Long-Term Capitalism

What We’re Reading: January 2024

January 30, 2024  • Creating the Conditions for Long-Term Capitalism

What We’re Reading is a roundup of current news and commentary on the challenges and opportunities of aligning business decisions with the long-term health of society. At the end of the first month of the new year, we ask: Is the future no longer what it used to be?

Regular readers know how eagerly we at What We’re Reading have been parsing news to understand whether the great shocks of recent years, like the COVID-19 pandemic, have resulted in lasting change in business and society. This month’s digest shows that, even as some old behaviors among consumers and businesses resume, new ways of thinking about the future of the economy are rapidly overtaking established wisdom. The future may not be what it was, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Onward!

The Economy

Economists Predicted a Recession. So Far They’ve Been Wrong. (Jeanna Smialek and Ben Casselman, The New York Times) Does it sound like you’ve heard this before? Well, the Q4 2023 U.S. economic data were a really big deal, upending thinking on Wall Street and Washington about how economic crises can be managed. Is a consensus is starting to form among economists that pandemic-era policy pulled off a soft landing, bringing down inflation without significantly raising unemployment? If so, recent years may set economic thinking on a new course for decades to come.

The paradox is that in the here and now, familiar business stories are re-emerging, such as: Retailers Return to Bringing in Inventory ‘Just in Time’ (Liz Young, The Wall Street Journal). And it’s not just retailers sounding like they’re returning to a familiar script: The Buy Now, Pay Later Holiday Debt Hangover Has Arrived, as Consumers Wonder How They’ll Pay Bills (Gabrielle Fonrouge, CNBC).

Worker Voice

‘Dark Forces’: How US Corporations Turned to Courts in Fight Against Unions (Michael Sainato, The Guardian) Of course, we shouldn’t assume that future innovations will necessarily be geared toward a world in which all people benefit from business success…

An Exhausting Year in (and Out of) the Office (Cal Newport, The New Yorker) “The bottom line is that the abrupt rise in digital interaction following the arrival of the pandemic made knowledge work more tedious and exhausting, helping to fuel the waves of disruption that have followed. If we accept this interpretation of events, however, we must also accept the necessity of continuing to seek change.” Then again, some workers might have another idea: Watch Me Lose My Job on TikTok (Yiwen Lu, The New York Times).


The Latest Dirty Word in Corporate America: ESG (Chip Cutter and Emily Glazer, The Wall Street Journal) Worth reading, particularly for the visualization of a stark drop-off in the use of the term in quarterly earnings calls over 2023.

Inside the Activist Investor Campaign to Make Walgreens, Target, and Kroger Give Workers a Raise (Rick Wartzman, Fast Company) Is this another constructive avenue for social change?


The VC Funding Party Is Over (Edward Chancellor, Wired) “Low yields on conventional investments lured investors to Silicon Valley, which promised outsized returns. Between 2016 and 2021, US venture capital investment tripled. Ultralow rates compress the dimension of time, making the future appear closer than it is. It’s not surprising, therefore, that a large number of wildly extravagant startups got financed—luxury space travel, flying taxis, autonomous vehicles, and so forth. Due diligence took a back seat.”

US to Announce Billions in Subsidies for Advanced Chips (Reuters) Well, the last decade’s financing incentives for luxury space travel and flying taxis may be on the out, but for tech closer to the everyday needs of U.S. businesses and consumers, an encouraging surge of government support is only just beginning.

For more on our work to align business with the long-term good of society, sign up for our publications and visit our website. (Please note, the purpose of this newsletter is to highlight what Aspen BSP staff are reading, and is not intended as advertisement or endorsement of content or viewpoints.)

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