Giants, Titans, and the video game Eve: A bold new proposal for the Bank of England

While reading Marc Rubinstein’s Net Interest I had one of those Wait-Why-Don’t-People-Talk-About-This-More moments when I read this:

When the Scottish banking system was formally brought under the control of the Bank of England in 1845, Scottish banks retained the right to issue their own banknotes but they were required by law to set aside assets that are worth at least the value of all of their banknotes in circulation. To this day, the Bank of England employs a small team of staff within its Notes Directorate to monitor compliance. The team conducts physical checks of the assets ring-fenced to back the notes – which can include £1 million Bank of England notes known as Giants and £100 million Bank of England notes known as Titans – and analyses daily data reported by the authorised banks.

A quick search confirmed that £1M Giants and £100M Titans are indeed a type of English banknote which is delightful.

Victoria Cleland, former Chief Cashier signing £100 million Titan note (Good reminder that money is made up).
Source: BoE’s flickr account? Wait, does the Fed have a flickr account? Yes, yes it does.

For some reason this made me think of a video game I have never actually played but have always thought sounds ultra cool, Eve.

Eve is a MMO where players buy digital spaceships and organize into factions that compete across a virtual galaxy (why this hasn’t been thoroughly crypto-tized is beyond the scope of this proposal and is left as an exercise to the reader). There is a Byzantine system of increasingly powerful ships, the strongest of which can cost thousands of real world dollars.

If the ships people buy in the game are destroyed, they are permanently lost. This combination of no respawns and the outrageously high cost of the most powerful ships is the reason I have always liked the game. There are real stakes. Surprise raids on these mega ships can have major political economy consequences within the game (or at least this is all my impression).

But back to the proposal.

Central Bank Digital Currencies were were an opening act. The Bank of England needs to finish what it started with Giants and Titans and further gamify its bank notes. The people don’t want a digital quid, fiver, or tenner. They want supercarriers, dreadnoughts, and ugh, titans.

I hope Andrew Bailey will acknowledge the arbitrary nature of money and do the right thing by embracing a bold new naming scheme for banknotes that is based on a more future-oriented view of money. Pre-decimal money was fun. Galactic money will be a blast.

British galactic banknotes nomenclature:

  • £1 note: quid is now Comet Frigate
  • £5 note: fiver is now Vexcor Cruiser
  • £10 note: tenner is now Ikitursa Heavy Assault Battlecruiser
  • £20 note = score is now Supercarrier
  • £50 note = bullseye is now Dreadnought
  • £1,000,000 note = giant is now Giant (no change needed)
  • £100,000,000 note = titan is now Titan (no change needed)
Gamify the Fed.

Nice Sentiment

If there were a ranking of quotes’ ratios of (Quality of Sentiment)/(# of Google page results), I think this would be towards the top:

I well knew that one could break one’s arms and legs before, and that then afterwards that could get better but I didn’t know that one could break one’s brain and that afterwards that got better too.

https://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let743/letter.html

If you google this quote, there are only four page results. That’s too few for such nice a sentiment! Maybe it is because of the sad ending two years later.

Martin Bailey’s weekly column is a favorite and he recently highlighted this quote in his story “behind the exuberant spring landscape Van Gogh painted just weeks after slashing his ear.”

Here is the full letter.

Exuberant indeed: Van Gogh’s Peach Trees in Blossom (April 1889).

Macbeth as Founder

Macbeth has been on my mind because of the new-ish movie by the Coen brother and a Broadway production with Daniel Craig. So when I recently saw that Shakespeare scholar Paul Cantor had died, I checked out his lecture series on how (among a lot of other things) Macbeth’s tyranny is deeply connected to his sense of destiny. This dynamic also maps uncomfortably well to some startup founders.

Cantor explores “what happens politically when you start to think you’re destined, that there is a kind of current of history that’s behind you.”

It’s the source of Macbeth’s tyranny… And that’s what I find most extraordinary about the play, that Shakespeare seems to intuit something about tyranny in the modern world, that is going to take the form of men destiny
What’s most peculiar about it is that it is a transformation of a Christian principle and specifically it involves taking the idea of heaven and now searching for heaven on earth.

