Here are some of the essays we’ve discussed during a Pour Richards lunch.
Niall Ferguson, “Wall Street Lays Another Egg”, Vanity Fair, Dec. 2008
The economic historian and commentator here produces an analysis of the economic crisis that blew up “Planet Finance”.
James McPherson, “The Hedgehog and the Foxes” Drawing on a classical image redefined in modern time by Isaiah Berlin, McPherson makes a compelling case that Lincoln’s greatest leadership trait was playing the part of the hedgehog. Unlike the fox which is tactical and creative and flexible, the hedgehog has a single central vision to which he holds unwaveringly. Lincoln had this vision and a deeper understanding of the meaning of the Civil War, even when he led a cabinet full of foxes. We read this in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.
US Constitution: With incredible brevity, Madison produces an entirely radical structure for the relationship between government and the people. Every citizen should read and know this document which has changed the course of history and shapes the life of every American today.
Martin Luther King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. An amazing, impassioned letter from one of the greatest of all Americans. King urges civil disobedience of unjust laws at the same time he pleads for non-violence and compassion. This letter recalls the eloquence, humanity, and forbearance so poignant in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Who in our day can command the language so beautifully to call us to our better selves?
Kaiser Family Foundation, “Generation M2” Over lunch in March, we read this revealing study of the use of media by today’s 8-18 year olds. Everyone knows that young people use media extensively; still it was a shock to learn the number of hours spent consuming and connected to media of all types. For 14 year olds, it’s almost 12 hours a day! There are also key findings regarding the relation between media use and grades, parental rules about media consumption and child behavior, and media use and personal contentment. The study authors are clear to avoid claims of causality, but it’s hard not to draw some strong conclusions that letting young people be connected most of the time is bad for them and for family life.
Clayton Christensen: How Will You Measure Your Life? This is an address Christensen gave to a graduating class of HBS, which was published in the Harvard Business Review. In it, the author asks his students three questions about ensuring happiness in their lives, strength in their personal relationships, and stability in their personal integrity. Christensen argues that performance driven people misallocate their resources of time and attention to things with a short-term payoff, while succeeding in these three areas of happiness, relationships, and integrity requires putting resources to work with a long-term, ineffable, and often immeasureable outcome.
We discussed Chapter 4 of Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational, which describes the difference between social norms and market norms. A friend will help you move for free, but offer him $20 and he’ll be insulted. Social norms function differently from market norms, yet we seem to confuse them quite a bit. Once the concept of money is introduced, you’re dealing with a market norm, and it is hard to recover to the social norm you started with.
“The Anthropocene”: In two short essays, the Economist wrote about how humans have remade the natural world. Human influence on the planet has been so profound that some scientists are saying that we no longer live in the Holocene era. We discussed this topic and the issue of how much humans should intervene to counter the effects of earlier human actions on the planet.
Is the Family Finished? Article from New Geography. Current birth rates in the US and other developed economies are well below replacement rate. This fact has a multitude of consequences on our economy, government policy, immigration, and the social relations of the generations.
Does Capitalism Have An Image Problem? Charles Murray essay from the Wall Street Journal. No other economic system has powered more innovation or done more to lift the quality of life of the vast majority of citizens. Yet capitalism is playing defense in the US and other developed markets. Is this a matter of image only or is there something fundamentally wrong with capitalism itself?
A Strategy for Health Care Reform. Our discussion of a thought-provoking essay
from the New England Journal of Medicine. Can the nation move past piecemeal reform to a new system of health care delivery focused on both value and patient care?
Trials and Errors: Why Science is Failing Us. Jonah Lehrer’s essay from Wired magazine on the enormous promises of biotechnology versus the actual fulfillment of those promises.