Good Reading -- November 2019
"If you constantly express anger in your private conversations, your friends will likely find you tiresome, but when there’s an audience, the payoffs are different—outrage can boost your status...Human beings evolved to gossip, preen, manipulate, and ostracize. We are easily lured into this new gladiatorial circus, even when we know that it can make us cruel and shallow. [S]ocial media turns many of our most politically engaged citizens into [James] Madison's nightmare: arsonists who compete to create the most inflammatory posts and images, which they can distribute across the country in an instant while their public sociometer -- the inner mental gauge that tells [them] how [they're] doing in the eyes of others -- displays how far their creations have traveled. Nuance and truth are casualties in this competition to gain the approval of the audience." -- The Dark Side of Social Media
"Asked by the FT just months ahead of his arrest whether it had ever occurred to him that he was paid too much, Ghosn laughed. 'You won't have any CEOs say, "I'm overly compensated." It's not up to me, the board is sovereign on this.'" -- Carlos Ghosn in the FT (see below)
Facts and Figures
Argentina has defaulted (at least) eight times in the last 200 years, including 70% haircuts in 2005 and 2010. It was in default on interest payments from 2014-2016, but in 2017 it issued a 100-year bond. Then things changed, of course, and said bond plunged in value, recently trading below 40 cents on the dollar. And now some investors are crying about Argentina becoming "uninvestable."
"China has built more than 50 ghost cities—sprawling metropolises of empty offices, apartments, malls, and airports. Nationwide, more than 20 percent of homes are vacant. Excess capacity in major industries tops 30 percent: factories sit idle and goods rot in warehouses. Total losses from all this waste are difficult to calculate, but China’s government estimates that it blew at least $6 trillion on “ineffective investment” between 2009 and 2014 alone. China’s debt has quadrupled in absolute size over the last ten years and currently exceeds 300 percent of its GDP. No major country has ever racked up so much debt so fast in peacetime." -- The United States Should Fear a Faltering China (see below)
A Man for All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and The Market -- I'm a couple of years late to Ed Thorp's autobiography, but it is exceptional. "An amazing book by a true icon" as noted on the cover by Ben Mezrich (author of another book I'd recommend, Bringing Down the House). The last few chapters were a little digressive and didactic but that's OK -- this is still a very good story and worth the read.
Grant -- This book is a monster, but it's just as good as Chernow's other door-stopper biographies. Highly recommended.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life -- This is a wonderful book. I do want to improve my writing, if not become a novelist, and in any case this book is insightful and hilarious. Highly recommended.
The downfall of Carlos Ghosn -- A fascinating profile of the former (and imprisoned) CEO.
The United States Should Fear a Faltering China -- Regardless of specific policy ideas it stands to reason that the U.S. needs to peacefully coexist with China and that a stronger, wealthier China is preferable to a weak, struggling, poorer China.
The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius -- This article has been passed around so much it's already yesterday's news, but it's still worth a read.
The Dark Psychology of Social Networks: Why it feels like everything is going haywire -- I have opinions about social media just like everyone else, but the psychological principles at work are important, universal, and yet still not a well understood part of this debate.
This article and the overall problem is straight out of "The Psychology of Human Misjudgment."
"'The Silicon Six' spread propaganda. It's time to regulate social media sites." -- If you want another perspective, this article has a litany of pro-regulation arguments (some of which I disagree with).
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