Money

America 2.0: An Old Novel Idea

When I was serving in the U.S. Army in the early 1970s, I spent a lot of time patrolling in my Military Police Jeep and boring myself silly. Being a cop is a bit like being an airline pilot: hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. To relieve the boredom, I wrote a …

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Race, Global Warming and the Experts

Last week we considered the possibility that, precisely to the extent that human equality is the most important issue facing the world, to that extent liberal democracy can claim little legitimacy. It is certainly true that liberal democracies have produced greater equality and have more successfully combated racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry than …

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The Rawls Dilemma

John Rawls, the most important political philosopher of the twentieth century, was born into a prosperous middle class family in Baltimore in 1921. He attended a private school in Connecticut and went on to Princeton. Rawls’ internal life replicated the moral trajectory of many thoughtful people in the Western world, beginning with a deep interest …

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The Stumbling March of Reason

“When the theological content of the idea [of human rights] was abandoned, nothing was put in its place.” —James Griffin, “On Human Rights” Earlier in this series of posts we revisited the Age of Enlightenment, examining the back story of the ideas that led to the creation of liberal democracy. That’s also a good place …

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Coronavirus Investing

Editor’s note: We’ve asked a group of the region’s leading wealth managers to respond to this question: “The coronavirus has led to the first bear market in more than a decade with widespread uncertainty remaining. How are you positioning client portfolios in this fraught environment?” In today’s online feature, a group of advisors give a …

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How Equality Came to Challenge Freedom

“[Liberal democracy] celebrates certain values: reasonableness, conversation, compassion, tolerance, intellectual humility and optimism.” —David Brooks “Nice guys finish last.” —Leo Durocher As I noted last week, the American governmental system in particular, and most modern liberal democracies in general, were well-designed to manage the tension between the two most fundamental rights we have as citizens: …

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The Trouble With Rousseau

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” —The first line of Rousseau’s “The Social Contract” Even by the loose standards of his era, Jean-Jacques Rousseau lived a bizarre life. Rousseau’s mother died giving birth to him and he was mostly raised until his teen years by an uncle. At that point, his …

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The Practical View

“In the beginning all the world was America.” —John Locke The most important thing to understand about the Age of Enlightenment is that it contained both a practical cast of thought and a utopian cast of thought. The practical strain is associated mainly with Anglo-Saxon thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Mill and others. The …

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Has Liberal Democracy Passed Its Expiration Date?

“Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” —Winston …

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Viral Investing, Part II: What Should I Do Now?

“Profit from folly rather than participating in it. Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful. I prefer buying things. Otherwise, it’s a little like saving sex for your old age.” —Warren Buffett   “The true contrarian only buys when it makes him feel physically sick to press the buy key.” …

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Viral Investing

“You make most of your money in a bear market, you just don’t realize it at the time.” —Shelby Cullom Davis Given the recent market volatility driven primarily by the outbreak of COVID-19, I thought I would share my current views. But first, a word about terminology. COVID-19 (coined, for reasons best known to them, …

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A Remarkable Life

One morning, I received a call from my Zurich lawyer, Dr. Andreas Froriep, who informed me that someone was trying to find out who was behind Arran Isle Improvement Association AG. I burst out laughing. It’s true, I suppose, that the Arran miscreants and their shyster lawyers could litigate in Switzerland for a decade or …

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Ending the Abuse of the Aristocrats

The history of tenant abuse by aristocratic landlords goes back in the UK for a thousand years. But the twentieth century turned out to be the Revenge of the Downtrodden. Beginning immediately after World War I, which decimated Britain’s male aristocrats, the Brits determined to destroy their aristocracy, and destroy it they did. Certainly the …

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Selling the Castle

If you want to be called Lord Joe, Earl of Arran, you have to own Lochranza Castle and about 1,000 acres surrounding it. The castle was built in the early 1200s and in 1262 King Alexander III granted the castle and its lands to Walter Stewart, the Earl of Menteith. Robert the Bruce supposedly hid …

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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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