1/20/21 Power Five

1. The Worst President in History“No president has ever done what I’ve done,” he boasts. “No president has ever even come close.” Turns out, he was right.

2. VW’s $50 Billion Plan to Beat Tesla…Failed – “Volkswagen, the world’s largest car maker, has outspent all rivals in a global bid by auto incumbents to beat Tesla. For years, industry leaders and analysts pointed to the German company as evidence that, once unleashed, the old guard’s raw financial power paired with decades of engineering excellence would make short work of Elon Musk’s scrappy startup. What they didn’t consider: Electric vehicles are more about software than hardware. And producing exquisitely engineered gas-powered cars doesn’t translate into coding savvy.”

3. Japanese People May Have Gained Longevity By Balancing Their Diets – “However, another cause may be diets. Japan largely banned meat for 1,200 years, and still consumes relatively little meat and dairy. Too much of these can be damaging, since they contain saturated fatty acids, which correlate to heart disease. Studies have also tied eating lots of processed red meat to a greater risk of stroke. But too little may be unwise as well, because they provide cholesterol that may be needed for blood-vessel walls. In a study of 48,000 Britons, vegetarians were unusually resistant to heart disease, but prone to strokes. In theory, a dearth of animal-based food could have contributed to Japan’s historical cerebrovascular mortality. In 1960-2013, as the country’s deaths from strokes tumbled, its annual meat intake rose from near zero to 52kg per person (45% of America’s level). Tsugane Shoichiro of the National Cancer Centre in Tokyo says that his compatriots may need meat and dairy to keep their blood vessels robust—though not so much that those vessels get clogged.

4. How Olivia Rodrigo Hit #1 – “Drivers License” by Olivia Rodrigo, 17, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on Tuesday, following a record-breaking first week across streaming services like Spotify and Amazon Music. Along the way, the autobiographical song kicked up tabloid and social media speculation as listeners tried to piece together its real-life parallels as if it were a track by Rodrigo’s hero, Taylor Swift. TikTok videos led to blog posts, which led to streams, which led to news articles, and back around again. The feedback loop made it unbeatable.

5. Can Biden Bring His Peloton? – “To make the bike White House friendly, the camera and the microphone in the tablet would have to be removed, said Richard H. Ledgett Jr., a former deputy director of the National Security Agency. He would advise Mr. Biden to pick a nondescript user name and change it every month, and keep the bike far from any place where there might be sensitive conversations.”

The Daily Shot

1/19/21 Power Five

1. Student Debt is a Racial Equity Issue – “Any student debt forgiveness policy must address how systemic racism has intersected with our debt-financed higher education system to disadvantage borrowers of color. Predatory lending and federal student loan policies have exacerbated the racial wealth gap. Between 2000 and 2018, the Black-white wage gap for young graduates with bachelor’s degrees grew by 57 percent, driven by student debt. During the same 18 years, the median student debt for white borrowers nearly doubled from $12,000 to $23,000, while for Black borrowers, it quadrupled, increasing from around $7,000 to $30,000.”

2. Lack of Tiny Parts Disrupts Auto Factories – “Strong demand for gaming systems, personal computers and other electronics by a world stuck indoors has sucked up supplies of semiconductors, forcing carmakers around the world to scramble for the chips that have become as essential to mobility as gasoline or steel. Virtually no carmaker has been spared. Toyota Motor has shut down production lines in China. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles temporarily stopped production at plants in Ontario and Mexico. Volkswagen has warned of production problems at factories in China, Europe and the United States. Ford Motor said last week that it was idling a Louisville, Ky., factory for a week because of the shortage.”

3. Stoicism is Not a Philosophy – I don’t agree 100% but an interesting take…”They are often grouped in with other Greek Philosophers, but their writings aren’t the same. Most philosophers package ideas and arguments into books to spread their way of thinking. Reading and understanding philosophical writings is all you need to do to claim, with authority, your understating of that philosophy. Reading and understanding the texts of Stoic writers is merely the first step. Stoic writings aren’t arguments to support a world view, they are instructions, practices, and mantras. To truly understand Stoicism you have to practice it every day. Stoicism is not a philosophy that you believe or disbelieve, it is an action that you take or do not take.”

4. The Most Common Missteps of a First-Time CEO – “Small expenses add up over time and good CEOs (and fiduciaries) learn how to say “no.” If it’s not in the budget, there better be a good business reason for tacking on an expense.”

5. Ultimate Classic FM Hall of Fame – The UK’s top classical songs over the last 25 years. There’s more to classical music than Beethoven and Mozart!

1/18/21 Power Five

1. China Set to Topple U.S. as Biggest Economy – “The world’s second-largest economy is set on Monday to report gross domestic product increased 2.1% in 2020, the only major economy to have avoided a contraction.”

