Part 1 of the “New Metrics for Modern Living”

Image for post
Image for post
Larry David is generally low SAR (explained below)

So for some time now there’s been a movement to quantify many parts of our lives, on the premise that you might learn something from how many steps you walked, hours slept and so on.

Yet of course such metrics often fail to capture what it really means to live. If your day was ruined by being reamed out by your boss and then dumped by your boyfriend / girlfriend, “calories consumed” may not fully capture that.

Hence in the spirit of our quantitative age I present Part One of a new series of Advanced Metrics for Modern Living. (I am also inspired by the spirit of sabermetrics and Curb Your Enthusiasm).


Hilarious condemnation is much better than a takedown

Image for post
Image for post
Joseph Epstein is a 1980s-style villain (this isn’t him though)

Late last week, Joseph Epstein wrote a ridiculous and insulting opinion column for the Wall St. Journal. It suggested that Jill Biden, holder of an educational doctorate, not a medical doctorate, should not call herself “Doctor.”

It was a weak, insulting column that relied on a dated snobbery and evident sexism to try to diminish Jill Biden. Indeed it was a flashback to a older, pre-Trump conservatism — more 1980s National Review than Breitbart — when conservatives liked to think of themselves as a kind of self-restrained upper class who defined themselves by their disdain for the striving classes. …


This stuff is complicated which is why it is important to get it right.

Image for post
Image for post

BY TIM WU & SCOTT HEMPHILL

Law is complex and antitrust law is even more so. Nonetheless, the business and the tech press keeps making the following repeated errors in their coverage of the Facebook antitrust case:

1. Reporting that the Instagram and WhatsApp mergers were approved in 2012/2014 and discussing such “approvals” as if they are legally binding precedent

In 2012 and 2014, the FTC declined to take action against the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. As a legal matter — which matters, since we are speaking of a legal action — declining to take action has no binding effect on future enforcement actions. That is a well established principle not just in antitrust, but any area of law enforcement. …


At least we’re united in being crazy

Image for post
Image for post
Do you see Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi?

As everyone knows, the United States is divided, yielding completely different interpretations of the same news items. The usual presumption is that the divide is between red minds and blue, conservatives and liberals.

I beg to disagree. As a strangely obsessed reader of wacky newspaper comments, online forums and insane twitter commentary across the political spectrum, I’ve begun to think the issue is just a bit more complicated.

My highly informal research suggests, instead, that the U.S. is dominated by six different meta-narratives that don’t neatly correlate to party lines or political ideology. Here they are:

  1. Things Are Getting Better All the…


Repealing “Section 230” won’t do what anyone wants

Image for post
Image for post
Barking up a statutorily complicated tree

I like to think of myself as someone who’s been decently critical of excessively concentrated power in the tech platforms. Back in 2010, to general derision and laughter, I wrote that tech platform monopolies might well be a growing problem, and I like to flatter myself in suggesting I was early in calling for an antitrust campaign to break up Facebook.

But I have never really been on board with the idea that abolishing the private immunity of platforms is a good idea, or even very important for the goals that either the left or the right holds dear. …


How Trump’s lawyers lost their minds

Image for post
Image for post

It is a well-established fact that many of Donald Trump’s associates are lowlives and crooks. But I’ve long felt that a special kind of attention need be paid to his collection of personal lawyers, who collectively make up some of the most depraved, unethical, and generally repulsive characters to have ever claimed the title of “Attorney.”

The blueprint is provided by Roy Cohn, his first personal attorney, who was a Joseph McCarthy-staffer turned mob lawyer, disbarred in the 1980s after attempting to defraud a dying client of his fortune. (The documentary on his life is fantastic). But his two main successors, Michael Cohen (also disbarred) and Rudolph Giuliani, have been no less spectacular in their disregard for ethics and, in recent years, increasingly frivolous and insane legal strategies. There are major law firms in this mix, including Jones Day (despite recent denials) and special mention must be made of Alan Dershowitz and the Sekulow family. Adding to the bizarreness are recent additions L. …


We seem to forget how many are actually Asian-American

A consensus verdict on the 2020 election has been that suburban voters did Trump in. In the public mind’s eye, what really decided the election was a Carol Brady-like figure, the white suburban mom, who, alarmed by Trump’s indifference to public health and his general vulgarity, went with good old Joe Biden.

Image for post
Image for post
The imagined voter

What complicates this picture and seems grossly overlooked is how much of the American suburban population is now Asian-American (Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, Filipino and Chinese-American especially). That’s not just true of the country, but also of Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston and Las Vegas — the major cities in swing states. …


In which the Kool-Aid gets stirred

Image for post
Image for post
Credit Ben Thompson, usage via 17 USC 107

I was impressed by, and enjoyed, the first two-thirds of Ben Thompson’s response to my critique of his work related to tech platforms and the Google antitrust case. (The last third is more regrettable, but I’ll address that, too.) I’ve enjoyed most of the exchange, and it has helped me clarify my thoughts. In particular, I’ve come to feel that Google’s spending $30 billion on traffic acquisition feels too much like the kind of thing Net Neutrality was trying to prevent back in the 2000s. But more on that later.

Overall I’d say Thompson’s response hasn’t done much to counter my core critique. He is too quick to jump from model to reality, too quick to assume that one important source of advantage represents something close to the full picture. As I said, his work is insightful for understanding tech business models, but when it comes to antitrust, it is on much shakier ground. And the hardest part for him to defend is the assertion that various costs, including switching costs, are zero or near zero. For doing so assumes away the costs that could be critical in determining strategic advantage, winners and losers, and at some point, liability in a lawsuit. …


Biden leads in polls; Trump leads the lawns — does it mean anything?

Image for post
Image for post

Back in the Fall of 2016, when I was working in the White House, it was safe to say that (as the proverb goes) the curtains were being prematurely measured. Everyone had long and foolishly assumed that Clinton was going to win; the question was how to manage the handoff.

Occasionally while making plans, someone would pause say “but, if the unthinkable happens…” the way you’d refer to the possibility of a fire or a hurricane.

During that period I remember chatting with a Florida cousin, who was then a teenager. To my great chagrin and surprise she informed me that Trump was going to win the election. “Silly girl,” I thought to myself, “have you seen the polls?” I asked why she thought that. She said, “His signs are everywhere! …


Smart, but a little too much Kool-Aid

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: Nordiske Mediedager

Ben Thompson is the author of Stratechery, a popular newsletter that “provides analysis of the strategy and business side of technology and media.” Thompson, who has an MBA, is a former tech industry worker who has spent time at various tech firms, including Apple and Microsoft. He is a smart and thoughtful guy who has interesting and insightful things to say about tech strategy, which is an endlessly interesting topic. I appreciate his work and admire his effort to set up his own shop and do his own thing.

[IMPORTANT: Part 2 of this ANSWERS MANY QUESTIONS you may have, and it is here, and Thompson responds to this post…

About

Tim Wu

Professor at Columbia University; author of “The Curse of Bigness,” “The Attention Merchants,” and “The Master Switch;” veteran of Silicon Valley & Obama Admin.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store