THE EU REFERENDUM: If Walter was aware of the significance of the occasion, he showed little sign on the walk to the polling station in Charlottes Square. Whatever the result, THE IRISH REPUBLIC’S LAW SOCIETY has reported a record number of British solicitors registering to practise in Ireland as an insurance policy to preserve their right, only available to lawyers in EU states, to argue cases in the European courts. The Irish regulatory body said most of the intake would be working in London and Brussels and wouldn’t be setting foot in Ireland. Ireland brings to mind Fintan O’Toole’s entertaining article, written before the result was known, in the Guardian/Observer on Brexit. As a neutral, O’Toole described Brexit as an unwitting English independence movement although not expressly recognised or debated as such. The Irish journalist marvelled at England “stumbling” towards independence without the collective introspection usually involved in successful independent movements. He questioned if England was ready for this, observing that England had only experienced independence for 300 of the last 1,200 years. He assumes that a vote for Brexit would trigger a second independence referendum in Scotland and unease in Wales and Northern Ireland. Advocates on both sides of the EU debate should be entertained by O’Toole’s thesis, some possibly less so if he's proved right. His witty, caustic writing came to international prominence with the bestselling Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger.
REGULAR READERS KNOW that the term “financialisation” (see June 3 post) refers to the increasing dominance of the financial industry and its mindset in all parts of the economy. The term covers a wide range of related phenomena: exponential growth in derivatives and financial instruments; decline in the proportion of the financial markets invested in the “real” economy; over-leveraging (more borrowed capital, less owned capital); displacement of trading by financial engineering as a source of profit in mainstream manufacturing and service industries; and impact on business ethics and decision-making of executive and adviser incentives through bonuses, share options and contingent/success fees. The latest high watermark of financialisation is Microsoft’s takeover of the loss-making professional networking website LinkedIn for, ahem, $26 billion. This is about one quarter of Microsoft’s estimated cash reserves and yet Microsoft is financing the purchase with debt rather than incur the tax charges arising from repatriating the cash it has squirreled away offshore. Some commentators suggest CEO Satya Nadella’s “lavish” share options incentivise finding short-term investments that will increase Microsoft’s share price as opposed long term restructuring of the ageing Microsoft Office business model. The LinkedIn acquisition shows that there’s no end in sight to the financial gravity defying of social media platforms. LinkedIn, along with Twitter, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram, Dropbox, Pinterest and others have all been jostling to convince investors and acquisitive big tech companies that their platforms are the future of communication and data exchange. The whole financialisation/big tech nexus has reached an apotheosis with Silicon Valley seed funding incubator Y Combinator’s so-called Basic Income Project, a pilot project in Oakland, California to pay a group of people a universal basic income (UBI) and see how they behave. This is big tech’s nirvana of a fully automated, jobless future where everyone’s a contributor of data and, therefore, a winner. Cynics say it’s big tech’s insurance policy against a backlash when they put everyone, or nearly everyone, out of a job.
ANY LAWYER PURCHASING A CAR DEALERSHIP knows that financialisation is at the heart of the business of making and selling cars. General Motors, the first manufacturer to establish a non-bank finance unit back in 1919, reported finance revenue of $6.3 billion last year. Technology is transforming the car industry: electric and driverless cars; mobile infotainment, big tech companies Google and Apple and new player Tesla going head-to-head with VW, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota et al; apps Uber and Lyft changing the whole way we think about mobility. Echoing the UBI project, GM now partners Lyft and is making noises about providing cars free for pay-as-you-go use. The entire legal, financial and even emotional framework around car design, manufacturing, selling and use is on the brink of disruption. Every second of car usage will be measured and financialised. This is something common to most big tech thinking: all human behaviour is ripe for slicing, dicing and monetising. All good news for IP lawyers.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE ADVENT OF STREAMING SERVICES has led to a golden age of documentary film, with series such as Making a Murderer rivalling dramas for binge-watching and twitter-trending. Ken Burns, pioneer of the long form documentary over 25 years ago with the epic The Civil War, tackles another seminal event in American history with the three part series Prohibition (available on Netflix now). Burns and co-director Lynn Novic present the events following the enforcement of the 18th amendment to the constitution in January 1920, a nationwide ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages that was to remain in place for thirteen years. Using primary source material and rare original footage the film follows some of the extraordinary real-life figures of the era, including two lawyers on opposing sides of the Volstead Act, Mabel Willebrandt and George Remus. Willebrandt, an Assistant Attorney General and LA’s first female public defender, became one of the most famous women in America when she was appointed to enforce prohibition by President Harding in 1921. Although stating that prosecuting speakeasies was “like trying to dry up the Atlantic with a blotter” Willebrandt’s office achieved over 39,000 convictions in just one year. One of her most celebrated was George Remus, the successful Chicagoan lawyer who turned bootlegger when he saw the unimaginable wealth his criminal clients were accumulating. Remus was famous for his lavish parties – on more than one occasion every female guest was presented with a brand new car – and was the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jimmy Gatz, of The Great Gatsby. The story of George Remus rivals and perhaps ultimately outdoes his fictional counterpart – containing more murder, mayhem and courtroom grandstanding than any novel could reasonably accommodate. Willebrandt had a long and distinguished career; pioneering aviation, radio and tax law; her lifelong friend Judge John Sirica said of her, “If Mabel had worn trousers, she could have been president”
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