Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. In Search of a Democratic Socialist Paradise

J.P. Morgan analyst Michael Cembalest set out to report on how democratic socialism was working in what is commonly believed to be its cradle, Scandinavia. He found no evidence it exists there:

Copy the Nordic model if you like, but understand that it entails a lot of capitalism and pro-business policies…Nordic countries rank even higher than the US with respect to “Business Freedoms”, which include streamlined regulations for new businesses creation, and the ease and cost of obtaining licenses and real estate development permits. Nordic countries are also more open to free trade than the US (this was true even before Trump’s tariff barriers), are more open to foreign direct investment and apply fewer capital controls. Nordics are also very protective of physical and intellectual property rights, and the adverse impact of Nordic government regulation on competition is lower than in the US.

Curiously, the only country that Cembalest could find that fit the democratic socialist model was Argentina, which, he reports, has not only “defaulted 7 times since its independence in 1816,” but has also “seen the largest relative standard of living decline in the world since 1900, and which is on the brink of political and economic chaos again in 2019.”

2. Is Mastery Overrated?

In The Atlantic, Jerry Useem takes a look at how the U.S. Navy is preparing its recruits to be multi-taskers. The Navy, like many other industries, finds deep knowledge and specialization out of fashion, as well as “grit” and “focus,” two traits celebrated by Malcolm Gladwell and Angela Duckworth:

In the stable environments Duckworth and Gladwell draw from (chess, tennis, piano, higher education), a rigid adherence to routine can no doubt serve you well. But in situations with rapidly changing rules and roles, a small but growing body of evidence now suggests that it can leave you ill-equipped.

Where does that leave things? Useem reports on what he's been hearing off the Navy's ships:

“The half-life of skills is getting shorter,” I was told by IBM’s Joanna Daly, who oversaw an apprenticeship program that trained tech employees for new jobs within the company in as few as six months…I asked John Sullivan, a prominent Silicon Valley talent adviser, why should anyone take the time to master anything at all? “You shouldn’t!” he replied.

3. Cornhole, Division I

Apparently every bar room diversion and Red State pastime now aspires to be an Olympic sport. Experience reports from the frontier of professional cornhole:

The emerging rules for competitive play, generally agreed upon by the three major governing bodies, require each board to be two by four feet with a six-inch circular hole nine inches from the top. Regulation play — so egregiously flouted in Germany — sets the boards precisely 33 feet apart. Players must toss from behind a foul line in the “pitcher’s box,” the rectangular area directly to the left or right of the platform.

The report concedes one challenge: “Whatever its origins, modern proponents of the game agree that cornhole has a fundamental marketing problem: its name."

4. Naomi Wolf’s Truth

Naomi Wolf is a gift to book reviewers looking for someone to skewer. The New York Times Parul Sehgal lets loose on her latest work:

Naomi Wolf’s long, ludicrous career has followed a simple formula. She audits herself for some speck of dissatisfaction, arrives at an epiphany — one that might contravene any number of natural laws — and then extrapolates a set of rules and recommendations for all women…Throughout it all, she remains impervious to criticism. “I’m lucky,” she said in a recent profile in The Guardian. “I had a good education. I know my books are true.” Not accurate or factual, but true. This is a key to understanding why charges of sloppiness or misrepresentation don’t seem to stymie, or even embarrass, writers like Wolf. The issue isn’t simply that publishers don’t spring for fact-checking and leave writers vulnerable to making such errors. These writers see themselves in service of something larger than grubby reporting.

Not to be outdone, Caitlin Flanagan offers this history of Wolf’s literary output on Twitter.

5. First Newspapers, then Television

Joshua Benton of the Nieman Lab dives into analyst Mary Meeker’s annual slide deck on “the state of the internet.” One not-surprising conclusion: newspaper advertising has collapsed, but still has further to fall. More surprising: TV advertising is about to be lapped:

At the start of this decade, mobile was an increasingly popular but hard-to-monetize medium. The dominant ad model on desktop was some iteration of the banner ad: Publish some content, put an ad in a rectangle near the content, and profit! Smartphones’ then-tiny screens didn’t seem to leave much room for that sort of adjacency, and mobile advertising floundered…But obviously that’s changed as our phones have become the center point around which the rest of our lives revolve. The “opportunity gap” that’s existed all decade in mobile ad potential has officially closed. Mobile will zip past TV on this slide next year, I’d wager, and be the undenied No. 1 for at least a few years to come.

6. The Case for Libra

Whatever you may think of public discussion around cryptocurrency and blockchain, it’s hard not to be impressed by the new white paper from Libra, the digital financial system envisioned by a team from Facebook. Worth reading:

For too many, parts of the financial system look like telecommunication networks pre-internet. Twenty years ago, the average price to send a text message in Europe was 16 cents per message. Now everyone with a smartphone can communicate across the world for free with a basic data plan. Back then, telecommunications prices were high but uniform; whereas today, access to financial services is limited or restricted for those who need it most — those impacted by cost, reliability, and the ability to seamlessly send money.

Websites Worth Reading

Storyline: Can you predict the trend?

Worldometers: Real-time counts of everything

Bond: Mary Meeker's annual state-of-the-internet deck

Feeds We Follow

@SamoBurja: Advocate of great founder theory

@John_M_Nelson: Maps, data

@Redistrict: Dave Wasserman's election data, congressional district maps