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the week in review

May 25-May 29, 2020 

 

a look back at this week’s essays… 

Art Collecting: Learn While You Earn* 

5 Reasons to Invest in Art: Investing in museum-quality art will make you richer financially… owning it will give you a richer life.

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What We (Should) Want for Our Children 

When my children were infants, I wanted only one thing for them….

Click here to read more.

 

 

How to Get Better at What You Do Best 

The greatest challenges we face in life are obstacles that reside inside of us. When it comes to mastering a skill, the greatest challenge is not the work and time involved in acquiring it but the desire to be a master before you become one.

Click here to read more.

 

 

 

quick quiz 

 

  1. How much do you remember about this week’s “Words to the Wise”? Use each of these words in a sentence: 

*  fractious (5/25/20)

*  serendipitous (5/27/20)

*  reproach (5/29/20)

 

  1. Fill in the blanks in this week’s quotations: 

* “The only time life allows for _____is the present. Right now. In this very moment.” – Michael Masterson (5/25/20)

* “Of all nature’s gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than _____?” – Marcus Tulius Cicero (5/27/20)

* “If you accept your _____ you go beyond them.” – Brendan Behan (5/29/20)

 

  1. Are these statements True or False? 

* The X in X-rays stands for electromagnetic. (5/25/20)

* Camp David was built as a retreat for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (5/27/20)

* Every year, the Washington Post holds a contest in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words. (5/29/20)

 

 

recommended links from this week’s blog

 

* “Freedom Isn’t Free” – a powerful speech by President Ronald Reagan. I don’t know enough about Reagan’s career to have a strong opinion about it, but I can think of only two other presidents in my lifetime that were as good as he was at speechifying: Kennedy and Clinton. To watch the speech – which includes Reagan’s dramatic reading of “A Soldier’s Pledge” – click here.

 

* “New Tennis Rules” Here

 

* “More Than Money: The Good Life Parable” – In this short film about a well-known fable, a fisherman teaches a young businessman about life after the young man uses his MBA knowledge to explain how the fisherman could be more successful. Here

 

* A TED Talk by George Monbiot – lots of interesting facts about how nature works. Here

 

* This is wrestling…Here

 

 

Q&A 

Your Question: 

I liked your essays on the Corona Economy, as you called it, especially your explanation of how the Treasury and the Federal Reserve work. For years, I’ve heard the term “printing money” and always assumed that the Treasury really printed new dollars. Now I understand how it works – how both the Treasury and also the Fed can create fake dollars out of thin air and still manage to balance their books.

One thing I didn’t understand: You mentioned that there was a difference between what the Fed did to bail out the economy after the real estate crash of 2008 and what it is doing now. What is that difference?

 

My Answer: 

I put the same question to Tom Dyson when I was researching those essays. Here’s what he said:

“The difference between original QE and ‘monetizing the debt’  is in the intention behind it… its intended purpose. Mechanically, they’re identical.

“The QE they did 2008-2014 was to goose the stock market and give a tail wind to the banks. They did it voluntarily. It was somewhat of an experimental new idea put forth by Ben Bernanke.

“The QE they are doing now is out of necessity. They must do it because if they don’t the government won’t be able to finance itself and it will go broke.

“It’s a subtle distinction and one that I’m sure would be lost on most mainstream economists. Most mainstream economists probably wouldn’t even entertain the idea that the US government is insolvent if not for the Fed’s money printing.”

Tom said it is a subtle distinction, but he was being polite. It is a very important distinction and one that, after you “get it,” explains a lot.

One of the arguments against the 2008-2014 QE bailout was that it was going to be inflationary. (Increasing the money supply by a trillion dollars should, in theory, make prices rise because you have more dollars competing for the same number of goods and services.) That didn’t happen. I wondered why. Now I understand.

The larger economy didn’t inflate because almost all of those extra dollars went to the financial sector, as Tom pointed out. The financial sector did inflate. Hugely. Stock prices shot up and made Wall Street (its brokers, bankers, insurance agents, their lawyers, accountants, and shrinks, etc.) very rich. And that tidal wave of newly “printed” dollars flowed into the businesses that catered to Wall Street: luxury cars, fine art, expensive real estate, etc. But the rest of the country? Main Street? They got poorer.

