Kill a tree, read a book

I have a lot of gadget related things to blog about … like the new phone I just got (Sprint Touch … SERO plan), bluetooth headsets, and so on.  But, somehow, I feel it's bad form to saturate this blog with too many posts in a row on gadgets.  So why don't we talk about something else?

Recently I bought some books off the "Books Recommended by Charlie Munger" list.  When someone as smart as Charlie Munger recommends a book to read, why not listen?  I haven't felt like I've had the time to read a lot of books since joining Google, but as I've roughly settled in after a year or so, I'm making the time now.

The first book I chose to read was "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor?" I'm about halfway through.

My takeaways right now…

I thank my lucky stars that I live in a country as safe as the United States.  Civilized behavior is not the default state of the human animal.  The fact that it IS by and large the default in this country is something to be immensely respectful of.  Barbaric acts were simply the normal status of affairs a few centuries ago.  Placed in a modern day context, I cannot imagine that a soldier in Iraq, for example, would easily be able to turn that switch off and on.

Personal freedoms and property ownership were the harbingers of economic growth in societies.  Cities all over Europe attracted industrious individuals with the promise of these freedoms, precisely because there was no other way to do it.  Another funny thing … free men not only work harder, they fight harder too.

Similarly, honesty and fairness were also quite rare, but eventually became required social lubricant for the really productive societies.  I always got that feeling from reading other Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger material, but it was nice to see it here in another context.

The "wrong" cultures and religions dragged many societies down.  The Chinese and Muslim cultures had opportunities to advance just as the European societies did, but those opportunities were never seized.  When religion stamped out everything (like science) that didn't agree with its preconcieved tenets, it also stamped out innovation and discovery along with it.  Cultures where serfdom reigned didn't care to do anything productive with their discoveries…after all, only the ruling class was going to benefit.  Who cared about being more efficient?

However, the fragmentation of religion and culture in Europe helped to stunt the negative impacts of "bad" culture, government and religion.  In fact, that division may have been the primary reason for Europe getting ahead of the rest of the world.  You also have to think that this is very much the model the founding fathers were going for in designing the United States…limited federal government and different states competing with each other on the merits.  Unfortunately it seems like as a country we've increasingly moved away from this.

Many stagnant societies, amazingly enough, contributed to their own failure by driving out their most productive members…often new and ambitious immigrants looking to create a better way.  Such ignorant behavior caused irreparable delays in advancement.

Finally, war is an exorbitant drain on resources and stalls the development of any country engaging in it.

My thoughts on this book, of course, can only be partially expressed since I'm only halfway through the thing.  However, one thought I do continue to have as I read is "Do our presidential candidates bother reading any of this stuff?"  It is abundantly clear that there are certain things that are just bad ideas based on past experience.  Yet we seem quite eager to repeat these mistakes as a country.  Surely we should know better?

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