2. Spotify Bets Big on Podcasts as Path to Profitability – “Spotify now hosts almost 2 million podcasts, up from 2,500 three years ago, and has more than 600 exclusives. Apple still has the most listeners in the U.S., but Spotify has narrowed the gap. And it’s No. 1 in many overseas markets.”

3. Australian Influencers are Promoting Luxury Car Loans – And who says banking doesn’t innovate?

4. Paul McCartney as a Management Study – From Tyler Cowen, “He can compose and play and perform in virtually every musical genre, including heavy metal, blues, music hall, country and western, gospel, show tunes, ballads, rockers, Latin music, pastiche, psychedelia, electronic music, Devo-style robot-pop, drone, lounge, reggae, and more and more and more. His vocal range once spanned over four octaves, he is sometimes considered the greatest bass player in the history of rock and roll, and he was the first popular musician to truly master the recording studio, again with zero initial technical or musical education of any sort.

5. Targeting the Mentally Ill in Lame Duck Execution Spree – “Last summer, just before the resumption of federal executions, the Death Penalty Information Center found that 85 percent of those on federal death row had “at least one serious impairment that significantly reduces their culpability, and 63 percent had two or more of these impairments. The DPIC also reported that one-half were mentally ill, suffering from diseases such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or psychosis. Three quarters had been the victims of physical abuse and trauma during their childhoods. As a result, one-third had developmental brain damage or traumatic brain injury.

From Justice Sotomayor

“The Federal Government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades.” Remind me, which party is Pro Life?

1/13/21 Power Five

1. What’s Wrong With the Way We Work? – “Most jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were temporary jobs. Four in five hourly retail workers in the United States have no reliable schedule from one week to another…Americans have fewer paid holidays than workers in other countries, and the United States is all but alone in having no guaranteed maternity leave and no legal right to sick leave or vacation time. Meanwhile, we’re told to love work, and to find meaning in it, as if work were a family, or a religion, or a body of knowledge.”

2. The Wonder That is Netflix – In the ~50 remaining weeks of the year, Netflix will release 70 movies. Pretty incredible.

3. The Disaster That is Vaccine Rollout – “The United States had aimed to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020; it missed its target by more than 17 million. Donald Trump, taking a victory lap on the vaccine success last month at a White House summit, promised shots would be “distributed very quickly,” that “every American who wants the vaccine will be able to get the vaccine” in short order; vaccines have instead sat on warehouse shelves amid a lack of direction from his government, some are likely to expire before they can be injected into Americans’ arms, and states—left on their own as the president ignores the crisis entirely—have been beset by confusion. Vaccines will soon help the country start returning to a pre-pandemic normalcy—but shoddy rollout could stretch the meaning of the word “soon,” and at great cost, with cases and deaths surging and hospital systems reaching their breaking point.

4. The Year the Fed Changed Forever“By mid-March, as markets were crashing, the Fed had cut interest rates to near zero to protect the economy. By March 23, to avert a full-blown financial crisis, the Fed had rolled out nearly its entire 2008 menu of emergency loan programs, while teaming up with the Treasury Department to announce programs that had never been tried — including plans to support lending to small and medium-size businesses and buy corporate debt. In early April, it tacked on a plan to get credit flowing to states. ‘We crossed a lot of red lines that had not been crossed before,’ Mr. Powell said at an event in May.”

5. What the Big Mac Index Tells You About Currency Wars“Of the currencies of the 20 trading partners studied by America’s Treasury, our measure suggests that all have gained relative to the greenback since July, but that all apart from the Swiss franc are still cheap. That gives the incoming Biden administration, which has promised to take “aggressive trade-enforcement actions” against currency manipulators, lots to chew on. Our burger-based index is based on the idea that prices should adjust over the long run, so that the same basket of tradable goods costs the same everywhere. Converting prices into dollars at prevailing exchange rates lets you judge whether a currency is too cheap or too dear. To avoid the problem that people buy different things in different places, we compare the price of just one good: the McDonald’s Big Mac. The burgers are not exactly the same across countries—India’s Maharaja Mac, for instance, does not contain beef—but they are consistent enough. A burger in Thailand costs 25% less than in America when its price is converted to dollars at prevailing exchange rates, for example, suggesting that the Thai baht is undervalued.

Chart of the Day

1/12/21 Power Five

1. Millennials Are Leaving Religion and Not Coming Back – “17 percent of millennials said that they were not raised in any particular religion compared with only five percent of Baby Boomers. And fewer than one in three (32 percent) millennials say they attended weekly religious services with their family when they were young, compared with about half (49 percent) of Baby Boomers.

2. An Oral History of the World’s Biggest Coupon – “We started to realize that what customers really wanted was the darn coupon. To hell with the rest of the stuff. We organized our marketing plan to take advantage of the fact that it was a lot less expensive to send a coupon than to produce an entire catalog that had something like a 31-week lead time from a decision to having it in hand.”

