“For some people, risk is scary and dangerous, and means peril and loss. For others, it means risk assets and they have to pile on because they just see the upside. But risk is actually value-neutral. It is important to be aware of the bias that you bring to things. Do you see both sides and do you weigh them? Or are you likely to overweigh the downside or overweigh the upside?” ________ Michele Wucker
We all have an ambivalent attitude towards risk. In 1850, a young Emily Dickinson wrote to her friend Abiah Root “the shore is safer, Abiah, but I love to buffet the sea. I can count the bitter wrecks here in these pleasant waters, and hear the murmuring winds, but oh, I love the danger!”
In her new book You Are What You Risk, author and strategist Michele Wucker codifies this ambivalence to risk. In this podcast with Sami, Michele explains the concepts of “risk fingerprint” and “personal risk portfolio”, among others.
- 0:00 Introduction of Michele Wucker
- 2:13 Thesis of ‘You Are What You Risk’
- 5:20 Attitude towards risk: innate vs. acquired through experience
- 10:40 Taking a risk vs. following a path; Risk and entrepreneurship
- 14:10 About each person’s risk fingerprint
- 19:45 Taking risk as the only woman in the room
- 24:40 “Risk is value-neutral”
- 33:00 Matching risk fingerprints in interactions; Measuring risk
- 38:20 The personal risk portfolio
- 42:25 Remembering the onset of the pandemic as a gray rhino
TO HEAR THE PODCAST, CLICK HERE OR ON THE TIMELINE BELOW:
(photo of Michele Wucker by Hal Shipman)
“Historically, Lebanon prospered as a result of inflows of people and funds – people who came to take refuge in Lebanon and also funds. If we look at the post World War 2 period when modern Lebanon became independent and also at previous periods that Lebanon went through – and I mean over the past 100 or 200 years – one thing that was common to all these eras is its liberal economic system that was adopted by all who lived on this land. The constant was the liberal economic system.”____ Joe Issa El Khoury
Sami J. Karam speaks with Joe Issa El Khoury, a Beirut-based financier, about the tragic events that have unfolded in Lebanon since 2019. A sharp fall in the currency, a banking freeze, a political crisis, hyperinflation, and widespread street protests made 2019 a difficult year. But these events were then compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic and the explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020.
Issa El Khoury explains the sequence of events that led to the present, and offers a possible way forward.
- 0:00 Introduction of Joe Issa El Khoury
- 2:25 What is it like right now on the ground in Beirut?
- 8:33 Why did Lebanon have a golden period in 1945-75; why was it later so prone to crisis?
- 17:40 The Rafik Hariri era and the return of growth 1990-2005
- 20:00 What explains the weakness of the Lebanese state: geography and demographics
- 26:30 Lebanon’s diversity as a source of wealth; Example of Lebanese cuisine
- 30:40 Crossing the line from a laissez-faire economy to a crony economy
- 35:05 The real estate boom of 2007-11
- 36:55 The impact of the Syrian civil war
- 39:10 Crowding out the private sector
- 44:10 The proximate factors that led to the meltdown
- 46:15 The current condition of the banking sector; Role of the Central Bank
- 51:00 Will depositors suffer a haircut? The Lazard and other plans
- 54:45 Talk of privatization of state assets
- 59:45 Political patronage in the public sector
- 1:01:50 “All roads lead to Washington DC and the acronym IMF”
- 1:05:20 Political reform and the role of the diaspora
TO HEAR THE PODCAST, CLICK HERE OR ON THE TIMELINE BELOW:
Sinclair Lewis called it “the sedate pomposity of the commercialist”. Now it has spread to many parts of society, not always in its sedate form.
Back in our final days as architecture students in Austin, our class had a farewell gathering with a professor who had been a valued mentor to several of us. As was habitual on such occasions, the professor was discussing with us the work of various architects when the subject of a newly-constructed building came up.
“I hate that building”, one classmate said flatly.