Now that I understand it, it’s difficult to see it as some sort of brave fiscal “experiment.” It’s hard for me to believe that the effect of it would not have been apparent to everyone behind it (all those Wall Street insiders) that so nobly volunteered their time to conjure up and direct the bailout.

But the current QE is different. It is different not only because it’s necessary rather than optional, but also because the lion’s share of it went to the American public through stimulus checks and the PPP program. So will the next $3 trillion.

That probably will cause inflation in the general economy because most of those dollars won’t be spent on stocks and bonds but on food and clothing and other basic commodities. Those are the things that will become more expensive, which means that the productive classes – the people that pay taxes – will be paying off the government’s crazy borrowing by paying more for just about everything they buy.

 

Have a question for me? Submit it on our Contact Us page. 

 

 

For a look back at the stock market, click here

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Sebastian was flattered when Michael, his former protégé, asked him to critique the promotion he’d written. After all, Sebastian hadn’t written much copy in the 10 years that had passed since they worked together. And during that time, Michael had written a score of blockbusters. He was the man.

Nevertheless, Sebastian agreed to do it.

“It’s generally very good,” he wrote in his critique. “But I have one idea that you might want to consider…”

After sending it off, Sebastian worried. His suggestion would require Michael to spend hours reworking the lead. And he wasn’t sure that his idea was any better than what Michael had already written. He feared that Michael would be insulted.

Sebastian didn’t have to worry for very long. An hour later, Michael returned his email. “That was brilliant!” he wrote. “I don’t know how you do it! I’m going to get to it right away!”

Sebastian felt immense relief. Michael was in an entirely different mindset. He was focused on the work, on making it better. For him, it had nothing to do with feelings.

 

How to Get Better at What You Do Best 

“If you accept your limitations you go beyond them.” – Brendan Behan

The greatest challenges we face in life are obstacles that reside inside of us. When it comes to mastering a skill, the greatest challenge is not the work and time involved in acquiring it but the desire to be a master before you become one.

Hubris – Aristotle’s term for excessive, blinding pride – is the fatal flaw that foiled many tragic heroes in literature, from Oedipus to King Lear to Captain Ahab. And in developing any complex skill, such as copywriting, hubris manifests itself in the same way. The copywriter believes – or desperately wants to believe (which is sometimes worse) – that his/her writing is above reproach.

This is equally true for musicians, tennis players, salsa dancers, sumo wrestlers, and skateboarders. Those who are willing to say “I can do better” do better. Those who say “I am the greatest” soon take a tumble.

What you want in your career is the confidence that follows accomplishment, not the pride that precedes a fall.

So that’s the first lesson: No matter how good you are at what you do, never tell yourself that you can’t get better and never believe you can’t learn from others, even those that cannot perform at the level you have attained.

Think about your strongest skill – the talent or capability that is most important to the achievement of your main goal. Now ask: “Am I willing to acknowledge that there are people in my universe who are better at this than I am?”

If you can accept the limitations of your strongest skill, there is no limit to how far you can develop it.

The Fire and the Funnel 

Ego is the fire that fuels our ambitions. The ambition to master any skill is sparked by the heart’s imagination – seeing oneself at the top of the podium, lauded for one’s achievement, acknowledged for one’s value.

But when ambition becomes pride and pride becomes excessive, the skill seeker stops learning. He cannot learn because he believes he has nothing to learn. He refuses criticism. He defends his weakest efforts. He denies his failure – to others and to himself.

On fire with an exaggerated opinion of himself, he burns out.

Humility is the funnel that can prevent this. Humility set boundaries on pride and keeps the ego fire under control.

When I started actively training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at age 47, I wasn’t very good at it at all. I had always prided myself on being a good grappler and a scrappy fighter, but I found out very quickly that those old confidences could not sustain me. I got my ass handed to me by guys that were half my size.

I had a choice: Be humble or be proud.

Pride would have spurred me to announce that BJJ was a bullshit sport and quit, thus avoiding future humiliations on the mat. Humility would have let me accept the reality of my incompetence, thus allowing me to continue to practice and learn.

Happily, I chose to be humble. And since then, every time I’ve advanced through the belt rankings, from white to blue to purple to brown and to black, I’ve had to face the fact that there were many others – not just higher belts but lower belts, too – that were more skillful than I.  Even today, getting beaten by a purple belt or a brown belt challenges my pride. And each time, I have to choose to accept the fact that others are better… because if I don’t, I cannot continue to improve.

