How different are financial and political “bubbles”? And what ends them?

Depending on your perspective on certain “excited”  areas of the market and “extremes” in the political spectrum, we are currently engaged in a real-time exercise regarding what catalysts bring an end to these phenomena. Are the catalysts to end those historical moments different? By day, I have to think about the former; by night, I ponder the latter. And we know the role that social media plays in both of these realms. It’s worth recalling that for one of the past extreme moments, the reign of terror led by Joseph McCarthy, the social media of the day played a key …

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At the intersection of the Random Book Project & lockdown: War & Peace.

#6: Leo Tolstoy, War & Peace, in two volumes. (Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1984, originally published in 1865). Marked 3 rubles, 70 kopeeks, but with a Beriozka sticker indicating 5.55.  Exchange rate at the time was $1.26 per 1.00 ruble so the set cost $7.00 How did I get it? Bought it when I spent a semester in Moscow my junior year in 1984. Others went to London or Florence.  For reasons that still elude me, I went to the Soviet Union. Who does that? Why? While the book is timeless, my copy of it is not. The mass produced, acid-paper Soviet …

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Floating above history….

Nearly forty years after encountering The Education of Henry Adams in a college classroom, I was recently treated to a summary as to why the work was and remains so fascinating.  Dan Chiasson’s New Yorker review reminds readers of how Adams floated over history as much as he lived in it and wrote about it. Adam’s wonder at the new technology at the turn of the 20th century is as fresh today as when it was written over a century ago.

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Markets are everywhere, even where they are strictly forbidden….

Markets are everywhere, including where they strictly forbidden. This excellent research by Jim Heinzen on the Soviet second economy just came out in Slavic Review. The full article is behind a paywall but should be accessible via universities and libraries.  Link is here. Below is the abstract from the Slavic Review site. Soviet Entrepreneurs in the Late Socialist Shadow Economy: The Case of the Kyrgyz Affair James Heinzen Supported by new archival material, this article delves deeply into one landmark criminal case to explore key aspects of the social, economic, and cultural history of illegal production and markets in the …

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What if we counted differently……

Saijel Kishan’s recent Bloomberg article, provocatively titled, How Wrong was Milton Friedman is intriguing on many levels. It summarizes the work of George Serafeim, an HBS professor who wants to change how we measure company success and failure. Specifically, he wants to reward and punish companies on the income statement based on ESG impacts. That is, he proposes to put a dollar value on diversity or lack thereof, on polluting or not, etc. And then have those companies report profit and loss after consideration of their social impact. It’s an ambitious plan, and some would say just a natural extension …

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NBN Interview with Vadim Shneyder: Russia’s Capitalist Realism

Vadim Shneyder’s new book, Russia’s Capitalist Realism: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov (Northwestern, 2020) examines how the literary tradition that produced the great works of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Anton Chekhov responded to the dangers and possibilities posed by Russia’s industrial revolution. During Russia’s first tumultuous transition to capitalism, social problems became issues of literary form for writers trying to make sense of economic change. The new environments created by industry, such as giant factories and mills, demanded some kind of response from writers but defied all existing forms of language. Prepare yourself for an innovative perspective on Anna Karenina, The Idiot and other 19th-century …

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At the intersection of the Random Book Project and our current predicament.

#5: Guido de Ruggiero, The History of European Liberalism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961, reprint of OUP original from 1927). No price. How did I get it: Been carrying it around with me since graduate school. Why: Rereading this classic account of “the experiment” in classical liberalism, to remind me how we got here, and how easy it is/would be to foul it up, and end “the experiment.”  De Ruggiero’s work was published as a rebuff to the fascism which had taken over Italy at the time. Relevant conclusion: classical liberalism cannot be assumed. It has to be worked at by each …

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NBN Interview with Jonathan Schneer: The Lockhart Plot

History in the making can be messy. As a tale told years later by historians, it is usually a clean narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and a mostly logical and foreordained end. Much of that messiness gets lost. Not in Jonathan Schneer’s new book, The Lockhart Plot: Love Betrayal, Assassination and Counter-Revolution in Lenin’s Russia (Oxford UP, 2020). Schneer’s recounts the story of a young British diplomat, Bruce Lockhart, sent to Soviet Russia soon after the October Revolution in 1917. Initially seeking some sort of accommodation with the Bolsheviks, Lockhart ends up plotting to overthrow the regime. The plot–set for …

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NBN Finance Interview with Tom Levenson: Money for Nothing

Modern finance isn’t really all that modern. Three centuries ago, Great Britain’s need for money to fight its wars, the appearance of joint stock companies, and the emerging quantification of all aspects of life converged to create new notions and forms of money and investments. And then there was a spectacular bubble in 1720. The South Sea stock rose and fell quickly, but the financing structures remained and last to this day in evolved form. In his new book Money for Nothing: The Scientists, Fraudsters, and Corrupt Politicians Who Reinvented Money, Panicked a Nation, and Made the World Rich (Random House, …

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