Why and How Capitalism Needs to Be Reformed

bank notes

The stats presented by Ray Dalio are staggering and shameful. They are focused on the USA, but I think the broad trends apply to other western nations, including Australia.

The problem is that capitalists typically don’t know how to divide the pie well and socialists typically don’t know how to grow it well.

Ray Dalio

I also agree with his prognosis – unless some of these trends are reversed, we’re heading towards increasing polarity at best, and violent revolution at worst. Particularly concerning are the comparisons in terms of populism and wealth inequality between now at the 1930’s.

That is because capitalism is now working in a way in which people and companies find it profitable to have policies and make technologies that lessen their people costs, which lessens a large percentage of the population’s share of society’s resources.

Ray Dalio

This trend will only continue with increased automation of both blue and white collar jobs. The spoils will increasingly end up in the hands of those who already own capital – particularly those who control the systems doing the automation.

Read more here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-how-capitalism-needs-reformed-parts-1-2-ray-dalio

Total Depravity: The Origins of the Drug Epidemic in Appalachia Laid Bare

pain pills

This article is a beautifully written insight into the horrors of the opioid crisis in West Virginia.

I think that this quote really hits the nail on the head:

Around the same time organized-labor laws were weakened, a company called Purdue Pharma ‘invented’ OxyContin, which meant taking a powerful opioid analgesic, giving it a slow-release coating that could be circumvented easily, concealing its potential for abuse, and marketing it aggressively to working-class communities increasingly unable to afford preventative medical treatment for chronic pain.

I hurt my back boxing and was lucky enough to be able to see physio’s, doctors and then undertake a regime of Pilates and swimming to repair the damage, but it took a long time and wasn’t cheap. I can see why in communities where there isn’t access to preventative health care, pain pills could become so attractive.

Another thing that seems to perverse to me is that these drugs can be so heavily marketed and advertised directly to consumers. There seem to be some real structural issues that need addressing. The article is littered with heartbreaking sentences like “time spent sick became time unpaid” that paint a picture of the dire situation people are in.

Capitalism might be about destruction, but it seems like we could and should be doing a lot more to help those whose industries, towns and livelihoods get destroyed.

The island of Sark

sark island

This is a beautifully written and very interesting article about the small channel island of Sark, where cars are prohibited and the lack of street lights provide an incredible view of the stars: Sark really is a world apart.

It was at this location where, in 1859, the islanders gathered to greet Queen Victoria, who was expected to stop off at Sark on her way to Jersey. They had prepared a lavish banquet, and the quay was decorated with flowers, flags and a red carpet. But the queen and her entourage simply sailed by. To make matters worse, by the time they got back to the Seigneurie the dining room where the banquet was to be held had been trashed by peacocks.


A strange story perhaps, but not by Sark’s standards.

Why I’ve started The Good News Email.

My partner Hannah is from the UK, and to keep up with the news while overseas she installed the BBC news app. Every now and again the app interrupts the day with the urgent tones of a breaking news alert, making you aware of the latest plane crash, mass shooting or bloody coup. Over time we began to flinch upon hearing the news alert, thinking “Oh no, what’s happened now?” The foreboding sound eventually instilled the sort of existential dread usually reserved for the particular alarm chime that woke you up early each morning for school… until we turned it off.

We aren’t alone in opting to drop off and tune out. Conducted last year, a joint study between Rueters Institute and Oxford University found that a third of people often or sometimes avoid the news, with 48% saying they avoided the news because it has a negative effect on their mood. In the same survey, 28% said they avoided the news because they didn’t think they could do anything about it. News intended to keep people informed and help them take action is doing the exact opposite; we feel disengaged and disempowered.

I started searching for a way to stay informed without feeling cynical or depressed, and was amazed at what I found. There is a nascent but growing movement around constructive journalism, or ‘solutions journalism’, aiming to re-frame the conversation. Journalism doesn’t just mirror the world, it also influences it. In the same way that media reporting of terrible crimes can lead to ‘copycat criminals’, media reporting has the potential to create copycat changemakers, social entrepreneurs and local heroes!

So there’s positive news out there, and there are lots of journalists doing amazing work in this space. Why is it still so far below the mainstream radar? The undeniable fact is that news media is experiencing significant disruption. The current business models dictate that attention (eyeballs) equals revenue, and the best way to capture attention is with shock and fear. It’s a race to the bottom, hyper-accelerated by instant feedback and analytics – “if it bleeds it leads”. I came to realise that it wasn’t just a problem of negative bias in the news, but also of distribution: how do we shine a light on positive news?

Shout-out from Harvard Professor and bestselling author, Steven Pinker.

I’ve launched The Good News Email in an effort to amplify the amazing work of constructive journalists that I admire. It’s a curated selection of positive stories and solutions from around the world. I wanted to create the type of news alert that makes your heart sing when you see it, like a message from your mum or dad. My mission is to provide an alternative lens through which to see the world, one that encourages action rather than making you feel helpless and disempowered.

