Author Archives: aje

Boxsets

Last updated: May 2016

I consider myself fortunate that my young adult life coincided with the emergence of the boxset. The chart below shows how I’ve ranked some of them:

Boxset Retrospect

Key:

  • Colour code: USAUKEurope.
  • Intensity means that the concepts and characters were gripping and stuck with me for a long time.
  • Excitement means a thrilling experience that puts you in the edge of your seat. A score >4 means II was jumping up and down.
  • The bubble size is the no. of episodes.

The aim is to provide recommendations based on how intense you want it (your internal engagement); how exciting you want it (a more external feeling); and how daunted you’re willing to be by the time commitment. It’s mainly a way for me to promote some older boxsets that many people haven’t seen – i.e. Oz, and The Lakes.

If you multiple intensity by excitement you can also generate an overall score:

Boxset Score

Here’s to the winner:

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Family & personal development

StPauleTheHermitWithStAnthonyTheGreat


2016 makes my 10 year wedding anniversary and that marriage is the central pillar of my social identity. It is where family and friendship coincides, and the basis upon which the meaningful relationships I have are developed.

I thought that having children would make me more selfish, because I’d be focusing my efforts and attention on propagating my own genes rather than considering humanity as a whole. I realise, however, that being a parent makes me a role model, and this encourages me to become a better person. It means that when I see distant tragedies I feel greater empathy than I did before.

I also thought that the circle of life meant that I care for my children because my parents cared for me. And then my children would care for their children and so on. Upbringing passes from one generation to the next, with the gift of “becoming a grandparent” being sent back in return. That’s not really a circle though, more of a straight line. Indeed recently I’ve seen how much support and care my grandparents required, and how your duties as a child revert back to your parents when they age. Providing grandchildren isn’t your ultimate gift to your parents; it is being there.

I believe that the thread of ancestry to descendants isn’t self-involvement, it’s self-realisation, and this essay discusses some of the books that I’ve read in pursuit of being a better father, husband, and son.

I. Father

“There are parts of the cultural heritage of a society that are more effectively transmitted through the family.” FA Hayek, 1960, p.90

Both of my children have turned three which seems to be a real turning point in terms of their development. At three they can (by and large) – talk; talk to adults; sleep at night; dress themselves; feed themselves; go to the toilet by themselves.

When they were growing up I organised photos of the kids into these categories: Newborn (birth – 2 months old); Baby (2 months – 1 year); and Toddler (1 year – 3 years). When they both turned 3 I went through those albums and made them a printed collection.

When they were younger, my job was to keep them alive. To survive. But increasingly I understand that physical development (i.e. weighing, measuring, testing) has taken a back seat to their emotional and mental development. It’s incredible to watch this all happen on a daily basis. It frightens me that my daughter’s problems will soon go from “Daddy I banged my knee” to “Daddy my best friend has spread a rumour about me and people are calling me names”.

Before having my own children I adhered to Bryan Caplan’s “selfish” school of parenting (which ties nicely into free range kids). The idea is that:

  • Not being stressed is the biggest gift you can give your children
  • If you’re the type of parent who worries about good parenting, you’re probably a good parent
  • Most of the factors that drive children’s future prospects are outside of your direct control

I also think it’s dangerous to view your role as a parent in terms of a debate between the forces of nature and the forces of nature. Really, it’s neither, because:

“we can be active agents who in part control how those interactions play out…it is the individual who is the agent of action” (Mischel, p.278)

Whilst Descartes famously said “I think, therefore I am”; we might say “I think, therefore I can change what I am” (p.278). This ties in nicely with my article, “Only Individuals Choose“.

So I believe in self-improvement, and want to cultivate that in my children. But I also recognise that reading to them every night is largely for my benefit, and my love of books and reading is part of a far broader set of abilities that will impart themselves of my kids in various multifaceted ways.

Just before Hope’s 5th birthday I attempted to do the classic Marshmallow Test (see The Marshmallow Test, by Walter Mischel). Interestingly, I failed! I found it too difficult to leave her on her own, and stopped it after just 5 minutes. I then set up a camera for Tate (he’d turned 3 a couple of months before) and managed to get to 10 minutes. The kids seemed better at it than I was! The test is as follows:

  • Set them up in a quiet room with a bell, a plate with 1 marshmallow on it, and a plate with 2 marshmallows on it.
  • The instructions are: If you want to eat a marshmallow you need to ring the bell to call me back into the room. I will be close by and we can stop whenever you want. However if you don’t ring the bell, and wait until I come back into the room myself, you can have 2 marshmallows.
  • The standard test is for 20 minutes. As I said though, without a monitoring device I found this unbearable!

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 19.59.00The “test” is one of self-control, which is an important prerequisite for independence. But the purpose of the experiment is not really to categorise your child. It’s not about trying to measured the extent of their self-control. It’s more about seeing how they cope with situations that require self-control, and then using that as a basis to develop their skills.

