The Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed or Fail

Empires rise and fall in predictable ways that follow long-established patterns.

An emerging power invests heavily in education, infrastructure and trade to create wealth, which it protects by strengthening its military. Elsewhere the current leading power grows decadent with rising wealth inequality, in-fighting and fading investments until the emerging power confronts it – and wins. War and revolution start the cycle anew.

That’s among the biggest themes from the high profile 2020 book from Ray Dalio, the founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds: Principles For Dealing With The Changing World Order Why Nations Succeed And Fail. It’s part of the “principles” series that includes extensive independent research that Dalio’s team maintains here. He intends to look at the longest historical period possible to find patterns that can inform what happens next.

Most pressingly, he argues we’re at the late stage of the American empire, when the United States will continue to decline from its role as the world’s global hegemony and cede that position to China. I’ve been disappointed that much of his coverage has not challenged him on what seems a very big conflict of interest: Dalio is heavily invested in China, an authoritarian country that does not protect criticism, and he has been careful to avoid criticizing the party. In short, the book’s biggest flaws may be that he pulls his punches against China. Still, by using his own determinants and data, he paints a stark picture of unassailable patterns over the last 500 years up until today that looks like this:

Below I share my notes from reading the book for my future reference.

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Thinking in Bets: insights on decision science from the 2018 book by Annie Duke

Life is poker, not chess.

We operate with limited information and are outcomes are heavily influenced by others with varied priorities. That’s the setup for the 2018 book Thinking in Bets by poker player Annie Duke. She was near to several poker scandals but has since focused on decision science — with her poker past as an effective storytelling device.

It was popular in business circles. The book is effective in conveying a clear overall point and synthesizing relevant research. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Below I share notes for my future reference.

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Power of Habit: notes from the 2012 bestseller by Charles Duhigg

Habits work in three steps: the cue, the routine and the reward.

To change a habit, swap out the routine — because the cue and the reward are apparently already successful. That’s a big theme from Power of Habit, the 2012 bestseller by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg. I’m personally interested in the habit of habits so this book was long on my list to read — then a friend encouraged me to read it since it related to a project of ours. And so here I am.

Below I have a few notes for me to return to in the future.

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FREE SPEECH: its history and future by Jacob Mchangama

Free speech has a long history. Long enough that we know the pitfalls so well that they have nicknames.

There’s Milton’s Curse to describe the tendency for emerging leaders to defend free speech, only to walk backward once they are in power. More recently, we added the Streisand Effect, nicknamed after Barbara Streisand’s failed 2003 attempt to keep photos of her Malibu home off the internet. Her failed resistance generated far more attention.

This long, fragile and volatile path for free speech is the focus of the new book Free Speech A History from Socrates to Social Media by Jacob Mchangama. It is thorough, important and enjoyable. I recommend it. Below are my notes for my future research purposes.

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Me & White Supremacy: notes on the 2021 book by Layla Saad

Allyship is not an identity, but a lifelong process.

In twisted and complex American race relations, that amounts to a controversial stance. The last several years have been especially polarizing and yet somehow also clarifying and therefore productive.

For my work, myself and my community, I try to follow closely contributions to disentangling these systems. That’s why I picked up a copy of Me & White Supremacy, the 2021 book by Layla Saad. The book is structured as a kind of work book with journal prompts scheduled to run as a “28-day challenge.”

It also reads like an effective review of current recommendations on what Angela Davis famously called “anti-racism.” Whether you’re new to the conversation, or a professional that strives to keep engaged with the conversation, I recommend it. Below, I share my notes to review in the future.

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All the News That’s Fit to Sell: notes on mass media business models from the 2003 book by James T. Hamilton

The fractured media landscape we have today was already breaking apart two decades ago, and the economic models that underpin them predicted what we have today.

That’s the benefit of reading All the News That’s Fit to Sell, a 2003 book from James T. Hamilton, a well-respected journalism professor. I’ve read Hamilton’s work before, and this book was one I’ve long had on my list. I enjoyed the work, which is just as relevant 20 years later.

His research is helpful for my understanding of journalism models that I’ve spent my entire career working on. The book is also helpful for those interested in a dispassionate outline of the beginnings of the digital transformation of media – which we’re now fully immersed in.

Below I share notes for my future reflection.

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Craft in the Real World: advice on writing and workshop from Matthew Salesses

Write for the audience whose expectations you want to meet — not an imagined audience you’ve been taught is the standard.

That’s among the the top-level themes of Craft in the Real World, the 2021 book by celebrated fiction author and novelist Matthew Salesses. It challenges many norms of the American-style writer workshop that was largely first established at Iowa University, where the first Masters in Fine Arts writing program emerged. The book is rich with general criticism, tactical advice for modernizing writer workshops (many of which I’ve incorporated into my own) and even fresh looks at foundational elements of writing (ie. what exactly is plot?).

I introduced many of Matthew’s points on making a more effective writers workshop to my own workshop. I also appreciated his general contribution to our collective goals for great writing. I recommend the book to anyone in workshop or interested in writing process. Below I share my notes for me to return to in the future.

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Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor

For every $10 spent on goods and services in the American economy, at least a dollar is spent in the “underground economy.” That share has trended up over the last 15 years and two recessions.

That $2.5 trillion in economic activity includes both licit and illicit activities — yes, paying the babysitter cash and buying an illegal gun are both in the underground economy. Poorer nations have higher rates, and likewise, poorer communities in the United States rely more heavily on the informal economy.

Contributing to the academic analysis, American sociologist and ethnographer Sudhir Venkatesh published in 2006 a book called Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor. Backed by years he spent visiting a particular poor neighborhood in Chicago, he chronicled the interpersonal and community dynamics that related to and developed its underground economy. In some ways the book shows its age (as a trivial example, his use of the word “ghetto” feels dated), but in other ways it remains a small, specific window into one community’s underground economy.

“The underground enables poor communities to survive but can lead to their alienation from the wider world,” as the author wrote.

Another of his points I especially liked: “What some might see as a mass of Americans lying about, and out of work, is in many cases an ensemble of persons who lack of private places where they can rest.”

The author renamed his characters and locations for anonymity, but generally follows a neighborhood he calls Maquis Park, including characters like a particular gang leader and an active block leader named Eunice. Below find my notes from the book for future reference.

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NeuroTribes: autism and neurodiversity

Autism has been defined and its spectrum expanded in the last 80 years. We still don’t entirely understand its meaning, causes and implications.

More recently autism has been placed in an expanding understanding of what we call today “neurodiversity.” I read through NeuroTribes, the 2015 book that chronicles the history and science by Steve Silberman. A key theme it returns to often: autism is better understood as “different, not less.”

Below I share a few notes from my reading.

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VC: An American History

The American venture capital model is rooted in this country’s early business climate, and has been exported around the world.

For example, New England whalers came to dominate their 19th-century industry through their innovation of pooling capital and syndicating their risk across many expeditions. This established the concept of long-tail, led to the basic funding model that later developed in modern venture capital and other small innovations.

That’s a central theme of the 2019 book by Tom Nicholas called VC: An American History. The book is a thorough review of the journey that led to the venture capital and private equity of today. I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to anyone interested in business, economics and the history of financial systems.

Below I share my notes from the book for future review.

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