raised when it was first listed and more than twice what Microsoft paid for Skype.
Given that gargantuan amount, you might think WhatsApp is a big company. You’d be wrong. It has 55 employees, including its two founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton. WhatsApp’s value doesn’t come from making anything. It doesn’t need a large organization to distribute its services or implement its strategy. It doesn’t require lots of people to assemble anything or sell anything or transport anything.
Its value comes instead from two other things that need only a handful of people. First is its technology – a simple but powerful app that allows users to send and receive text, image, audio and video messages through the Internet. Second is its network effect: The more that people use it, the more other people want and need to use it in order to be connected. To that extent, it’s like Facebook – driven by connectivity.
The winners here are truly big winners. WhatsApp’s 55 employees are now enormously rich. Its two founders are now billionaires. And the partners of the venture capital firm that financed it have also reaped a fortune. And the rest of us? We’re winners in the sense that we have an even more efficient way to connect with each other. But we’re not getting more jobs, and our wages are stuck. In the emerging economy, there’s no longer any correlation between the size of a customer base and the number of employees necessary to serve them.
In fact, the combination of digital technologies with huge network effects is pushing the ratio of employees to customers to new lows. (WhatsApp’s 55 employees are all its 450 million customers need.) Meanwhile, the ranks of postal workers, call-center operators, telephone installers, the people who lay and service miles of cable, and the millions of other communication workers are dwindling.
3 Aging population and retirement careers (Kerry Hannon in The New York Times) As the population ages, jobs like massage therapist and others like senior fitness trainers, dietitians and nutritionists, personal assistants, handymen, drivers and caterers who prepare meals for shut-ins are on the upswing.
By 2050, according to the Pew Research Center projections, the nation’s population of people 65 and older is expected to slightly more than double, to 86 million from 41 million in 2010. This aging population is spurring new fields and job openings for those in their 50s to 70s to care for those who are 80 and older.
One increasingly popular niche for those who want to be their own boss is jobs that target people who want to stay in their own homes, rather than move to an assisted living facility, or a nursing home. According to an AARP survey, nearly 90 percent of those over age 65 want to stay in their residence for as long as possible, and 80 percent say they believe their current home is where they will always live.
As a result, more and more jobs and businesses are being created to satisfy not just the growing number of people living healthier and longer lives, but this “aging in place” market. Many of these jobs will require a skills boost, but not a full degree program. There’s an expanding menu of more cost- and time-effective certificate programs that could fit the bill.