TWR: Oscars, Positioning, Reading, Economists
2023-10-07

You can't do the work for the reward: Martin Scorcese has won one Oscar in his entire career. It was for The Departed with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson. (I watched it on the plane last night, and I recommend it.) You might think this would be discouraging for a director who constantly works with high-profile Hollywood stars, but it's not. "You can't make a movie for an award," Scorsese said. "I always said this: just be quiet and make movies."

You can't do the work for the reward; you have to love the work itself. The early mornings on set, the late nights in the editing room, and the endless takes to get the right scene are what making movies is all about, not getting an award. So it is with your work or creative endeavor. Writing this email every week isn't about the subscriber numbers going up; it's about sharing the countless fascinating things I read and learn. You can't do the work for the reward.

"Your position determines your future:" There are a lot of lessons I've learned from my boss, but this is probably one of the most important ones. People who constantly make good decisions aren't necessarily smarter than everyone. They're simply in a better position. This allows more opportunities for future success. When something goes wrong, as things inevitably do, they have more margin for recovery.

Talking about relationships with your spouse, family, or friends, he said, "If you imagine that there’s a patch of grass between you and them, is that grass dry or is it wet? Have I watered that for months, in which case the spark isn’t going to light it on fire, or is the smallest little spark going to start this forest fire? And the position that we bring into those arguments matters a lot in terms of the quality of the outcomes that we get."

In Defense of Voracious Reading: There's an odd philosophy spreading throughout the intellectual underworld of "reading Twitter" that goes something like, "Don't read a lot of books. Just master the great books." In theory, I love that idea. There's a lot of published junk that should never be consumed. But as the author puts it: "But while I can conceive of someone filling up a 100+ book Goodreads goal with pure garbage and being the worse off for it, truthfully, I would prefer every over-indulgent reader of modern pulp to every non-reader and philistine in the world who denies the value of books generally..." I'll take a junk-food reader over someone who hasn't picked up a book in years any day.

Why Do Economists Get Paid More Than Sociologists?: There are a few fundamental forces that govern most of the world. Supply and demand is one of those forces. It controls the price of almost everything, sociology professors included.

"You just don’t see that sort of direct application of sociology research in high-paying private-sector jobs. A lot of people with PhDs want to get a job doing research in their chosen field of study; it’s a lot easier to do real econ research in the private sector than real sociology research.

All these outside options naturally make young econ PhD graduates more reluctant to take a job as a prof. Why get paid $113,000 or even $180,000 to go work as an assistant prof when you can go do real, substantive economics research at Amazon — and even see your theories immediately tested in the field! — while making $245,000?"

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