The most interesting man in the world

I love reading biographies. One of my favorites is Simon Fuller’s. Thought I’d break it down and share it here. Could he be the single most accomplished person on the planet? The most interesting man in the world? I think yes, but I’m open to other suggestions.

Simon Fuller began his career in 1981 at Chrysalis, working in both publishing and records. He signed Madonna’s first hit to his company’s label, but left soon after to start his own company. This company, 19 Entertainment, grew to become one of the most successful music labels in Britain. He sold it to CKX, Inc. for $200 million in 2005, but continued to act as CEO of the company. He did this successfully, delivering a profit of $92.5 million to his parent company in 2008. This launched him to a directorship at CKX. He then gained creative control over all of CKX’s assets, which included the Elvis Presley Estate, Muhammad Ali’s business interests, and various other iconic rights properties.

But this wasn’t enough for Fuller. He left CKX to once again start his own company, XIX Entertainment. After just three years, XIX had a valuation of $100 million with offices in London, Los Angeles and Nashville. As of today, XIX manages dozens of the world’s most valuable celebrity brands, including The Spice Girls, David Beckham, Marc Antony, Jennifer Lopez, Steve Tyler, Aloe Blacc and Lewis Hamilton (Formula 1).

But neither was this enough for Fuller. He’s also a fashion icon, having brought to life the Victoria Beckham dress collection, which highlighted the New York Fashion Week in 2008. He created the David Beckham bodywear line in conjunction with H&M in 2012.

I could go on and on, but I guess a mere list will have to suffice to note other of his major accomplishments:

  • Produced more than 500 Billboard #1 hit singles
  • Created American Idol (Fox)
  • Created So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
  • Worked with Honda to create the world’s first “green” Formula 1 racing car
  • Manages 2013 Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins
  • Mastermind behind a new global whiskey launch with leading British drinks company Diageo
  • Discovered and brought to fame the late Amy Winehouse
  • Honored by UN Secretary General, UK Prime Minister, and the Prince of Wales for his charitable efforts
  • Maintains a portfolio of real estate in Europe, North America and South America
  • Has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame

Perhaps most unbelievable is that Simon Fuller was born in 1960, which makes him only 53 years old. Who knows what else he might accomplish?

(My information here comes mostly from Wikipedia, but also from some other reputable sources around the web.)

Stop saying the world is getting worse

I don’t like hearing about how the world is getting worse. About how we can’t do things today that people supposedly did before because things are just unsafe or dangerous.

I don’t like hearing this because it isn’t true.

Here are some ways the world has gotten decidedly better over the past several decades.

Crime has fallen across the board. According to Gallup, the number of violent crimes per 1,000 people has fallen from 51.7 in 1979 to 15 in 2011. Property crime has fallen by 28 percent since 1994. Interestingly, the majority of Americans believe crime is getting worse.

The teen birth rate is at its historical low. In fact, it’s been on a long-term decline since the late 1950s. Not all teen pregnancies are bad, of course, but I think it’s safe to say that almost all such pregnancies are unwanted. Teen pregnancies also pose health risks for mothers and babies that aren’t as common among older mothers.

Fewer Americans smoke than ever before. This news came out on Wednesday after the CDC calculated that just 17.8 percent of American adults smoked cigarettes in 2013. I don’t think smoking is necessarily a bad thing. But a decline in the number of smokers certainly doesn’t mean things are getting worse, considering even smokers themselves are more than likely to want to quit. At the very least, it means fewer people are addicted to something they don’t like.

Child abuse rates are falling. Since 1993, child abuse rates have fallen by more than one-third—from 15 to 10 per 1,000 children.

I could go on and on. I’m sure I could find statistics that make things look worse, but these are some pretty big ones. The falling crime rate is especially telling.

I’d like to write a longer piece on this that explores what most people would consider the world “getting better” to mean, then comparing their perceptions of how those metrics are performing with real-world data. Anyone know if something like this has been done?

Why Interstellar annoys me

*MILD SPOILER ALERT*

I finally saw Interstellar last night. Good movie. But here’s a rant on why movies like it annoy me:

They ignore the biggest problem facing a group of people trying to decide how to save the world—the collective action problem.

For example, most people in Interstellar suffer from apparent mindlessness. Not the main characters, but everyone else. While government scientists slaved away building a massive spaceship to take them to another world, everyone else just went about their lives. A government bureau manned by hundreds of people working in secret operated, as far as we know, without any significant conflict between the individuals who comprise it. This, despite shrinking budgets and sky-high stakes (whoever gets on the ships first has the best shot at surviving). Everyone just goes along with what’s being dictated from the top, but those at the top don’t seem to possess any real enforcement mechanism that would allow them such control over their subordinates. Everyone just does what they’re told, apparently never thinking that they might know better than their bosses.

