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750

This is my 750th post in a row. Round numbers are sort of arbitrary, but this seems like as good a moment as any to take stock of this project.

I’ve loved publishing every day. It began as a creative challenge, and it’s been a good exercise in putting in the reps even when I don’t think I have anything to say.

It turns out that it is possible to come up with something to say; it just takes effort. And the marginal cost (i.e. fear) of publishing goes way, way down when you know that you can and will do it day in and day out.

But: there’s a difference between waiting for perfect and simply posting another fortune cookie to the internet simply because it’s today and it’s free. And, contemplating this unusual harried lonely Christmas season, I don’t think the world needs either more masochism nor more noise.

So it’s time to make a change. This blog isn’t going away, but it will no longer be daily.

Streaks are funny: the argument about showing up today never really goes away — but, as soon as you seriously contemplate breaking the streak, ego jumps up and asks, “How could you?”

As best I can see right now, it’s important not to get too attached either way: neither to the perfectionism that can prevent publishing in the first place, nor to the ego that demands that a streak cannot be broken once begun.

From now through new year’s (at least), I’m going to experiment with publishing when I feel I have something worth saying. We’ll see how that goes.

If you’ve read even a fraction of the last 750 posts, thank you for the gift of your attention. If you’ve read them all, bless you. And if you’re looking forward to more, know that I am, too.

Till next time, be well. And a happy and healthy new year to you and yours.

Vaccines — and Beyond

Beyond the approval and shipment of an anti-Covid vaccine, the news of the week brings glad tidings an big questions.

The good news, of course, is that Google and Facebook now both face massive antitrust action from the U.S. government. And when even the Financial Times says it’s time to break up Big Tech, it’s time. The rationale in the subhead of the FT’s editorial is right on the money: “Allowing new innovative competitors to emerge is critical.” Innovation and competition would be great — all the more so if they emerge well informed by a couple of decades of moving fast and breaking things.

This leads straight to the big question: yes, it’s going to be a bumpy road to the other side of Covid … but what is life on that new shore going to look like? In an important and well-argued column, the FT’s Martin Sandbu writes that (in the UK anyway) “A wealth tax packs a powerful fiscal punch.” That’s well worth reading for the numbers alone: a one-time, not-too-onerous wealth tax (5 percent over five years) on wealthiest 16 percent of citizens would raise as much or more money than noticeable hikes in other taxes that hit less wealthy people (and corporations) much harder.

“[T]he revenue potential,” Sandbu writes, “is too big not to treat a wealth tax as a serious option.”

Indeed. And, although he underplays it, the moral and political implications should be strongly in favor, too. Today’s young people have now been through the worst recession since the Great Depression followed by an even steeper drop due to Covid. People who benefited enormously from the postwar, pre-pandemic economy could withstand a wealth tax — and we’ll likely not get a better opportunity than this spring to enact one.

So, yes: thank goodness for the coming of the vaccine — may its rollout be smoother than we dare to hope. And let’s all hope it ushers in a serious rethink and meaningful reset of our political economy, too.

“Equitable”

Let’s be honest about that word for a moment, shall we?

Today, Covid vaccines are beginning to be distributed across the United States. And the much-remarked “K-shaped recovery” continues.

We can’t discount the enormous progress that’s been made in the past couple of decades against diseases like AIDS, cancer, river blindness, measles, and other longtime scourges of humanity.

But we can still notice that it wasn’t before people started falling ill in wealthy countries that the world saw a vaccine sprint that outdid every previous push for a therapy by miles. Had Covid stayed in China and surrounding countries, like SARS, do you think we’d have a vaccine by now?

And then, as we talk about “building back better,” there’s a sense that everyone should have a fairer shot. Very well — but someone starting unhindered from her own 10-yard line is unlikely to score a touchdown before someone else who gets to start from only a few yards out of the end zone.

Perfect equality might not be achievable, sustainable, or even desirable. But that doesn’t mean we should let ourselves off the hook by talking about making life a little easier on people who can’t catch up no matter how hard they try.

New Tech

Imagine it’s 2023, and the coronavirus has finally relaxed its grip on humanity.

By that time, how sticky do you think the “new normal” will be?

My guess is there will still be plenty of line-cutting: flights taken for in-person meetings, famous colleges attended because they’re famous, etc.

But we’ve also dragged everyone’s technological life forward by about five years in the past nine months. Zoom became a verb overnight; we were fatigued of it almost as fast. A friend in her fifties told me the other day that 2020 was the year she learned Google Docs and Slack.

