Road to Serfdom

American style, lightly regulated democratic-capitalism so dominated the late 20th century that it’s easy to forget it was not destined to be. The form’s critics (and fans) can benefit from unwinding the tape.

Austrian-British economist Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) was among the chief architects of an ideology that resulted in that system, which gave us unprecedented growth and predictable inequality. With John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), Hayek outlined much of today’s economic thought, in part by inspiring economist Milton Friedman who influenced the so-called Reagan Revolution. That’s not to say the system is necessarily the best option, but it is worth remembering Hayek viewed himself in opposition to fascists.

Whatever your stance on it, Hayek’s book Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, is an influential of classic liberalism and modern American and western light-touch capitalism. That’s why he still catches the ire of those defending greater state intervention. Since it is so often referenced, I finally read the thing myself.

I share my notes for future reference below.

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Blue Ocean Strategy

Business case studies focus on companies. That’s all wrong. The more effective unit of assessment is the “strategic decision.” Companies change because people and external factors shift. Better to take specific moments to assess who, why and how did leadership get it right.

That’s the foundation of what most interests me about popular business book and concept Blue Ocean Strategy, written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. The original 2005 book’s origins are with a 1997 article on “value innovation” in Harvard Business Review. I read the updated version published in 2015.

It’s easy to criticize the careerism of business books like these. Smart management researchers uncover some findings, group case studies and give it cute branding to sell books and lead to a career of consulting and public speaking. It all has a very packaged feel. Yet I have gotten genuine value from many such books once they’re put in the proper concept: Pick from them what helps you and don’t feel required to follow it all.

The big headline of the book is that too often when facing a strategic decision, leaders follow the pack because it feels safe. Their assessment says this is all wrong. Rather than a crowded “red ocean;” Distinguish yourself by turning to open “blue ocean.” In some sense, many other business metaphors — such as Jim Collins’s “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG) and the “Queen Bee Role” and “making the donuts” — give similarly productive advice: Fall in love with the problem not the solution, and, rather than following everyone else, uncover what you’re the best in the world at.

The advice is good enough, though, that it can help. A friend advised me it was return to Blue Ocean Strategy. I read it, translated it into a mini-workshop my leadership team, and it helped push us forward at an important juncture.

You might rightly benefit too. Pick up a copy. For my future reference, I’ve shared my notes below.

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The End of The World is Just The Beginning: Peter Zeihan

The American-led global system has led to remarkable peace and prosperity — and it is ending.

After World War II, unwilling or unable to maintain a truly global empire of old, the Americans built up Allies, not colonies — which would have been the historic norm. This worked, allowing a truly low cost and safe international trading regime which was subsidized by the US Navy. Supply anywhere could meet demand anywhere — a truly impossible utopian dream. This made sense for the US until the end of the Cold War, and it was continued in the 1990s unipolar world but it isn’t necessary. The threat of a rising China, which is aging rapidly and is heavily reliant on the American led global system too, is overblown. Globalization is over, and it’s time to understand what’s next.

That’s the bulk of geopolitical analyst Peter Zeihan, colorful, crisp and chilling book of realpolitik from last year: The End of the World Is Just the Beginning: Mapping the Collapse of Globalization (He has cool maps and visuals here). Zeihan’s speciality is in geopolitics and demography but he writes with clarity and humor while still retaining a sense of authority. He has his critics but I appreciated his voice. I’ve enjoyed his lectures online.

He’s all about “Geography of Success,” how much where you live determines your outcomes. His view of “deglobization” means the end of large-scale farming and return of widespread famine, he argues, but he bets that North America will do well in the coming decades. Central to this premise is US disinterest. Rather than active US involvement that many found “distasteful,” we’ll move to US disinterest that many around the world will find “terrifying,” he argues.

“Recent decades have been the best time in human history, and we are never going back.”

Below I share my notes for future reference.

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How was your pandemic?

This month the U.S. government suspended the health emergency, effectively ending the pandemic.

That doesn’t mean covid-19 is gone (it isn’t); it doesn’t mean it won’t flare back up (it could); it doesn’t mean we won’t have another pandemic someday (we might). But it does mark the end of this nearly 3.5 year period.