Why have I chosen an old-school newsletter to deliver this message? The Skimm, Finimize and Daily Pnut have led a renaissance in the world of ‘blissfully slow internet newsletters.’ In that vein, The Good News Email cuts through the noisy whirlwind of your social feeds and constantly updated news sites, to be read in the relative sanctuary of your personal inbox. It’s delivered once a week, every Monday. Subscribe at thegoodnewsemail.com.

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Good News Update

Beer in Hoi An

I’ve spent the past month bunkered down in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, working on a little project that I’ve been thinking about for about a year now. It’s an email newsletter focussed on ‘good news’ that attempts to balance a news cycle that favours the shocking, gruesome and grotesque.

It’s been an interesting time going through the many large and small decisions that come with starting an enterprise. I’ve tried to mix both the necessary admin like registering domains and social media accounts with the big picture stuff like validating the idea.

I drafted some emails and became semi-familiar with Mailchimp in an effort to craft some decent looking campaigns – I found the software incredibly easy to use. I’ve researched successful newsletters like The Skimm, The Hustle and Finimize. I played around with content and wrote two weeks worth of newsletters.

When I was ready I asked a group of friends to give some feedback on the idea, and signed up 20 of them for a little trial which is running now – I’ve scheduled the first four emails through Mailchimp.

In the meantime I’ve been working on setting up the website – I wanted something basic in WordPress but got so frustrated trying to customise it myself that I switched to Squarespace. At $30 AUD per month it’s more than I’d like to pay but it’s very easy to get up and running quickly, so I plan on looking for a more permanent solution later.

I’ve also been looking in to the business admin side of things – I toyed with setting up a company in the USA using Strip Atlas, or becoming an e-resident in Estonia, both of which look like interesting high-tech options. I settled with the cheapest and easiest option for me – becoming a sole trader in Australia. The only cost was registering the name of the business for $36.

I am vaguely aware that there are some tax implications of this business structure, so I searched for some online accounting software. Xero seems to be the clear leader in this space, but since I haven’t started and have no plans for revenue yet I didn’t want another $25 per month subscription. I did a bit of research and went with Wave, a cloud provider who have easy connections to bank accounts so I can import my credit card transactions and highlight the relevant expenses.

At times it seems like everything is coming together and on other days I feel like I wasted hours tinkering in WordPress to no avail. Overall it’s been a great learning experience so far and I’m really enjoying the process of setting things up!

I’m now in Hoi An, toasting the new venture with my Hannah, my partner in crime. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all goes!

Vale Anthony Bourdain

I first heard the news about Anthony Bourdain coming home from a night out in Ho Chi Minh City. Part of the reason we were in Vietnam was because of Bourdain – he evangelised the country and its food and I hung on his every word.

I looked up to Bourdain – he was a fantastic writer, a traveller and a lover of street food. I was first introduced to him watching No Reservations, one of the iterations of his television show. I read Kitchen Confidential in Costa Rica, and soon devoured his follow up books. His cookbook (illustrated by Ralph Steadman of Gonzo fame) has pride of place in our kitchen at home. His shows were about more than food – he shone a light on our shared humanity through food and booze.

He was curious, adventurous and non-judgmental. Nothing was ‘weird’, just different to our limited definition of ‘normal’, a definition he encouraged us all to expand. He was and will continue to be an enormous inspiration to me and many others.

He left behind a fantastic body of work – you can read about him in this great piece in the New Yorker, browse The New York Times ‘best of Anthony Bourdain’ or check out his life through photos over at Esquire.

I’ll aim to do him proud by spending the next two months sitting at small plastic tables, eating delicious local street food, sinking cold Vietnamese beers and sharing conversations in the country that he loved visiting most. I hope he has found peace. Vale Anthony Bourdain.

 

Searching for Syria – evocative use of media

Searching for Syria - Screenshot

SearchingForSyria.org is a website put together by the UNHCR in partnership with Google. It’s a great example of storytelling on the web, using fantastic photos and an interactive site to convey a message.

More like a powerpoint presentation than a traditional website, navigation is minimised and stunning, full screen images take centre stage. “What was Syria like before the war” engenders empathy – google searches, Gorillaz concerts and days at the beach highlight universality, hammered home by personal stories and anecdotes.

Content and messaging is easy to read and clever use of media (like overlaid before and after photos with a sliding divider) amplify the words. The stories and images are truly horrific, and the statistics break your heart.

I think that efforts like this are really crucial in helping people understand the breath taking magnitude of a crisis like this and more importantly breaking down stereotypes and emphasising the human connection, the sameness in all of us.

The Best of Journalism

Conor Friedersdorf  is one of my favourite writers, and one (along with Sam Harris) that I turn to for nuanced (and counter-intuitive) takes on current affairs.

He puts together a “Best of Journalism” newsletter and each year publishes a list of over 100 exceptional pieces of journalism. This is an amazing snapshot of long form, investigative journalism that will keep you interested for hours.

Get lost in the abyss here.