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Good Reading -- July 2020

Philip C. Ordway



  • "Before Robinhood added options trading in 2017, Mr. Bhatt scoffed at the idea that the company was letting investors take uninformed risks. 'The best thing we can say to those people is ‘Just do it,'' he told Business Insider at the time...In June, the actor Ashton Kutcher, who has invested in Robinhood, attended one of the company’s weekly staff meetings on Zoom and celebrated its success by comparing it to gambling websites, said three people who were on the call. Mr. Kutcher said in a statement that his comment “was not intended to be a comparison of business models nor the experience Robinhood provides its customers” and that it referred “to the current growth metrics.” He added that he was “absolutely not insinuating that Robinhood was a gambling platform.”

Facts and Figures

  • Americans are the unhappiest they've been in [at least] 50 years. Just 14% of Americans said they're "very happy, down from 31% last year and compared to the prior all-time low of 29%.

  • 95% of 401(k) holders were levied fees, but only 27% in a 2018 survey knew what the costs were. (Note: I'm shocked that even 27% knew... - Ed.)


  • Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant -- I recently read Ron Chernow's awesome biography of Grant, which I highly recommend. Unlike the memoirs, Chernow dives into Grant's unique upbringing, his almost-broke and going-nowhere career as he turned 40, his lifelong battle with alcohol, and his ruinous involvement in a Ponzi scheme, among other events. But Grant's own autobiography is rightly hailed as paragon of writing. Mark Twain, who saved Grant from an unscrupulous publisher and financial ruin by giving him a better deal to publish this book, was often incorrectly thought to be the ghost-writer. Grant also wrote his memoirs at a furious pace while dying from an excruciating case of throat and mouth cancer. Remarkable in many ways and highly recommended.

  • Independent Ed: What I learned from my career of big dreams, little movies, and the twelve best days of my life -- The finer points of film-making were lost on me, but the timeless lessons of creativity and perseverance were not. (Thanks to Adam S. for the book!)

  • Where the Crawdads Sing -- I often tell myself to read more novels, and this one got a lot of attention last year. I don't know if it will become a classic, but I thought it was pretty good.


  • Robinhood has lured young traders, sometimes with devastating results -- This is a tragic example that made me think of Paul Volcker's trenchant observation that the only worthy "innovation" in finance in the last 20+ years. This is abhorrent business conduct on a variety of levels.

  • Casulo Symposium 2019 - First Principles of Value Creation from a Proven Business Operator -- I can vouch for both Shai Dardasthi and Azhar Quader, and their interview of Joe Plumeri is worth your time.

  • An Unsung Hero and Redlands Forum -- Peter Kaufman -- An excellent essay and accompanying video from Peter Kaufman covering the remarkable life and contribution of Frederick Taylor Gates. I was somewhat familiar with the story having read Chernow's classic "Titan." But even that great book doesn't quite capture the worthy perspective offered here. (A big thanks to Joe Koster for distributing these links!)

  • How Costco Convinces Brands to Cannibalize Themselves -- The rise of private label goods is one of the most important stories in business in the past decade or two, but it still doesn't get as much attention as it should. Brands are expensive and inefficient; this article explains how and why Costco allows logic to flourish in a symbiotic relationship with branded CPG companies.

  • News by the ton -- 75 years of U.S. advertising -- There is a lot of good history packed into this article.

  • The Long, Unhappy History of Working from Home -- The great debate of our time.

  • Isaacson: The America Ben Franklin Saw -- This is very timely even though it was written almost eight years ago. (Another nod to Joe Koster for this one.)

  • Wirecard timeline -- A succinct look at the unraveling of a classic corporate fraud.

  • Anthony Facui built a truce. Trump is destroying it. -- A long profile of Dr. Facui in the Washington Post.

  • How social media took us from Tahrir Square to Donald Trump -- I might not agree with all of this, but there are worthwhile thoughts throughout.

  • Jim Chanos: We're in the golden age of fraud -- Dismiss it all you want, but there are worthwhile thoughts here. "Chanos describes the current environment as “a really fertile field for people to play fast and loose with the truth, and for corporate wrongdoers to get away with it for a long time”. He reels off why: a 10-year bull market driven by central bank intervention; a level of retail participation in the markets reminiscent of the end of the dotcom boom; Trumpian “post-truth in politics, where my facts are your fake news”; and Silicon Valley’s “fake it until you make it” culture, which is compounded by Fomo — the fear of missing out. All of this is exacerbated by lax oversight."

  • What's going on in the fearsome thunderstorms of Cordoba Province? -- If you're interested in meteorology this article is good eye candy.

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