In 2019 I managed to put out 75 pieces, across 5 different outlets — much more than I ever dreamed of when, last spring, I nervously decided to devote myself wholeheartedly to the task of writing.
To put that into any kind of context: during my first year of blogging at Life of an Econ Student I published 101 pieces — but, I must say, of much lower academic quality, mostly consisting of personal, diary-style reflections about life, studying, and economics. In hindsight, not too exciting.
Annualizing my 75 pieces over the full calendar year 2019 (I only really started to treat writing as a full-time dedication around April last year) puts me on par with my previous blogging output, so I’m kinda happy with that.
But what a year it has been.
I have, so far, overcome my two worst fears:
(1) not being able to make it, both in regards to income and to publishing outlets; and
(2) running out of ideas, energy or discipline.
While absolutely pouring out pieces ranging 700 to 4,000 words and averaging 2 publications a week between August and December, the Trello cards that contain my ideas, partially-finished outlines and unedited drafts are now more numerous than ever. The source of my inspiration is replenished faster than I can turn it into useable pieces.
My work has appeared in at least six languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Slovak, and Italian) and I’ve edited material ranging from Canada to Ireland and Switzerland. Truly globalist, if you wish.
Let’s look at some of them.
Favorite Pieces to Write — i.e. those I had the most fun writing:
- Mr Darcy’s Ten Thousand a Year: As I’ve always been partial to writing serious stuff by taking off from classic literature, fiction or popular culture (it’s a great way to teach and illustrate theoretical points), investigating the peculiarly exact figures of income for the Bennet daughters’ lovers was pretty amazing. And I got to re-read Austen, so there’s that.
- The Central Banking Zoo (titled “Central Banks’ Forecasts Are Basically Garbage,” but I like mine much more): in this piece I discuss the invasion of animals in the language of finance (bull, bear or deer markets; indexes and events named after dogs, pigs, wolves, ostriches and black swans), and then I add another one: the hedgehog. That is, plotting Fed, ECB and Riksbank forecasts of some variables vs actual outcome creates hedgehog-looking graphs! And yes, those forecasts are all complete rubbish.
Most Important Topics
- Non-Renewable Resources Never Really Run Out, Which would have been a clickbaity titled had it not been exactly what my point was. Contrary to common beliefs, dominated as they are by fixed-pie and zero-sum fallacies, there is not a limited amount of raw materials on the planet. Our world is not “finite” as your average environmental activist would tell you: we have market pricing, substitution, and innovation. The bottom line says it all:
“The conclusion from a century-plus of raw materials’ extraction can thus be neatly summarized as: burn all you want — we’ll find more .
- Bitcoin’s Fixed Money Supply is a Weakness: Again, contrary to common (bitcoin) opinion, it’s not a good thing that the foremost cryptocurrency has a fixed supply schedule. In a world of change — particularly in money demand — that’s a very bad thing. With volatility and real fluctuations, something has to give, but bitcoin utopias are quickly running out of options as they a) desire world domination, i.e. no exchange rate to offset real shocks, b) refuse to embrace fractional reserve banking, under which the creation of private tradeable liabilities would solve many of bitcoin’s problems, c) don’t accept that price stickiness might be a feature of the modern world rather than an invention by ivory tower Keynesian economists.
- The Mythology of Cantillon Effects: Now we’re really getting into the weeds. A common point brought up almost instantly by Austrians and bitcoiners alike whenever the topic of money comes up, is that it involves some kind of unjust or unfair redistribution of purchasing power. When we expand the money supply, and the early receivers of this new money starts buying things (pushing up prices), the money in the pockets of the rest of us gets less valuable as it buys fewer stuff. Late receivers of new money are, in other worlds, made worse off.
In this piece, I pointed out how that interpretation is at odds with Richard Cantillon’s own theory. I show the irony that Cantillon himself considered the effects to which he has lent his name under a gold standard, the kind of monetary regime most hard-money people favor. I also added the much-overlooked point that any monetary system does this. Besides, any change in economic fundamentals “redistributes” purchasing power to somebody else. Big deal.
That pretty much sums up my year: fight with environmentalists over what markets do, how bad climate damage is (or isn’t), and how financial markets and capitalism are well on their way of solving it; fight with bitcoiners over money and financial history; fight with Austrians over silly things they believe.
Personally most profound writing
- In ‘You’re Not Worth My Time’ I offered some opportunity-cost thoughts on the idea that the perspectives and experiences of random people I meet are valuable. I estimated that I have some 60,000 hours left in life for curious intellectual endeavours. Given that the full treasure trove of humanity’s work on philosophy, economics, or literature would take much more than that to get through, any half-drunken rants about “bankers”, “inequality” or “climate change” is competing with that.
If we’re all being honest here, the “unique perspective” that some random person brings to the table is probably not worth my time. The rationale behind this one is enshrined in my New Year’s resolution: don’t waste your time with things and people that aren’t worth it.
Some people’s opinions and perspective are, but they are few and far between, so I should probably err on the side of not wasting my time with your “astonishingly important and unique life experience.”
As a candidate for the “proudest moments” below, the economist and inequality scholar Branko Milanovic tweeted about this. Not just liking it, but citing from it.
Damn, that was a good feeling.
Finally, let’s speak about some good feelings. I’ll wrap up last year by sharing my 3 proudest moments:
- Not actually my first appearance on ZeroHedge as I found out about that only months later (and the piece wasn’t much more than a summary post of how the gold standard worked). Rather, when my piece about Jared Diamond’s book ‘Collapse’ featured on ZH, my heart probably stopped. In one fell swoop, it became one of my most-read pieces ever, but also a validation of my work. Until that point, I hadn’t quite realized that my words may truly carry weight to other people than myself. OK, so this is me now. Life-changing, pre-/post moment.
- When in May, a few weeks after having published my Mr. Darcy piece (see above), I noticed that Brad DeLong, a U.C. Berkeley economics professor I rarely agree with, had listed it as a must-read — and even more so when he responded on Twitter, praising it even more. Damn, that felt good.
- In December, after I had published my review of Greg Zuckerman’s excellent The Man Who Solved The Market about the legendary quantitative hedge-fund manager Jim Simon, Richard Dewey — a Bloomberg contributor and portfolio manager who has himself written a lot on Simon — reached out over email and praised my work. That was amazing.
All in all, 2019 has been an exciting, amazing and instructive year. Everything is lined up for 2020 to be even better. Happy beginnings to the new year, everyone.