Discover more from Weekend Briefing
Weekend Briefing No. 502
A Saturday morning briefing on innovation and society.
Welcome to the weekend.
Sorry for being late, but here’s my September playlist.
Did your brilliant friend share this with you?
383,000,000,000 — Starbucks has enough customization options such that there are 383 billion ways that a person can order a latte.
154,000 — By the end of the year, Dubai will have more hotel rooms than Las Vegas. As it stands, Vegas has a global record of 151,771 hotel rooms. By the end of this year, Dubai will have 154,000 hotel rooms.
35 — EU's “Emissions Trading System” has achieved a 35% reduction in emissions since 2005 while also generating over 152 billion euros ($162.6 billion).
The College Gamble
College education used to be an obviously smart financial decision. However, these days when you take cost and debt into account, the financial benefits of college begin to look quite different. For Americans in the aggregate, the college wage premium, the amount of money college grads earn versus high school grads, is high. On average, more education still means more income. What has changed is that the cost of higher ed has skyrocketed. Today, the average total cost of attending a private college, including living expenses, is about $58,000 a year. Many students are turning to student loans to finance their education. Among student borrowers who opened their loans between 2010 and 2019, more than half now owe more than what they originally borrowed. Carrying debt obviously diminishes your net worth through simple subtraction, but it can also prevent you from taking important wealth-generating steps as a young adult, like buying a house or starting a small business. And even if you (or your parents) were able to pay your tuition without loans, the savings you used are gone when you graduate, and thus are no longer available to serve as a down payment on a starter home or the beginning of a nest egg for retirement. The “downside risk” to enrolling in college has become “nontrivial.” Higher education no longer resembles a safe, reliable blue-chip investment, like buying a Treasury bill. It’s now more like going to a casino. It’s a gamble that can still sometimes produce a big windfall, but it can also bring financial disaster. New York Times (15 minutes)
What do you think? Is college worth it? Would you encourage your kids to go or pursue another track?
Out of Date Debate
Our climate change debate is out of date. Americans seem stuck in 2010 when they argue about climate change. It’s a clash of tribes; you’re either Team Economic Growth or Team Environment. But there’s been a very important change since 2010: the advent of cheap solar power and batteries. The price of electricity from solar has declined by 89% from 2009 to 2019. Batteries have seen a similar drop in price. Together, cheap solar and cheap batteries mean that as of 2023, even without any subsidies, solar power is cheaper than most other ways of generating electricity — even when you factor in energy storage. Now, the levelized cost of energy isn’t the only factor for power companies deciding how to produce electricity. Intermittency, reliability and scalability all have to be taken into account. Those are serious problems that still need to be solved. But they are solvable. The fact of the solar/battery revolution should change our climate debates in a number of ways. First and foremost, it should serve as a counter to the unfortunate “doomer” trend that has taken hold in some lefty circles. Next, the solar/battery revolution should make us decisively reject the idea of degrowth. Lastly, we can move the conversation from 2010 to the present. Texas, a state that would definitely be on Team Economic Growth, has now surpassed California, the captain of Team Environment, in solar generation despite the anti-solar rhetoric of some politicians. Noahpinion (18 minutes)
A Rare Impact
Celebrities supporting philanthropy has skyrocketed in recent years. Their influence can significantly improve awareness of causes they care most about. The Rare Impact Fund, founded by American singer, actress, global pop sensation and mental health champion Selena Gomez, aims to challenge the unrealistic expectations of perfection, encourage self-acceptance and improve mental health services in educational institutions. Rare Impact Fund and Selena Gomez recently announced Labhya, a DRK Foundation portfolio organization, as a 2023 nonprofit grantee. Labhya partners with Indian state governments to co-create and implement a statewide daily well-being class that is integrated into the school day across public educational systems in India. What started as workshops and courses within one school has since grown to work with over 150,000 educators in 22,000 school systems across three governments to impact more than 2.4 million children. “This brings us one step closer to reaching our audacious goal of impacting 30 million children,” said Richa Gupta, CEO of Labhya. DRK Foundation (Sponsored)
The global human population has been climbing for the past two centuries. But, children born today will very likely live to see the end of global population growth, which will peak in the 2080s. And then we shrink. Humanity will not reach a plateau and then stabilize. It will begin an unprecedented decline. If the world’s fertility rate were the same as in the United States today, then the global population would fall from a peak of around 10 billion to less than 2 billion about 300 years later, over perhaps 10 generations. And if family sizes remained small, we would continue declining. It would be tempting to welcome depopulation as a boon to the environment. But the pace of depopulation will be too slow for our most pressing problems. Conversely, innovations and discoveries are made by people. In a world with fewer people in it, the loss of so much human potential may threaten humanity’s continued path toward better lives. New York Times (12 minutes)
Embracing mediocrity goes against everything Americans are taught to believe. Hard work has been valued throughout U.S. history, dating back to the Puritans who built New England on the belief that labor was inextricably linked with salvation. To pursue that prosperity in a deeply capitalist society, anyone not born into immense wealth has to work for it. So it’s perhaps no surprise that U.S. culture lionizes hard work and looks down on leisure, that we’re raised to earn and do and achieve as much as we can. In work-obsessed modern society, busy people are regarded as higher-status than people with lots of leisure time, a reversal from previous eras when only the rich had time to relax. When busyness and productivity are brandished as badges of honor, it is daring to prioritize activities that result only in rest or relaxation or joy. What would it mean for us to accept good enough in a world that expects non-stop greatness? TIME (10 minutes)
Football in Andy’s Room
Disney+ and ESPN+ will air a real-time, “Toy Story”-ified version of the Oct 1st Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons NFL game. Using the NFL's Next Gen Stats and on-field tracking data, every player and play will be presented in "Andy's Room," the familiar, brightly colored setting for the Toy Story franchise. The action will be virtually simultaneous with the main game telecast, with most plays recreated after an expected delay in the neighborhood of about 30 seconds. Woody, Buzz Lightyear and many other characters will be visible throughout, and a press release notes they will be "participating from the sidelines and in other non-gameplay elements." Along with game action, the announcers, graphics, scoreboard, referees' penalty announcements, celebrations and other parts of the experience will all be rendered in a “Toy Story”-centric fashion. Deadspin (5 minutes)
This is a fun, satirical piece about the landlords of Plato’s Cave. To all inhabitants of Plato’s Cave: If you are receiving this letter, it means you have been designated a tenant of the cave (i.e., you are chained to the wall, you are forced to watch shadows for all eternity, you are projecting said shadow puppets, and/or you are a philosopher who was able to break free and understand the true shackles of reality, a Ph.D. candidate about to argue their thesis). We are writing this memo to introduce ourselves; the new property managers of Plato’s Cave; and to let you know that this fall, your rent will be raised. McSweeney’s (5 minutes)
Should We Work Together?
Hi! I’m Kyle. This newsletter is my passion project. When I’m not writing, I run a law firm that helps startups move fast without breaking things. Most founders want a trusted legal partner, but they hate surprise legal bills. At Westaway, we take care of your startup’s legal needs for a flat, monthly fee so you can control your costs and focus on scaling your business. If you’re interested, let’s jump on a call to see if you’re a good fit for the firm. Click here to schedule a one-on-one call with me.
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Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. -Plato