In 2018

In 2018 I made a concerted effort to focus my attention on the slow moving trends behind the constant events of the news cycle. That’s where you stay the most informed. The Economist, Peter Zeihan, and Benedict Evans, among others, helped me with this. Below I cover things that were top of mind for me in 2018, which I think will help you put our world in perspective.

Facts

  • The U.S. is the world’s top oil producer for the first time since 1973, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia. –AP News
  • U.S. GDP was 60% higher than China in 2017. U.S. GDP per capita was 575% higher than China in 2017. – World Bank
  • Since 1960, child deaths have plummeted from 20 million a year to 6 million a year. – Gates Notes
  • Since 1960, the fertility rate has fallen by half, which is why Deutsche Bank projects world population will peak in 2055. – Gates Notes, CNBC
  • 137,000 people escaped extreme poverty every day between 1990 and 2015. – Gates Notes
  • In the U.S. more than 90% of all retail sales still happen in physical stores. E-commerce is just getting started. – Bloomberg
  • Amazon has low single digit percentage share of US retail. Gas stations are a bigger business than all of e-commerce. – Benedict Evans
  • Out of the 5bn phones in use globally, 3.5bn are smartphones — 28% of people are under 14; 28% Google Android; 20% feature phones; 11% iPhone; 8% Chinese Android, which does not have access to the Google Play store; 7% of people are over 14 with no phone. – Benedict Evans
  • The Tesla Model 3 is the highest selling car by revenue. – Clean Technica
  • 10 million years ago a supernova took place 100 light years from Earth; if it had taken place 30 light years away life on Earth would not exist. – Brad Gibson

Trends

  • The internet has directly connected every person on the planet. Gatekeepers can no longer control the message. This explains the election of Trump despite no major newspaper endorsing him. It explains why Joe Rogan can reach 1.5 billion people a year with a completely independent show.
  • Liberalism, in the classical sense of the word, is a “universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.” It needs a renewal. – The Economist
  • The world economy is becoming less competitive. For example, in the U.S. roughly 600 out of 900 sectors became more concentrated between 1997 and 2012. – The Economist
  • In the U.S. the popular will of the people contributes less to who is elected, with rural votes having more power than urban ones. – The Economist
  • Members of congress over the last several decades increasingly vote along party lines. –PLOS One
  • We are witnessing the break down of the international system the U.S. created post WWII. Trump is a symptom, not a cause. – Peter Zeihan
  • Though it’s in vogue to say the U.S. is over the hill as the EU or China take its place, Zeihan argues that from an economic and defensive standpoint the U.S. has nothing to worry about. The rest of the world, however, will have to come to terms with a more disinterested U.S., which will cause global instability over the coming decades. –Peter Zeihan
  • Despite the curtailing of political and civil freedoms, the past 25 years have been the freest in Russian history. – The Economist

Clarifications

  • Many people are enamored with Nordic-style social-welfare policies that they associate with socialism. However, those countries are not socialist; they are free-market economies with high rates of taxation that finance generous public services. The “socialist” part of those countries would be unaffordable without the dynamic capitalist part many people dislike. – The Economist
  • IBM and other companies developing “blockchains” is nonsensical. Bitcoin and Ethereum derive their value from their distributed and decentralized nature; one or even several companies managing a “blockchain” is just a database. – Benedict Evans
  • Many people think the “world is getting worse.” By which metric? We live in the healthiest, wealthiest, most peaceful, most equitable time in human history. There are many things that need to be improved, but the past was much worse. – Gates Notes
  • Building a wall on the Mexican border would actually increase illegal immigration. – Peter Zeihan
  • Facebook doesn’t sell your data to advertisers. They sell ad placement and allow advertisers to target you in that ad space. That is a huge difference. – Motherboard
  • Apple can read your iMessages: “If you have iCloud Backup turned on, your backup includes a copy of the key protecting your Messages.” – Apple
  • Apple products used by Chinese citizens are not protected from government access. – Apple
  • Signal is the most secure messaging app period. It is open source and the keys never leave the device. Even when the U.S. government requests access, Signal does not have the ability to share your messages. – Signal
  • Long term the market always goes up. Don’t worry about market volatility — keep investing and keep saving for retirement. – no gradient

Surprises

  • Why don’t more people in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space talk about the BitTorrent protocol? It was blockchain before blockchain, released seven years before the Bitcoin white paper was released. It’s a protocol that allows nodes on a network to share a file and prevents nodes from sharing the wrong file.
  • Why the Elon Musk hate? Does he say and do stupid things sometimes, absolutely. But zoom out. He has created the first successful American car company since Chrysler. Tesla’s vehicles are the safest the U.S. government has ever tested. He’s making space transportation cheaper. And, he’s pushing humanity towards renewable energy to combat climate change.

Quotes

  • “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” – Alfred North Whitehead
  • “Justifying a solution because ‘it’s better than nothing’ results in something that is not better-than-nothing, but stands in the way of good solutions.” – Tomer Asher
  • “The world is not a meritocracy, but merit still matters. The world isn’t fair, but being fair still matters. The world is unkind, but being kind still matters, perhaps more than anything.” – Ed Helms

13 thoughts on “In 2018

  1. Your bullets on liberalism and Elon Musk appear to endorse opposing economic worldviews. The first calls for free markets. The second champions a company that exists but only for multiple supply and demand side policies enacted by the state of California. All of which are capitalism and anti-free market. Not saying you can’t believe in both, just food for thought.

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    1. California’s policies certainly helped Tesla, but it might be a stretch to say it is the reason for the company’s existence.

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      1. The consensus within the industry is that electric vehicles don’t exist in the U.S. without California’s carbon market, zero emissions vehicle mandate, and billions of dollars spent subsidizing unprofitable infrastructure.

        Wall Street operates by the same neoliberal principles championed by the Economist. Without these interventions, the IRRs for Tesla’s capex are hugely negative, even before you discount their cash flows. Without these policies, capital funding via the invisible hand is a nonstarter.

        Tesla’s pathway to funding and thereby success is impossible in a truly neoliberal environment.

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  2. In my experience, those that most fervently equate Nordic social welfare policies with socialism are economic conservatives that deride these policies. The hard, progress, American left embraces capitalism. It is the only logical U.S.. system. We embrace a similar capitalism to these Nordic countries and agree with you that this is not really all that socialist.

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    1. The article I link to is actually referring to Bernie Sanders supporters. I’m not talking to the American left you have described. I’m talking to those who think the answer is socialism.

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  3. Macro, the world is getting better. But it’s important to center our conversation on areas that require our attention. For example, climate change has resulted and will continue to result in unprecedented biodiversity loss, natural disasters, and drought / famine. We also shouldn’t ignore domestic trends, such as regressing to historically high income inequality and continued (and by some metrics increasing) racism.

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      1. Why waste your time on those people? They’ve made up their mind already. Overcovering their viewpoint does not push the conversation forward.

        I try to avoid irrational views on either side of the spectrum. Politics is a circle, and the extremes on either end are equally crazy. Unless you feel that the extremes control the debate, your time is spent most productively on the middle 98%.

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