Man of Destiny

In the play, three witches present a future to Macbeth where he is king. To Macbeth, this is heaven on earth. Macbeth obsesses over this vision of the future until he ends up rationalizing killing the King of Scotland. Cantor explains how Macbeth sees this blatant betrayal as bringing about “the be-all and the end-all” today. The promise of heaven-after-death is transformed into heaven-on-earth-today.

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’ld jump the life to come.

http://shakespeare.mit.edu/macbeth/full.html

Cantor emphasizes that promising heaven-on-earth-today is the formula for lots of modern tyrannies. Do this bad thing in the name of this “grand vision, a higher purpose, a noble mission!” It is also the formula for lots of modern startups.

Matt Levine made this point covering the Theranos story:

I just finished reading John Carreyrou’s “Bad Blood,” the story of the fraud at Theranos Inc. and his work to uncover it… There are a lot of passages in the book about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes inspiring and cajoling her employees to work harder, to get with the mission, to override their moral objections to faking the technology and push ahead. None of those passages mention shareholder value or profit maximization. They mention Holmes’s vision of revolutionizing health care to save lives and treat cancer patients. If you want to inspire people to do terrible things, it is very useful to sell them on a grand vision, a higher purpose, a noble mission. Shareholder value is nobody’s idea of an inspiring mission. That’s what’s good about it!

Elizabeth Holmes playing Macbeth in upcoming off-Broadway production (would work better as Hamlet that is the question joke but we are talking about Macbeth!…)

I am pro mission. Working on stuff that is self-evidently aligned with enabling people to thrive is a very satisfying job if you can find it. But the trouble with mission (i.e., destiny) is the tendency for weightings of the future’s value to overwhelm the practical and ethical constraints of today.

Private markets might be resetting. And this could lead to some Shakespearean choices for startup employees.

Blog of a newspaper in London (a very good blog…)

As founders must work harder to stretch into valuations they were meant to grow into, incantations of “Double, double toil and trouble” might become more common. “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly” also works as a response to justifying shifting the goalpost to hit a quarterly metric or an aggressively reading a contract to avoid customer churn. Anything to make sure that Uber-for-the be-all-and-the-end-all achieves its grand vision, its higher purpose, its noble mission!

Founders and employees alike should prepare themselves for Act V of the private market cycle. If fleeing to England or gathering boughs from great Birnam Wood are not available options, those employed in the private markets should at least try to set away enough savings to avoid rationalizing regicide or having to make choices they are ethically uncomfortable with.

As Samuel Johnson said (Money Stuff once informed me…): “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.” At the very least, getting money is more innocent employment than being a thane of the King of Scotland.

Limited liability as optimism

Depending on who you ask, limited liability is either “the greatest single discovery of modern times” or “a substantial, regressive cross-subsidy to capital at the expense of tort creditors, tax authorities, and small businesses.”

I suspect the benefits of limited liability outweigh its costs. But I can see how in its maximalist corporate form limited liability can become too much of a good thing.

Regardless of the relative benefits of corporate limited liability, the asymmetric features of limited liability provides a useful lens through which to view optimism and pessimism one’s my personal life.

Being “correctly optimistic during good times” (COGT, right) generally has unbounded upside and being “incorrectly optimistic during bad times” (IOBT, wrong) generally has capped downside. But the absolute value of the upside of being “correctly pessimistic during a bad time” (CPBT, right) tends not to exceed the absolute value of being “correctly optimistic during good times” (COGT, right). And many times the downside of being “incorrectly pessimistic during good times” (IPGT, wrong) actually exceeds the downside of being “incorrectly optimistic during good times” (IOGT, wrong).

This is obviously subject to a thousand exceptions and assumptions but in general aligns with my lived experience. In fact, this might just be me trying to find a framework to support the not so complex observation that in general being positive tends to be a good thing.

I think this might be why I enjoyed this part of Tyler Cowen’s recent conversation with Stewart Brand. Tyler asked Stewart if his younger self would ” be disappointed in the future that has come to pass.” Brand replied:

Mixed bag. A whole lot of stuff developed fantastically, I think… By and large, when I was optimistic about stuff, I turned out to be right, and when I was pessimistic about stuff, I turned out to be wrong often enough that it has kept optimism alive.

