- On the strength of the the Afghan afghan and the pre-2016 Yemeni rial [JP Koning, Moneyness]
- Love Lawrence Wright and love Austin and thought this was a great profile of Austin, Texas, and what happens to a place when it changes fast. But I still Richard Linklater’s Slacker [trailer] is the key to understanding what Keep Austin Weird means/meant (and not my year there is in 2018/19) [New Yorker]
- Weirdly interesting overview of Duolingo growth model [Substack]
- I dig Agnes Callard so will share this unusual profile for what it does and does not about aspiration [New Yorker]
- Exercise for the reader. Is $1T a lot or a little for a payments company [Bloomberg; ACX]
Saturday Misc and Stuff
- “You can play “wisdom of crowds” in single-player mode. Say you want to know the weight of a cow. Then take a guess. Now throw your guess out of the window, and take another guess. Finally, compute the average of your two guesses. The claim is that this average is better than your individual guesses.” [ACX]
- “The key purpose of corporate finance is to provide methods to compute the value of projects.” Claim that required me to take a few steps back to consider… and in comments: “The idea that the cost of capital for a project should be related to the amount of risk involved in the project isn’t going to go away. There are various ways to measure risk, the CAPM beta being only one, but the basic risk-required return relationship is robust.” [Marginal Revolution]
- The relentless accumulation (and management) of snow. [brr]
- In Bamako: “I was also told that French flags have been unstitched and resewn as Russian ones, with the red, white and blue rearranged.” And “an urban statistics website, lists Bamako as Africa’s fastest-growing city and the sixth fastest-growing conurbation in the world. The population – more than three million – has tripled in the last two decades.” [LRB]
- The anxiety of Stanley Fisher’s economic influence [FTAlphaville]
Sunday Misc and Stuff
- “but it is the early events that are important for understanding what I have been trying to do.” – [A Short Intellectual Autobiography, pdf page 92]
- Did Julius Krein write the definitive framing of ESG? It doesn’t quite say it but implies that something like industrial policy can and maybe should be an alternative corporate finance option to ESG? Or… a new localism?! [Compact: Why the Right Can’t Beat ESG]
- ESG acted to “improve transparency and disclosure” in a way totally in line with shareholder supremacy frameworks “an emphasis on shareholder value implies and inevitably leads to the development of frameworks like ESG”
- They claim to offer specialized products that meet the particular needs and profiles of various investors. ESG offers almost infinite possibilities for such “bespoke” investment products, and even if it didn’t exist for other reasons, fund marketers almost certainly would have invented it
- The fact that [Ackman] doesn’t, and that there is no wave of activist investors successfully opposing ESG, though there are several cases of shareholder activism in support of ESG issues, is perhaps the strongest indication that shareholder primacy offers little basis for opposition to the ESG framework
- It would be better to develop investment criteria that take into account these material political risks (energy security, national security, supply-chain resiliency, productivity and innovation, family-friendliness, geographic diversity, enhancing a non-college workforce, and so on) and promote capital allocation to secure supply chains.
- A final possibility to consider is the gradual unraveling of shareholder primacy. Insofar as ESG is a product of shareholder primacy, a shift away from that corporate-governance paradigm would also entail a decline in the importance of ESG investing (though it wouldn’t eliminate political issues from the calculus of business and finance, just as the move toward shareholder primacy only altered how these issues were articulated). In response to recent controversies, BlackRock and other major asset managers have begun devolving voting power back to the investors in their funds. Should this change become widespread, it would mean that public-company shareholders would become more dispersed and harder to organize, as they were in the pre-Reagan era. It is hard to predict the ramifications of such a shift today, but it would likely strengthen the power and independence of corporate management. Ironically, a move to counter ESG by reasserting shareholder primacy may end up making management teams less accountable to shareholders.
Monday Misc and Stuff
- Otis the 3rd – Time [youtube]
- Fortune coverage of OpenAI’s history. Interesting tidbits on payout structure of investments and did not realize that Anthropic split out of OpenAI [Fortune]
- “network of networks” – Visa corporate history. Tom Noyes’ seven core functions that pretenders would have to replicate if they want to compete: 1) An economic model that encourages shared investment; 2) Strong standardised contracts; 3) Certiﬁcation with active enforcement; 4) Trust – Bank (issuer) role in managing transaction risk; 5) Active customer and merchant support (enabled by economic model); 6) Ubiquity – it works everywhere all the time; 7) Innovation – Shared investment, standards and integration. One way of thinking about Visa’s edge is that you could never get so many parties to agree. [Net Interest substack]
Sunday Misc and Stuff
- The Great Automatic Grammatizator (by Roald Dahl), 1954 [14 page PDF]
- “Advocates say the best governments already yield authority by, for example, “tying their hands” through delegating monetary policy to an independent central bank. Mauritius, arguably Africa’s most successful economy, has outsourced its final court of appeal to Britain’s privy council, improving its reputation for rule of law and becoming a successful offshore financial centre in the process… Romer’s idea of a charter city is not private sector-led. He says most of the entrepreneur-led projects are not charter cities at all. Instead, he imagines a state setting up a jurisdiction and outsourcing provision of government services.” FT on how to create a city.
