November / December 2020

It’s a new year! I skipped last month’s update because I didn’t really do anything. The holiday break has been great, though, and I’ve been listening / reading / watching a lot.

How To with John Wilson (HBO)

Watch the trailer and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what the show is like. I actually got an HBO subscription for a month specifically to watch How To with John Wilson. It's a lot more than I expected, though - it’s more awkward than Nathan for You, and it’s more shocking than The Eric Andre Show (there’s considerably more graphic nudity). I really liked it - it’s funny, dark, and full of empathy. I’d recommend it with the caveat that you should know what you’re getting into.

The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton

This is an accessible read that explains Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and why fiscal deficits are often good when a government issues its own currency. If you think the budget surpluses under Clinton were a good thing or if you’re worried about China owning the national debt, give this a read - I bet this book will change your mind. If you’re already familiar with MMT, it’s probably a retread of stuff you already know.

The New Lombard Street by Perry Mehrling

This short book discusses the history of central banking in the United States and how the role of the Federal Reserve has changed. Mehrling comes at the subject from somewhere between finance and economics, and his main concern seems to be describing money as it operates in reality, not in theory. The writing is straightforward, but The New Lombard Street is dense. I think it’s great, but I’d only recommend it if you have a strong interest in central banking and the finer details of the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

The Code of Capital by Katharina Pistor

Pistor lays out a history of how law turns mere assets into capital that grows and is durable across generations. She makes a convincing argument that to understand inequality and recent market crises, we need to understand how law works and how it’s changed. Again, I thought it was great. I’d recommend it to those who have an existing interest in law or economics - The Code of Capital falls somewhere between The Deficit Myth and The New Lombard Street in terms of accessibility.

Hammock Driven Development - Rich Hickey (video)

I like Rich Hickey’s (the creator of Clojure) talks, and I somehow had never seen this one before. In it, he shares his problem-solving process that emphasizes just sitting and thinking without any external stimuli. It’s not rocket science, but Hickey lays out his reasoning totally explicitly. It’s stuff that I had only a vague intuition about before watching this talk.

Subprime Attention Crisis by Tim Hwang

The central argument of Subprime Attention Crisis is that programmatic advertising is overvalued and poised to collapse similar to the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis, and that this will result in chaos on the internet. It’s not a good argument. I was very, very frustrated with the book because I read it shortly after The New Lombard Street and The Code of Capital. Unlike those books, Subprime Attention Crisis is imprecise and sloppy when it deals directly with finance and economics. If you're going to make a direct comparison to the subprime mortgage crisis, you better get it right.

As far as the actual discussion of internet advertising goes, I’d recommend this 2019 article (The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called internet advertising) instead. It covers much of the same ground, and it's not saddled with inappropriate comparisons.

Here's a song!

My most-listened song in 2020 was this one from Four Tet's totally illegible side project. Yes, the characters are all supposed to be wingdings.