Welcome to the talent wars

I believe (and hope) that the war as we know it is fundamentally an outdated concept. Jurisdictions (like Miami) will compete to attract talent, but that is not good news for unskilled labor, like gig workers.

  1. When we were fighters, we were fighting over herds of game and their territory,
  2. Then, the agricultural revolution came. The most important asset became fertile land, and the wars were fought over that.
  3. After the Scientific Revolution, we learned to process raw resources like metals, coal, and later oil.
  4. We are now experiencing the digital revolution. The new resource is going to be talent and talent is not easily captured in traditional warfare.
ValueAfter RevolutionWhat are wars fought overCountries that benefit
Fertile landAgricultural revolutionLand & peasants
You want to conquer easily arable land
Fertile Crescent, Mediterranean
Mined Resources (Metals, Oil)Scientific RevolutionResource-rich landColonial powers, plus resource-rich countries like Germany and the USA
TalentDigital revolutionNo wars, but hostile takeovers of talentAnybody who started educating in STEM like crazy 10 years ago

Two classes of employees.

Remote Work transition is certainly accelerating, but not everybody is benefitting from this situation. It has also lead to a new sort of class divide:

  • Talent” – highly skilled, and specialized experts that are constantly honing their craft and navigating the changing demands of the job market. During lockdowns, these people are known as the “Zoom Class” (because they can ride out the pandemic while working over zoom).
  • Gig workers“, who we treat as a utility, and depend on to provide us with the endless stream of Amazon purchases and Uber Eats orders. Also known as the “Heroes

Nick Rimedio, who serves on the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said the lockdowns had widened a class divide. While quarantine has been almost relaxing for what he called the wealthy “Zoom class,” it has been a nightmare for the poor and middle class who have storefronts or work service jobs in businesses in the area, he said.

New York Times

Talent is the new Oil

Automation is coming after our jobs, and I have written before how to protect yourself against that. But in the meantime, workers take time to train. With technological progress, complexity in many industries is unfathomable and requires highly trained labor. Which takes time, and can be rushed only to a point.

Training somebody to do basic programming tasks can be done in 6 months, but the way of thinking about the world needed to succeed in the information economy takes years to acquire.

We are post-scarcity on almost everything else, and I believe the talent will be the new frontier.

On the commodity metaphor

While drafting this newsletter, I wanted to compare “Gig Workers” to commodity and “Talent” to differentiable products. But I don’t think that’s entirely correct. There is a huge pool of the talent group that has commodity-like properties.

The majority of tech workers are uniform and replaceable enough. I’m sure that’s the case in many other specialized fields – creme de la creme will be irreplaceable, but the others will eventually be automated away.

The promised talent wars

War is a bit of a clickbait, but various initiatives around the world are trying to capitalize on the location independence of the “Talent” group.

  • When you bring together talented people who like to create things, Startups & new industries will take care of themselves. We have seen this in Florence, Venice, Paris, and later New York and Silicon Valley
  • These people tend to be compensated well (an argument can be made that unfairly so), which means higher tax revenue
  • They also have more discretionary income, some of which they will spend locally,
  • Children of educated&motivated people tend to turn out the same way. This is a flywheel for the community.


For a while now, Silicon Valley is downright hostile to the tech industry, behaving like an abusive partner that took your passport. Lockdowns took away any benefit of staying in San Francisco (meetups, conferences, and chance encounters), and multiple tech giants have adopted Remote Work (latest big news is Spotify pointing out that “Work isn’t something our people come to the office for, it’s something they do”).

Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami jumped on the chance of turning the city into a tech hub and his efforts are inspiring. He is personally helping tech influencers move to his constituency, and now he’s reaching out to SV employees by the means of a billboard. In San Francisco.

“Thinking about moving to Miami? DM me”.

I’m not able to put together a coherent sentence about how transformative can it be to have supportive, effective, and accessible local legislation. Books will be written about the emergence of the Miami tech hub.

It’s not only about talent. It’s a fight for taxes

Municipalities seeking tax revenue is of course nothing new. But traditionally, the way to do that was to create jobs, which would both provide income to residents and attract talent.

Remote Work is changing that. Having a job in one place, and living in another is now possible, and something I myself practice. But in this new world, how do cities fight for taxes? Are they even entitled? The problem is already here.

Japan’s home tax

Every country with a “superstar” city has this problem: smaller towns are investing in family-friendly infrastructure and education, only to see its citizens move to the one superstar city and continue paying taxes there.

Japan has an interesting solution, called ふるさと納税 (Furusato Nouzei or, roughly, the Hometown Tax System). In an interesting quirk, a taxpayer can select a town at her discretion, and the towns started to compete on “gifts” they would send to incentivize choosing their municipality for the ‘donation.’ From Patrick Mckenzie:

The three farming communities we’re using all had a monthly subscription option for things produced locally, and they sound like e.g. “A rotating box of seasonal fruits produced in our town. Here’s the schedule: January, 500g of… February, a box of… The aesthetics of that are brilliant; fruit on our table will have come *from a place.* The economics are brilliant; probably half of the fruits are things we, like a typical Japanese family, wouldn’t generally choose to eat in a year.

