Thoughts on capitalism (part 2)

2: Capitalism is a growing pie for everyone, not just the already rich.

The growing pie idea doesn’t only mean that rich people keep getting richer. They do, but instead of growing rich at the expense of everyone else (as in the agrarian economy we touched on in part 1), everyone else also gets richer. Capitalism is a rising tide that raises all the boats, even the little ones. A cool analogy for this rising tide idea (as noted in John Addison Teevan’s Integrated Justice and Equalitycan be seen in the late great Chicago Bulls teams of the ’80s and ’90s. In 1986 the lowest salary on the Bulls was $135,000, the median salary was $300,000, the highest salary was $806,000. Jump to 1996, the Bulls highest paid player (you can guess) was Jordan, who made a screaming $33 million. At the same time, the lowest paid player’s income had also increased significantly to $500,000, and the median salary was all the way up to $2.3 million. Everyone wins! Over that 10 year period, the incomes of Bulls players grew by an average of 21% per year compared to an inflation rate of 3.65%, which is some serious wealth creation. Furthermore, while the income of the rich (Jordan) increased by a larger percentage than the lowest paid players (44% growth per year compared to 13%), it wasn’t at the expense of anyone. No one lost anything in this scenario. In fact, the opposite is true, everyone gained income. Sports salaries obviously aren’t perfectly correlated with the entire economy, but the point remains: capitalism creates wealth for everyone.

Thoughts on capitalism (part 1)

It’s popular to dump on capitalism these days, but I’ve got a few positive thoughts to share here. Many of these ideas stem from reading John Addison Teevan’s Integrated Justice and Equality, which I highly recommended.

1: Capitalism is a growing pie.

One of the awesome things (maybe the most awesome thing) about capitalism is that it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s not like there’s a certain limited amount of wealth to go around where some lucky people get more and some victimized people get less, like the best apple pie at Thanksgiving. Instead, it’s a growing pie, which means capitalism literally creates more wealth through entrepreneurs and investing. This is in contrast to most of the history of the world which existed under the old agrarian economic model. Under the agrarian system wealth was a fixed pie, it couldn’t grow. Wealth couldn’t grow because wealth was land and there’s only a fixed amount of land to go around. Since there was very little freedom and essentially no industry, land was the only thing that was really worth something. So while the wealthy inherited land and hoarded more and more, the poor were left to work the land and forfeit whatever they had left. It was a flawed system. Not only was the amount of wealth fixed, but the status or wealth of people was also essentially fixed. There was no way for a poor person to gain wealth, you could call it fatalistic. In a fixed pie economic system, redistribution of wealth from the crony rich to the helpless poor, even if it involves stealing (think Robin Hood), makes some sense. In a capitalist system where wealth is created (not merely inherited or taken) and growing (not static) coerced redistribution doesn’t make any sense. Some people still have more and some people still have less relative to each other in a capitalist system, but overall everyone has more as the pie grows. You can argue about the virtues or vices of an income gap (here’s an interesting argument), but you can’t say that capitalism fails to create wealth for everyone.

2018 Book Recommendations

I would say that reading, specifically reading books, is the single most important method of self-improvement that a person can engage in. A few years ago, in a desire to improve myself and my circumstances, I decided to read more books, and the payoff has been overwhelmingly positive. Probably the main benefit reading has imparted to me these last few years is to change the way I think. My goals and ideas and aspirations are bigger, my concept of what’s possible has grown. This change in thinking has also affected my behavior, my actions have been more consistent and more ambitious, I even waste (a little) less time with TV and on my phone. Basically, reading books can have a transformational effect. So, I want to share some of the best books I read last year (2018) in the hope you can reap some similar benefits from them. The list is broad, ranging from self-help and productivity to history to fiction and anything in between. Dig in!

The Three Laws of Performance is top shelf coaching material. Steve Zaffron delves into what actually causes transformation in people’s lives and organizations, how to really induce change. It’s not the typical rah-rah motivational material, this is real, strategic, transformative coaching. It’s also filled with real-life examples and stories, which makes it very accessible.

What’s Best Next is an incredible guide to greater personal productivity. Matt Perman is a confessed productivity junky who has gathered and distilled some of the best productivity literature available, conducted interviews with accomplished subjects, and drawn from his own experience to build his best strategies for increased effectiveness. It’s organized, well-researched, very practical, I even found it inspiring. The structure of my entire week is based on things I gleaned from What’s Best Next.

The Marks of a Spiritual Leader is not simply for pasters and Bible-study leaders. This little book is packed with practical and helpful advice for anyone in any type of leadership role. It’s clear, concise, practical, and at less than an hour total read time, it is well worth the investment.

The One Thing may be the best book on setting and achieving goals that I’ve come across. The title is a giveaway, but Keller stresses the need to determine your most important one thing and focus on that one thing tenaciously. It’s full of practical, actionable advise presented in a fun and engaging way.

Tim Keller is a leading Christian apologetic. Making Sense of God builds upon his previous popular work The Reason For God. Whether or not you’re a Christian, this inquisition into foundations and defenses of Christianity is remarkably insightful.

Reset is a type of self-help book, but instead of pushing readers to do and be more and more, David Murray encourages us to understand our limits and work within the bounds. Humans tend towards arrogance, limitations are seen as an inconvenience, but our unwillingness to acknowledge them leads to burnout. Through his concept of ‘Repair Bays,’ Murray encourages us to slow down and live consistently with reality.

I started reading Earnie Pyle during my WW2 phase in high-school. I still remember the day I finished Pyle’s Brave Menit was the most visceral, funny, and affecting account of war I had, and probably still have encountered. Ernie Pyle in England is his first collection of essays during WW2 (Brave Men is his third collection). Before the U.S. had joined the effort Pyle spent several months in England observing and reporting for an American newspaper.

