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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GM’s Alfred Sloane on dividends (1935).

Alfred Sloane was the legendary, long-time leader of General Motors. In 1935, he shared his views on GM’s dividend policy in the New York Times. The point is that the company that dominated an industry for over a half century felt completely comfortable paying robust dividends while investing in its business. Any answer from the Fab 15? (Google, Amazon, FB, etc)  Pdf of the column in the attachment, courtesy of the NYT. Sloan 1935

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The “non-cash” charge and the business investor.

An investment philosophy that considers stock market investing as simply another form of business investment will necessarily focus on the basics of business investing, such as cashflows. That is often at ends with how the stock market works. Case in point is the infamous “non-cash” charge……  Wall Street brokerages and too many investors are delighted to ignore non-cash charges because, well, they are non-cash.  It’s worth reminding investors what every business owner knows: that those non-cash impairments more often than not started out as cash outflows, usually for acquisitions. A non-cash impairment of goodwill or asset write down is the …

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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 Interview with JC de Swaan: Seeking Virtue in Finance

JC de Swaan does not shy from a challenge. In his new book, Seeking Virtue in Finance: Contributing to Society in a Conflicted Industry (Cambridge University Press, 2020), de Swaan, argues that it is possible to work in finance and not fall prey to the worst ethical ills of a profit maximizing industry. A lecturer at Princeton and partner in at Wall Street hedge fund, de Swaan spent years chronicling examples of virtuous behavior in finance. He distills his research into four “pillars” of ethical behavior for financial professionals. They include 1. Customers first, 2. Social wealth creation 3. Humanistic leadership  and 4. Engaged …

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Are vanishing dividends a good idea? Hardly.

Exercising business ownership through the stock market is hard enough. The pressure to be a stock speculator is overwhelming. And it just got a little harder. A Bloomberg Opinion column from October 20, entitled, “Those Vanishing Stock Dividends Should Stay That Way,” took up the case of a junk rated (BB), highly cyclical mining company that cancelled its miniscule dividend in March of this year. The piece trumpeted that the stock’s share price rallied sharply off the bottom of the market that month. The author wrote that “shareholders appeared to send the message that they would prefer [the company] put …

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A thoughtful dissent from the ruling investing orthodoxy…..

Aswath Damodaran’s recent Musing on Markets blogpost (from Sept 21) offers a thoughtful dissent from the ruling orthodoxy on ESG investing. He highlights how the current “hype” (his word) leaves critical analytical questions “unanswered or answered sloppily.” For example, he asks,  “Do companies perform better because they are socially conscious (good) companies, or do companies that are doing well find it easier to do good?” If the latter, “researchers will find that ESG and performance move together, but it is not ESG that is causing good performance, but good performance which is allowing companies to be socially good.” He points …

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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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NBN Interview with Gene Ludwig: The Vanishing American Dream

Gene Ludwig cares. The former banker, government regulator, and serial entrepreneur cares deeply about the hollowing out of the American middle class over the past several decades, not least of all in his hometown of York, PA. So he gathered the country’s best and brightest in 2019 for a conference at Yale Law School to come up with specific policy proposals that can reverse that process. The details of what has happened make for difficult but necessary reading. In The Vanishing American Dream: A Frank Look at the Economic Realities Facing Middle- and Lower-Income Americans, (Disruption Books) the policy proposals to rebuild …

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The 2020 election in historical context.

Heading into our presidential election, it is worth reminding the electorate how unusual our circumstances are. I am not referring to the country’s extreme political division and dysfunction, but instead to our framework of classical liberalism where individuals matter so much in a system of governance that they are actually asked to vote on the leadership of the country. From a historical perspective, that is an extremely rare approach to the management of complex societies. But to many of us, it does not seem abnormal at all. In fact, our system of representative democracy within a legal and financial system …

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