For a while, cities even offered a “kickback” in the form of travel vouchers and other cach equivalents. Government had to put a stop to it in 2019. Read more in this essay and Tweetstorm for an incentive-exploration filled ride.

Furusato-tax.jp is a comparison site that lets you browse the best offers for the “thank you” tokens. Caviar? Wagyu beef? Sushi? They got you covered. This wouldn’t be possible without the Internet.

Specialized cities

Just as Japan’s towns are specializing in Wagyu-beef-for-tax-donation schemes, other cities are seeking to attract Nomads and professionals:

What will happen next?

Each of the revolutions outlined at the beginning of this post has shifted economic opportunities from incumbents to new countries:

  • The agrarian revolution has brought prosperity to those with fertile land and water access
  • The industrial revolution brought demand for steel, potassium, and eventually, oil, which meant prosperity for Germany and the USA
  • The Digital revolution will shift the production centers to places abundant in highly educated and motivated workers,

Two countries in particular are well positioned to benefit from this new world order:

  • China, which has a head start because the industry has already shifted here,
  • India, which I’m especially optimistic about, because of their proficiency in English. Programming languages are all modeled after English grammar and English is already lingua franca. For better or worse.

Since I like having skin in the game, I’m investing in the Indian stock exchange. I started this thread on Reddit, and people shared great pointers. One thing I took away from GameStop is that Reddit has sold financial advice.

While the world order will be reshuffled, cities will specialize in attracting a certain kind of worker, with unique preferences. The concentration of artists and professionals in cities like Florence has led to Renaissance, and I hope it will lead to something good this time as well.

And I also hope we’ll find a way to trickle down these benefits to gig workers too. Wars may be over, but revolutions can turn out bloody too.

My Japan top 5

Few years back, I visited Japan with my friends. My intention was to “tick off” the country, because I’m not a great fan of whole Anime culture and it didn’t seem like my cup of tea.
But instead, I was blown away by the incredible mix of old and the new and recently I find myself wanting to go back there. This is my subjective top 5:


Japanese food is not really about sushi. The variety of food is much greater than you would expect and everything is delicious (except for nanto – fermented soy beans…)

Things to try

  • Bento box – my definite fav. This is a neat lunch box, sold near offices and this is what Japanese people really eat. This boxes have a cute assortment of dishes
  • Proper Miso soup
  • Conveyor belt sushi – the cheapest variety there is and Japanese people consider it subpar quality. More modern ones let you order from an iPad and automatic conveyor belt brings you your sushi
  • Takoyaki – battered octopus pieces deep-fried in waffle iron. Literally, very hot!
  • Omu – Rice ommelette with, well, almost everything inside
  • Tuna – tuna is a big thing in Japan and it tastes like heaven in any form
  • Any streetfood


I fell on love with old Japanese tradition. Enchanting red temples inside a lush green forest are just spectacular. Respect for tradition is an important thing in Japan.


Things worth checking out:

  • Splendid temples in Kyoto
  • Holy Deer in Nara
  • Little temples anywhere
  • Tsukiji Fish Market


Just sheer out-of-context weirdness


Things worth checking out

  • Alcatraz ER – a prison/hospital themed cafe. Weird fun!
  • Dog / cat cafe
  • Japanese toilet seat. Really!
  • Any “supposedly european” dish. It will be the weirdest european dish you’llever have

Japanese day-to-day


Japanese are very modern, but the tradition still lives on in day-to-day struggle.

Lost in translation

  • Kaizen – Philisophy of never-ending improvement
  • Mottainai – Regret concerning waste. Or resources, but also unnecessary action or a word.
  • Ikigai – A reason for being, something that drives you
  • Komorebi – Sunlight filtering through trees
  • Shinrin-Yoku – Visit to forest for relaxation / “forest bathing”
  • Yugen – A profound understanding of the universe that triggers a string emotional response
  • Majime – Reliable person who gets things done without drama

Dont miss!

  • Sumo match
  • Onsen – Hot spring/spa. I highly recommend convincing a friend to jump into a “electric stimulation” bathtub. So much fun!
  • Pachinko – Hydhly addictive pinball machine. In Japan there are whole floors of these machines. I cannot express weirdness of it. You have to see it.
  • Traditional tea ceremony

Interesting links


Stuff to come back for

For me, there is still so much to see. Of course I want to there again!

  • Love hotels – tiny cheap hotels with a variety of decorum. Their main purpose is not hard to figure out, but weirdness may be interesting
  • Ryokan – Traditional Japanese “Inn”
  • Sagano bamboo forest – A bamboo forest near Kyoto
  • Hand-Made Damascus steel Chefs knife – I want one
  • Shinkansen – Japanese bullet train


This fullfills my Bucketlist #78