Stewart Brand is empirical proof that optimism maps well to the structural features of limited liability. His life seems to have benefited immensely from the structural advantages of optimism outweighing the less advantageous features of pessimism.

Clamping financial language onto all features of everyday life sometimes feels nasty to me (death by optionality, etc.), but I will always take another reason to be optimistic. I found the broader Cowen and Brand conversation moving in a way that has been hard for me to articulate. Brand’s experience with optimism and pessimism is at least a part of it.

And the interview with Stewart Brand will give you 999 other non-financial reasons to feel optimistic. If you prefer to stay hungry and foolish while leaving the limited liability debates for the finance types, consider giving the whole interview a listen.

Sound of Metal, Darius Marder

I finally got around to seeing Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal and it lived up to the hype around Riz Ahmed, Paul Raci (!), and the sound design (plus shots of the middle Midwest that can never be under-observed by the movies).

But Paul Raci’s message three quarters of the way into the movie about “those moments of stillness, that place, that’s the Kingdom of God. And that place will never abandon you” even as the world keeps moving hits hard. Riz Ahmed’s Ruben’s in that moment cannot keep still. He leaves that garden and returns to a world that is moving and passing.

At the end of the movie Ruben is in Paris and he is a far as from silence as can be. His new cochlear implants distort the sounds of everyday life. Sitting on a park bench, the distortion of church bells ringing drives him to remove his implants and he sits still.

What else has a soul singing in the apparent silence if you take the time or have the tools to listen?

Bells are symbols of sound: bellowing, ringing, “voice, soul, the breath.” But most of the time, these instruments of noise-making are quiet. They sit still and hold silence.

The carol of the bells would be less beautiful if you were forced to hear it non-stop, or worse… forced to ignore it non-stop. Maybe it is only by holding on to the stillness that we can cherish the carol of bells, the carol of life.

Sound of Metal is the story of a bell learning to remember stillness, the place that never abandons you. It ends on a hopeful note that maybe the song of everyday life can find balance with the eternal stillness from which all things come.

Note:

I really liked the ending credit song and assumed it was a recent song I somehow missed. But no! It it is the director’s brother and co-screenwriter Abraham Marder’s original song .

From an interview:

“The charge of writing a credit song for Sound of Metal was uniquely difficult,” Darius Marder says. “How do we break the silence? Can we treat our credit sequence, less as an end and more as an additional scene in the film—a final piece of sonic poetry that allows us to stay with Ruben for another 4 minutes and 22 seconds? I knew only Abraham could author such a journey. Abraham’s voice, both in song and in word, is singular, raw and pure.”

“‘Green’ is meant to serve as a final unexpected psalm at the end of Ruben’s hard-fought experience,” Abraham Marder says. “It’s meant to allow us a collective, final moment where we can join him in this final stage of surrender and recognize that we all go this road alone and in this way, we are joined.

Walt Disney as Collector

This weekend a friend and I saw a new exhibit at the Met on different sources of inspiration for Walt Disney.

It opens with how a trip to France in Walt’s formative years ended up having the French Decorative Arts influence the style of Beauty and the Beast. It was hard not to delight in the collection of visual inspirations and other curios that followed: The Cloisters’ Unicorn Tapestries and Sleeping Beauty; The Swing and Tangled; a table sized drawing of Disneyland drawn over a weekend as a visual pitch deck to investors in 1953; and lots more.

But others will probably ask the question my friend asked when we stepped out of the cinematic exhibit – is it art?

People have asked this for decades. In 1938 Walt Disney gifted a picture of two vultures from Snow White to the Met. Wolf Burchard, a curator at the Met, recently commented how the expected “public relations coup” instead caused a minor controversy:

“Disney’s water color[s] … will be hung under the same roof with the greatest works of the greatest masters of painting, and the Metropolitan isn’t blushing about it.”

The Philadelphia Record

One reply to this sort of criticism is to point out the similarities between Disney’s studio process and the studios of different artistic masters throughout the ages: Walt Disney as studio maestro. Is there a comparable combination of artisan, craftsman, technologist, manager, and businessman? I’m not sure.

But I think this new exhibition at the Met provides another answer to the “It’s Disney, but is it art” question. Walt Disney was a collector.

