8 Fascinating Reads

Good reads, short quotes.

Jan 31, 2014 at 12:43PM

Books

Happy Friday! There are more good articles on the Web every week than anyone could read in a month. Here are eight fascinating ones I read this week.

Deep thoughts
The blog Farnam Street offers 11 rules for critical thinking. My favorites:

  1. A theory should not attempt to explain all the facts, because some of the facts are wrong. (Francis Crick)
  2. Never fall in love with your hypothesis. (Peter Medawar)
  3. All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second, it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)
What a life
Former Wall Streeter Sam Polk writes a great story about his addiction to money:
In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million -- and I was angry because it wasn't big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.
"The no profit prophet" 
Matt Yglesias writes a great piece on how Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) gets away without making much profit:

I once characterized Amazon as a "charitable institution being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers." Bezos took issue with this in a letter to shareholders. His argument is that Amazon isn't a charity; it's a business -- a business whose strategy is to make its customers as happy as possible. And that, fundamentally, is what makes Amazon great. Profits are in severe tension with the idea of pleasing customers -- a profitable firm is, by definition, charging customers more than it needs to.

But of course, there's a reason that most companies try to make healthy profit margins: financial markets demand it. Only a Wall Street darling, a firm whose senior leadership has the confidence of markets, could get away with being as daring as Amazon is.

Outgrowing ourselves
Bill Gates and Ezra Klein talk about population growth:

EK: Usually when you hear people talk about overpopulation and Malthus today they're arguing that population growth is fine because we innovate our way out of the problems. I'm struck that that's not the argument you're making here. You're saying ceaseless population growth wouldn't be fine, but it doesn't actually happen, because as people get richer and healthier their birth rates decline and that that's really what saves us.

BG: We won't need to answer the question of how much innovation allows us to support 20 or 30 billion people on the planet. It's possible some miracle like reinventing photosynthesis could do it. We invest in miracles like that. But the amount of innovation it would take to support 20 billion or more is pretty phenomenal and would likely not show up in time. So the fact that the population will peak is great news. We've already had the largest birth cohort -- the most children born in a year. We're past the peak on that. We'll probably only have to support 10 to 11 billion. Now we still need to raise food production and avoid climate change. And when people get richer we have to worry about things like diabetes. So I'm not saying fulfilling the development agenda makes the world all good. But in terms of injustice and equity, doubling down to finish the development agenda should be the top priority.

Your tax dollars at work
Neil deGrasse Tyson tweets a chart showing the highest-paid government employees in each state. See if you can spot the trend: 

Bfantncccaekpel

Getting ahead 
The blog Monevator writes a great post about "How to be a Capitalist."

We live in a capitalist world, and it's only by living as capitalists that we can truly make the best of it. Capitalism isn't just for golf club swingers and septuagenarians in South Kensington. It's the system we all work within.

Unless you're a dropout living in a tree tent above an anti-fracking campsite, you need to know the rules of the game to thrive. Taking a half-hearted approach to capitalism is like a goldfish taking a half-hearted approach to swimming.

The good life
Mr. Money Mustache gives a great interview on how he retired at age 30: 

Q: Some people might think so much cost-cutting is akin to living like Scrooge and not having any fun. How would you respond to that?

A: If you tell yourself that is how it will be, then you will create your own truth and life will not be fun. But if you understand the fundamentals of what it means to be a happy person, you realize that buying more stuff for yourself has no relationship at all to how happy you are. These fundamentals include things like close relationships with other people, health, rewarding work, a chance to be creative and help others.

Work on those things and you'll start living a much better life immediately, and soon wonder where the odd compulsion to own a yacht with a submarine came from in your old self.

The new boom
This one statement from a Slate article got my attention:

Meanwhile, residential solar-panel installations are booming: Americans installed more solar panels in 2013 than in the past 20 years combined.

Enjoy your weekend. 

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