Human beings are designed to get better through practice. Everything we ever learn to do – from walking to talking to writing concertos – gets better through practice. Practice makes our fingers move faster, our hearts beat stronger, our brains think smarter. What is it that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods talk about when they talk about their careers? It’s not that they were gifted with extraordinary natural talent. It’s that they worked harder than their competitors.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. That’s a foolish idea. Practice makes better. And better is where all the enjoyment is in learning.

To become a better version of whatever you are good at now, you need the fuel of your ambition to drive you forward. But without the funnel of humility to restrain your pride, you will stop practicing. And when you stop practicing, you are out of the game.

 

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One Thing & Another

Notes From My Journal: If you think video games are simply “harmless fun”…

It used to be different, but in recent years boys (between 3 and 18) lag behind girls in terms of their behavior, how much they learn and even their future success in life.

One reason for this, according to social scientist Leonard Sax, is the “exponential use of video games, especially violent ones, which are popular with boys.”

In Boys Adrift, Sax provides data showing that boys today are more likely than girls to be held back and to drop out of school. And if they do graduate, they are less likely to attend college. If they do go to college, they get lower grades than female students and are less likely to graduate. And afterwards, they are twice as likely to abuse alcohol and have higher unemployment, crime, suicide, and incarceration rates.

Sax says that the evidence is unequivocal. The more time a child spends playing video games, the less likely he is to do well in school, at every level from elementary to college.

In a recent study, for example, 6- to-9-year-old boys were given a video game console for 4 months and were compared to a control group. The gamers did indeed spend less time on academic work and their reading scores suffered. They also had more problems at school.

Playing violent video games is linked to declining achievement and social behavior, too. “[It] clearly and unambiguously causes some young men to have a more violent self-image and to behave more violently.”

According to Sax, engaged reading of fiction is a powerful antidote to these negative effects, particularly for boys.

Our boys were never video junkies because they were not exposed to video games. K and I decided early on that they would be forbidden. I can’t say that they never played them. They may have when they were with friends in other locations. We also banned television for most of their lives. I’m sure this would be deemed child abuse by many today, but these restrictions seemed to work. They all became avid readers of both fiction and non-fiction. And so far at least, none of them have been arrested for violent crimes.

 

Today’s Word: apoplectic (adjective)

Apoplectic (ap-uh-PLEK-tik) means enraged. This is a word that, when I was growing up, was rarely used. For some reason, it’s become fairly common in conversation today. As in, “My boss went apoplectic when I came in late Monday.” A more literary example from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: “Once she heard Jem refer to our father as ‘Atticus’ and her reaction was apoplectic.”

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

How Ready, Fire, Aim Changed Nathan’s Life

The following is a slightly abbreviated version of a very long email that was forwarded to me by Joe Schreifer, a colleague who has published my essays over the years. The email came from  Nathan Fraser, the co-host of a podcast that Joe did a few weeks back.

“Total transformation story,” says Joe. “And you, Mark, were the initial inspiration for it. You turned this fellow’s life around with your book Ready, Fire, Aim… Thought you’d appreciate seeing it.”

Not only did I appreciate seeing it, it reminded me why, after so many years, I continue to write about the lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur and businessperson.

 Hey Joe,

After listening again to your interview, I wanted to reach out and tell you about how sales copy saved my life…

Growing up, I was the oldest of four kids. We lived in a low-income neighborhood, surviving on welfare and food stamps. Our mom did the best she could with what she had, but that included a lot of physical and mental health problems. It also didn’t help that our dad spent most of his time in and out of prison.

This left the State as our main provider of income.

As a kid, I learned to hate the rich.  At the time, my mind was incapable of grasping nuance or the intricacies of economics. But I saw plenty of injustice and unfairness in the world. So, I found myself filled with anger.

At 15 years old, my mom kicked me out on my own. I hopped from couch to
couch, flipped burgers at a Sonic Drive-In, and started to fall behind on my grades. I was in a bad place and I knew that something had to change.

I felt helpless, victimized, and believed the world owed me. This led to me doing some rather stupid things. I dropped out of high school and started dealing drugs. Then I fell in with a bad crowd and even knocked over a couple of local businesses.

I justified all of this by telling myself that I was the victim. Society was to blame for who I’d become.

I was 16 years old, a revolutionary in my own mind, one step away from
prison, and two steps away from an early grave.

Then, a funny thing happened.

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