Oct 14

From Ethiopian emperors to CEOs

Companies to sell, companies to buy

Emperor Tewodros, who reigned over much of Ethiopia for a decade from the mid-1850s, was a visionary leader. His star rose as he unified a great deal of the country, abolished the slave trade, looked to undermine the excessive power of the Church and was vocal in his disapproval of battlefield mutilations.

Yet as the years wore on, excessive power, a sense of God-inspired destiny and probably some mental imbalance, lead him to become a monster of massacres and murders, as detailed in a gripping book on his reign titled The Barefoot Emperor, by author Philip Marsden.

The pendulum often sways from recognition to obscurity, from undue heroism to disproportionate opprobrium, both for human beings and institutions.

Sep 14

8 ways to improve the world

From conscription to business ethics, iPhones to risk

70 years ago the Bretton Woods conference came to a successful end, putting in place a post-war international monetary system which aimed to make the world a better place.

Here are my suggestions for a better world, some more serious than others. Do feel free to send me, in confidence, any you think should be added.

1. Immigration officers, knowing they are the first local interaction for foreigners, will smile pleasantly at tourists and business people stepping up to their desks. They will bear in mind that 99.99% of those arriving are not terrorists and welfare cheats, and will therefore ditch their customary scowls and officiousness. A feedback button to rate the friendliness of the service will be on hand to encourage this change in behaviour. It would be attached to an electric current.

Jul 14

Why Putin is heading off the world stage

The energy paradox

The events of the last few months have set in train Vladimir Putin’s disappearance from the world stage. The only uncertainty is how long it will take, whether it will be months or years. It will happen due to unintended consequences – a concept first analysed in 1936 by American sociologist Robert Merton – of his Crimean annexation.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in the memoir about his years serving under Presidents Bush and Obama, notes that during the Cold War Soviet interests were taken into account to avoid military conflict. However, “when Russia was weak in the 1990s and beyond, we did not take Russian interests seriously. We did a poor job of seeing the world from their point of view, and of managing the relationship for the long term.” He confesses that he “dutifully” supported the effort to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, even knowing that this would feed Russia’s “paranoia” about the West.

Mar 14

A Tale of two Balls: UK vs PIMCO

Lessons from WWII as Russia conquers Crimea

Who is more influential? In the left corner sits Ed Balls, potential Chancellor of the UK if the Labour Party makes it into power in the 2015 election. On the right, his brother Andrew Balls, Deputy Chief Investment Officer at PIMCO, which controls $2 trillion worth of bonds.

Even assuming Ed B. makes it into power, his brother wins hands down. The UK government spends around £720 billion a year and most of it is already earmarked. Chancellors – pace all the kerfuffle around budget announcements – can only affect policy at the margin. Andrew B., on the other hand, is head of European bond markets with the capacity to strike fear in the hearts of Italian treasury ministers, among others.