Generally speaking, self-control is easier when we cool the present and heat the future. Being hot makes us react quickly to emotional stimuli, and triggers our feelings. Babies are often “hot” in this sense, responding to immediate and stressful conditions. And from an evolutionary perspective this was very important for dealing with danger. The cool system is slower to operate, more reflective and aids rational and strategic thinking. It is only fully developed in young adults, and is not the natural way to deal with pressure. But in situations where you want to exercise self-control, the crucial thing is to recognise the need to move from hot to cool thinking. Mischel mentions how:

  • Create a distraction (my daughter did this by finding a notepad and drawing a picture)
  • Make the focus of your attention more abstract (i.e. think of the shape, or colour, rather than the feel or taste)
  • Imagine that you’re looking at a picture, rather than the real thing
  • Ask what someone else in your position would do
  • Sing to yourself
  • Have a mantra

Ultimately what these have in common is that you’re generating cognitive distance between yourself and the temptation. You can heat the future by imaging the pleasure you will get from achieving your goal.

Young children do not have well developed causal reasoning, and this is perhaps why negotiations are so fraught. I try to make clear “If/Then” scenarios (e.g. “if you don’t eat your dinner then you won’t get any pudding”, or “if you eat your dinner then you will get pudding”) and then follow through. I find that if a threat isn’t credible (e.g. “if you don’t stop crying then I’ll leave you here” or “if you don’t tidy your room then we won’t go to the zoo”) your bluff will be called. Writing down an “If/Then” scenario makes me more likely to follow through, and generate credibility.1457786562-20160312

Do our children see us being hard on ourselves and exercising delayed gratification? It’s hard, because a lot of our gratification (e.g. a glass of wine and a movie) comes when they’re asleep. But we should demonstrate it. Indeed the main objective is to make good behaviour an intrinsic goal, so we’re not rewarding behaviour but seeing that behaviour as a reward in itself.

“If you aren’t consistent and are tough on your children but lenient with yourself, there is a good chance they’ll adopt the self-reward standards you modelled, not the ones you imposed on them” (Mischel p.225)

Make sure you set tasks that get progressively harder. Yes, it feels good to iron your shirts for the week and you deserve a beer at the end of it. But are you improving? (No!) This is why playing a musical instrument is such a good means of development – as you get better it doesn’t get easier. The same thing applies to games such as Lego.  Do things that have the potential for unlimited growth.

If you have a dilemma and can’t decide which option to take try to pre-live them both. Our instinct is to favour our present self’s opinion of what ones future self should want to do. Rather, we should recognise that our future self will be pretty similar to our present self, and if something wouldn’t be enjoyable today, we shouldn’t commit to doing it down the line. “When my graduate students are fortunate enough to have more than one job offer and are tortured about their decision, I suggest that they imagine, as concretely as they can, living life in each job, one full day at a time, as if the job were happening now” (Mischel, p,133).

I have two concrete examples of advice I acquired from having read Mischel.

  1. Hope was given a speaking role for the school nativity and expressed concerns about having to talk in front of everyone.
    • I showed her some videos of me doing public speaking and explained the process by which I learnt how to do it (i.e. starting off with similar worries in a similar situation)
    • We practiced in front of a smaller audience of adults
    • We spoke about breathing as a way to remain calm
    • In other words the way to deal with phobias is to allow them to watch someone they trust encounter the problem in a calm, step-by-step manner, and then follow them
  2. Tate would often have tantrums where he’d seem unable to calm down by himself
    • I took a photo of him and asked him to explain what he saw. This provided a little distance and engaged the cooler part of his brain.
    • When it comes to tantrums – don’t isolate or punish just try to talk them down and show them how to calm down.

Finally, Mishel (p.251) provides some dimensions for what constitutes character. I think it’s useful to reflect on whether you can find good examples of each

  • Self-control
    • Focus on the goal – “i paid attention and resisted distractions”
    • Temper control – “I remained calm even when criticised or otherwise provoked”
  • Grit – “I finished whatever I began”
  • Optimism – “I stayed motivated, even when things didn’t go well”
  • Zest – “I approached new situations with excitement and energy”
  • Social intelligence – “I demonstrate respect for the feelings of others”
  • Curiosity
  • Gratitude

II. Husband

I think I’m a better husband when I am alert, relaxed, and communicating well. To improve these I find value in the following

  1. Have sleep plan. Nothing prepares you for the tiredness of being a parent, and when we had two children both under two I felt permanently knackered. Being tired makes one irritable and unable to think clearly. This will always be far easier for men to achieve than women (i.e the first responders) but a sleep plan meant that I now enjoy getting up before 8am. It has become a normal part of my routine and this has helped massively.
  2. Mindfulness. The basic principle is highly compatible with being a secular hermit and I try to find time for sporadic meditation. Diet and exercise is also crucial for this.
  3. Susan Cain’s book on introversion has had a big impact on me, and Chapter 10 focuses on the communication gap between different personality types. What I found especially useful is instead of debating which activities to do, talk about what it is about a specific activity you do or do not enjoy. This opens up the potential for modifying an activity in a way that makes it mutually tolerable (or perhaps even beneficial). The example in the book is that Greg is outgoing and Emily is more pensive. He wants regular big dinner parties with lots of guests, and she wants a quiet night in. Their solution is to hold an event only once a month; buffet style food (i.e. not sit down); and Emily isn’t obliged to mingle. A regular date night is a good communication facilitator because it involves alcohol but doesn’t involve children.

