In late 2005, I would arrive at the office early and catch up on the latest news of sectarian violence in Iraq. It made for gruesome reading—bodies discovered in vacant houses, tied to chairs with clear evidence of torture. A favorite tool seemed to be power drills, which were used on knees, ankles, heads.
There were suspicions that Iraq’s interior minister—Bayan Jabr—was at least partially responsible, and that members of the National Police force that he oversaw were effectively operating as Shia death squads, exacting vendettas against Sunnis and former elements of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The sectarian violence seemed to be increasing until February 2006, when militants bombed one of Shia Islam’s holiest sites, the Golden Mosque in Samarra, kicking off an orgiastic spate of bloodletting that brought Iraq to the precipice of a full-blown civil war. Continue reading “Reflections on a Winding Road to EM Private Equity”
‘Intelligence differs from one man to the next,
And yet each is happy with his own insight—
Each thinks himself much brighter than the rest,
Each values and praises himself to the height.
All think their own understanding the best—
Forever lauding their superior intellect,
Forever denigrating all the rest.
‘Men who make common cause share common thoughts—thinking
Much of and ever praising one another.
But when reverses mount, those selfsame men
Find intellectual differences intervene.
Thanks to the unfathomable nature of their thoughts,
There is a difference between man and man—
Each is bewildered in a different way.
For just as a skilled doctor, having diagnosed
A disease according to the book, in practice
Prescribes a medicine to effect a cure
Specific to each case,
So men use their intellect, harnessed to insight,
To put their intended actions into practice—
And other men revile them because of that.1
# # #
1 Saṃjaya, as quoted in W.J. Johnson (trans.), The Sauptikaparvan of the Mahābhārata – The Massacre at Night (Oxford World’s Classics: 1998), pg. 14.
The American boy of 1854 stood nearer the year 1 than to the year 1900. The education he had received bore little relation to the education he needed. Speaking as an American of 1900, he had as yet no education at all. He knew not even where or how to begin.1
If science were to go on doubling or quadrupling its complexities every ten years, even mathematics would soon succumb. An average mind had succumbed already in 1850; it could no longer understand the problem in 1900 … At the rate of progress since 1800, every American who lived to the year 2000 would know how to control unlimited power. He would think in complexities unimaginable to an earlier mind. He would deal with problems altogether beyond the range of earlier society … The movement from unity into multiplicity, between 1200 and 1900, was unbroken in sequence, and rapid in acceleration. Prolonged one generation longer, it would require a new social mind. As though thought were common salt in indefinite solution it must enter a new phase subject to new laws. Thus far, since five or ten thousand years, the mind had successfully reacted, and nothing yet proved that it would fail to react—but it would need to jump.2
The Internet is the most deflationary invention of all time.3
A few weeks ago, the Fed determined that the world was not yet ready for a 25 basis point increase in U.S. interest rates. They’re smart and monetary policy is their day job, so I’m sure they know better than I about these things. But still, I find it all a bit befuddling.
Lately I’ve been pondering whether monetary policy has been largely ineffective at generating inflation4 because the drivers of deflation aren’t monetary in nature, but rather technological. In 1904, Henry Adams developed a theory (“A Law of Acceleration”) on the exponential rate of technological change; and he posited that around the time we’re living in now, the rate of progress might exceed our ability to deal with it (see chart). Continue reading “Technological Acceleration and the Wet Noodle of Monetary Policy”
Sometime within the next three months I shall become a father. So begins the last big adventure, a maelstrom of unequal parts agency and cupidity. On the one hand lies the opportunity to help mold a decent human being, showering him1 with love, and equipping him with the values, traits, tenacity and moral fiber required to live a good, meaningful life. On the other lies the awareness that I am incapable of sheltering him from all of life’s cruelties, tribulations, hopelessness and pain; a realization that parenthood entails a degree of submission to the crude determinism of biology and the randomness of fate. Continue reading “Life To Come”
In our time, the quest for world order will require relating the perceptions of societies whose realities have largely been self-contained. The mystery to be overcome is one all peoples share—how divergent historic experiences and values can be shaped into a common order.1
Two weeks into the year and I’ve already found a finalist for my “Best Books of 2015” entry: Henry Kissinger’s World Order. The book is a richly written, thought-provoking meditation on the structure of the international system from the world’s preeminent scholar-statesman. You won’t find a critique of it here.
[President Barack] Obama gave his still-not-quite-natural-sounding callouts to the different military services represented in the crowd. (“I know we’ve got some Air Force in the house!” and so on, receiving cheers rendered as “Hooyah!” and “Oorah!” in the official White House transcript.) He told members of the military that the nation was grateful for their nonstop deployments and for the unique losses and burdens placed on them through the past dozen years of open-ended war … He said that the “9/11 generation of heroes” represented the very best in its country, and that its members constituted a military that was not only superior to all current adversaries but no less than “the finest fighting force in the history of the world” … This has become the way we assume the American military will be discussed by politicians and in the press: Overblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money. A somber moment to reflect on sacrifice. Then everyone except the few people in uniform getting on with their workaday concerns.1
James Fallows has written one of the most important articles of the year: “The Tragedy of the American Military.”2 You should read it now; the words below will be here when you’re finished.
In the article, Fallows discusses the crisis in civil-military relations that has been building over the last 15+ years, and argues that this state of affairs has negatively impacted the country’s ability to fight and win wars. As I read it, the three pillars of his argument on why the United States gets lured “into endless wars it cannot win” are, in a nutshell: Continue reading “Thoughts on James Fallows’s “Chickenhawk Nation””
For normal people with more interesting lives, I imagine articles headlined with the words “quantitative easing” prompt a mild degree of nausea and / or disinterest. As for me, for the last six years4 I’ve found it hard to avoid reading pieces on the unparalleled series of unconventional monetary policies: QE 1, QE 2, Operation Twist, QE 3. So much juicing of the financial markets, so much time I will never have back, so many unintended consequences nobody can foresee. Continue reading “QE & Inequality”