Pippa Passes: Pirate Utopia, Weinstein and Rogan, The Fates, Fighter Jets, F1, Stride VC and Tattoos
I was in Miami with Jason Buck (@jasoncbuck CIO of Mutiny Funds and Co-Host = Mutiny Investing Podcast @FinancePirates) and Mike Green (@profplum99 Chief Strategist at Simplify Asset Management and the Keep It Simple Podcast) and a slew of brilliant investors talking about the world. It’s a little pirate utopia of contrarian intellectual conspirators I am part of. These smart swashbuckling investors/traders brought serious thinking into the swimming pool at The Standard (which I can’t recommend highly enough). We’re doing the same in other cool places later this year, including Iceland and LeMans. I was already in town giving a speech to one of the biggest gatherings of private equity investors in the US (here’s a summary) at that old conference favorite, The Fontainbleu, and regaling the pirate crew with stories. Jason and Mike both said, “you should document your travels, Pippa.” Ummm…. Do I really want to live life with a camera crew in tow? Do I want to be like one of these constantly glitzed-up Instagrammers posing for selfies? I gave up on Insta during the lockdown. None of that is me. But do I think there are stories from the road that will help people understand the world better? Yes. And so, I am launching a Substack column called Pippa Passes. It will sit alongside the more serious think pieces.
In 1841, the poet Robert Browning launched a new business model for poetry. Instead of a book with an expensive binding, he launched a poetry series called Bells and Pomegranates, which you could buy for a mere sixpence. It was wildly popular. It contained the now-famous poem Pippa Passes. It seems the idea for it flashed into his mind as he walked through Dulwich Wood in London, and sprang to life as a muse called Pippa, a working-class silk weaver from Asolo. As Alexandra Orr put it, his idea was “of someone walking thus alone through life; one apparently too obscure to leave a trace of her passage, yet exercising a lasting though unconscious influence at every step of it; and the image shaped itself into the little silk-winder of Asolo, Felippa, or Pippa.” Asolo is a gorgeous stretch in Italy near Venice known as "The Pearl of the Province of Treviso" and as "The City of a Hundred Horizons" for its stunning mountain settings.
The singing silk-winder part appeals to me because that’s really what I’m doing. I’m singing for my lunch and I’m finding the threads of ideas and stories and weaving them into warp and weft of a coherent fabric. This is a core element of my work as an economist. Those who know their Greek Mythology remember that the Fates are a trio of Goddesses whose job is to divine human destiny (also known as Norns, Auroras, Gul Ses and Morai). Clotho spins the cloth in the womb. Lachesis allots how much fabric of time is given to each human life. Atropos was tasked with cutting the thread and bringing each life to an end. They weave the story of life together. Of course, I am merely a human observer. I observe that Browning is telling us that life is a fabric made up of many small poetic moments. Pippa’s songs affect people who were at critical points in their lives and helped them make critical and far-reaching decisions. He sang to my heart when he said this about his muse;
“My stress (in Pippa Passes) lay on the incidents in the development of a soul. Little else is worth study. I, at least, always thought so”.
“Hear Hear”, I say in violent agreement with him. I hope that every one of you dear readers has, or will soon have, someone who stands as the guardian and protector of your soulfulness as you make your way through life.
It happens that this heartfelt singing/weaving task matters in a modern economy. I have long argued that econometrics has become a language of exclusion that’s designed to keep most people out of the conversation. Numbers may tell a story, but a story beats numbers every time. This is one reason there aren’t many women in the economics profession (and why a bunch of smart men don’t gravitate to it either). The harsh and unnecessary demand to prove your mathematical wizardry is not enticing to them, especially since economists generally get their numbers wrong (witness the “woops, maybe Britain isn’t sinking into the North Sea after all” stories from that last ten days). So, I was delighted to be invited by The Royal Economic Society’s Women’s Committee to their launch of the new UK Women in Economics Network (UK WEN), with support from the Bank of England in February. The women there included Stephanie Flanders from Bloomberg and Mehreen Khan, Economics Editor of The Times, and many others, including the Deputy Governor for Markets and Banking, Jon Cunliffe. They mainly spoke about new ways of thinking about economics other than numbers. The feminine wants narrative not because they can’t do numbers but because narrative has beat numbers since the beginning of time. What was humanity’s first story? Adam and Eve? The Veda’s? What was humanity’s first equation? Yep. Nada. Here’s a podcast I just did with Merryn Somerset Webb on Bloomberg. It’s about the inflation stories we tell ourselves.
From there, I leaped to Bristol to speak to the team who are building the 6th Generation Fighter Jet, including Rolls Royce, BAE Systems, Leonardo, and others. The meeting was in the Aerospace Museum in the presence of The Concorde. Yes, the actual Concorde. It’s a reminder of how much effort and skill, and imagination are required to make real things. The Concord is a beautiful, sleek reminder that we can build extraordinary things. As I listened to the team, I thought, “we need to get the F1 Engineers together with the Fighter Jet team”. A friend of mine got NASA together with F1 engineers when Congress said, “go back to the moon.” Science is one thing. Precision engineering at speed is another. When you sit in the pit at an F1 race (Thank you, McLaren!), you begin to understand the real meaning of “applied engineering.” If we want to build a new Concord (check out “The Overture,” which
will be even faster and vastly more fuel efficient), we need to get away from theoretical physics and into grease pits. We’ll need chips and Raspberry Pi’s. Happily, both Uncle Sam and Silicon Valley are funding hardware and shardware these days. Finally!
This takes me to Eric Weinstein’s extraordinary session with Joe Rogan from February 22nd. It was nearly four hours, and I listened to it all very, very carefully. Weinstein is one of the leading mathematician/thinkers of our time. He coined the term The Intellectual Dark Web. There’s a ton of cool stuff in their session, but, for me, the main thing is that Weinstein used the podcast to announce that he wants to raise money and build a team to….