We Should Be Heroes—Weekly Wisdom 3rd August, 2021

Also, the new brain drain, the joy of being simple and the bullshit peddlers in complex system.

Hello Everyone

Welcome to Weekly Wisdom, your weekly dose of highlights, quotes and notes from my notebook. If you would like to receive this in your inbox, subscribe now.

My days remain busy. Today I would like to share:

  • COVID19 and The Crisis of Leadership: I wrote this early on during the pandemic, and it has been one of the truest things I have ever written. Our leaders have failed us, and are still failing us.

No Skin in the Game

In their book, Think Like a Freak, economists Levitt & Dubner, talk about how people get away with being wrong in complex environments.

Just as a warm and moist environment is conducive to the spread of deadly bacteria, the worlds of politics and business especially—with their long time frames, complex outcomes, and murky cause and effect—are conducive to the spread of half-cocked guesses posing as fact. And here’s why: the people making these wild guesses can usually get away with it! By the time things have played out and everyone has realized they didn’t know what they were talking about, the bluffers are long gone.

—Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Think Like A Freak

The New Brain Drain

I would recommend reading this whole essay, on the history of technologies and scale. It was written during the height of The Pandemic. This passage of special interest to me. I even attached a note to it; The 2nd brain drain is coming. It will be worse than the first. There are economists, especially from the post-Chicago School, that argue that the brain drain is a good thing for the supplying societies. Anyone who is trying to hire for high-tech and intellectual work jobs in those societies would beg to differ.

This starts to touch on the key question I want to ask: if the shift toward virtualization and remote work sticks(which I suspect it will, tho WSJ and Nicholas Bloom think otherwise), who wins / loses relatively?

Firms will lower their costs by employing workers in lower cost geos in the U.S. Firms could dramatically lower their costs further by employing workers in countries with a lower cost of labor. In short, increased intra- and inter- national competition for jobs that firms previously thought “must be in HQ” will put downward pressure on wages.(This will be great, eg, for software engineers in Ukraine.) Firms will lower the costs of having an office(real estate) and associated benefits(meals). All of these savings will be captured by firms, with few benefits (other than maybe reduction in commute times) accruing to workers. Real estate in hubs (like the Bay Area) – which arguably captured most of the higher wages anyway – will suffer.

—Andrew Kortina, Virtualization, Forklifts, Microphones, Shipping Containers, Video Conferencing, Stethoscopes…

Content ‘mining’

Nadia Eghbal writes a great essay on the serenity of not being Intellectually On all the time. This excerpt perfectly captures the ‘burden’ of thinking in public.

To live a life in which one purely subsists on the airy cream puffs of ideas seems enviably privileged: the ability to make a living merely off of one’s thoughts, rather than manual or skilled labor. But it also means all that bantering and reading and thinking and writing isn’t really about “having fun” anymore, so much as singing for one’s supper. We’re like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind: our gowns are impressively fashioned from velvet curtains, but our hands are still rough from the farm. [1]

—Nadia Eghbal, Being basic as a virtue

The Burden of being a ‘Hero’

What are we doing when we label someone a ‘hero’? Why do we do it? After listening to this clip, I think we do it to absolving responsibility. It is from an episode of the Reveal news podcast. It follow a US Medical Resident during the height of the pandemic. And it is heartbreaking. While we celebrated these people for their work, we never did our part. I would recommend the whole episode.

Thank you for joining me this week. If you know some who might enjoy this, please forward this email to them. See you next week.

Mudassir Chapra

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