Charlotte Street Partners



Out of sight but never out of heart or mind

Written by Andrew Wilson, founding partner
23 January 2020

This week’s compendium of our favourite reads is an eclectic mix of (we hope) improving thoughts from a variety of very different people in very different publications, from close to home to across our world. 
I have never had the guts to go up in a hot air balloon. My head for heights started bad and as I reached my sixth decade it became impossible to consider such endeavours. Footbridges are hard enough.
But what a perspective it might afford us all to be up there in the peace and the calm with a truly bird’s-eye view of our fellow humankind. Perspective about the present, as well as an understanding of how to start creating the future is all important. Many improvements take a generation to deliver. We must begin them now. 
And at a time of isolation for so many, it reinforces the need for us to think about everyone beyond our bubble; in our own communities, country and the wider world.

1. A community you cannot see

This piece captures beautifully the essence of being part of a community you cannot see. The radio has kept many of us company throughout this pandemic when our friends and family couldn’t. 
The debates, the interviews, the ludicrous call ins, they’ve been an alternative to the real-world chatter we pine for and the crowd of voices we crave.
Lucy Scholes makes a strong case for the oldies being the goodies. Radio’s not new but it remains a perfect way to balance getting on with everyday life and still being part of a wider conversation. Video did not kill the radio star, nor will this crisis or deglobalisation. As we heard in a simply outstanding Charlotte Street Partners event with the new BBC Director General Tim Davie this week, its radio output is winning new listeners across the world. The more of all of this, the better.
Read in Tortoise.

2. Do you hear what I hear?

Speaking of listening, the Bartleby business column in this week’s Economist is excellent.

“When people talk, listen completely.” Those words of Ernest Hemingway might be a pretty good guiding principle for many managers, as might the dictum of Zeno of Citium, a Greek philosopher: “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” For people like being listened to. Everyone should read and inwardly digest this insight.
Read in The Economist.

3. The meritocracy trap

Ever since the industrialisation, the establishment and the upper classes considered that it was gauche to be considered ‘new money’ – a term describing those whose wealth had been acquired within their own generation, rather than through familial inheritance. Be that as it may, contemporary morality dictates that the opposite now holds true. This perspective is one part of the explanation for Britain’s longer term relative economic decline.
With it becoming increasingly fashionable and socially correct for the upper middle classes to boast of how hard they’ve been working and how frazzled they are – how does this social transformation feed into the false promise of meritocracy?
This from James Marriott, the Deputy Books Editor of The Times, is a clever and irreverent tweaking of the nose of all of that – in a historical context of course.
Read in The Times.


4. The political gravity of Silicon Valley

In this week’s New Scientist, Annalee Newitz, the science journalist and author, considers the growing political power – and therefore responsibility – of American big tech. She opens with the amusing question of whether the impeachment of Donald Trump was more or less important than him being kicked off Twitter. This came up in our discussion with Tim Davie this week. It is a big question of who edits what and it is not going to go away.
Read in New Scientist.

5. The first, the most and the worst

The US presidency has produced an ignoble canon of ‘worst presidents’: Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, who set their country along the course to civil war; Richard Nixon, whose paranoia veered into criminality. 
But Tim Naftali, associate professor of history at New York University, argues that Donald Trump has far surpassed these former examples in this week’s Atlantic. The recently departed president has, Naftali says, proven utterly unique in his disregard for the duties embodied in his oath of office. Naftali suggests actions – such as a commission on the storming of the Capitol – are required to address Trump’s legacy. America’s mood seemed to lighten during this week’s inauguration, but while the 45th president didn’t lead the country into actual civil war, considerable strife remains and is regarded by some as the most important risk the planet faces today. We will all need to read, listen and understand more about America’s journey to come.
Read in The Atlantic.

6. The next ‘Roaring Twenties’ revisited

At this, one of our admittedly darker moments, many optimists are predicting a new economic and cultural boom, a glimmering return to the ‘Roaring Twenties’. This piece by the editor at large at Medium, Steve LeVine, sheds light on the reality that our recovery is likely to be much more nuanced, more bumpy, and certainly more unequal than some may hope. Granted there will be immediate “merry-making” as people seek to escape to tropical destinations and revel in their general freedoms; but is there enough “underlying zip in the economy” to sustain that momentum for the rest of the decade? And, lest we forget, the Great Depression followed the Roaring Twenties. So can we all, at last, learn to distinguish between sustainable prosperity and its fraudulent nemesis?
Read in Marker.

7. Navalny and Putin: the battle goes on

This piece was one of many disturbing analyses of the developing difficulties in Russia following the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Its author, Owen Matthews, is a historian and journalist of some distinction and a specialist in the region.
“Arrest me? Why would anyone arrest me?’ said Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny to reporters last week as he boarded a Moscow-bound plane. Four hours later he was in jail — but not before spending an hour circling above the Russian capital as riot police shut down the airport where 2,000 supporters awaited him and diverted his plane to another.” So opens a must-read article. While America worries many, so should Russia. So, very much, should Russia.
Read in Spectator.

8. Getting along with Russia

Our own excellent correspondent-at-large Alex Massie also chose Russia as the anchor for his musings this week. My old friend and I often disagree but we do so well. As well as we disagree, Alex’s fine hand writes more elegantly than most. After you have read the Spectator piece be sure not to miss this. Different perspectives are urgently required for us all, now more than ever. At Charlotte Street Partners this is part of what we exist to provide; ‘difference’ is itself one of our core values.
Read at Charlotte Street Partners.

9. Actions, not just words

This Editorial from the Guardian caught our eye this week. It chastises the chancellor for what it sees as inaction on planning for the recovery and for funding to support those in need at a time when Covid has accelerated many harms, starting with the UK’s biting problem with inequalities. Well worth reading and reflecting upon. 
Read in the Guardian

10. What if the world was one country?

What if the world was one country? Well, in many ways it already is – the earth is home to a myriad of species, with human species being just one of them. 
In Imagined Communities, one of the foremost thinkers on nationalism, Benedict Anderson, describes the birth of the nation as an imaginary construct between people who cannot see each other yet feel united under common history, traits, beliefs, and attitudes.
In this article, Steve Taylor, senior lecturer in psychology, Leeds Beckett University, dissolves the concept of nationalism even further, to conclude that: “it’s impossible to override the fundamental interconnectedness of the human race. At some point, it always reasserts itself.” Well, we can but hope. My only additional thought is that, as we piece the jigsaw of humankind back together after periods of discord, populism and disintegration, it is far more sustainable if the pieces themselves feel comfortable in their shape as they conjoin.
Read in The Conversation.

And finally… The Grand Tour 

Our final read comes closer to home for the ever-excellent Scottish Review’s take by Andrew Hook on ‘Frolics in the Face of Europe, Sir Walter Scott, Continental Travel and the Tradition of the Grand Tour’, by Iain Gordon Brown (published by Fonthill).
Hook is Bradley professor emeritus of English literature at the University of Glasgow and reviews a timely book in the year of the 250th anniversary of the great Sir Walter Scott’s birth.
The review will entice you to buy a book that is about a truly international Scot, as well as the whole idea of the Grand Tour itself. How good it would be if resource and politics allowed coming generations of young Scots the chance to visit, absorb and understand Europe in all its difference and history.
Read in Scottish Review.

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