Tyler Cowen recently asked artist David Dalle to recommend “one actionable step tomorrow to learn more about art.” Salle replied with some advice the first curator of contemporary art at the Met, Henry Geldzahler, gave about the “taboo subject” of acquiring taste:

Start collecting. “Okay, but I don’t have any money. How can I collect art?” You don’t have to collect great paintings. Just go to the flea market and buy a vase for 5 bucks. Bring it back to your room, live with it, and look at it.

Pretty soon, you’ll start to make distinctions about it. Eventually, if you’re really paying attention to your own reactions, you’ll use it up. You’ll give that to somebody else, and you’ll go back to the flea market, and you buy another, slightly better vase, and you bring that home and live with that. And so the process goes. That’s very real. It’s very concrete.

Walt Disney was talented at going to the cultural flea market and making distinctions about it. Transforming the raw materials displayed in the current exhibit into the Disney oeuvre may or may not be art, but it is close to magic. Though maybe not greater than, it as least different than the sum of its parts (in a good way).

In some ways, Disney films are a very commercial deconstruction of cultural codes at the most popular mass market level. Is that art? I don’t know. But as Cogsworth says: “if it’s not baroque, don’t fix it!

Silent Singing Souls

The Art Newspaper reported on artist Bill Fontana making a sound recording with Notre Dame Cathedral’s bells. When the bells are “resting” they are actually still picking up the ambient noises from the surrounding city. This can be recorded and amplified. The result is intriguingly alive and soulful. Click on the above link to listen to a video about midway down.

What else has a soul singing in the apparent silence if you take the time or have the tools to listen?

Here are quotes I liked from the article:

“It’s a physical fact that these bells are actually vibrating all the time, it’s like a spirit that’s living inside of Notre Dame. It’s not dead, it’s alive,” Fontana tells The Art Newspaper in an exclusive interview. “When I had the opportunity [in July] to climb around in the bell towers, and actually physically access [the oldest and largest bell, named Emmanuel], and put my sensors on it to listen to what’s going on inside of it, I realised I was hearing a sound that probably nobody’s ever heard before that this bell is making and has been making continuously since 1681 [when it was recast]. It’s the voice, soul, the breath of the bell.

To record the cathedral’s voice, Fontana installed an accelerometer on Emmanuel to measure the low-level vibrations the bell emits in response to its environment, which can then be adjusted to levels the human ear can pick up. “You can hear the city sounds in that bell,” the artist says, and in an early test recording sent to The Art Newspaper, which he also shared on our podcast The Week in Art, the whine of sirens and the din of motors can be heard in the ambient hum.

Emmanuel is the oldest of the cathedral’s ten bells, recast on the orders of King Louis XIV in 1681, and considered one of the most harmonically beautiful in Europe, ringing in a clear F sharp. It was the only bell to survive the French Revolution—the rest were melted down to create cannon balls—and it was the first bell to ring out when Paris was liberated from Nazi rule.

Lee Perry Notes

The recent death of reggae producer and artist Lee Perry was covered by two sources in my media diet: Pitchfork and Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. I like reggae/Jamaican/dub/Caribbean sounds as much as the next person but my knowledge does not go far past Bob Marley. Lee Perry was a regrettable blind spot for me.

Over the last couple days I have dived into his work and now understand a bit better why his passing received so much attention. In addition to listening to songs like People Funny Boy I would strongly recommend this five minute mini-doc: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry at Work. It is a great example of a person with a process producing some magical.

It was fun to look in the Marginal Revolution archives at some older Lee Perry coverage. Why was Tyler so plugged into Lee Perry in 2005?:

  • Oct 2005: It looks like Tyler was as much a fan of Roast Fish and Cornbread 15 years ago as he is today
  • Jun 2005: Did Tyler make a rare miss in not asking Richard Prum about Lee Perry?
  • May 2005: From the post ‘Why satellite radio doesn’t make me happier’ – “I would rather have… a station: “For people who are convinced that James Brown, Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, Lee Perry, and Pierre Boulez are seminal musical figures of our time.”

Would May 2005 Tyler be happy with the music curation services available today? I am both grateful for today’s music discovery choices but also feel I am lacking a way to really grow my familiarity with different sounds and genres not already in or adjacent to my wheelhouse.

