Some Reflections on Entrepreneurship and Life

Two years ago, I quit my job and founded Portico. 

At the time, I questioned the prudence of launching a business catering to an industry in cyclical — and perhaps structural — decline, and markets where fewer and fewer investors seem keen to tread. I mean, all the books say that you’re supposed to ride the wave of a growing industry, or at least choose one in which the customer base isn’t shrinking.

But, the thing about journeys is they start where you’re standing. So, I took the first step with a disregard for the macro and industry cycles. 

Two years later, those founding doubts persist.  (more…)

The Death of Graduate School?

The Republican tax plan is an odious hand-out to large corporations and a big 🖕 to most citizens and small businesses. Until I read this summary of the House Bill, I generally thought people who called Republicans corporatist bootlickers were being unfair. But here we are.

Anyway, two of the House Bill’s provisions are raising concerns about the future of postgraduate education: (more…)

How Will You Spend Your Energy?

Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the things I’ve learned since becoming a father is that energy is a precious and exhaustible resource. In BCE (“Before Child Era”), recovering from a long day at work, intercontinental flights, or other enervating activities was fairly straightforward: grab a cerveza and read a book. Restoration achieved.

In CE, particularly upon entering the bipedal (i.e., toddler) period, carving out 30 minutes of reading time has proven to be a high hurdle. I’ve read 465 pages in the last four months.1

Rejuvenating weekends have gone the way of the dodo, as has the memory of routinely getting more than six hours of sleep. With a wife working grueling hours as a physician in residency, there simply has been very little time to recharge. I don’t know how single parents do it.

I don’t remember exactly when the epiphany hit me, but it was preceded by burnout and a rut; a hectic stretch of business travel; coming home to a couple weeks of watching the kid solo; and learning that one of our family members had been diagnosed with terminal cancer at an unjustly young age; that I realized I could no longer put off answering one question: how will you spend your energy? (more…)

Henry Kissinger’s World Order and the Question of Universal Values

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.

I touched upon Kissinger’s thinking in my post on Adda Bozeman’s Politics and Culture in International History, so I won’t retread it; but reading the book prompted me to contemplate once more whether U.S. actions have played a role in the fraying of world order, and if so, whether the issue of “universal” values might be to blame. (more…)

QE & Inequality

I believe that the policies we have undertaken have been meant to generate a robust recovery.1

Effective demand is dead in the water.2

Quantitative easing…is that, like, making math easier?3

Well, goodbye to all that.  Until the next time, Quantitative Easing.

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. (more…)

Entropy: The Defining Characteristic of Global Affairs

Expanding prosperity contributed to the popularity of the doctrine [of harmony of interests] in three different ways. It attenuated competition for markets among producers, since fresh markets were constantly available; it postponed the class issue, with its insistence on the primary importance of equitable distribution, by extending to members of the less prosperous classes some share in the general prosperity; and by creating a sense of confidence in present and future well-being, it encouraged men to believe that the world was ordered on so rational a plan as the natural harmony of interests.1

Politics are made up of two elements — utopia and reality — belonging to two different planes which can never meet. There is no greater barrier to clear political thinking than failure to distinguish between ideas, which are utopia, and institutions, which are reality.2

Stocks are near their all-time highs and show few signs of correcting anytime soon; debt markets appear frothy; the VIX is low—the capital markets are telling us that we’re living in “the best of all possible worlds.”3 Even TV commercials show us people dancing on their decks while telling us “the fun is back!”

But in the real world, for a while now I’ve been nagged by this feeling of entropy in global affairs; that order and institutions are giving way to chaos and ungovernability. (more…)

The Reckoning

I am unable to understand why a society that complains of unemployment should encourage and embrace every conceivable possibility of replacing human labor by mechanical devices.1

We are suffering, not from the rheumatics of old age, but from the growing-pains of over-rapid changes, from the painfulness of readjustment between one economic period and another…We are being afflicted with a new disease…namely, technological unemployment.2

I don’t understand what’s happening to my country.3

In my previous post, I mentioned how George Packer’s latest book The Unwinding evoked a visceral sense that the country’s political and economic trajectories are untenable, and that it was hard to avoid the conclusion that we’re heading toward A Reckoning.

Over the holiday, I found myself driving along U.S. Route 220 in Virginia, about an hour north of the hometown of Dean Price, one of the central characters of The Unwinding.  As I traveled that road, which I’d cruised down several times before, I was reminded of Packer’s chronicling of the decline of the textiles and tobacco industries in the Carolina Piedmont, and how in a very real way, America has been gutted. (more…)