3. Bryson DeChambeau is Wrecking Golf With Big Drives and Bigger Data – “In one season, he went from barely driving it farther than average to outdriving all of his competition. And then he kept hitting it even farther. He finished in the top-10 of his first four tournaments after the break, including one win. Then he won the U.S. Open.”

4. Financing the American Home“Most of all though, I don’t understand the most American of products: the 30-year fixed-rate fully prepayable mortgage. On American streets, the product is everywhere. It makes up around 80% of an $11.3 trillion mortgage market. Yet, with the exception of Denmark, it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. Even baseball exists in more countries…The former Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, once remarked: “You Americans are so strange. Most countries have socialised healthcare and a private market in mortgages. You have socialised mortgages and a private market in healthcare.”

5. Hate Working Out? Blame Evolution – “humans can be really good at exercising for long periods of time. We’re not fast (even goats are faster), but we have endurance. We can keep running because of our ability to expel heat through sweat and just exhaust our prey. The same holds for running a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. We may not be all that fast, but we have a singular ability to just keep going.”

1/11/21 Power Five

1. Wikipedia is 20 and it’s Reputation Has Never Been Higher – I remember in high school, teachers wouldn’t accept Wikipedia as an appropriate source…how about now? “On January 15th Wikipedia—“the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”—will celebrate its 20th anniversary. It will do so as the biggest and most-read reference work ever. Wikipedia hosts more than 55m articles in hundreds of languages, each written by volunteers. Its 6.2m English-language articles alone would fill some 2,800 volumes in print. Alexa Internet, a web-analysis firm, ranks Wikipedia as the 13th-most-popular site on the internet, ahead of Reddit, Netflix and Instagram.”

2. 52 Places to Love in 2021 – NYT’s annual list. At what point will we feel comfortable traveling internationally again? 2022?

3. The Day Steph Curry Made 105 3-Point Shots in a Row – “Let’s suppose Curry has an unworldly 80% chance of making every 3-point shot he takes in practice. Even if he takes 500 consecutive 3-point shots, the chances of making 105 in a row is less than one in 200 million. Even if he has been taking 500 consecutive 3-point shots every day since he was 12 years old, the probability of a 105-shot streak is still only 0.000039. Even if 100 players with 80% accuracy have been taking 500 consecutive 3-point shots every day for 50 years, the probability of a 105-shot streak is still only 0.0049.” (That’s 1 in 204.) Unless, of course, Curry had a hot hand. Which he did.

4. How Traeger Grills Relaunched a 26-Year Old Business – “I recognized very quickly there was something special to Traeger. Without a marketing department, there was this small, self-organized community of passionate Traeger owners who really identified themselves with Traeger. That was the beginning of my discovery of Traeger. It had grown slowly and methodically over 26 years, but it never scaled. And that was the magic I didn’t know if I was capable of creating, but I believed it was a foundation. It had these really great bones of the business we could build upon.”

5. China’s Frozen Castles – Check out the pictures – 300 ice miners spent months building incredible ice sculptures.

1/7/21 Power Five

It’s hard to describe what we saw yesterday. Amidst the chaos and insurrection, lawlessness and unbelief, there were two bright spots: Georgia’s election results and Senator Mitt Romney.

McKay Coppins from the Atlantic wrote about the GOP, post-Trump, and days like yesterday remind us that we have no idea what we’re in for. The BS we’ve become accustomed to the last four years does not magically go away on January 20th. It’s up to all of us to root out extremism, hold our elected officials accountable, look out for one another, and rebuild this country from the ashes of a failed state.

1. The Bitter Reality of the Post-Trump GOP – “Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a staunch Trump supporter, told me that he opposes the Electoral College challenge on constitutional grounds, and thinks most of his colleagues understand that Congress can’t actually reverse a presidential election. But he’s also clear-eyed about the political realities. “Trump has a 94 percent approval rating among my Republican electorate—I’ve actually polled it twice,” Massie said. “Those are people that vote in the primaries in Kentucky’s Fourth District … I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do.”

2. Foreign Leaders Are Lining Up to Condemn American Violence – You know its bad when Turkey and Venezuela condemn what happens in your country.

3. Why Freedom Became Free-Dumb in America“Americans — in the vast, vast majority — think of freedom in a way that by now the rest of the rich world and much of the poor one regards as dangerously backwards. Freedom is the right not to ever have to cooperate, to invest, to act for the common wealth or common good. Why is America the only rich society in the world that doesn’t have effectively any public goods? No functioning healthcare, retirement, higher education, and so forth? Because of free-dumb. “I won’t pay for their healthcare, education, retirement!!” Why not? “They’re weak! They’re liabilities and burdens!! They cost me money!!” But wait, don’t you understand that means you won’t have those very same things yourself — because such social institutions are for everyone? “I don’t care! I won’t reward weakness and laziness! Such people need to be punished! And I should be free not to have support the weak!” So goes the logic of the average American. The idea of free-dumb is something like this. Freedom means a gun, a beer, a Bible, and no rights for women and minorities. But textbooks and medicine and good food and water — those take away your freedom.”

