Money

Buying Your Way Into Nobility

We’re talking about the “subtle maneuvers” we were using to try to drag the charming-but-antediluvian Isle of Arran into the modern era and prevent Lady Jean from hobbling off to the poorhouse. Putting the old ladies to work One day, I arrived on Arran after spending a few days in Edinburgh talking with Lady Jean’s …

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Scotch to the Rescue…

Before I describe the “subtle maneuvers” we orchestrated on Lady Jean’s behalf, I want to emphasize that these weren’t all my ideas. They were an amalgam of many conversations with the accountants, estate managers, attorneys, Charles Fforde and Lady Jean herself. I was merely a kind of midwife presiding over their birth. On the other …

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The Isle of No Solution

Whenever I traveled to Europe in those days it always seemed to me that I was moving not just through space, but also through time. The Europeans always seemed to be two or three decades behind America, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Traveling to the Isle of Arran, however, was a …

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The Changing of the Clan

That evening, after our tour of Arran and another whisky-soaked evening, Charles walked me outside Strabane. He was carrying, for some reason, a large bowl of eggs he’d taken from the refrigerator. “These eggs,” he told me, “are very special Isle-of-Arran eggs from our own chickens. Handled properly, they’re virtually indestructible. Wait here.” Baffled by …

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Was Herbert Simon the 20th Century’s Galileo?

In the mid-1980s a journalist visiting Carnegie Mellon from France suggested that a statue of Herbert Simon should join those of Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Galileo and Bach in front of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute. At the time, I considered this a bit of Gallic hyperbole, but now I don’t. Simon came to Carnegie Tech in 1949 along …

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The Mystery Deepens

My inauspicious arrival on the Isle of Arran seemed to have perturbed Lady Jean Fforde not at all. “It’s the smell, dearie,” she said, pounding my back like a jackhammer as I retched into the boxwood. “You’ll be used to it soon enough.” And she was right. Three whiskies later (drunk neat, the Scots never …

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Lady Jean

As I dutifully did every morning, I listened to my overnight voicemails. My boss was saying something like this: “Stop what you’re doing and get yourself to the Isle of Arran, and don’t dilly-dally!” Huh? I’d recently returned from an ill-fated trip to the Hopi Tribe in Arizona and I was a bit touchy on …

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Why the Extremes Are Gaining

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” —“The Second Coming” by W. B. Yeats Homo sapiens have lived on the earth for, let’s say, 350,000 years (since we separated from homo erectus). For 349,800 of those years, humans were desperately poor, diseased and ignorant. In the last 200 …

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The Rest of the “Great” Democracies

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” —“The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats Last week we observed that our own mother country, the United Kingdom (redubbed the Dis-United Kingdom) is crumbling before our very eyes. But the DUK is hardly alone. Let’s take a quick look at …

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Britain’s Dis-United Kingdom

“The risk is that moderates will be squeezed out as right and left inflame politics and provoke each other to move to the extremes.” —The Economist Last week we took a look at the Big 3, that is, the three biggest democracies in the world not counting the U.S. What we found was that, once …

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A Tour of the World’s Crumbling Democracies

“Around the world, radicalization is making coalition and consensus much harder” —Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times Last week I discussed the abdication of the political middle in the U.S. in favor of radical leftist, rightist and populist ideas. Instead of (as in the past) fringe ideas playing the role of informing public debate and …

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The Middle Abdicates

“I think the West has forgotten what democracy means.” —Vera Lengsfeld, holder of the Federal Cross of Merit, Germany’s highest civilian honor Roughly a million years ago I sat down one day and, in a fit of pique, wrote a long essay entitled, “The Essential Liberal.” That essay was published in a journal headquartered in …

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The Investment Policy Statement

“Te Kaitiaki Tãhua Penihana Kaumatua õ Aotearoa.” —The New Zealand Super Fund, in Mãori The final strategy Te Kaitiaki Tãhua Penihana Kaumatua õ Aotearoa follows (at least for purposes of this series of blog posts) is to create and follow religiously an investment policy statement (IPS). The Super Fund—switching back into English—calls its IPS a …

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Responsible Investing

We are observing how one of the world’s most successful investors—the New Zealand Super Fund—manages its capital, and considering whether we might not mimic some of what the Fund has been doing. The idea is to improve our own returns both on an absolute basis and on a risk-adjusted basis. Here are two more strategies …

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Are You Really Able to Think and Act Long Term?

Investing like the New Zealand Super Fund is surprisingly easy—in concept. In practice, of course, it’s devilishly difficult. Otherwise, we’d all be rich. To see why this is the case, let’s examine some of the key features of the Super Fund’s investment approach. Thinking and acting long term. We pointed out last week that merely …

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Invest Like the Super Fund

“Hi, I’m Joe and I just turned eight. I love playing with my Grandpa. Grandpa always has time to play with me. He says that’s because he is retired and gets his ‘super’ or pension payments from the Government.” —New Zealand Super Fund Explained (from a short animation on the Super Fund website explaining the …

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Hong Kong Will Mean China’s Demise

“China’s disintegration is now under way.” —Arthur Waldron, Lauder Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania Following the Tiananmen Square fiasco, Beijing “knew” a few things it hadn’t known before. Beijing knew that offering its citizens modest economic and personal freedoms was dangerous to the health of the Communist Party. When you offered such freedoms, …

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The Waning Mao-Xi Dynasty

“Without democracy, China will rise no farther.” —Jiwei Ci, University of Hong Kong The history of China is long and violent and, more than anything else, it is an endless story of history repeating itself. Dynasty follows dynasty, beginning in 1250 BC with the Shang Dynasty and ending with the Mao-Xi Dynasty, which is still …

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It Turns Out Hong Kong Is Different

“‘One country, two systems’ was always little more than a useful fiction, but… China has shown just how unrealistic the idea ultimately was.” —Rodger Baker, Stratfor As my longest-suffering readers know—I have been saying it since 1997 and putting it in writing since 2003—the Chinese Communist Party is doomed. I’ve written about it in two books …

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The Brits Blew It in Hong Kong

“[China] looks increasingly like it has reached a dead end.” —Frank Dikötter, Professor, University of Hong Kong As we learned last week, from 1898 until 1997 Britain owned two of the three regions of Greater Hong Kong—in perpetuity—while China owned the third region, subject to a 99-year lease to Britain. Yet, in 1997, all of …

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In China, the Unraveling Begins

“It is time for the United States to stand up to China in Hong Kong.” —Elizabeth Warren Just for fun, let’s go back to 1842, which is when China “lost” Hong Kong. Most Westerners seem to think that the Brits had a 99-year lease on Hong Kong, that that lease terminated in 1997, and that …

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A Liberal Approach to Business

Because you study anything and everything at a liberal arts college, you might say that it resembles an episode of Seinfeld, the observational comedy show about nothing. And because nothing really prepares you for a business career, the liberal arts might make the best choice. Late one night in 1992, my father phoned, asking me …

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