The Digest #42

Published on September 30, 2020

The Kennedy-Nixon Debates  The modern era of presidential politics began in 1960 when Vice President Nixon and Senator Kennedy met for a series of four televised debates. Kennedy was the underdog heading into the final weeks of the campaign and needed to shake things up. He recognized that television was not merely radio with a picture but an entirely new medium to connect directly with voters. Nixon failed to note the paradigm shift and it most likely cost him the election. After reading the debate transcripts from 1960, one cannot help but note that the quality of discourse has degraded in recent decades. But one thing has not changed: the candidate who best connects with people on a personal level has a major advantage. (Mary Ferrell Foundation)

Sounding good or Doing good? A Skeptical Look at ESG by Aswath Damodaran, September 21, 2020. Companies have come under pressure to adopt reforms in the areas of environmental, social justice, and corporate governance, known collectively as “ESG”. Professor Damodaran takes a look at this movement and notes that while ESG may make money for consultants and bankers, there is too much hype surrounding what it can be expected to produce for businesses and for our overall society. (Musings on Markets)

How Much Lifestyle Creep is Okay? by Nick Maggiulli, September 22, 2020. The path to early retirement is to avoid increasing consumption as your income rises. However, very few people are willing to hold consumption constant when they receive raises. Since “saving it all” is not a realistic option, Maggiulli set out to determine how much lifestyle creep is ok without impairing retirement plans. He recommends saving half of all future raises. (Of Dollars and Data)

If You Lived in Bristol You’d Be Home by Now by Salena Zito, September 25, 2020. Bristol is a small city straddling the border between Virginia and Tennessee. Served by Interstate 81, Bristol has long been a stop on my road trips. In fact, I passed through Bristol just a few days ago. While the city seems like a pleasant place to live, it was shocking to read that it has become a hot real estate market for people fleeing from big metropolises in the age of COVID. Multiple offers on real estate are becoming common in Bristol. (WSJ)

The Magic Binoculars: Robert Caro’s Writing Secrets by David Perell. Robert Caro’s style of writing is uniquely compelling. Few people would believe that an epic biography of a man like Robert Moses could be a page-turner, but that’s exactly what I discovered earlier this year. Perell set out to learn how Caro does it. Perell’s description of Caro’s “snake-like tangents” rings very true … Only Caro can veer off into tangents yet always return to the main arc of his storyline. Perell himself is a talented young writer who has been explaining his own process, most recently in The Islands and Bridges Strategy(

Being Smart is Not Enough, September 28, 2020. What is more important? Pure intellectual firepower? Or social skills? The truth is that society needs some of both in order to advance. A genius working in a lab alone and lacking any social skills could make great discoveries. But, lacking social skills, the discoveries remain isolated within the individual or his or her small social circle. It takes social “butterflies” to bring momentum to discoveries. (Farnam Street)

The Boss Says It’s OK to Take a Break From Zoom by Sharon Terlep, September 28, 2020. The COVID pandemic has turned Zoom into a household word. As a tool to allow collaboration between workers isolated in their own homes, Zoom and similar technologies have certainly played an important role in economic activity over the past six months. However, the downside of too many meetings exists with virtual Zoom conferences just as it does with in-person meetings. Constant context switching and interruptions are not conducive to producing good work. Some companies have realized this. (WSJ)

These 7 Lessons Will Make You Better by Ryan Holiday, September 22, 2020. Courage. Justice. Temperance. Wisdom. These are the most essential values in stoicism according to Ryan Holiday: “So memorize those four virtues. Keep them close to your heart and hand always. Act on them. Live them. Tell everyone you meet about them.” Indeed, it is difficult to improve upon this ancient value system. Holiday has a new book out this week: Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius(

Traveling Back In Time: Historical Resources by Jamie Catherwood, September 25, 2020. Every bubble and mania seems unique to those going through it, and there are plenty of elements that are in fact unique. The past never repeats exactly. But while the specifics may change, human nature seems to remain relatively constant over time. Catherwood’s popular weekly newsletter often discusses past events that seem eerily similar to recent events, at least in terms of investor sentiment. In this post, Catherwood discusses some of the source material he often uses. (Investor Amnesia)

Why We Fight So Ferociously Over the Supreme Court by David French, September 25, 2020. Just as investors tend to believe that the experiences they are facing are unique in history, every Supreme Court nomination battle takes on an aura of historical uniqueness. However, as David French points out, fighting over the judiciary is as old as the republic itself. In this fascinating essay, we go back to 1800 and examine how a defeated John Adams and a lame-duck Federalist Congress modified the size of the Supreme Court and packed lower courts before surrendering power to Thomas Jefferson. (WSJ)

The First Kennedy-Nixon Debate of 1960

Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon Debate on September 26, 1960

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The Digest #42