Monthly Archives: February 2014

Minimalist geopolitics

Global influence is won by a strong financial position. Weapons are merely a cart, pulled by horses that include tax base, borrowing capacity and GDP. These are the things that buy influence, whether through guns, elections or direct investment. (Conversely, empires collapse for lack of money.)

Nations seeking influence focus all their energy on raising their own people’s aggregate income, which increases private-sector financial strength, as well as the tax base.

This means investing mainly in education, infrastructure, public safety and rule of law, while avoiding resource drains like civil strife and, especially, external wars.

Countries that did this single-mindedly in recent decades — China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore — gained significant influence in a short time. Countries distracted by internal strife — Thailand, Malaysia — gained less. Countries that didn’t prioritize at all — the United States — lost relative influence.

Any country that is not primarily focused on increasing sustainable national income is off its game. It will lose relative influence over time. If your country under-educates its people, encourages consumer debt, and prioritizes spending over investment, it will decline. It really is that simple. We just get lost in the details.

Everything is like Jenga

The game Jenga is actually a contest of minimalism.  You start with a stack of wooden blocks as shown, and take turns removing blocks, until the tower collapses.

To a certain degree, everything is like Jenga.  The most efficient solution to just about anything involves removing as many extraneous pieces as possible without destabilizing the original aim.

Fewer pieces means less time, less curation, fewer errors, fewer losses, lower maintenance, higher return, higher efficiency.

Few people realize that Occam, who passed away in 1347, was actually talking about Jenga.  In a way.

Amazon fumbles simplicity

Years ago, I had a FewerNicer revelation:  buy everything with Amazon Prime.  It did not save money, but economized on something much more valuable:  time and attention.

Prime was not the cheapest, but ended shopping as we know it.  You think, “I need sunscreen and shaving cream” — one minute later, the order is in, the need struck from your to-do list, and you can get back to work, with barely any loss of focus.

Yet today, for the first time in years, I bought sunscreen and shaving cream from different sites.  Why?  As before, the change had nothing to do with price, and everything to do with time and attention.  Amazon is getting complicated, ruining their primary advantage.

My sunscreen brand is now sold only as an “add-on,” meaning I need to come up with $25 of other Amazon purchases before they will send me what I actually want.  Or I can wander  the site looking for another vendor of the same item at a higher price.  But this demands time and attention — exactly the cost I’m trying to minimize.

The shaving cream, a high-margin item, is now overrun with fakes and “new old stock,” sold by dubious third-party vendors that use the Amazon distribution network.  Again, I have to wander around the site, judging the quality and quantity of customer reviews, in hopes of finding the real item.  Decisions, decisions.  More time.  More attention.

Or, I can just go to the manufacturer’s website, buy direct, know that I have exactly what I want, and be done.  For today’s purchase, Amazon Prime lost the simplicity contest, which was my only reason for using it.