Money

The Hillbilly Saga: Conclusion

The bottom line of J. D. Vance’s book, “Hillbilly Elegy,” is that far too many people from southeastern Kentucky are trapped in a hillbilly culture that stands in the way of their own success. As if that weren’t bad enough, hillbillies are discriminated against because people aren’t willing to distinguish between good hillbillies and bad …

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Three Questions on the Markets, Part II

Each year in our Summer issue, we ask a group of the region’s leading financial experts to help our readers by responding to questions. Below are their answers to this question: Why has market volatility spiked in 2018? Do you expect markets to remain volatile? Why has market volatility spiked in 2018? Do you expect …

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How to React to a Hillbilly

Last week we tried to imagine how Professor Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize-winning author of “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” would react if he saw a couple of hillbillies coming into his store. This week we’ll re-look at that situation, pretending that Kahneman isn’t a Nobel Prize winning professor at all, but a lowly department store clerk. …

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Three Questions on the Markets

Each year in our Summer issue, we ask a group of the region’s leading financial experts to help our readers by responding to a question. This year, we’ve asked three. Part I of this four-part series begins below. Question 1: Why has market volatility spiked in 2018? Do you expect markets to remain volatile? LINDA …

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The Stubbornness of Culture

In 2013 J. D. Vance graduated from Yale Law School, an accomplishment he shared that year with the following fraction of his fellow Americans: 0.00000063. I deduced this remarkable statistic very simply, by dividing the number of students in the Yale Law School class (208) by the population of the United States, which, at this …

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Don’t Even Think About Crossing a Hillbilly

We’ve talked about several obstacles to success in middle class Ohio for migrants from southeastern Kentucky: they had horrible accents and they tended to dress funny. But the biggest obstacle was the most difficult to overcome: their behavior. As I’ve noted, Scots-Irish immigrants to America brought with them a constellation of characteristics. These included an …

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How My English Degree Helped Build a Tech Company

When I was 26, my dad got sick and asked me to take over as CEO of the tech company he started. I was armed with my English major from Allegheny College and a couple of years in a retail management training program. In other words, I didn’t have a clue. Or so I thought. …

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Don’t Dress Like a Hillbilly

Last week we discussed one of the major hurdles recent immigrants from southeastern Kentucky faced when they tried to assimilate into middle class society in Ohio: they talked like hillbillies. This week we’ll look at a second hurdle: the matter of dress. In “Hillbilly Elegy,” J. D. Vance notes that his Papaw wore the same outfit every …

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The Agency Game

Pipitone Group, an ad agency in Pittsburgh’s Observatory Hill neighborhood, counts Vitro Architectural Glass as one of its largest clients. For the Cheswick-based company, which purchased PPG Flat Glass in 2016, Pipitone manages advertising and web strategy. Yet when Vitro wants to develop and implement a public relations initiative, it brings to the table another …

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The Inscrutable Foibles of Hillbilly Talk

Although the parallels between my life and that of J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” seem flat-out astonishing, it’s actually the differences that are more interesting. Vance and I both started out with grandparents who migrated from southeastern Kentucky to the Dayton, Ohio area, and we ultimately ended up in pretty much the same place: Yale …

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Why Were Pittsburgh’s Scots-Irish So Successful?

If Malcolm Gladwell is right that the cultural legacy of the Scots-Irish explains the poor outcomes experienced by people in southeastern Kentucky, how do we explain the exceptional success of these same people in Pittsburgh? One answer to this conundrum is this one: “Cultural legacy explanations are garbage.” That’s the Politically Correct answer, but it’s …

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The Culture of the Scots-Irish

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  –Peter Drucker (supposedly) Whether or not Drucker ever said that, every corporate executive knows it’s true. No matter how brilliant a strategy might be, if the corporate culture is toxic, the strategy will fall as flat as soggy Cheerios. On the other hand, if the corporate culture is healthy, a …

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Pittsburgh Business Show Ready to Launch Second Year

Last year, Linda Jo Thornberg created the Pittsburgh Business Show with notable success, attracting 157 exhibiting business and 2,800 attendees. Prior to this year’s show, April 25 and 26 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, we asked her how she got the show started and what to expect in its second iteration. Q. How …

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Leaving Kentucky for Two Very Different Reasons

You can take the boy out of Kentucky, but you can’t take Kentucky out of the boy. – Mamaw Vance Last week I outlined the more-than-slightly-unnerving parallels between J. D. Vance’s life and my own, as outlined in his remarkable book, “Hillbilly Elegy.” This week we’ll balance the scales by noting some of the profound differences. The …

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A Lesson in Growth from Austin, Texas



With the U.S. Census Bureau reporting continuing populations losses for metropolitan Pittsburgh, the region is one of only a few “large” U.S. metros reporting losses, putting us in the company of Youngstown, Ohio and Altoona/Johnstown, Pa. This is not a good story. Companies often choose where to locate or expand in places people want to be. …

A Lesson in Growth from Austin, Texas

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The Weird Parallels Between the Hillbilly Elegy Author and Me

I just completed a series of posts on Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” a book that experienced an astonishing publications history—despite being 700 pages long and a hard slog—because it caught the exact tenor of the times. A very different and more accessible book that enjoyed similar popularity, and for the same reason, is …

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How Private Capital Made America the Greatest Society

Last week we discussed Fundamental Law of Private Capital #1—that private capital is the secret weapon that allows some economies to out-compete others. This week we’ll turn to Fundamental Laws #2 and #3. Fundamental Law #2: Private capital is the progenitor of all other kinds of capital. From the beginning of human civilization, virtually all …

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Three Fundamental Laws of Private Capital

A few years after “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” exploded on the scene, the University of Chicago surveyed 36 well-known economists, asking if they agreed with Piketty. The results? One yes and 35 no’s. How could a book so celebrated upon publication diminish into obscurity in a few short years? Presumably, it had something to do with …

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The Rich Will Lose Their Money Soon Enough

We are talking about Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” including its extraordinary publishing history and its subsequent fade from grace. I reviewed the various problems with Pikkety’s theses as they have been noted in the economics literature, and I also proposed my own view of the book’s central problem: that its author is a naïf. …

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On r > g, Part II

Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” exploded on the scene in mid-2013, but it’s impact faded quickly. I reviewed last week the widely discussed reasons why Piketty’s book fell from grace, but I also proposed a reason of my own: that Piketty is a naïf. A naïf, for this purpose, is a person who knows his narrow subject …

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The Trouble with “Capital”

In the summer of 2013 a remarkable event occurred in the publishing industry. A challenging, 685-page economic text written by an obscure French economist and published by an academic press became an overnight best seller. Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (referred to here simply as “Capital”) sold so quickly that Harvard University Press couldn’t keep up …

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Examples of What to Say

Even small children love to hear simple stories about their ancestors, and as children grow into teenagers and then young adults the stories can become more complex and serious. For example, consider Great-Grandpa Henry Knox’s many shortcomings as a rancher. Or the general klutziness of the Knox men, who are disposed to walk around with …

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