In the Garden of Beasts is a look at the rise of Hitler’s regime through the eyes of the American ambassador’s family in the 1930s. It’s fascinating. Larson is a historian, but In the Garden of Beasts is not like the college history textbooks that may have put you to sleep, it reads almost like a novel, very accessible.

The Last Kingdom is the first installment of a multi-book series called The Last Kingdom Series (Cornwell just published the 11th book of the series in 2018). The genre is historical fiction, the setting is 9th and 10th century Britain, the story features protagonist Uthred of Bebbanburg fighting the Danish invasion. Cornwell is simply a great story-teller. I’ve gladly resolved to read the entire series after finishing The Last Kingdom.

I picked up The Richest Man in Babylon on a whim a few months ago. The book is a series of parables, all taking place in the context of ancient Babylon, and all dealing with a point of wisdom surrounding life and work. It’s surprisingly compelling. Clason weaves the stories around wisdom in such a unique and interesting way, and it sticks.

The Call of the Wild is an old classic that my sister encouraged me to revisit last year. Jack London’s brilliant use of language and word pictures are on full display. It’s short and profound, well worth the read.

You Need a Budget is another little gem. Jesse Mecham is the founder and CEO of YNAB, the best personal online budgeting tool out there. But the book is not a sales pitch, he digs into the nuts and bolts of building and operating a successful, zero-sum budget. This look book is packed with valuable guidance for your personal finances.

Sometimes you need to kick back and read something for the pure enjoyment of it. Ready Player One was that for me, I could hardly set it down. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s interesting, it moves quickly, and it’s thoroughly entertaining.

Why I switched back to physical books

For the last three years or so I have been ravenously building and reading my Kindle library. I love reading and I love iPads, and I really loved putting the two together. But, the title gives it away, I’m switching back to normal physical books. Here are some quick pros and cons to Kindle books, and why I decided to go back.

 

Pros:

  • Convenience. The fact that one portable device can store thousands of books, literally an entire library, is compelling, and super convenient. My iPad, or at least my iPhone, is always with me so the books are always available. No packing, remembering, planning, nothing. They’re all always with me.
  • Not physical. The books are electronic, which means no maintenance. I never worry about spilling coffee on a book (although that might have been worse on an iPad), ripping a page, drool from my children, or any other thing that would ruin a book. Their general well-being is never a concern, they’re always in mint condition. An iPad can obviously sustain some serious damage too, but even if my iPad was destroyed or lost, the books would still be there to download on the next device.
  • Easy to organize. The direct sync between Kindle and Goodreads is a helpful feature. My Goodreads profile and book tracking is always up to date without ever logging in to Goodreads. Kindle also uses Collections, which basically function like tags, and I love tags.

 

Cons:

  • Progress as a percentage. I found myself constantly tracking that stupid number. I’ll admit, it could be a personal problem, maybe you can ignore the numbers, but they’re pasted right on the cover of each book. I can’t stop paying attention to them. I get immersed so much more easily in a physical book.
  • It’s distracting to read on a device. The percentages are distracting, but that’s only where the distractions begin. If you’re reading on any type of tablet or phone there’s a pull to check email, look something up online, or get a quick game in. I would suddenly remember something in the middle of reading and, since a little computer was in my hands, I would just switch over to quickly take care of the thing I forgot. Even if every notification and connection setting is turned off, you still can’t turn off the capability. The counter-point to this is to use an e-reader of some sort because they don’t have all that capability. While they seem to be a great solution for many people, I have found them lacking for a few reasons. 1) They have small screens, six inches is too small. 2) The e-ink flashes every time a page turns, talk about distracting. 3) Books lose any distinguishing characteristics, even more so than in the Kindle app. 4) They’re made of plastic. 5) They’re boring! If I’m going to read books on a device, give me an iPad with all the capability it comes with, distracting as it may be.
  • What happens if Amazon goes out of business? This could be stupid, but I get a little nervous that someday my library won’t be accessible. Companies go out of business all the time. There would probably still be some way for people to keep their electronic copies, but I, for one, am not interested in watching it play out.
  • I missed seeing my whole library. It’s exciting to scan an entire shelf of books and pick one out. When a Kindle library grows the only option to find books is to type titles in the search bar or get scrolling. The library feels hidden.
  • The human element. I’m human, I like to touch and feel and see and smell things. iPads and e-readers are great, but they make every book feel and look and read the same. Books lose some of their personality that way. You can develop a sort of connection with a physical book that isn’t possible when you read it on a device. I guess my point is that books are personal, and that’s important.
  • I have young kids. Studies have shown that households with books raise more literate and successful children. Interestingly, this specific study found that 350 books in a household is a kind of threshold. The benefit for children rose with the number of books in their house until they hit 350, then the benefit leveled off. 350 books appears to be enough to saturate the home, there will be books lying around on end tables and shelves, they’ll be in each person’s room, they’ll be visible all over. I started reading normal books again before coming across this article, but you can bet I counted right away to ensure we had over 350. Besides the study, I’ve noticed an interesting change in my own house since I recommitted to physical books about three months ago. The kids have begun to read more. When they saw me on an iPad they had no idea if I was reading a book or playing a game or whatever, they just wanted to play on an iPad too. There’s something about a Dad’s example that seems to inspire kids, they watch and copy. It’s not like rules changed three months ago, but the example changed, and it has made a noticeable difference.

All told I have no regrets returning to a library of physical books. What I miss most about using a Kindle library is the convenience, it’s a bit of an adjustment carrying books around again, but the advantages have far outweighed the extra weight in my bag.