Weekend Longreads + Open Thread
Scenius, Cloud Gaming, Amazon's S-1, Cowen/Romer, Institutional Failure, and more...
I’m trying something new this week: I usually publish five posts per week, four for subscribers and a free post on Friday. But I’ve noticed that weekend reading activity is high, and weekend signups are even higher. I have a theory: there’s a set of people who are newsletter junkies, and since most newsletters publish on weekdays, they start jonesing hard by noon on Saturday.
Well, junkies, here’s your fix: the best long-form pieces I’ve read all week.
Packy McCormick on Conjuring Scenius. This is an essential topic, especially for anyone who cares about accelerating progress. Progress—scientific, artistic, financial—is very lumpy. It happens very fast in small groups in discrete areas. Los Alamos in the 1940s, Florence in 1400s, Silicon Valley today (or until recently..?). Packy explores what these have in common, with thoughts on the future.
Matthew Ball and Jacob Novak on Cloud Gaming. The economics are a challenge, but the potential is insane.
A small company, but it really seems to be going places. Here’s Amazon’s Form S-1 from 1997. Striking to me: how much of the Internet they had to explain to readers. (Also funny: one of their post-IPO plans was for Jeff Bezos to stop personally guaranteeing the company credit card.)
Tyler Cowen interviews Paul Romer. A very meta interview, perhaps open to Straussian readings: Romer talks about economists' weaknesses for models, his contrarian model-driven approach to dealing with Covid-19, and the institutional weaknesses of the World Bank.
And on the topic of institutional weaknesses, Ryan Khurana writes in Palladium: Institutional Failures Give Us No Choice but Herd Immunity. Everyone I know is going through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief over the pandemic, all at different paces; this piece is somewhere between Bargaining and Acceptance, which is about where I am, too.
Nintil offers Better Science: A Reader. There’s a lot here; many pieces worth reading to help frame your future thoughts on the pace of scientific progress, and what’s holding us back.
Steve Randy Waldman: Four functions of markets. The last and darkest function is to “launder history,” a sort of Hayek’s Evil Twin. Hayek likes prices because they transmit just the information you need; you don’t have to know whether there’s a supply shock or a demand surge to know that something got expensive and you need to substitute for a cheaper version. But perhaps you don’t want to know why some things are so cheap.
I read the book Gold, Dollars, and Power this week, and it completely changed how I think about the Cold War. As it turns out, much of the US’s foreign policy with respect to Europe was driven by the need to keep the dollar stable. Winning the war was the top priority, but Bretton Woods was the biggest constraint.
Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments. Some questions to get you started:
What longform piece did you read this week that would be of interest to other Diff readers?
What’s the most under-covered story of the week?
What’s the most misunderstood story of the week?
Five years from now, will FAAMNG have fewer employees living within a one-hour drive of corporate HQ, or more? (My money’s on more.)
And a reminder: I’m raising the price of subscriptions to The Diff at 11:59pm Eastern on June 5th. Anyone who subscribes before then will be grandfathered in at the current pricing: monthly subscribers pay $15/month (25% off the new price) and annual subscribers pay $150/year (32% off the new annual price of $220).