III. Son

I highly recommend Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The goal of modern healthcare is to keep the elderly alive and safe but this is usually because we shy away from difficult conversations about what quality of life is important to them, and what tradeoffs they are willing to make. Because we often delay this conversation until it’s too late, we care for the elderly in an intrusive, expensive, and unsatisfactory way. Some steps to mitigate this:

  • Talk early and often about care home desires (my prediction is that “being put in a home” will become less of a problem over time as the elderly in the future will be more likely to associate care homes with university halls rather than a military barracks)
  • Have a living will or advanced healthcare directive.

Updated: April 2016

Economic Freedom 101

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Introduction

This short course provides provides a survey of global poverty and a discussion of the causes of prosperity. Particular emphasis is placed on the institutions required for market exchange, and the importance of economic calculation. As a satellite photo of the Korean peninsula makes clear, socialist planning is literally groping in the dark. We will look at the theoretical reasons behind this claim, and the empirical validation that economic freedom matters.

Prerequisites

The course does not rely on any previous study of economics.

Teaching methods

  • Lectures (3 sessions)

Textbook

The course is designed to tie into Chapters 4 and 12 of the following (amazing) textbook:

The website for the book contains an array of other resources: http://econ.anthonyjevans.com/books/markets-for-managers/

An additional reading list is available here: http://econ.anthonyjevans.com/2010/03/course-readings/

An edited list of highly recommended articles from The Economist is here: http://econ.anthonyjevans.com/2011/05/the-economist-an-mba-reader/


Schedule

9am Session 1

Economics matters: The link between economic institutions and global prosperity

10:45am Break

11:00am Session 2

Groping in the dark: Why socialist calculation is impossible

12:30pm Lunch

2:00pm Session 3

Economic transition in Central and Eastern Europe: Shock therapy or gradualism?

3:30pm Finish


Downloads of the lecture handouts will be available soon.

Online learning

Some WIP resources to help me develop online learning.

The skillset for a lecturer:

  • Knowledge of the content
  • Personable delivery
  • Ability to grade exams

Skillset for an online instructor:

  • Ability to curate content
  • Aptitude with alternative technologies
  • Choice of assessment

Model 1: Your own pace

Model 2: Virtual classroom

Model 3: Remote classroom

 

Online grading

  • a web form to enter information about Behav. Finance and then WHAM it converts it into a report.
  • they see each others and vote on which are the best ones
  • or it just prints them all out and I grade them in one batch

Free Online Courses: Futurelearn | Foundation for Economic Education

Other online courses: Udemy

Tyler Cowen Says Online Professors Should Think Like Bloggers

My own course on Analytics (including Numeracy Skills Bootcamp; An Introduction to Game Theory; Collecting and Presenting Data.

My own course on Managerial Economics

See also

Dynamic AD-AS model

I am a big fan of the Cowen/Tabarrok Dynamic AD-AS model. This page contains resources for my students who want more information.

Here is a video:

Here is a presentation:

You can download the slides here.

I published a short blog post called “The policymakers view of the great recession – a dynamic AD-AS analysis.”


There are three components to the dynamic AD-AS model.

The first is the Solow curve, which shows the growth rate that would exist (i) if prices were perfectly flexible; (ii) given the existing real factors of production. It can be derived from the Solow growth model and since this treats capacity as being independent of inflation, it is depicted as a vertical line. Improvements in research & development; better infrastructure; increased competitiveness; higher quality education and training; labour market flexibility; or natural events such as more conducive weather would all constitute a positive productivity (or “real” or “supply side”) shock, increase the Solow growth rate, and shift the Solow curve outwards.

The second component is the Aggregate Demand (AD) curve. This can be defined as combinations of inflation and real growth for a specified rate of total spending, and is far more intuitive than the traditional AD curve. This is because instead of being based on other curves (necessitating an explanation of the Pigou effect, for example) it is instead based on a dynamic version of the equation of exchange:

M+V=P+Y

Since the AD curve simply shows how any given amount of (M+V) can be split between P and Y, it will only shift if there is a change in M (i.e. the money supply) or V (confidence).* In terms of what constitutes a velocity shock, we can switch from looking at the left hand side of the equation (our posited increase in total spending) to the right hand side of the equation (how it is being spent). After all an increase in spending must be spent on something. The composition of total spending is household spending, business spending, and government spending.

AD=C+I+G

Potential sources of increased spending are thus fiscal policy (either changes to government spending or changes to taxes) or wealth effects. An important caveat is that generally speaking changes in the growth rate of V tend to be temporary and thus only changes in M can generate sustained inflation.

If prices were perfectly flexible, the Solow curve and AD curve would suffice. For example, if the Solow growth rate were 3% and the central bank increased M from 5% to 10% this would lead to an equivalent increase in inflation (from 2% to 7%).