After an awkward silence, the professor mocked: “you mean, strongly dislike?” Off guard, the offending party protested that his use of the word was innocuous then and there. The professor conceded as much but explained that it was a visceral word, the kind of word that forestalls further discussion and that hardens the speaker’s and listener’s opinions. It is difficult to walk back or to change your mind from “hate”, and easier to do so from “dislike” or even from “strongly dislike”, he argued. His advice was to leave in one’s words an open path for retreat, in essence to never burn one’s rhetorical bridges.
This led to another discussion about certainty and about people who speak with certainty. The professor said that he had a reflexive dislike for certainty and that he felt a profound distrust towards people who speak with certainty. There is very little that is certain in life, he said, even among things of which we are convinced at a given point in time. Opinions change, science changes, research advances. New discoveries change our beliefs. Knowledge doesn’t just flow or evolve gradually like a river; it shifts laterally and sometimes suddenly like an earthquake.Read more
A French version of this article appears in L’Express.
Former mayor Mike Bloomberg has announced that he would spend as much as $100 million of his own money to help Vice-President Biden prevail in Florida on Election Day. This underscores once again the importance of Florida in this and every presidential contest.
Florida has a good track record of picking the winner in a presidential election. With the messy 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the state gained prominence as the ultimate prize and must-win battleground. To be sure, it is not a perfect track record, given that Florida favored George H. W. Bush in 1992 and Richard Nixon in 1960 over winners Bill Clinton and John Kennedy. If you go to earlier times, you also find that Floridians misfired with John Davis and James Cox in 1924 and 1920, two unknowns today except among aficionados of electoral history. But in sum, four misses out of 25 elections over a century can indeed be called a strong track record.
The stakes are high in 2020 given the state’s 29 Electoral College votes and the tightness of the race according to the polls. Vice President Biden is now nominally ahead by 1 to 3%, an insignificant gap that can easily close or widen in the remaining days of the campaign, depending on a slew of factors, not least the performance of each candidate in the upcoming debates.Read more
Decency is of little value without a foundation of honesty.
Albert Camus’ masterful novel La Peste (The Plague) is enjoying a resurgence in the current pandemic. Published in 1947 in the immediate aftermath of WW2, it was not, or not only, about a biological plague but also about the plague of Nazism or other ideological cancers and their equally devastating effect on humanity.
Among the many different citations recently lifted from the book, this particular one has appeared in several articles and countless social media posts:
“It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.”
Coming from Camus, this sentence looked unusual because there is no direct literal word in French for decency as we mean it in English. The closest are décence and pudeur but these words convey different meanings.
In the original French text, Camus had written: Read more
What are the odds that the coronavirus will recede on its own during the spring because of warmer temperatures or a higher ultraviolet (UV) index? This has been a question from the beginning.
There has been some research in support of the idea that the warmer season would force the virus to retreat. And there has been other research that concluded that the virus would retreat but not disappear, that it would survive in the southern hemisphere and that it could then stage a comeback in the northern hemisphere in the fall when cooler temperatures return.
Looking at the United States state by state, we find little correlation between the number of deaths per capita and the UV index. For example, Wisconsin with a UV index of 4 in March has so far suffered 25 deaths per million inhabitants, but Rhode Island also with a UV index of 4 saw as many as 60 deaths per million. At one extreme, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Connecticut and Massachusetts, all with a March UV index of 4, had over 100 deaths per million. At the other extreme, South Dakota also with a March UV index of 4 had only 7 deaths per million. (All deaths figures are as of 12th April 2020 per Worldometer). Read more
There is plenty that we do not know about the coronavirus. But let us take stock of the things that we do know for sure, and of some other things that we will soon know.
By now, a child understands exponential growth. If you start with one apple on March 1st and double every three days, you will have a thousand apples on March 31st and a million on April 30th.
But in the real world, not the abstract world of math, there are constraints on that growth. Doubling your apples every three days is feasible for a month or so because you can probably find a thousand apples and also find a place to store them. But it would be more difficult to find, transport and store a million apples, unless you are willing to pack a six car garage with apples from floor to ceiling (accurate math). If you did, most of them would rot and your neighbors would call for psychiatric help, two other constraints on unbridled exponentiality. Read more