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Thursday 21 July 2022

Weekend Reading


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Taxes in the ancient world
The first record of organized taxation comes from Egypt around 3000 B.C., and is mentioned in numerous historical sources including the Bible. Chapter 47, verse 33 of the Book of Genesis describes the tax collection practices of the Egyptian kingdom, explaining that the Pharaoh would send commissioners to take one- fifth of all grain harvests as a tax.
Tax practice continued to develop as Greek civilization overtook much of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East in the centuries leading up to the Common Era. The Rosetta Stone, a clay tablet discovered in 1799, was a document of new tax laws decreed by the Ptolemaic Dynasty in 196 B.C.
From the Roman age and through medieval European history, new taxes on inheritance, property and consumer goods were levied, and often played a role in war, either by funding them or provoking them.
Other cradles of civilization, such as ancient China, also levied taxes under the authority of a strong centralized government. The Chinese T’ang and Song Dynasties employed a methodical census record to track their populace and impose the proper taxes on them. These funds and materials were then used to support armies and construct canals for transportation and irrigation, among other projects. The Mongol Empire that took control of much of Asia around 1200 instituted tax policy designed to influence large-scale production of certain goods like cotton.
Are we ready for solar waste?
India does not have a solar waste management policy, but it does have ambitious solar power installation targets.
Solar waste — the electronic waste generated by discarded solar panels — is sold as scrap in the country. It can increase by at least four-five-fold by the next decade.
Solar panels have a life of 20-25 years, so the problem of waste seems distant. It is likely that India will be faced with solar waste problems by the end of this decade, and solar waste will end up being the most prevalent form of waste in landfills soon.
The large cost gap between recycling and discarding panels in landfills points to an unpleasant truth: The process generates roughly $3 in revenue from the recovery of certain materials.
Recycling a solar panel cost between $20 and $30, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; sending it to a landfill costs $1-2.
Choose process over goals
Inventing the future is another way of saying “setting goals.” Success, especially in the West, then becomes about achieving those goals. We accumulate accomplishments and call it success. Success is about building a set of daily practices, it is about growth without goals. Continuous, habitual practice(s) trumps achievement-based success.
I think “accomplishments” are traps. Accomplishments, by their very definition, exist only in the past or future—which are not even real things. Pride is the worst of the seven sins and it is closely related to past and future accomplishments.
Incentives matter
There are few forces in the world as powerful and ubiquitous as incentives. They govern everything from our daily interactions and decisions to our broader organizations and societies.
Charlie Munger, true to his reputation for pithy one-liners, said it best: “Show me the incentive and I will show you the outcome.”
Incentives appear to be uniquely binary:
  • Thoughtfully-designed incentives are likely to create wonderful outcomes.
  • Poorly-designed incentives are likely to create terrible outcomes.
Surprisingly, despite their importance, incentives are rarely studied in schools, business programs, or organizations.
As a result, humans remain astonishingly bad at establishing appropriate incentives. We consistently create systems that invite manipulation and open the door to unintended consequences. More often than not, we fall into the poorly-designed camp and find ourselves scrambling for answers and quick fix solutions.
The process is the destination
We live in a world obsessed with results. We have a tendency to put so much emphasis on whether or not the arrow hits the target. If, however, we put that intensity and focus and sincerity into the process—where we place our feet, how we hold the bow, how we breathe during the release of the arrow—then hitting the bullseye is simply a side effect.
The point is not to worry about hitting the target. The point is to fall in love with the boredom of doing the work and embrace each piece of the process. The point is to take that moment of zanshin, that moment of complete awareness and focus, and carry it with you everywhere in life.
It is not the target that matters. It is not the finish line that matters. It is the way we approach the goal that matters. Everything is aiming.

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