However if prices aren’t perfectly flexible, the dynamic AD-AS model shows how the economy can deviate from potential GDP growth. This requires the third component, the Short Run Aggregate Supply curve (SRAS). The SRAS shows the relationship between P and Y for a given expected inflation rate. As with the traditional AD-AS model, the labour market plays a key role in economic adjustments, and so “sticky” wages (i.e. those that don’t adjust quickly to new conditions) are problematic. For example, if revenues are rising at a faster rate than wages (which constitute a large share of the firms costs), firms will appear to be profitable and will expand their output. Similarly, if prices fall quicker than wages, production will appear to be unprofitable, and they will reduce output. It is due to inflation expectations that we might expect wages to lag behind prices – if inflation is higher than expected output will rise. If inflation is lower than expected output will fall. This explains the upward sloping shape of the SRAS curve.

Underpinning the SRAS is the concept of the signal extraction problem, which implies that in the short run (i.e. whilst prices are adjusting) there may be a positive relationship between inflation and real growth. The reason the SRAS curve is flatter below Y* is because wages are especially sticky in a downwards direction. Basic money illusion means that workers tend to be hostile to nominal wage cuts. And the SRAS curve is steeper above Y* because there’s a limit to how fast the economy can grow – it can’t indefinitely exceed the Solow growth rate.** Given that the SRAS holds for a given rate of inflation expectations, the only thing that can cause it to shift is a change in those inflation expectations. This may appear to underplay the importance of the SRAS curve, but in fact it clarifies the difference between SRAS and the Solow curve. It is tempting to think of the difference in terms of calendar time, for example that a period of bad weather, causing a poor harvest, will primarily affect the SRAS. This is because it is a temporary event that hasn’t altered the underlying production capacity, and if there is nothing to say that bad weather will cause a reduction in supply in the long run, it shouldn’t affect the long run supply curve. However the dynamic AD-AS model makes it a lot clearer to understand why the above reasoning is incorrect. An adverse weather event – even a temporary one – is a real shock, and will therefore impact the Solow curve and not the SRAS. The SRAS shows how the price mechanism facilitates but also can disrupt the adjustments in response to either real (Y*) or nominal (AD) shocks.


It is tempting to treat M as monetary policy and V as fiscal policy but this wouldn’t be correct. Most central banks use interest rates (specifically a short term risk free rate) as their main policy tool. If the “velocity of circulation” refers to the speed at which money turns over, then this is a function of people’s demand to hold money (relative to their demand to hold goods and services). In other words V is the inverse of the demand for money. If the demand for money is high, people hold onto cash, and velocity is therefore low. Hence central banks can either affect the money supply, or try to influence the demand for money by manipulating the price (i.e. interest rates). This actually helps aid a discussion about quantitative easing. Given that interest rates are very low many central banks have reinstated the quantity of money (through the process of quantitative easing) as a policy tool that can be used in addition to interest rates.

** The above could also be considered a “Lucas” curve, since it follows his islands parable and emphasises the labour market. We might also think of it as a “Hayek” curve if we focus more on the capital market. Entrepreneurs confuse a temporary reduction in real interest rates (due to an increase in the money supply) with a permanent one (or at least one consistent with an increase in real savings) and invest in capital-intensive production plans. The Austrian claim is that this will be self-reversing and bring on a recession. We can incorporate this into the analysis here by stressing that particular increases in AD (i.e. when money supply exceeds the demand to hold it) will – as Cowen and Tabarrok argue happens ordinarily – cause a reverse shift in AD later on, but also end up causing a reduction in Y* through a negative shift in the Solow curve. Monetarists would say an increase in AD ultimately leads to an increase in P. Austrians would say that it increases P and reduces Y*.

Secular hermit

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According to many, the early hermits were the desert fathers, and are therefore associated with Christianity. But there is a deeper and more widespread spiritual affinity for becoming (not necessarily permanently) detached from society – a walkabout is a contested example from Aboriginal culture, and I assume there’s similar for Native Americans.

I use this page as a think space for a secular hermit manifesto, and I define a secular hermit in the following way:

  • Hermit: thirst for solitude
  • Secular: not supernatural

(1) Intellectual foundations

My secular hermit philosophy is based on three separate movements: (i) scholasticism; (ii) introversion; (iii) Paleo.

i. Scholasticism

Many religious practices had hidden (i.e. evolutionary) meaning, for example Kosher laws and fasting were effective ways to reduce infection. Using them as religious rituals ensures their widespread coordinated adherence, and therefore made them more likely to work. Having said this, there’s obviously lots of religious superstition that is high cost and serves little benefit. Hence we should be open minded about why traditions emerge, utilise the ones where we can understand the value, and drop those that conflict with our scientific explanations.

I believe the link between monasticism and academia is pretty clear. Both involve the study of sacred texts, a detached physical space to think, and ascetic practices (such as silence and in many cases the abstention of physical intimacy). I found it very moving that almost immediately after publishing this article, I learnt that Edward Hugh had passed away,

The economist, born in Liverpool to a Welsh family, never hid the fact that he had wanted to live in a monastery, and this small Empordà hamlet of 60 inhabitants came rather close to this idea of having a place to reflect, read, and write. Satellite television and the internet allowed him to remain connected to the world, while Escaules gave him the peace he needed to work.