Of course, it’s not impossible that tons of people could get along without serious conflict. The collective action problem isn’t a logical necessity. It’s merely something we observe in the world—something that plagues almost every attempt at group action. So perhaps this government bureau and all the other people in the world who just sit around peacefully waiting for someone to do something about the pending apocalypse could be an exception. I guess it’s possible that a government bureau wouldn’t change course after 25 years of no results from their original course of action, or that no one would begin to doubt the head honcho physicist who, after decades of thinking, never did solve the problem necessary for them to succeed and survive. That could happen. But such a world bores me. It’s not interesting or one worth putting in a movie. It skips over what is perhaps the most endemic problem facing groups of people trying to achieve a common end.

I’d rather watch a movie about how this society came to achieve such a harmony—not one that assumes this incredibly complex problem isn’t interesting or is just something humans will get over once their species matures a little bit. That’s because the problem is interesting and humans won’t ever get over this as long as they all have independent minds and subjective values and live in a world of scarce means.

I’ve seen this annoying theme in other movies, too. In Divergent80 percent of the world’s population is ruled by 20 percent. It’s not like the real world, where people generally agree to be ruled by their leaders (at least in theory). Everyone in the Divergent world is assigned to their “faction” according to the results of some serum-based aptitude test. This test is administered by one particular faction, who it seems has never thought to use this power to improve their own lot or advance their own faction’s causes (this faction also happens to govern the other factions). They just go along with the existing order, despite huge gains to be had from manipulating the test.

For example, here’s an unintentionally hilarious quote from Divergent:

We lead a simple life, selfless, dedicated to helping others. We even feed the Factionless—the ones who don’t fit in anywhere. Because we’re public servants, we’re trusted to run the government.

“Trusted to run the government.” As if this power isn’t questioned or challenged every single day by anyone who disagrees with any decision that government makes. Everyone just agrees to get along. Yes, the movie is about one faction taking over the others, but the way it happens actually magnifies the problem I cite here because the faction who tries to seize power is not the one that already “runs the government.” Instead, it’s another faction for whom seizing control comes at a much higher cost.

In short, movies like this make people out to be too passive. Their plots ignore the problem of collective action and make the jump to solving whatever other problem a group faces facing by removing any semblance of independent thinking on the part of the group’s individual members. Not every movie does this, of course, but too many do. What I find truly interesting about people is not what a group can solve once they are all of one mind, but how they come to solve anything at all while of different opinions about what should be done, and what the process of achieving that order looks like.

In fact, I’d love to see a movie about that—one where human beings face annihilation if they don’t do X, but never get around to doing X because they can’t agree on how to do X. Or one where a protagonist comes up with a way to reason with dissidents or align incentives such that everyone agrees and they accomplish X. Such stories might not be as action-packed, but they’d at least give people a more realistic picture of how the world works instead of one that regrets the fact that we all think independently, have different subjective ends and would benefit from simply following our leaders.

I’m sure I’m overstating this point. There are probably some subtle things in each of these movies that explain why people in them are so passive. But I’d still like to see the collective action problem made more prominent in science fiction movies. It’s not worth marginalizing, even if to make a point about something that requires easy collective action, because it will always be with us.

Oh, and one more thing that annoyed me: Romilly seemed a little to normal after supposedly waiting 23 years for Cooper and Amelia to return from Dr. Miller’s planet. Feel free to disagree, but I think he’d have gone crazy by then, being alone on the other side of a black hole and all.

What the others are saying

Here’s a quote from a speech given by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last Saturday at the XXII Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow. I’m posting this because it’s helpful to broaden our horizons every once in a while with regard to where we get our news. This speech has some significant implications for understanding how Russian officials view U.S. foreign policy, and even perhaps what actions the Russian government might take in the future. Yet I’ve seen no mention of the speech on mainstream U.S. outlets.

Many reasonable analysts understand that there is a widening gap between the global ambitions of the US Administration and the country’s real potential.

In attempting to establish their pre-eminence at a time when new economic, financial and political power centres are emerging, the Americans provoke counteraction in keeping with Newton’s third law and contribute to the emergence of structures, mechanisms, and movements that seek alternatives to the American recipes for solving the pressing problems. I am not referring to anti-Americanism, still less about forming coalitions spearheaded against the United States, but only about the natural wish of a growing number of countries to secure their vital interests and do it the way they think right, and not what they are told “from across the pond.”

It’s worth noting that perspectives like these aren’t totally absent from mainstream punditry in the U.S. Libertarians, for one, have long warned about the dangers of stretching American resources too thin in pursuit of foreign policy initiatives that don’t have immediate national security implications. Politicians like Rand Paul have even brought hints of such sentiments into the mainstream.

But this is still a far cry from what most Americans consider an “orthodox” perspective on U.S. foreign policy, even if most people agree we’re overextended in many world arenas. The whole thing reminds me of perennial debates about government spending cuts—nodding at mention of the need for spending cuts, cringing when someone tries to actually carry them out.

I realize I’m being quite general, here. I’m no expert on U.S. foreign policy. I simply think it’s worthwhile, in any setting, to hear alternative views—reasonable perspectives that might be habitually ignored by the bigger voices in town.

That UVA rape story is fishy

Let me get this straight. The author of this trending story on rape at UVA wants us to believe that…

1. The fraternity decided to rape a sober girl and then did nothing to prevent her from reporting the rape afterwards. One guy even mentioned it to her when he saw her later on.