Still, the tech everyone’s using now was all designed pre-Covid, and much of it wasn’t that good to begin with (looking at you, Google Docs).

With the antitrust drumbeat getting louder, and digital habits (and needs) getting stronger, it’s looking more likely by the day that we’ll have some exciting, effective new tools sooner than we think.

Constraining vs. Competence

I was speaking with someone this afternoon who shares my desire not to be too boxed in.

Both of us know that it’s good to explore widely and commit at times and in certain places — and the challenge is knowing when to take which strategy.

As we wrestled with our instinctive reluctance to be put in a box, I realized there’s probably a good “what’s it for?” question buried in this.

If it’s simply to satisfy someone who can only see the world in boxes, it’s probably best to seek an alternate route.

But if it’s simply to demonstrate competence in a verifiable way, or to help someone understand your position and positioning, embracing a box — at least for a moment — might be helpful to everyone.

Two Years Ago …

Two years ago today, an uncle of mine sat up in bed on a Sunday morning, had a massive brain hemorrhage, and died.

It was a bolt from the blue: he wasn’t ancient or decrepit; in fact, he was only recently retired.

His death sent shockwaves through my extended family, and it continues to reverberate to this day.

And now, as the country and the world continue to live with shocking levels of death, I wonder how this experience might change us.

I recently heard a quip that everyone has two lives — and the second starts as soon as they realize they only have one.

My uncle’s death might have been that moment for me. A year or two from now, I wonder how we’ll all choose to live.

But How Will Brexit Get Done?

Like so much in the ill-starred effort to drag the UK out of the European Union, “Get Brexit Done” has turned out to be a simple slogan that’s much harder to execute in reality.

But it will get done — somehow. And the terms are ultimately going to be up to Boris Johnson and the UK side: the EU has far more at stake in this matter than the EU does. There’s some sort of future for the UK outside of the EU, but there might not be much of a future for the EU if it caves to the UK.

It will almost certainly come down to the wire, and to Boris Johnson’s understanding of what’s actually negotiable here. My guess: as in the long-ago constitutional crisis, Johnson will play this out to the 11th hour, bow to reality at the last possible second, and declare he’s delivered a triumph.

A Bumper Sticker for Our Times

Talking with a few friends the other day about what we’ve seen and maybe learned about U.S. political culture this year, I was reminded of a bumper sticker that confused me when I saw it as a little kid.

My Karma Ran Over My Dogma, it read — and I’ll leave you to imagine the sorts of questions that raised for a fifth-grader.

But, now that I know what the terms mean, the pun feels poignantly apt: who hasn’t had a belief or certainty overtaken by events this year? (Just imagine how wizened 2020 will look in the ubiquitous cartoon!)

Here’s hoping we can all pay more attention to karma vs. dogma in 2021.

Family Feuds

Two articles on internecine strife this week — one short and one long.

First up, an FT column by Janan Ganesh on the problem of elite overproduction. The college-industrial complex is turning out lots of credentialed graduates, but many can’t find work worthy of their credentials. And they’re fed up — especially in the United States, where credentials come with crippling debt.

Second, an in-depth article from Politico on what went wrong in Michigan during and after the election, and what that portends for the Republican Party and the country at large.

The short version, writes Tim Alberta, is that “Trump failed to win Michigan. But he succeeded in convincing America that a loss, no matter how conclusive, may never again be conclusive enough.”

And where does that leave us?

There is little cause for optimism. If the majority of GOP politicians couldn’t be bothered to do the easy work of debunking crackpot conspiracy theories, how likely are they to do the hard work of hardening our democracy?

Cheers to the Coordinators and Curators

The great thing about the current generation of ecommerce is that you can find just about anything, anywhere. Locally made ugly sweaters with the most up-to-the-minute reference to what’s going on in town? Check.

The challenge can be finding exactly the right option amidst the crowd, and that’s where coordinators and curators — in the media and in the business community — come in.

Just today, I was looking to expand my local-shopping palette; thanks to Washingtonian, I came across the Shop Small D.C. site, which aggregates and lightly curates makers and sellers in the capital region.

This was, apparently, a mid-Covid adaptation — and a great example of the way even a relatively simple solution can really pay off. It’s not as easy to search as Amazon, but simply clicking on fun logos brought me to some great shops I would likely never have found otherwise.

If you’re looking for a unique bundle of joy, your best friend is likely a good bundler of small sources.