My “Thoughts on Administration” makes a conscious effort to integrate monastic practices with programme management. I am a fan of management but working with a team should be seen as a conscious opportunity to develop other people. If you don’t want to coach, then don’t take on such responsibility. Also, I try to be an institution builder, not an organisation builder. This makes it easier to respond to sunk costs, and although your output will be less visible you can actually have a deeper impact.

“Rest for a scientist, Vavilov said, should be regarded as another way of furthering creative work” Polonsky, R., 2010 ‘Molotov’s Magic Lantern’, Faber and Faber, p.137

ii. Introversion

Quiet (Susan Cain, Penguin 2012) is an excellent survey of introversion. Introverts often feel pressured into conforming with a society that seems built on extrovert principles. The book helped me to understand my own introversion and gain strategies to deal with it. It also gave me confidence to shape my social interactions around my preferences, and to communicate better with friends. (I also strongly recommend Create your own Economy (Tyler Cowen, Dutton 2009) which ventures more into the autism debate but makes a compassionate argument for why OCD tendencies should be better understood and the value they serve).

iii. Paleo

Finally, there’s many points of tangency between being a secular hermit and the increasingly popular Paleo philosophy. For a general overview I recommend John Durant’s book, The Paleo Manifesto. I don’t follow a Paleo lifestyle strictly but I do recommend making marginal changes in that direction. Here’s what works well for me:

Diet  Exercise
        • Paleo inspired (see Durant Chapter 8)
        • As little refined sugar as possible
        • Here are some simple substitutes that I make to move in a more Paleo direction:
          • I don’t understand Bullet Proof coffee but breakfast is usually just coffee, maybe a natural yoghurt as well. On the odd occasions I have toast or cereal that counts more as a brunch
          • Kerrygold instead of margarine
          • Tortilla wraps instead of bread (“I can walk away from their bread, not needing it at all… I can go into the forest and survive there on mushrooms and berries” Father Ferapont, in ‘The Brothers Karamazov’)
          • Wine instead of beer
          • Cake on birthdays and major festivals only
          • Full fat milk: be like the peasants of Vologda, who “will not thin their milk even if the world is being destroyed around them” (Polonsky, R., 2010 ‘Molotov’s Magic Lantern’, Faber and Faber)
        • I eat meat and agree with John Durant’s point that creating a niche market for ethically sourced meat would do more for animal welfare than boycotting it entirely (p.270). A meat eating guideline would be:
          • Make animal welfare part of your buying decision
          • Eat animals with low pain thresholds (e.g. fish, insects)
          • Eat invasive species
          • Eat nose to tail
          • Eat lab grown synthetic meat
    • Walk where possible (i.e. < 30 mins) – “it quiets the mind without silencing it completely. With the volume turned down, we can hear ourselves again” Weiner, 2016, p.59
    • Opting for stairs instead of lifts/escalators (and never standing on escalators)
    • Swimming (front crawl)
    • Trail running (wearing one layer less than is initially comfortable)
    • Turn down the thermostat
    • Be cool – “far more calories are used to heat the body than to move it” (Durant, p.216)
    • (You should also take cold showers but I am too attached to very warm ones)
    • Annual 10km Monster Race
    • SUP (my goal is to SUP on a canal)
    • Going barefoot as much as possible
    • Polar bear dips on New Year’s Day
    • At some point I want to learn the Tummo Technique and perhaps get a standing desk for my study
    • Get enough sleep

It’s easy to use weather as an excuse not to get outside, so I like the phrase: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. In England this is mitigated by the fact that so much bad weather is rain, and rain does curtail a lot of outdoor activities. And we need to avoid the temptation to blame our clothes. Hence my mantra is: There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.

Durant (p.231) suggests that for short periods of time in the sun suncream is unnecessary. Indeed applying it can be dangerous because it will prevent the warning signs that damage is occurring without actually stopping it (i.e. it’s better to feel burnt and get out of the sun then to feel bronzed and stay in it). For sunbathing use a broad spectrum cream that blocks UVa and UVb.

I’d love a standing desk but I need depth when I’m working and elevating it would be ludicrous. If only there were a standing desk that folds down…

An addendum to the “exercise” plan is a sleep plan. I try to nap and also have a sleep plan based on this cartoon:

_64420550_sleep-illustration-final

I am a big fan of the Gro clock and it’s amazing how many years it’s taken to suspect that an adult version might be useful as well. I do appreciate a key difference in that the former intends to make morning a binary issue, whilst the latter does the opposite. But still, it’s about the light – make sure that nightlights are yellow (i.e. sunset) and only use blue tones for morning.

I also have an evening alarm clock – my watch beeps at 9:30pm which is a signal to avoid electronic devices, stop consuming food, and consciously start winding down.

