Will Alexander

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Thanks Francisco. Does Chile also have the longest highways in the world?

I was living in Johannesburg, South Africa when the local government implemented a new ETC system. Public sentiment was extremely anti – ETC. Citizens held multiple protests that forced the system’s implementation to be delayed. Voluntary sign-ups were so low that the government initially lost money tracking down all the drivers who owed money.

The situation wasn’t exactly comparable to Francisco’s example since South Africa’s ETC were brand new tolls, not just replacements of existing manual tolls. Nevertheless, I think computerized, faceless toll collection has the potential to anger citizens more than traditional toll collection. With manual collection, people could at least take solace in the fact that the tolls were helping to provide jobs for their fellow countrymen. Many South Africans viewed the ETC as just another example of Big Brother overstepping its bounds.

Coach Rob, this is a fascinating article. Given your amazingly analytical mind, it is no surprise that our intramural basketball team is still undefeated.

More so than in other team sports, basketball teams require players of extraordinary individual talent to win a championship. Other than the Detroit Pistons in 1989, 1990, and 2004, every NBA champion since 1980 (33 out of 36 years!!!) has been led by a player who won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award at least once (Lakers – Abdul Jabbar / Magic / Shaq / Kobe; Celtics – Bird / Garnett; 76ers – Moses Malone; Bulls – Jordan; Rockets – Olajuwon; Spurs – Duncan; Heat – Lebron; Mavericks – Nowitizki; Warriors – Curry; Cavs – Lebron).

I think this explains why basketball data hounds, such as Morey, haven’t been as successful as their baseball counterparts. Marginal roster improvements matter more in baseball since every player gets the same amount of at bats, so there’s real value in optimizing much further down your roster. Transcendent basketball players such as Jordan and Lebron can dominate almost every play of a game. Even with the help of advanced data, it’s very hard to compete for a championship without having one of the world’s top 5 players.

Given that context, this data may be most useful in finding “system” players. A great example is the Spurs. Over the last decade plus, the Spurs built a distinct style of play around their Hall of Fame forward Tim Duncan. With their system in mind, the Spurs mined the data to find players, such as Danny Green and Kwahi Leonard, who would flourish in the system. Both players have become key contributors for the Spurs despite not being particularly exceptional on other teams earlier in their careers.

On November 21, 2016, Will Alexander commented on Currenc-E: M-Pesa Transforms Kenyan Economy :

Thanks for writing about M-Pesa, David.

Kenya’s largest bank, Equity Bank, also has an extensive agency network and a mobile payments system. I’m not an expert on M-Pesa, but I believe that the company lacks a retail branch network in Kenya. What are the implications of this operating model difference between Equity Bank and M-Pesa? Assuming Equity Bank’s mobile payments system is of a similar quality to M-Pesa’s, why would a customer not prefer the option that gives her access to the country’s largest branch network?

On November 20, 2016, Will Alexander commented on Can Cellphones be the New Bank for the Unbanked? :

Hi Daniella. This was a very informative post.

As a few others have noted, I’m having a tough time deciding what Millicom’s role should be versus the local banks. Millicom is spending lots of time and resources to develop its micro-finance capabilities, an area which is not a Millicom core competency and, as you mentioned, not particularly profitable. Would it be better for Millicom to focus on providing the technical infrastructure and to allow the local banks to provide the actual financial services elements over Millicom’s technology?

On November 20, 2016, Will Alexander commented on Amazon: Born from Customer Obsession and Digital Innovation :

Hi Walter. Thanks for this post.

I’m intrigued by Amazon’s original decision to build the Kindle. Amazon rightly saw that its core product at the time, books, could be delivered more effectively electronically. Yet, it was still quite a risk for the company to build out a hardware team to develop the technology required for the Kindle. The company had been focused on just shipping books and other physical items up until that point. In hindsight, the Kindle has been a massive success, but it must have been a momentous decision for Amazon to go so far out of its comfort zone. The decision reminds me of the TOM case on IKEA and whether it made sense for IKEA to buy its own forests (and thus radically change its existing operating model) to ensure a more reliable supply of sustainable wood for its products.

