Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. How Hyperloop Sells Its Story

Even if you’re skeptical of the technology, it is hard not to be impressed by the press event and “vision document” launched by Hyperloop One. Their plans to create a network of supersonic tubes to move both people and things blends the ambition of Steve Jobs with the flimflam of PT Barnum. But what makes Hyperloop’s argument a compelling piece of public advocacy is that it’s less about local infrastructure than national economic growth:

With a Hyperloop network extending out of the Seattle area, employers such as Boeing, Amazon or Microsoft could access ten times the labor pool, reaching as far afield as Portland, Boise, and the San Francisco Bay area. Hyperloop would also allow Boeing to move new manufacturing facilities inland to a place such as southern Idaho, dropping its land cost by more than 50%. 

“Hyperloop One is trying to get ahead of the regulatory curve before it even proves the technology,” observes Futurism.com. It’s worth watching the hour-long presentation.

2. Meet the New Urban Luddites

Urban studies expert Richard Florida explains what is ruining American cities: “the enormous and complex thicket of zoning laws and other land use regulations that restrict the supply of housing.” He blames the “New Urban Luddites,” who have taken NIMBYism to its extreme:

They put an artificial cap on the further development and expansion of entire cities…This leads to a concentration of talent and economic activity in fewer and fewer places, not only dividing the world’s cities into winners and losers, but ensuring that the winner cities become unaffordable for all but the most advantaged. This unrelenting cycle is great news for wealthy landlords and homeowners, but bad news for almost everyone else.

3. The (Second) French Revolution

France is “an ‘American’ society like any other, unequal and multicultural.” So opens the new book by Frenchman Christophe Guilluy. Looking at housing data and real estate trends, Guilluy contends that France is experiencing historic inequality, democratic upheaval, and cultural disruption. In City Journal, Chris Caldwell offers an expansive review, including this on working and living in Paris:

If French people were willing to do the work that gets offered in prosperous urban centers, there’d be no way for them to do it, because there is no longer any place for them to live…The metropolitan bourgeoisie no longer lives cheek-by-jowl with native French people of lesser means and different values. In Paris and other cities, one often encounters an appearance of civility, even consensus, where once there was class conflict. But this is an illusion: one side has been driven from the field.

4. Are Living Standards Stagnant or Rising?

Economist Bruce Sacerdote’s National Bureau of Economics paper appears to turn on its head the prevailing wisdom about stagnant living standards:

Despite the large increase in U.S. income inequality, consumption for families at the 25th and 50th percentiles of income has grown steadily over the time period 1960-2015. The number of cars per household with below median income has doubled since 1980 and the number of bedrooms per household has grown 10 percent despite decreases in household size.

Robert Samuelson responds with an even-handed assessment:

If true, the result is not a pervasive stagnation of living standards — or even declines — but what Sacerdote calls a “slow and steady” advance that, to varying degrees, has permeated the income spectrum. Of course, that conclusion is likely to be challenged, because it rests heavily on controversial technical issues in estimating inflation. In addition, many political leaders and economic commentators, of both parties, have a vested interest in criticizing government economic policy.

5. The Secret to "Storytelling"

A year old, but timeless: this long Paris Review interview with Robert Caro, author of multiple volumes on Lyndon Johnson and the magisterial study of New York City overlord Robert Moses. The interview is filled with fascinating thoughts on what makes a great biography, but the highlight is Caro describing why “place” is essential to storytelling: 

[T]here has to be something more than facts. You know, I used to be a judge for one prize or another, and you’d get two hundred books or something in the mail, and you’d go through them, and often it would only take a few pages to realize that the writer of this book thinks the only thing that matters is getting the facts down, not letting the reader see the place. Now, if you let the reader see the place—if you do it well enough and have shown the character of your protagonist well enough, so that the reader can see the scene and be involved in the scene—then the reader can see things, sense things, understand things about your protagonist that the writer doesn’t have to tell him, that the reader can grasp for himself.

6. Style Tip: Fashion Advice Gets Old

Here’s the thing about “men’s style guides”: they quickly (immediately?) degenerate from sophisticated to hopelessly dated. The Wall Street Journal looks back with ridicule at advice from the 1975 best-seller Dress for Success and draws out a few gems:

In general, I have found that people believe that a man in a bow tie will steal.

With the exceptions of bankers’ conferences and Wall Street offices, solid beige is probably the best single suit in any part of the country.

You will never, ever, as long as you live, wear a short sleeve shirt for any business purpose, no matter whether you’re the office boy or the president of the company.

Under no circumstances should a man use a cheap pen or pencil in the presence of other men, although a lot do.

People do not trust or believe men in goatees; perhaps it’s the devil image.

Unwittingly, the Journal’s own advice for today’s workplace style “dilemmas” reminds us that much fashion advice is linked to worrying about what others will think:

Unless the boss is a total dink, I would recommend you talk to him and explain why you are growing a beard. Come completely clean about regretting shaving it and that you want to grow it again.


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