I intend to do a monthly 20 hour fast using the following schedule:

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(2) Advice for social interaction

Here are some steps on how to become more of a secular hermit:

  • Don’t be afraid to ghost
  • Avoid phone calls
    • A phone is fine for interacting with complete strangers (I quite enjoy battling with customer services and sabotaging nuisance calls), and I like phoning my parents and siblings. However, generally speaking, the telephone is a horrible way to communicate. You miss out on social clues and have to think quickly (see Cowen 2009, p.72). It’s also very hard to say “leave that with me and i’ll think about it”, and so a business call in particular can generate tension (I’d love to see experimental evidence on negotiations conducted via phone vs. face to face). Over the phone I am concentrating on not committing to something I don’t want to do, and therefore I find it very difficult to establish where mutual gains are.
    • In addition, you are left without a record of what has been said. If like me you follow up a business call by taking notes and sending agreed to do lists over email, the call is a waste of time.
    • Having said this, if you are frustrated that emails aren’t being responded to, have an urgent query, or are hitting a stalemate, picking up a phone is usually the mature and sensible thing to do. However if face to face and email contact are options, I just struggle to see the purpose of a telephone call.
  • Social media: Facebook started out as a way to track down acquaintances (the first rival that it killed was Friends Reunited, after all) but is now like calling home (it really is about “updating” friends and family). Twitter is the type of side-to-side conversation that occurs if you’re in the pub (Cowen 2009, p.78). You just shout a few things, a couple of people might respond, and a few more will listen to it. Message boards are like a pub when you’re drunk. They are perfect for in jokes/banter but also confrontation and love ins (depending on whether you’re an angry drunk or happy drunk). I use all three regularly.
  • I don’t believe in the cloud (“not quite visible, not quite tangible, but awfully real; amorphous, spectral: hovering nearby, yet not situated in any one place”, (Gleick 2011, p.395)) – instead I opt for a well-ordered vault.
    • My backup strategy is threefold: (1) a constant USB link to a hard drive; and (2) a wireless link to a WD My Cloud. This protects me from me two biggest concerns (that I accidently delete a file and need to recover it, or that my computer gets stolen). Since I don’t feel fully protected against the risk of a natural disaster (i.e. if my study floods or burns down my wireless back up would be affected), I (3) copy an annual backup onto a portable drive and store it in my office. This seems a more reasonable strategy than using a fireproof safe. All three are WD products and they integrate seamlessly with a Mac. They are much better than Apple’s own products.
    • This quote from Arcadia terrifies me:

      “We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again.”

    • I keep all of my photos within Photos for Mac, categorised into albums and folders for each year. I don’t believe in a “Photostream” and shake at the thought of having a single file outside of my purview. My computer is well ordered and I spend a lot of time filing electronic and physical documents. I’m fighting against a tide when it comes to photos, but I have a system that I like:
      • A selection of photos from some albums are posted onto Flickr and shared with friends and family (and all of my photos on Flickr must be in an album).
      • An even smaller selection of photos are shared on Facebook. I make use of the albums in Facebook, but I “keep” them in Photos

Thus I don’t shed as I pick up, at all. I don’t have a stream in the cloud, I have a well-ordered reservoir in a vault. For me it is: archive and share.

(3) Travel & epistemic architecture

The advantage of travel is that when you move between time zones, you lose touch with each. Consider this account of the Trans-Siberian railway:

“In the great, monotonous spaces, the measures of time are lost; they cease to have any force, cease to have any meaning. The hours become formless, shapeless, elastic like the clocks in the paintings of Salvador Dali. Moreover, the train passes through various time zones, and one should be constantly adjusting the hands of one’s watch, but what for, what is there to gain by this?” Kapuscinski, R., Imperium, (Granta, 1994) p.32

Or Rachel Polonsky,

Russian literature is full of trains, because (like prostitutes, who also populate the literature) they bring together places, social worlds and life stories that would otherwise never touch. Trains are vehicles of plot and destiny, adventure and tragedy, surprising thoughts and conversations, uniting the squalid and the sublime, iron and plush, making intimacy possible across the great reach of space” Polonsky, R., 2010 ‘Molotov’s Magic Lantern’, Faber and Faber

My idea of heaven is sitting down with a couple of cans of lager and a good book right here:

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Photo from MKY Transport Media

“Something about train travel – the rocking motion and the passing scenery, there for you to admire or ignore – lends itself to creative breakthroughs” Weiner, 2016, p.175

The key ingredients for travel are the mode of transport and the hotel room (see My Guide to Travel). Whilst train journeys are my preferred mode, they are usually prohibitively costly. So my staple is to pass through airport and hotel. These spaces are much maligned, but I love them.

All the time, and especially at home, we all have a mental “to do” list. Even if not tempted to do anything on this to do list, we must still spend mental energy deciding not to do it. One way to escape this pressure is to find a neutral territory where there isn’t much that we can do. Airports, the plane itself, and hotels perform this function admirably. The decor is uniform and predictable and you could be anywhere. But that is the point. That is their beauty. Their neutrality is sophisticated because it wipes clean your mental fatigue and allows you to concentrate and focus on the book that you’re reading, or the thought process you have. It is very hard to replicate this at home, when the burden of “other things to do” is so strong. And it’s almost impossible to replicate it at the office, when interruptions are expected, and note that interruptions per se aren’t productivity killers, it’s the threat of an interruption. I’ve always recognised that I am at my most productive late at night (typically 10pm – 3am) or when there’s few students or staff on campus (i.e. after classes or during holidays). I’d previously attributed this to being a night owl, but now realise that these are times when the potential for interruption are lowest. Once you enter the airport/airplane/hotel realm the potential for interruption falls dramatically.

