- Mr. and Mrs. Psmith’s Bookshelf has a review of James C. Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed. Scott is an anarchist historian who has written several wonderful books, one of which, Seeing Like a State, gets a lot more attention than the rest. (Guilty!) The Art of Not Being Governed sets up a dichotomy between the civilized world and the nearby hill (or valley, or desert, or marsh) people who opt out to exchange less security for more freedom. And that analogy translates very nicely online; an anons-only message board or a group chat that deletes all content after a preset period is basically a way to opt out of a written culture and into an oral one, and to escape stultifying civilization for a refreshing taste of digital barbarism.
- Adam Tooze has a great piece on the political economy of authoritarianism. It's easy to get caught up in binaries when comparing different systems of government, so it's a good idea to remember that democratic systems have some less accountable institutions (central banks, parts of the judiciary, monopolistic companies, political parties) and that authoritarian governments still care about popular opinion because they don't want to be overthrown. What this piece looks at is the implicit bargain behind waging a costly war: wars don't pay for themselves in the modern era, so states have to find some way to make them affordable—and that means choosing wars that will be popular enough that people want to bear the cost. This is a useful model, both for understanding current conflicts like Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and for understanding future ones.
- Julius Krein in Compact has a good piece, from a right-of-center perspective, on why right-of-center responses to ESG are so lacking. As it turns out, one core claim of ESG is that it's a set of selection criteria that lead to improved returns, so blindly reversing it just means doing what ESG critics believe ESG already does, and accepting worse investment outcomes in order to achieve broader goals. Perhaps this takes ESG's marketing at face value a bit too much. On the other hand, if you identify something as a grift and give yourself permission to create your own grift in response, you're launching a project that is bound to hold itself to low standards.
- John Luttig asks: is AI the new crypto? It's a good piece on the specific elements of the crypto boom that were especially pathological—early liquidity for investors encouraging quick flips, specialized funds that didn't compare crypto and non-crypto opportunities—and a thoughtful look about how AI as a business category will evolve over time.
- Henrik Karlsson: "A blog post is a very long and complex search query to find fascinating people and make them route interesting stuff to your inbox." A good piece on writing and a love letter to the Internet. Worth reading, especially if it inspires you to write something.
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- The Alchemy of Air: The most important claim this book makes is right at the beginning—without artificial nitrogen fertilizers, the world could support roughly half its current population, and only if everyone ate a fairly meager diet. Half of us owe our existence, and almost all of us owe our culinary options, to a pair of German entrepreneur/inventors who insisted that artificial fertilizer was possible, and that once it was proven possible, it could be built at scale. Now, most of the nitrogen in human tissue originates from the Haber-Bosch process. Nitrogen fixation is analogous to semiconductors today: there's an input of a raw material available anywhere that, when combined with a ludicrously high capital cost and lots of energy produces something exportable, universally useful, with both civilian and military applications.
- Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr: Rockefeller would probably appreciate that this book spends about as much time on how he gave away his fortune as it does on how he earned it in the first place. His career has strong parallels to Bill Gates': a financially conservative company that made a lot more money by being second or third to market but also being the last company standing, won on distribution while doing fine but not exceptionally well on product quality, lots of charitable donations to forward-looking causes (Rockefeller was funding what are now HBCUs in the late 19th century!). And there some weirdly apt parallels: Microsoft got in trouble for deals where they charged PC manufacturers a royalty on every machine they built, whether or not it ran a Microsoft OS; Rockefeller did deals with the railroads where he got a rebate on all oil shipments they did, even if they were shipping oil for one of Standard Oil's competitors. Rockefeller's career is a testament to being bankroll-conscious even when there are tempting opportunities, and to the fact that the first person to deeply understand an industry's economics can make a lot more wealth than just being one of the first to participate.
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