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Good Reading -- December 2019

My best wishes for a healthy and happy 2020. - Phil


  • "Short selling should be illegal." -- Elon Musk

Facts and Figures

  • Chewing gum sales by volume from 2010 to 2018 dropped 4% globally. U.S. sales were down 23% in the same period. (Euromonitor)

  • The price of a 50-inch 4k HD television fell more than 80% between 2012 and 2018, and the average price of all TVs fell 20% just in the past year.

  • $200 million -- the annual budget for the California Public Utility Commission during its most recent fiscal year, and a period in which it says it has struggled to find sufficient resources to conduct safety inspections and investigations.

  • $97.5 million -- the amount the CPUC fined PG&E for improper communications [read: bad-faith negotiations and back-channeling] with the CPUC's own officials.


  • Margin of Trust: The Berkshire Business Model -- Law school professor, governance expert and Berkshire guru Larry Cunningham has a new book about an important topic. (Disclosure: I've helped with and contributed to various projects without compensation because I like the topics and the author, and the author sent me an advance copy of this book.)

  • A free chapter is available electronically.

  • The 5th edition of Cunningham's seminal work, The Essays of Warren Buffett, is also out and the introduction is available for free here.

  • A snapshot of Cunningham's books is here.

  • Tiger Woods -- I did not expect to like this book, but I couldn't put it down. Yes, I'm a sucker for biographies and I do love golf, but this is a fascinating read for anyone.


  • "You Don't Bring Bad News to the Cult Leader": Inside the Fall of WeWork -- Just incredible. And it might as well be the lead for "The Psychology of Human Misjudgment" 2.0

  • The Case Against Boeing -- This article was published in November, before the firing of then CEO Dennis Muilenburg and before the MAX recertification was stretched -- presumably -- well into next year. Either way, I think there are some valid points here along with some significant issues.

  • Steven Pinker: what can we expect from the 2020s? -- Among all the sappy end-of-a-decade retrospectives and prognostications, there are some useful thoughts in here. "Progress is a historical fact... Progress is not, however, a natural force. The laws of the universe are indifferent to our wellbeing, with vastly more things that can go wrong than go right. And our species evolved for advantages in the struggle to reproduce, not for happiness or wisdom. The first step in thinking about the future is to reconcile human progress with human nature... We are a cognitive species, with the wherewithal to solve problems and the linguistic means to pool solutions. We are a co-operative species, joining forces to achieve outcomes we cannot achieve individually. And we are an intermittently empath­etic species, capable of concern with the wellbeing of others. These gifts were amplified by ideas and institutions advocated during the Enlightenment and entrenched after the second world war: reason, science, liberal democracy, declarations of rights, a free press, regulated markets, institutions of international co-operation. But this progress is invisible to most people because they don’t get their understanding of the world from numbers; they get it from headlines. Journalism by its very nature conceals progress, because it presents sudden events rather than gradual trends. Most things that happen suddenly are bad: a war, a shooting, an epidemic, a scandal, a financial collapse. Most things that are good consist either of nothing happening — like a nation that is free of war or famine — or things that happen gradually but comp­ound over the years, such as declines in poverty, illiteracy and disease. On top of this built-in pessimism, market forces add layers of glumness. People dread losses more than they appreciate gains, so prophets can stoke their vigilance by warning them about looming disasters they may have overlooked. Popular forecasters are not actuaries who extrapolate and adjust medium-term trends but playwrights who titillate our imaginations with high-concept tragedies and horror stories...So how can we think about the 2020s without melodrama? Progress does not literally have momentum, but many of its drivers are not going away."

  • We've just had the best decade in human history. Seriously. -- Some worthwhile thoughts from Matt Ridley. I also recommend the namesake of that blog, his book The Rational Optimist.

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