Charlotte Street Partners



On tyrannies everywhere

Written by Andrew Wilson, founding partner
20 June 2020

Good morning,

Today I write on tyrannies everywhere: of the short termists, the loud eccentrics, the bad leaders, the racists. Them in particular; so small – why won’t they ever learn?

Our world reverberates with so much energy – much of it anger, much of it love. This is a time for our hearts and our heads and no mistake. I am glad to announce I have conquered my addiction for perma-news. I have not quite discharged myself from the hospital but I have taken the cannula out of my veins and the news does not drip into me every second anymore because I could stand it no more.

Of course, I stay aware, it is part of what our firm does for our clients. But our real job is to try and make sense of the world as it has unfolded, is unfolding and will unfold. Thinking about what to do is a task we all face. We are guided by our government of course and for a long time it has felt as though our choices were not our own to make. ‘Comply don’t choose’ was the order of many long days. But now as we slowly re-emerge into the daylight, blinking, with longer hair and larger waistlines than we would wish, the time for choice is coming back again. And as the fabulous JK Rowling teaches us via Professor Dumbledore: “it is our choices, Harry, that determine who we are, far more than our abilities”. In that she incanted Sartre: “we are our choices”.

So, in this week’s reads of choice, we offer some of the big issues of our moment and some longer reflections on the human impact of what can sometimes seem abstract or far away. It all matters.

Have a good weekend.

The two-metre rule and other imperfect Covid-19 risk calculations

Only a fool breaks the two-metre rule. I can hear my dad telling me that when teaching me to drive. The metre then was a second and it was arbitrary and there to remind me to keep a safe gap from the car in front. The metre is of course the increasingly controversial distancing requirement that has become emblematic of the balancing act our leaders must traverse between death by Covid and death by poverty and unemployment. This excellent read by science commentator Anjana Ahuja argues that a fixation on specific distances encourages a false, binary distinction between safety and danger.

Read in the Financial Times.

‘The recovery needs to be a full-scale economic renewal’

Professor Mazzucato is a globally important economist and policy thinker. She is no abstract notionalist. She is a practical adviser to governments respected in many capitals including here in Edinburgh. In this excellent interview with Cliff Taylor in The Irish Times she outlines her thinking for the economic renewal that many agree is now a necessity. In it she identifies a key theme of our analysis: the tyranny of the short-term. It blights policy making everywhere and makes long-term thinking and decision making difficult for companies, the third sector and government.

“Governments can and should take a long-term and directional view, avoiding the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ in only fire-fighting.” Hallelujah.

The role of government is changing and must change. Making the right decisions about our own best version is one of the biggest choices we face as we emerge from this crisis.

Read in The Irish Times.

Yorkshire pudding test can calm culture wars

The excellent and engaging Danny Finkelstein reflects on the current statues controversy. He poses they are symbols of the heat of public debate and the dispiriting, convincing cesspit that social media can and has become.

“It’s always possible to find at least one person who supports the most outlandish proposition. Indeed, in a country of 60 million people, something that has no substantial backing can often gain thousands of supporters. Something that was opposed by 99% of voters in the country might still have the support of half a million people”. He has a point does he not?

Read in The Times.

The Spectator, war and slavery: a note on our history

Our old friend Fraser Nelson is one of the finest journalists and editors of his generation. His journal is a comfortable home for opposing views although, as he argues here, the Spectator still knows its own mind. In a world of increasingly entrenched positions and echo chambers I salute what Fraser does and how he has always done it. People like him are there to make us think, not to magnify what we have always thought.

In this article, he reviews the Spectator’s long history in the context of slavery. His best ever joke was talking about the growth of his circulation: “every time I go into a newsagent in Liverpool the Spectator has sold out”. I like Fraser, you will enjoy this.

Read in The Spectator.

Covid-19 may ultimately strengthen Latin America’s democracies, not destroy them

I have never been to Latin America but I would love to go. The romance of its story draws me so. Argentina was four times richer than Japan in the 1920s, and is now half as rich. Why? Because it made the wrong choices, over and over again. But what a country. What a group of countries.

In this excellent analysis from two fellows at the Brookings Institution, the impact of the crisis on the fragile democracies and failing autocracies of the region is reviewed. “What does not kill you, makes you stronger. Just like a biological organism, democracy may indeed be strengthened rather than weakened by stressors—provided they are not strong enough to kill it”. No pressure then.

Read at Brookings.

India’s comfort food tells the story of its pandemic

Can you imagine a country less suited to social distancing than the teeming humanity that is India? Alina Allana writes an exquisite story about the pandemic and its impact on the world’s largest democracy. She does it through the lens of a biscuit. Beautiful.

Read in The Atlantic.

Lessons from 100 columns: Management in theory and practice is found wanting 

The Bartleby column in The Economist is named after the scrivener in Henry Melville’s 19th-century book of short stories. This article looks back on 100 columns, drawing on the lessons learned for managers and management.

The modern senior executive must be a statesman (or woman), dealing not just with shareholders but wider society. They must be attuned to the views of their employees and customers, in case the company finds itself in the middle of a social or political conflict. And they have to navigate these minefields while simultaneously generating sufficient profit growth to fend off attacks from activist shareholders”.

Ooft that is quite an ask! But, fear not. We at Charlotte Street Partners exist to help the stateswomen and men on whom the burden of leadership of our companies, charities and organisations falls. If you are not yet our client then read this and choose to become one.

Read in The Economist.

Personal history: The Trayvon Generation

A longer read that is worth every second you spend. The aching, heart-rending human pain that is growing up in a world of angry prejudice in America. Elizabeth Alexander writes about The Trayvon Generation: the young people who grew up in the past twenty-five years and the stories of their peers hurt and killed.

“These stories formed their world view. These stories helped instruct young African-Americans about their embodiment and their vulnerability.”

She concludes on Black Lives Matter: “the phrase was apt then and now. Its coinage feels both ancestral in its knowledge and prophetic in its ongoing necessity. I know now with certainty that there will never be a moment when we will not need to say it, not in my lifetime, and not in the lifetime of the Trayvon Generation”.

Remember that when you hear its importance being dismissed by the pub bore – if we ever get anywhere near the sodding pub again.

Read in the New Yorker.

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