On that point, I cannot over recommend FT Alphaville’s Jamie Powell‘s summer playlist which has been my music discovering vehicle of choice this summer (link to Spotify playlist). It gives and gives.

Other notes:

*****

I liked this line from this interview: Lee “Scratch” Perry: ‘I gave Bob Marley reggae as a present’ (1:45, transcription errors mine)

I don’t believe God is normal. God is not normal. God is mad, I am sure God is mad… if God who takes all these people and makes them, I find that he made a mistake but he says it is no mistake, it is an experiment.

*****

These were some parts from Pitchfork piece I enjoyed as well: https://pitchfork.com/features/afterword/lee-scratch-perry-obituary/

he remained committed to music as a process synonymous with life itself—alive and always changing. “The studio must be like a living thing,” he once said. “Then I put my mind into the machine and the machine perform reality.”

For those who believe in sound, Perry’s backyard studio, the Black Ark, was the center of the world from 1973 until the producer allegedly burned it down himself a decade later, in order to, he claimed, rid it of demons.

Simone Bertuzzi of the Italian multimedia art duo Invernomuto, who filmed Perry performing for a 2016 conceptual documentary called Negus, told me: “He was almost 80 years old, and after a five hour drive he jumped in front of the camera for another five hours. At the end we asked, ‘Lee are you OK, are you hungry, do you want to stop?’ He said, ‘I’m a robot, I can go on forever. Whatever is fine for you is fine for me.’” Negus took as its starting point Perry’s notion that the right vibrations—played back over a properly loud soundsystem—can alter the past as well as the future. Countless artists received this type of unbridled, possibility-expanding inspiration from the Upsetter.

So while Perry has phase-shifted to another realm of existence, his body of work continues to echo, feedback, and grow. “As long as me live, I am taking the music to a higher level,” he said this past March. “Because my music has no end, and it make you feel happy, turn you on, and put you to bed.” His recordings captured magic. Now, our task is to dub that magic back into motion.

#notes Old Mobile Money Blog Posts and other links

African startups raised at least $1.3b in 2020, according to Briter Bridges: AfricArena, an African tech accelerator, said African VC investments might drop from $2b to between $1.2b and $1.8b; year-on-year growth calculations are based on scarce historical data, which often results in drawing inaccurate conclusions about the nature and trajectory of their growth

******

Mpesa: the costs of evolving an independent central bank – But often forgotten is Kenya’s unique circumstances. The M-pesa mobile money system, owned and operated by Safaricom which is 40 per cent owned by Vodafone, was allowed an unchallenged monopoly in the country for a very long time.

To the contrary, if M-pesa has proved useful in Kenya it’s because it has brought digital payment services to areas that were previously unbanked, something that has arguably unlocked trade relationships which never existed before. This in turn has generated new economies of scale which have led to productivity and output growth.

Which leads to the obvious conclusion that mobile money tends to increase the velocity of money, and with it inflationary effects, as much as it increases trade and output.

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https://www.ft.com/content/a09870cb-771e-3d3d-bc16-2b429af647aa

To begin with, there’s the issue of liquidity management and the additional cost to the consumer (or someone) of having to hop between multiple platforms. The slow take-up of M-pesa-like systems in other African countries is in part related to the poor economies of scale for users and providers operating in competitive frameworks.

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https://www.ft.com/content/a09870cb-771e-3d3d-bc16-2b429af647aa

When the limit is reached — unless the government is prepared to keep borrowing, putting the quality of its own collateral at risk — a telco like M-pesa would either have to entrust its own agents to issue liabilities against newly forged assets in accordance with quality-control and data/information capture conditions or, alternatively, absorb only those assets from the banking network which met its quality and data criteria. On the latter point, M-pesa might even be inclined to share its own data with the banking network, to help them make better loan decisions, and withhold M-pesa liquidity from those that fail to make the grade.

In August 2015, the Kenyan government ended this practice by establishing a formal legal framework for mobile money which banned e-money issuers from earning interest or any other financial return from funds held in its trust and forcing them to hand it over to charity.

There are plenty of EM governments seeking to mimic the “M-pesa” miracle on their own turf in a competitive framework. What few understand is that, unless, like in Kenya, the tech firms are allowed to achieve monopolistic control over the money supply, in a way that cedes state control of state scrip to an external private authority, none of them will prove successful.