Millions of lives were lost, and economic and psychological trauma was enacted, all of which we’re still confronting. As a coping mechanism, a friend and I were talking about the little behavior changes that took root, some of which we may reference for years to come. At the very beginning my newsroom was interested in what and how we would create.

I kept up my resolutions, and they were different than before covid-19. I’ll always reference these few simple behavior changes that now feel entrenched as part of me after so many life changes:

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935 Lies: what journalism learned from the War in Iraq

The Bush administration made 935 lies to extend the specious connection between the attacks of Sept. 11 and the American invasion of Iraq. So says longtime investigative journalist and journalism champion Charles Lewis in his reporting and 2014 book entitled “935 Lies.”

Lewis uses the book to champion the importance of investigative journalism, the role of journalists more generally and an engaged citizenry. Lewis is part of a class of journalists whose careers spanned the golden age of American journalism, when the business models worked and audience reach was an essential monopoly. That has all changed, yet his perspective is still welcome. The book is drier than I expected, but the mix professional memoir and treatise on journalism was full of insight.

Below I share my notes for future reference.

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Thomas Piketty’s Time for Socialism

Inequality is endemic to any capitalistic system. Unchecked over time, wealth will accrue to a set of financial winners. One of government’s chief responsibilities is to balance fairness with efficiency. Redistribution is thorny but it is a necessary component of the system.

The rich world debate on wealth and income inequality has been largely powered by Thomas Piketty, a leftist French economist that rose to global prominence with his surprise 2014 global bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century. He gave rise to the 1% vs. 99% framing. Since, he’s argued for more aggressive governmental intervention.

That case includes Time for Socialism, a collection published last year of his columns from 2016-2021. The collection read more like day-old bagels than I expected; It felt very much like an effort to capture the attention of Piketty’s .Still, there were points I found compelling. I’ve shared my notes from the collection below.

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The Emotional Life of a Toddler

Once my second kid started sleeping through the night, the most challenging part of raising two young kids became navigating my older kid’s emotional toddler stage.

For nearly two years after crossing six months old, I found our first kid to be a great listener. Then the tantrums and outbursts began. We know why. That toddler and pre-schooler stage is the height of emotional and social development. It’s tricky.

I find many parent social posters and expert books to be genuinely helpful. One of the classics of the genre is The Emotional Life of a Toddler, first published in 1993 by child psychologist and researcher Dr. Alicia Lieberman. I read the 2017 edition.

My notes below for future reference.

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Woke Inc

Coca-Cola is one of the largest and best known consumer products companies in the world. Many of its products contribute to the rich world’s obesity epidemic. Rather than confront that very real harm, company leaders have instead found a convenient distraction in pledges and policies around social issues.

That’s one example that biotech executive turned Republican Presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy puts forward in his 2021 book Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam.

Today’s obsessive use of “woke” by American conservatives to dismiss any progressive policy or perspective is silly and lazy. (Even authors I follow closely have done so). I reluctantly got the book expecting another shallow rendering of partisan talking books. This isnt that. In truth, I think the “Woke Inc” title may be limiting, even if it has proven effective in selling books.

Vivek has something to contribute to the conversation. I’ve written about the perils of today’s shareholder capitalism, but Vivek offers a nuance I hadn’t seen before: Big companies are using progressive talking points to distract from challenges they are better suited to address.

As he puts it: “If you claim to owe the public everything, you will in fact owe it nothing.”

Like all of the books I read, I’m not endorsing any other author’s policy stances. I did appreciate the book, whether or not I agreed with much of the author’s conclusions. Below I share my notes for future reference.

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First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing and Life

Writers begin their journey loving words. Later they learn to love sentences. Still later, they turn to obituaries. Or something like that. The point: Language is a cultural invention so its forms and our relationship to it is ever changing.

To become a better writer, then, is to grab hold of these various for their various purposes. For one, as Gertrude Stein put it: “paragraphs are emotional and sentences are not.”

Somewhere in here is how we develop our “writing voice.” Not exactly the same as how you speak but maybe, “a buried, better-said version of you,” as author Joe Moran put it in his 2018 book First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing . . . and Life.

It’s a lovely book, both for the craftsmanship Moran puts into his sentences and the wisdom he pulls together on stronger writing. I recommend it. Below I share my notes for future reference.

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