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Thursday, 7 October 2021

Weekend Reading


Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.

Dangerous Feelings

Success has a nasty tendency to increase confidence more than ability. The longer it lasts, and the more it was tied to some degree of serendipity, the truer that becomes. It’s why getting rich and staying rich are different skills.


A dangerous situation is when your goals (achieving enough success to relax) counter your skills (focus, paranoia, persistence). It hits you when you feel like past hard work entitles you to a break without realizing the cost of that break, however much it might be necessary and deserved. It’s part of why people who quit while they’re ahead are so admirable – it’s often not so much that they gave up, but that they’re aware of what made them successful and when that trait begins to wane.



A pacemaker for the brain holds promise of treating depression

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco surgically implanted a battery-operated, matchbook-sized device in Sarah’s brain — a “pacemaker for the brain” some call it — calibrated to detect the neural activity pattern that occurs when she is becoming depressed. It then delivers pulses of electrical stimulation to stave off depression.


Twelve days after Sarah’s device was fully operational in August 2020, her score on a standard depression scale dropped to 14 from 33, and several months later, it fell below 10, essentially signaling remission, the researchers reported.


Sarah’s is the first documented case of personalizing a technique called deep brain stimulation to successfully treat depression.



Gig work is a more imminent and transformative force than mass automation

Uber is one of the biggest companies to use networks of freelancers, rather than contracted employees, for its primary business operations. It isn’t a small company by any means — it has more than 20,000 employees, none of whom are drivers. Yet for every full-time employee, there are nearly 200 drivers working anything from a few hours a week to 10 hours or more a day. Uber has demonstrated that platform-based gig work can function at an enormous scale. These new working arrangements, rather than automation, raise the trickiest questions relating to employment in the exponential age.


If gig work is generally more flexible and less formal in richer countries, the reverse is true in poorer ones. In emerging economies, a gig working platform may offer more security, more employment options, and greater freedoms than casual or day labor. In India, for example, the sheer size of the informal labor market gets in the way of the government’s ability to spend on health and education. Casual laborers, hired daily, paid in cash, rarely pay income taxes. Nor do their employers contribute to payroll taxes. Lower tax participation means less booty in government coffers to fund social programs. For highly casual labor markets, the gig economy could be a route to a large, more formal sector with more protections for workers and a more robust tax base for governments.



The story of the Parsis in India

Always a tiny drop in India’s vast population, the Parsi community adapted quickly to British colonial rule. Its merchant class built connections with India’s diverse communities. After independence, they filled key roles in science, industry and trade. Parsi trusts bankrolled affordable housing projects and scholarships and propped up important institutions like the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the National Center for Performing Arts.


Prominent Parsis include the founders of the vast Tata conglomerate, plus early members of the Indian independence movement and the Indian National Congress, once the dominant political party. The most famous Parsi outside India might be Freddie Mercury, the Queen singer, who was born Farrokh Bulsara.


But the community’s population, which totalled 114,000 in 1941, now numbers around 50,000 by some estimates. The drop has been so drastic that — even as India considers measures to discourage more children in some states — the government has incentivized Parsi couples to have more children, to apparently little effect.


Ratan Tata blames the influence of the orthodoxy over institutions such as the Bombay Parsi Punchayat, the body that manages the community’s affairs as well as thousands of apartments and other properties owned by Parsi trusts. They strictly define who counts as Parsi: those who have a Parsi father. Community leaders estimate that up to 40% of Parsi marriages are with outsiders, but women who chose that are often ostracized. In some parts of the community, they lose privileges as basic as attending the final rites of loved ones. They also lose the right to live in affordable Parsi housing, a big advantage in Mumbai, where property prices keep rising. Parsi leaders fear outsiders will work their way into the community to take advantage of those benefits, diluting Parsi culture.




Space debris (space junk) is a real problem and needs real solutions

Now we’re at the point where about 70,000 satellites could enter orbit if proposed plans come to fruition. Even if all the proposed constellations fail to deploy, many more satellites will be in space. Unless actively deorbited, they will remain there for months to hundreds of years, depending on the altitude.


Today, there are about 27,000 pieces of debris,2 most of which are over ten centimetres in diameter. The trajectories of the rest—and what they might hit and when—are uncertain.


Active removal of space debris may finally be possible in some cases. One start-up recently began a test mission to prove that it had the capabilities required for space debris docking and removal.11 Other debris mitigation efforts will likely focus on the removal of inactive satellites and larger intact objects, at least initially. OneWeb, for example, has announced plans to collaborate with Astroscale on debris removal, and SpaceX has also discussed the possibility of using its Starship craft to clean up space debris.


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