If you’re anything like me, burning half of an hour online is second nature, it happens without a thought. I pull out my phone or open up my computer and bounce from website to website, check the news, adjust my fantasy football lineup, clear a few emails, delve into a twitter trend (or 3), and the time evaporates. It’s shocking the amount of reading I can do simply by opening a book before I open my computer. And all you have to give up is some artificial dopamine inducing frenetic blue screen time. You can easily read a half-hour per day (and probably more) without making any real concessions. Start with 10 minutes. Start with a book that’s short or easy to read. Just open the book before you turn on your screen.
I recently finished Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope. Talk about a scintillating read. Wright and Hope uncover the incredible true story of a young Malaysian businessman, Jho Low, who pulled off an unparalleled heist. It’s incredible on a number of levels: Jho Low orchestrated all of it in plain sight, a number of A-list celebrities are involved, and the story hasn’t ended yet, Jho Low has gone into hiding while facing charges from the U.S. and Malaysia. He stole an estimated total of 5 billion dollars, spending outrageous sums on parties, kickbacks, jewelry, bribes, yachts, real estate, and even a few businesses (not the least of which was the production company that created and released The Wolf of Wall Street). It’s the stuff of movies. This year a production company (SK Global) purchased rights and actually plan to release a movie. From explaining intricate details of financial transactions to describing the most extravagant parties imaginable, Wright and Hope have put forth an exciting enjoyable read more akin to a novel than a news report. Grab a copy for the holidays, it’s a high recommend.
Books are awesome. They do all sorts of good things for people (not the least of which is longer life). Most of us have no problem admitting that books are great and reading is a beneficial thing, at least to some degree. Some people don’t read, which is fine, though they’re definitely missing out. Some people devour fiction because it’s fun, though seemingly more and more people turn to Netflix for escapism. Many treat reading as a purely pragmatic exercise, hoping to glean helpful information for work and life. Those things are all good, but consider this a quick encouragement not to read for any explicit or immediate benefit, but to read for the sake of reading. A couple of notes:
- Read things that you’re interested in and enjoy. A wide variety of books and topics is not bad, in fact, it’s better. Read novels, read history, read self-help, read stories and studies and theories and thought experiments. If you start reading something that interests you, your interests will likely broaden.
- Don’t read for escapism (only). By all means, read novels, read lots of them, delving into another world is one of the greatest gifts of literature. But don’t limit yourself to novels and don’t only read to escape reality. Occasionally pick up something that challenges you, delve into something that will stretch you.
- Don’t read pragmatically (only). Books are pragmatic, you won’t be able to help but pick up practical tips and helpful things that will change the way you think about and accomplish things. But don’t avoid a book that interests you because you don’t see how it could immediately benefit your life or work. A good book will impact you in ways you’ll never suspect, and may not even realize.
- Read because you’re curious. As you read your curiosity will grow, you’ll probably find it’s impossible to satiate, you’ll probably end up with more books than you’ll ever be able to read, but you’ll be so happy to have learned and stretched and changed because of the books you’ve read. I have never encountered a person who regretted their reading habit. So pick up a book, and read for the sake of reading.
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 Equality) can 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.
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.