What We’re Reading

Failure:

It has always struck me that the more edifice you build to prevent minor failures the larger the capacity you create for catastrophic ones, just like climbers roped together on a mountaintop. Years later I finally stumbled upon a formal framing of this phenomena in a paper from the University of Chicago titled “How Complex Systems Fail.” It was ostensibly written for the medical community but the lessons it contains are universal. One particularly salient observation is that we value the speed and production of these complex systems which push us towards greater risk until a failure pushes us the other way. Humans are both the greatest threat and the greatest opportunity for stability.

Lifestyle:

Go take a look at [MySpace founder Tom] Anderson’s Instagram page. Like his Twitter, it is rarely updated and aggressively neutral. There are no bar charts, or product promos, or lengthy pontifications on how NFTs will “disrupt the investment economy.” Instead, Anderson uploads a steady stream of beautiful photos from all over the world. Here he is on the crystal waters of the Maldives, standing on a dockside bungalow with an anonymous woman. Here he is a few weeks later in Bhutan, soaking in an alabaster monastery on a gorgeous November day. A few weeks later, he’s gazing at a sunbeam in Antelope Canyon, before skipping off to Hawaii. For the longest time, Anderson’s Twitter bio read: “Enjoying being retired.” Today it simply says, “Enjoying the good life.” In fact, one of the *only *tweets Anderson has made in recent years was a response to a hugely viral post by user @JackDMurphy, who raved about Tom’s willingness to sink into the background without any fanfare. “What a man. Myspace was just too pure for this world,” wrote Murphy. (Anderson responded with two heart-face emojis and a salutary hang loose.)

Social Security:

The rate of growth in retired Americans who collect Social Security has slowed down sharply, and the drop may be due in part to the disproportionate number of deaths from Covid-19 among the elderly.

The number of people who received retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration rose 900,000 to 46.4 million in March, the smallest year-over-year gain since April 2009.

Debt:

Americans are paying down their credit-card debt at levels not seen in years. That is good news for everyone but credit-card issuers.

Large card issuers that cater to borrowers ranging from the affluent to the subprime say that overall card balances—and thus the firms’ interest income—are falling. To make up for it, issuers are spending more on marketing and loosening their underwriting standards.

Have a good weekend.


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