1/2/21 Power Five

1. Thousands of Utah Kids Are Going Hungry During the Pandemic – No matter where you live in this country, the story is the same. “The Salt Lake City couple and their children ate the last of the chicken noodle soup, pinto beans and tuna and couldn’t afford to replace them. They next used the boxes of rice and noodles. By the end of July, when savings ran low, they no longer had money for fresh produce, Kajsa said. She could sometimes pick up overripe apples or bananas from her part-time job at a grocery store for 7-year-old Anthony and 3-year-old Gia.”

If you’ve been blessed, be a blessing – Donate to your local food bank, school district, church group, etc.

1/1/21 Power Five

1. The Economics of Christmas Trees – “A Christmas tree begins its life as a seedling, which is typically purchased from a timber firm like Wayerhauser for $0.50 to $1. When the tree is around 2 years old, it graduates from the nursery to the “big leagues” and gets its own 6’x6’ plot of land out in the field. Most Christmas tree farmers aim to plant ~1.2k trees per acre of land. What makes a Christmas tree an unusual crop is its extremely long production cycle: one tree takes 8-10 years to mature to 6 feet…But even if all goes well, Christmas tree farmers still have to forecast what the market is going to look like 10 years out: Planting too many trees could flood the market; planting too few could cause a shortage.

2. 64 Reasons to Celebrate Paul McCartney – “Perhaps this is a good moment to take a step back, the better to observe something astonishing: Paul McCartney has been writing and performing music more or less continuously since 1956. That’s sixty-four years. For the best part of a century, he has been creating songs that people sing in the shower and belt out in the car; songs to which people dance, run, cook, kiss and get married; songs we sing in crowds; songs we get stoned to; songs we sing with our kids; songs that wrap themselves around us when we’re down; songs that fill us to the brim with joy. His finest work is undoubtedly frontloaded by the miraculous accident of The Beatles, but there are gems scattered throughout his career, right up to the present day. For sheer fecundity, I can’t, with the exception of Bob Dylan, think of any other songwriter who comes close. There are very few artists in history, in any field, who have produced so much work at a high level over such a span.

3. Red State Rebellion – Utahns voted to expand Medicaid, allow medical marijuana, and create a non-partisan redistricting committee…the Legislature had different ideas.

4. Where Year Two of the Pandemic Will Take Us – “In December, an average of 2,379 Americans have died every day of COVID-19—comparable to the 2,403 who died in Pearl Harbor and the 2,977 who died in the 9/11 attacks. The virus now has so much momentum that more infection and death are inevitable as the second full year of the pandemic begins. “There will be a whole lot of pain in the first quarter” of 2021, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told me.”

5. The Case of the NBA’s Most Stolen Play – “The play at the center of this global heist involves all five players on the court and utilizes four deceptive elements that unfold with precise timing. It packs touch, skill, acting, salesmanship and trust into a few seconds.”

12/31/20 Power Five

1. 2020: The Year Reaganism Died – “In times of crisis, government aid to people in distress is a good thing, not just for those getting help, but for the nation as a whole.

2. The Best Art of 2020 – We may not be going to museums or gallery openings, but art and artists always finds a way to create and inspire.

3. What Are You Paying For in a $300 Chess Set? – “The knights alone can account for as much as 50 percent of the cost of a nice wooden set. While the rest of the pieces can be machine-made, the knights are carved by hand to resemble the head of a horse, a tedious process to make sure all four are exactly the same...About 10 people specialize in carving knights for the World Chess sets, Mr. Merenzon said. It takes about two weeks to produce 100 sets, with a set of knights requiring about six hours to carve.”

4. State Budgets on the Brink “After the financial crisis of 2008—a rare instance when collective state revenue fell—many states created new (or supplemented existing) “rainy day” funds. As a result, state and local governments entered 2020 with a combined $119 billion in such savings, according to the Brookings Institution. But the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19 has blown up budgets from coast to coast, and the impact will be lasting. Moody’s Analytics estimates that state and local government budget shortfalls could be a combined $450 billion over the next three years even as the economy recovers.

5. Ted Gioia’s 100 Best Albums of 2020 – The undisputed music king, Ted never ceases to amaze with his breadth and sheer level of consumption. Worth an hour of your time to click through his list with Spotify handy.

Charts of the Day: The Great Energy Switch – Bloomberg