Our simple point is M-pesa is not a technology. It’s a stealth political coup by a private operator which profits only from enforcing discipline, control and transparency (via massive data capture) over a wayward system.

*****

Turning mobile money into M0

Mobino’s system aims to cut out as many intermediaries from the debit process as possible by getting you, the customer, to strike up a single direct debit agreement with itself. The company then charges the customer for transactions conducted with partner vendors, whilst the customer deals only with Mobino rather than a multitude of online or retail vendors.

*****

India’s payments revolution

Aadhaar put simply is one of the biggest banks of biometric data in the world. Back in 2010, the Indian government decided it would take full digital fingerprints and an iris scan from each citizen to create a digital identity — this taking the form of a twelve-digit number. About 1.2bn Indians now have a digital identity.

Think of Aadhaar as an “identity rail”, giving banks and fintech companies a secure means to identify would-be customers

*****

Kenya’s mobile money fraud problem

(a.k.a. a type of mobile credit checking system)

*****

M-euro, a lesson in money supply from Kenya (2012)

RAndom thought: Europe is a cathedral, USA is wild west, Africa could be a space ship

There’s actually an element of money creation here. Its origins come from shrewd cell phone users realising there was value in the pre-paid airtime credit they purchased on their phones. So say you bought 60 minutes of airtime on your phone, rather than redeem it you could use it to pay for goods and services elsewhere simply by transferring the credits via the mobile network.

Airtime in this way became base money in its own right, due to its more liquid characteristics. A competing currency to the national shilling, issued not by the central bank but by Safaricom, the company.

So rather than redeeming the credits for talk time, Kenyans abstained to use them as a form of money instead.

You could say, they had created airtime-backed money as a result.

Businesses can operate more effectively: shop-owners don’t need to carry a lot of cash, or to stand in long queues at Banks to transfer money to suppliers. Urban dwellers no longer need to make overnight trips to their rural homes to pay their children’s school fees (or give money to relatives). Women have been empowered because their husbands have a harder time taking their money away. Even macroeconomic policy has become easier because the Central Bank has a better handle on the money in circulation, as mobile money helped to move cash from the mattresses to the market.

In other words, it acts not like a bank, but like a utility.

And since there’s no incentive to hoard, either in a mattress or in a deposit account (because there is no interest), the velocity of M-pesa rises all the time, enriching everyone as it goes.

Indeed, if there’s enough faith in the system, one might envisage a day when Kenyans opt not to redeem M-pesa units for shillings at all. A day which, of course, would probably make Safaricom the single biggest corporate name in Africa (if it isn’t already).

******

A National Grid for Banking – radical thinking by Errol Damelin, founder, CEO of Wonga.

Radical does not, however, mean it is impossible to achieve. The idea, is in essence, the reverse of privatisation and suggests that the infrastructure, the backbone, the networks of the banking system be placed in public ownership (or at least independent ownership from incumbent FS companies) thus creating a level playing field for businesses to build services on top this infrastructure. A little like the National Grid – for bits, bytes and packets rather than for electricity and Gas.

You could think of this super-bank in the same way as iOS, the operating system for Apple’s iPhones. It is always there, running smoothly in the background, and most people don’t even know about its existence.

LOL, all roads lead to credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonga.com

*****

Mobino Wants to Prevent M-Pesa from Robbing Kenya’s Government

https://www.benkuhn.net/emco/ : emphasizes honesty, transparency and autonomy

https://wave.engineering/about/

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/21420357/kenya-mobile-banking-unbanked-cellphone-money

*****

Why central banks should take charge of their digital currencies (2013)

Furthermore, unless you have a good working knowledge of “money”, you might miss the most obvious thing about them, and that’s that in many cases they privatise money issuance and charge you, the customer, a fee for the privilege of using money that already belongs to you (rather than for credit, the way credit cards do).

On Journalism

Journalism ought to act as an inhibitor, dampening the febrile spread of misconceptions and misinformation, helping us to make less knee-jerk, more considered judgements. But for it to play that role, we need journalists who positively enjoy the work of undermining narratives, and who take as their mission something close to James Baldwin’s description of the poet’s responsibility: “to defeat all labels and complicate all battles.” Yet we appear to have fewer of those than ever.