Great conversation, guys. I agree that the most interesting part of this case is trying to understand what it means for the small farmers in Malawi. Has accelerated climate change made it too difficult for small, independent farmers to survive in this environment? Would it make more sense for these small farms to be consolidated by companies such as Toleza? I think you could structure the consolidation so that most of these farmers remain employed. But in a society where these people have been independent subsistence farmers for generations, is this alternative even viable?

On November 7, 2016, Will Alexander commented on Answering Climate Change with a Meaty Disruption :

After reading many books on the benefits of plant based diets – both for my body and the planet – I decided to go vegan in 2013. The environmental arguments are convincing: In a world with so much hunger, why do we waste so much energy growing crops to feed livestock to then feed humans, instead of just feeding humans the crops directly? I once heard a stat that, in the US, every calorie from a meat source requires about 25 calories from plant sources further up the chain.

After about two years as a vegan, I decided to return to a more traditional diet that included meat, eggs, and dairy. I personally found it too difficult to consume the calories and nutrients I needed to support my lifestyle in a time-efficient manner while eating as a vegan. I made this decision knowing that going back to eating these foods would increase my burden on the environment.

Similarly, I would not be eager to eat this product even though it would clearly be better for the environment than traditionally raised livestock. Human and animal biology are so complex that I suspect laboratory created meats will suffer from unintended consequences. For example, we now know that eating just muscle meats, instead of the whole animal as traditional cultures do, can result in amino acid imbalances in the body.

On November 7, 2016, Will Alexander commented on Coral Reef or Coral DebReef? :

Thanks for the interesting piece, Mary. I also wrote about the importance of restoring coral reefs considering climate change. I was focused more on the coral reefs as barriers protecting human population centers, rather than coral reefs as tourist attractions, but the sentiments are similar.

I agree with your suggestion that Big Cat Green Island Cruises should collaborate with government agencies to amplify its efforts. I don’t think Australia is as susceptible to extreme weather as the Caribbean is, but I suspect that the Australian government would be even more receptive to helping if private companies demonstrated that the reefs had an essential protective function beyond tourism.

I was also intrigued by Kelly’s comment that some reefs may be too far gone to save. I assume that BCGIC is focusing its cruises on the reefs that are less badly damaged. If that is the case, perhaps BCGIC and other private players can spend their money rehabilitating the reefs that they are receiving the most economic benefit from. The Australian government could focus its efforts on restoring some of the more damaged reefs that may no longer have tourist value, but still have protective and ecological benefits to the Australian continent if restored.

On November 7, 2016, Will Alexander commented on Food security under climate change. GO FISH? :

Hi Angelica. While I wait for my invitation to go cruising on your company’s boat, I’ll comment on your thought-provoking piece. Open seas fishing is a quintessential “tragedy of the commons” microeconomics dilemma. I agree with the other commenters that it will be difficult for Nissui to voluntarily stop fishing the open seas. They’ll just increase their costs while offering customers farmed fish, an alternative that many view as inferior to wild caught fish.

I think your comment about the Obama White House cutting off all access to major fishing areas may be a better solution. When there’s an environment encouraging players to take advantage of such huge externalities, you often need government to fix the situation. I assume that the US government’s decision to seize massive swaths of land to create the federal parks system was heavily disputed many years ago. Today however, most view the move as a prescient decision that saved some of America’s most beautiful landscapes.

Thanks, Jodie. You should check out “Losing our Cool” by Stan Cox. In the book, Cox argues that modern air conditioning has had a significant negative impact on the environment. Beyond the huge energy usage – the US consumes as much energy on AC as the African continent consumes in total, despite Africa having 3x the people – AC has also encouraged large amounts of people to move to fragile habitats that are not suited for large populations, such as the Arizona dessert and Florida swampland regions.

While companies should of course strive to make their air conditioning units more energy efficient, these companies should also do more, as ABCDEF mentioned, to promote non-chemical cooling and to encourage people to keep their thermostats at higher temperatures (i.e. using less air conditioning). As Brittany noted, air conditioning is quite a cultural issue in many developing countries. If you can afford air conditioning, you keep it on all day. I can’t count the number of times I had to wear my jacket inside an air-conditioned office in Lagos even though the temperature outside was over 90 degrees F.