These days the constant connectivity of social media and email means that a chief source of potential interruption is your phone. So recognise that flight safe mode works on the ground as well. I routinely turn it on if I know there’s little chance of a genuine emergency (e.g. if I’m at home with my wife). If I need to keep a possible communication line open I’ll use “Do Not Disturb” (and ensure that close family would still come through). My preferred method of watching Everton games (other than being at the match) is to turn flight safe mode on at 3pm and then wait until the 10pm extended highlights without knowing the score. Routinely disconnecting every Saturday is a nice way to find focus on other things (such as writing, or spending time with family).

On average I make a foreign work trip once a month and this isn’t enough to be productive. So I supplement the airplane/hotel room dyad with train/coffee shop. When booked in advance off peak train journeys are cheap and quiet so every month I try to take a 1 hr + journey with a book. There’s a very good independent coffee shop near where I live but my go to place is Starbucks. Starbucks is brilliant – loads of chairs, good coffee (and flat white pioneers), subtle design, not chaotic, great app and loyalty programme. I love it.

“For me, cafes are a kind of second home, a prime example of what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls a “great good place.” The food and drink are irrelevant, or nearly so. What matters is the atmosphere – not the tablecloths or the furniture but a more intelligible ambience, one that encourages guilt-free lingering and strikes just the right balance of background din and contemplative silence.” (Weiner, 2016, p.16)

Ultimately, though my travel dream is to spend time on a container ship. I first had the idea when I saw Michael Palin “repeat a day” on Around the World in 80 Days, and it combines two of my passions in life – global trade and detachment. There’s a fascinating photo-journal called “Live and Work on a Container Ship” (via Things Organized Neatly):

For almost five months now, I have been living and working as a deckhand on a 906 foot container ship making 57 day runs from New York to Singapore, while hitting many ports in between. We are importing/exporting goods from the Middle East, Asia, and America. As I am writing this we are making our way through the Gulf of Aden on what will be my last trip. Here is a little description of what its like to go to sea in the merchant marine.

I thought the photo of the Emma Maersk was mind blowing, but take a look at this:

01.Cargo


Updated: April 2016

Enlightened Management

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“Progress is sustainable, indefinitely. But only by people who engage in a particular kind of thinking and behaviour – the problem-solving and problem-creating kind characteristic of the Enlightenment. And that requires the optimism of a dynamic society” (Deutsch, 2011, p.423)


Management is the process by which people control resources, and the ultimate resource is people. So management is predominantly about how we try to influence and affect the actions of other people, typically in an organisational setting. If you want to develop your skills as managing people, you need to understand those people and how they do their jobs. Therefore a critical prerequisite for management is a broad understanding of business. This is the value of an MBA education – it gives managers the background knowledge to improve their management skills.

One of the biggest misconceptions with management is that it is a necessary component of career progression. This is because companies tend to have hierarchical structures and promotion involves moving upwards. Therefore you advance my taking on more managerial responsibilities. This is a critical mistake because there is a difference between (i) creating organisational value; and (ii) being a good manager. Good managers create organisational value, but there are plenty of other ways to create value that don’t require management. Although management requires a broad knowledge base it is a specialist skillset and not everyone wants to be or should be managers. The goal of a manager should be to develop a team that excels at their job. This will create value for the organisation, reflected in compensation for the team members, and compensation for the manager. Managers should see themselves as an enabler and developer of talent (i.e. a coach). If you are a good manager you will assemble a superb team of superstar employees who probably create more value than you do. You shouldn’t expect to earn more money than team members, or enjoy a higher status. Your broad skillset which is in large part intangible and multifaceted is adept at cultivating a winning team, but you are not the hero.

I believe that management matters, and that we can teach it. There is strong evidence that MBA programmes generate social value. [1] The purpose of this article is to assemble some resources to argue that management can and should more fully incorporate the principles of scientific discovery and the optimistic outlook upon which the enlightenment occurred.

According to David Deutsch the basic regulating principle of the enlightenment is the quest for good explanations. This implies that we should not judge scientific merit as being akin to accurate predictions, and also that we need should cultivate a tradition of criticism and the rejection of authority. He advocates that we deem something to be real if it is part of our best explanation of something.

The mark of a good theory is that it is hard to vary, and not if it is testable, “bad explanations are equally useless whether they are testable or not” (p.25) and “we do not test every testable theory, but only the few that we find are good explanations. Science would be impossible if it were not for the fact that the overwhelming majority of false theories can be rejected out of hand without any experiment, simply for being bad explanations” (p.25). We cannot know what constitutes truth, but we can know that it exists:

“Scientific theories are hard to vary because they correspond closely with an objective truth, which is independent of our culture, our personal preferences and our biological make-up” (p.353)

These methodological positions resonate with me because of my background in Austrian economics, and there are very important interplays between Austrian economics and strategic management.

Seeking good explanations is what constituted the enlightenment – it was “how they began to think. It is what they began to do, systematically for the first time. It is what made the momentous difference to the rate of progress of all kinds” (p.23).