2. Jackie’s best friend Cindy, who was so quick to come get her at 3 a.m. in the morning, didn’t take her to the hospital because “her reputation would be shot” and they might “never be allowed into a frat party again.”

3. Jackie’s best friends Andy and Randall weren’t dissuaded from rushing this fraternity after seven of its members gang-raped her. Randall even joined the fraternity later on.

I have a hard time believing these details. I think they are either outright false or a gross exaggeration.

…or the average student at UVA (an above-average school) really is that stupid and that willing to put their social reputation before justice for rape victims. I guess that’s not totally inconceivable. But if that’s the case, and if this attitude is typical among the average college student (or, at least, the average student at UVA), then I’m not sure this problem will ever be solved. If even people closest to the problem could care less about finding justice, then people up the ranks sure aren’t going to expend too much effort trying to get to the bottom of things. Can administrators even trust the average student’s testimony? Will Jackie’s friends be honest on a witness stand if this case makes it to court? If this story is true, there’s no telling. I think even the author should admit that.

On that note, if I’m right and some of these details are made up, then the author has only hurt the cause of justice by ruining hopes that working with students is going to yield any good, quick outcomes. Same thing if I’m wrong and this really is how the story went down. These students are totally, and almost hopelessly, messed up.

The first step toward solving systemic problems like this is to get the facts straight. Unfortunately, I don’t think this story does that.

The world is running out of chocolate!

Just came across this strangely horrifying news: The world is running out of chocolate!

No, you say, there must be some mistake. Don’t chocolate producers keep things like this in check? Won’t the laws of supply and demand make sure we have all the chocolate our hearts desire?

That’s what I thought, but much of this can be blamed on ecological issues. West Africa, where more than 70 percent of the world’s chocolate is produced, has seen diminished production due to drier weather. On top of that, a fungal disease called “frosty pod” has wiped out between 30 and 40 percent of global production.

Add China’s rising demand for chocolate to the mix, and you get a very messy situation, indeed. The Washington Post reports:

Chocolate deficits, whereby farmers produce less cocoa than the world eats, are becoming the norm. Already, we are in the midst of what could be the longest streak of consecutive chocolate deficits in more than 50 years. It also looks like deficits aren’t just carrying over from year-to-year—the industry expects them to grow. Last year, the world ate roughly 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced. By 2020, the two chocolate-makers warn that that number could swell to 1 million metric tons, a more than 14-fold increase; by 2030, they think the deficit could reach 2 million metric tons.

I don’t actually expect the world to run out of chocolate. Higher prices will lead to lower quantities demanded—especially, I think, in emerging economies (like China). But this could very well mean that bowls full of chocolate will soon become prohibitively expensive for the average person, like it was up until the Industrial Revolution.

If demand keeps growing, though, I’d expect to see at least some innovative attempts at boosting production, perhaps through more efficient cocoa farming. Who knows?

Read the full article for more information.

The Fed to investigate itself for regulatory capture

I’ve written before about regulatory capture at the Fed. Now even the Fed has been forced to respond, but they still don’t seem to take all this seriously. According to Fortune,

William Dudley, who heads the New York Fed and is consequently responsible for supervising most of the country’s largest banks, will tell a Senate committee later today that a new review into its supervisory practises will look specifically at the issue of ‘regulatory capture’–the idea that a supervisor tasked with upholding the public interest ends up under the influence of the companies it is supposed to be monitoring.

This report implies that the Fed will investigate itself for regulatory capture. Doesn’t that ruin the point? What about regulatory capture of this review? Will the Fed later investigate this investigative process for signs of corruption?

If they were serious about removing the influence of regulatory capture from their decision-making processes, they’d bring in outsiders–qualified critics of the Fed who’ve been investigating this for years. Experts who know what regulatory capture looks like. Investigators who aren’t on the Fed’s payroll.

For the cherry on top, note that most allegations of regulatory capture in the past regard Goldman Sachs—Dudley’s old employer. I assume he’ll be investigating himself, too?

Here’s Dudley himself responding to the Fed’s critics.

I don’t think anyone should question our motives or what we are attempting to accomplish.

This says lots about the Fed supervisors’ mindsets, I think, and explains the habitual lack of seriousness with which they’ve takes these allegations. Call it a power trip, groupthink, a delusion of granduer…whatever it is, it’s not right.

For more reading on this investigation, I suggest this Financial Times report.

Reagan on immigration

Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while their working and earning here, they pay taxes here. When they want to go back, they can go back. They can cross. Open the border both ways.
Ronald Reagan, 1980

Video here.

Stick to the budget

Jorg Guido Hulsmann writing in today’s Mises Daily:

But it’s not sufficient that the people tell government officials what they should be doing. It is equally important, if not more important, to dictate how much money the government will have to achieve those ends. So, it is not enough to tell the government that it will only protect private property. This mandate could be pursued with $100,000 or a billion dollars depending on what the people are willing to pay. So if the budget is not controlled, a limited mandate in itself offers no limitation on taxation or how much money is spent.