Saturday Misc and Stuff
- Maintenance: Stewart Brand’s story on the maintenance habits of three participants in the world’s first round-the-world solo yacht race. Lessons include how sometimes maintenance involves shooting the shark; how preparation allows us to ‘make do and mend’; how to use a book to measure thousandths of an inch; Doing maintenance cures depression; the French Navy puts on ten coats of paint before any launch; Simplicity is a form of beauty.’ Conclusion?: The different maintenance styles of the three sailors led directly to their different outcomes. Knox-Johnston’s style was: “Whatever comes, deal with it.” And he did. Crowhurst’s was: “Hope for the best.” It killed him. Moitessier’s was: “Prepare for the worst.” It freed him. And separately via Chartbook, Pierre Bourdieu : “Nous naissons déterminés et nous avons une petite chance de devenir libres” – “we are born determined and we have a small chance of becoming free.” Via maintenance!
- More on color: Olive Ayhens, “Music color is my first language and i’ve always like been just enthralled with it i feel i can do whatever i want with color i can make it real joyful or i can make it really morbid or you know or i can make it really opposite there are no rules like that i think it’s kind of like poetry we did it in the caves we’ll do it in the space capsules.”
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camelidae and a weirdly interesting video.
- The Senegal Dream for a radio story version of The Pirogue
- Tall libraries with mural on them [twitter]
Friday Misc and Stuff
- Halfway down the first page, there was one scribbled word: “Monorail!” – 1962 Trouble and 2014 Conan singing Monorail at the the Hollywood Bowl
- The eternal modern: When I was young, a 94-year old chair (from the 1870s) looked like a Victorian antique. Now a 94-year old chair looks completely modern, and always will look modern. [Scott Sumner Money Illusion]
Color link #1: une petite boutique de pastels parisiens [FT; no paywall, good pics]: The physical properties of pastels, the way in which the powder sits loosely on the surface of the paper, make pastel artworks both luminous and fragile. “The precious powder falls off as easily as scales from a butterfly’s wings,” wrote the French philosopher and critic Denis Diderot in 1765…. As a young artist, he lived in poverty but became obsessed with pastels, beginning with Sennelier sticks then graduating to Rochés. It was like moving, Szafran said, “from a horse and cart to a Ferrari”. “I don’t know what it is about pastels,” continues Isabelle. “I see them as these objects with a kind of soul. Each one is different.” She turns to the drawers next to her. “My cousin Huberte would open the drawers and say, ‘there are people in there.’” Inside the shop, the city sounds faint beyond the archway. The room smells of pastels and the old wood of the furniture. “Prussian Blue smells sweet,” says Isabelle, “some reds too, earth pigments smell musty, other pigments relatively odourless.” Each stick of colour is a little piece of the world ground down and formed into something new: California Poppy, Reddish Grey, Storm Green, Seraphin Blue, Crepuscular Violet, Velvet Black, Galaxy Black, Extra Black.
Color Link #2: How the colours in ancient Pompeian frescoes ‘spoke’ to Mark Rothko [The Art Newspaper]: Mark Rothko visited Pompeii in the 1950s and saw the below frescoes. The red behind the figures evokes Rothko’s own work.
“Rothko encouraged viewers to stand about 18 inches from his paintings surfaces in order to properly experience them…. What becomes evident is not the content of paintings, their narratives or subjects, but their specific presence as objects. It’s a little like standing face to face with another person at close range: after the initial awkwardness has passed, a more acute sense of them as a physical being emerges.”
“Rothko evidently recognised that colour might be able to speak to a spectator directly, in an immediate way, that cuts across levels of expertise, prior knowledge or experience. The fact that he found the same kind of effect in the ancient wall paintings of Pompeii might seem ahistorical—those frescoes aren’t abstract, after all, at least not in a conventional sense—but might also be seen as a profound moment of awareness”
Wednesday Misc and Stuff
- In 1810, the use of nails in the US economy was 0.4 percent of nominal GDP. To put this share into perspective, in 2019 household purchases of personal computers and peripheral equipment amounted to roughly 0.3 percent of GDP and household purchases of air travel amounted to about 0.5 percent. That is, back in the 1700s and early 1800s, nails were about as important in the economy as computers or air travel purchased by consumers are today. [AEA]
- “It has become one of the main occupations of mankind just watching other people… Everybody has become porous. The light and the message goes right through us… When you are on the air and on the air we do not have a physical body. You are just an image on the air. When you don’t have a physical body you are a discarnate being. You have a very different relation to the world around you. And this I think has been of the big effects of the electric age. It has deprived people really of their private identity…. Everybody tends to merge their identity with other people at the speed of light. It’s called being mass man.” [Twitter video]
- Famous photos and the cameras they we shot on [Twitter thread]
- If an article has these two images, you have to read it! [Reuters’ Dark Arctic]
The impact of bad geography
From “the race to be the gateway to Eastern and Central Africa.” Below is a wild example of how geography matters and affects surprising aspects of life. Landlocked countries import a lot more stuff so their inbound roads get noticeably distorted from all the weight.
Historical economic stunting means that landlocked countries typically import more than they export and ship small volumes (thereby missing out on economics of scale). The stark disparity in imports/exports is often visible in the form of disproportionate road damage from overweight trucks (or poor engineering) on inward-bound lanes (see image of the road near the Kenya/Uganda Malaba border post).
For more details on how to this might change:
Kenya and Tanzania are in a race to be the gateway to Eastern and Central Africa, an economic catchment area with a population of 200m and GDP of $250b (USA=$23t). The DRC current accounts for the largest share of transit cargo through Tanzania. Uganda accounts for the lion’s share of transit cargo through Kenya. However, the spirited competition between Kenya and Tanzania risks creating over-capacity in the short run (population growth will guarantee demand in the long run)