The implication for management: seek good explanations and cultivate a tradition of criticism. 

Deutsch presents an optimistic scenario of where a focus on finding good explanations might lead. He refers to the beginning of infinity as “the possibility of the unlimited growth of knowledge in the future” (p.164).

Some insights for management

  1. Go easy on motivation

I like motivational sayings but mainly the ones that I have written for myself. Ones that are meaningful. I sometimes hear other people’s sayings and they resonate with me, but this is rare. I feel that corporate slogans are worrying purely because they seek to impose their meaning on you. And I have a deeper concern, which is that slogans are a form of propaganda, and serves to stifle freedom of thought. In Imperium, Ryszard Kapuscinski writes about how “interrogative language was appropriated by the police” (p.146), leading to people asking fewer and fewer questions:

“In their place appeared an infinite number of sayings, catch words, and turns of phrase expressing approval of that which is, or at least indifference, lack of surprise, humble consent, resignation… A civilization that does not ask questions, one that banishes from within its compass the entire world of anxiety, criticism, and exploration – the world that expresses itself precisely through questions – is a civilization standing in place, paralyzed, immobile. And that is what the people in the Kremlin were after, because it is easiest to rule over a motionless and mute world” (p.146)

2. Go easy on meetings

Why do large companies have so many meetings?

I think it has something to do with a movements from hierarchical organisation to network organisation, and (clumsy) efforts to maintain monitoring because incentive structures have become anachronistic. Here are some excellent comments from the team at 37 signals.

3. Be a Secular Hermit

4. Be grumpy, sometimes

“An Australian psychology expert who has been studying emotions has found being grumpy makes us think more clearly.

In contrast to those annoying happy types, miserable people are better at decision-making and less gullible, his experiments showed.” Source.

5. Don’t be afraid to contradict yourself

6. Encourage dissent

“Groups that tolerate dissent generate more ideas, and good ideas, than groups that don’t… This holds true even if those dissenting views turn out to be completely wrong. The mere presence of dissent – even if wrongheaded – improves creative performance.” Weiner, 2016, p.171

7. Plan

I tend to dislike plans but I like the mental clarity that comes when planning. Behaviour gap have a wonderful article on the distinction between the two:

Think of this as the difference between a flight plan and the actual flight. Flight plans are really just the pilot’s best guess about things like the weather. No matter how much time the pilot spend planning, things don’t always go according to the plan.

In fact, I bet they rarely go just the way the pilot planned. There are just too many variables. So while the plan is important, the key to arriving safely is the pilot’s ability to make the small and consistent course corrections. It is about the course corrections, not the plan.

8. Choose the right filters

We are living in an information age, and as T.S. Eliot said,

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

According to James Gleick, “Strategies emerge for coping. There are many, but in essence they all boil down to two: filter and search”  (see Gleick, 2011, p.409-412). The blog I co founded in January 2004 was called “The Filter” and our slogan was “the Liver on the web”. This was a homage to the city of our adoption and affection, but also the function we intended to provide. One of my best academic publications was on the differences between search and browse. The main point was that search theory was trivial because people actually acquire information through browsing. But you can only browse things that have been filtered.

Note that Apple music is about curating. Newspapers are about editing. We wish to browse content that has been filtered. We don’t search for information, we browse.

As Clay Shirkey has pointed out, the modern problem is not information overload but filter failure. We need to spend time choosing the right filters.


The key texts for Enlightened Management are:

  • Postrel, V., 1999, The Future and Its Enemies, Free Press
  • Cowen, T., 2009, Create Your Own Economy, Dutton
  • Deutsch, D., 2011, The Beginning of Infinity, Penguin – in particular “Optimism” (Chapter 9)
  • Ridley, M., 2011, The Rational Optimist, Harper
  • Gleick, J., 2012, The Information, Fourth Estate
  • Fisman, R. and Sullivan, T., 2013, The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office, Twelve – in particular “What Management is Good For” (Chapter 5)
  • Weiner, E., 2016, The Geography of Genius, Simon and Schuster

Footnotes:

[1]

  • “companies that use the most widely accepted management techniques, of the sort that are taught in business schools, outperform their peers in all the measures that matter, such as productivity, sales growth and return on capital.” The Economist
  • Some 98% of corporate employers report that they are satisfied with their MBA hires, a figure that has not changed since 1998.” The Economist

Updated: April 2016

Monetary Theory and Policy Workshop

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The purpose of this workshop is to understand basic models in contemporary Monetary Theory and Policy.

Background readings:

  • Patinkin, D. (1956) Money Interest and Prices Row, Peterson & Co
  • Woodford, M., (2003) Interest and Prices, Princeton
  • Friedman, M., and Schwartz, A., (1963) A Monetary History of the United States 1867-1960, Princeton

Textbook:

Introductions to DSGE models:

Problem sets:

Courses:

Training programs:

Conferences:

Other readings:


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Software links:

Favourite puns

Here are some of my favourite shop names:

  • Tanarife (Sunbeds, Liverpool)
  • Foamula 1 (Car wash, Liverpool)
  • Fry Days (Chippy, Watford)
  • Injeaneus (Clothes, Radlett)