“The Best Recipe for Economic Growth Is” Freedom and Opportunity

(p. C3) Migration has been central to the American story since the beginning. In the early 19th century, New Englanders left the rocky soil of Massachusetts for the more fertile Ohio River valley. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, farmers fled Oklahoma for California. In the early 20th century, millions of African-Americans left the Jim Crow South to find work in the factories of northern cities. Through the 20th century, mobility was an American tradition: In every year between 1950 and 1992, according to the Current Population Survey, more than 6% of Americans moved across county lines.

In recent years, however, the engine of American migration has been grinding to a halt. People often move to get ahead, which makes mobility a reasonable measure of economic dynamism. So it’s a troubling sign that since 2007, geographic mobility has dropped by one-third, with fewer than 4% of Americans changing counties annually. The reason is clear: In the most prosperous cities and regions, insiders have figured out how to use regulations, laws and institutions to make life easier for themselves and harder for everyone else. In the process, they have made the U.S. a far less dynamic society.

. . .

Most important, we need to stop thinking of growth as a zero-sum game. Today, insiders worry about getting their share of the pie instead of growing the economy for everyone. The best recipe for economic growth is the traditional American one: freedom, combined with robust investment in opportunity for the least advantaged.

For the full commentary, see:

Edward Glaeser and David Cutler. “The American Housing Market Is Stifling Mobility.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 17, 2021): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 2, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

The commentary quoted above is based on the authors’ book:

Glaeser, Edward L., and David Cutler. Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation. New York: Penguin Press, 2011.

James Dyson Persevered Through 5,127 Prototypes to Achieve Vacuum Cleaner Success

(p. C7) James Dyson was a less than stellar student at the boarding school he attended in Norfolk, England, where his father was a classics master. Yet he would become the founder of a family-owned global manufacturing empire. Mr. Dyson gained fame—and a peerage—as the inventor of a revolutionary vacuum cleaner that exploits the principle of the cyclone and never needs a replacement bag, among other novel domestic appliances.

. . .

It took Mr. Dyson four years and precisely 5,127 prototypes—as he reminds us in the first paragraph of this book’s introduction and in the last paragraph of its last chapter, as well as several times in between. He points out that his perseverance—abetted by subsequent and continuing failures in the form of rebuffs from the likes of banks, venture capitalists, government agencies, manufacturers, distributors and retailers—was rewarded with ultimate success. The idea of “accepting and even enjoying failure, but going on” is another theme carried throughout Mr. Dyson’s book.

. . .

With success achieved in the United Kingdom, Mr. Dyson looked to sell the fruits of his intellectual property beyond the sceptered shores. In America, he got legally tangled up with Amway, which he was convinced was infringing on his patents. The lessons learned from his failure to protect his patent rights for the Ballbarrow, however, steeled Mr. Dyson and his wife and business partner, Deirdre, against allowing this to happen a second time. Mr. Dyson sued Amway and, after five years of costly litigation, received a favorable settlement. The victory boosted the businessman’s growing reputation as a fighter and a winner.

. . .

. . . , Mr. Dyson tells a story of the struggles of entrepreneurship, and his arduous quests for private capital; suitable manufacturing facilities; building permits; talented and trained employees; and at least moral support from the British government. He reveals the many and continuing obstacles—financial, political, regulatory, sociological, cultural—that frustrated his attempts to expand his manufacturing enterprises within the United Kingdom. This challenge, he explains, eventually drove him to move the bulk of his business to Singapore, where Mr. Dyson’s company is now headquartered.

For the full review, see:

Henry Petroski. “The Inventor’s Dilemma.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Sept. 3, 2021, and has the title “‘Invention’ Review: James Dyson’s Dilemma.”)

The book under review is:

Dyson, James. Invention: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

“Our Cities Protect Insiders and Leave Outsiders to Suffer”

(p. A15) Mr. Glaeser’s “Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation,” written with Harvard health economist David Cutler, shares the pleasing style of its predecessor, an engaging mixture of history and analysis. It has none of the triumphalism of its predecessor, however. In the move to social distancing that began in the spring of 2020, Messrs. Glaeser and Cutler see nothing less than “the rapid-fire deurbanization of our world.”

“Uncontrolled pandemic,” the authors write, poses “an existential threat” to the urban world. Nor is the coronavirus the only problem that cities face. “A Pandora’s Box of urban woes has emerged,” they continue, “including overly expensive housing, violent conflict over gentrification, persistently low levels of upward mobility, and outrage over brutal and racially targeted policing and long prison sentences for minor drug crimes.” These are not disparate problems. Rather, they “all stem from a common root: our cities protect insiders and leave outsiders to suffer.”

In Messrs. Glaeser and Cutler’s view, something has gone deeply wrong with how policy is set in many American cities. Insiders have captured control of how cities operate—and used that control to enrich themselves while providing limited opportunities for newer, younger residents. Consider Los Angeles. In 1970, housing costs in Southern California were much the same as those nationwide. By 1990, building limitations and strong demand had sent prices soaring in many coastal cities. The result: a massive redistribution of wealth from the young to the old.

For the full review, see:

John Buntin. “BOOKSHELF; Saving Our Urban Future.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Sept. 10, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 9, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Survival of the City’ Review: Saving Our Urban Future.”)

The book under review is:

Glaeser, Edward L., and David Cutler. Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation. New York: Penguin Press, 2021.

A Firm Does Not Need to Be a Platform to Matter

(p. 17) Over the past two decades, the world’s hyper-ambitious entrepreneurs — is there now any other kind? — have largely pursued a pair of goals in tandem. First: Become a platform. Second: Take over the world. The former is supposed to lead to the latter, as it seemingly has for the five companies conglomerated under the intimidating acronym FAANG. Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google have taken such a bloodsucking bite (get it?) out of the world economy that in the past half decade alone they have more than tripled in value — at a rate three times faster than the growth of the entire S&P 500 — and are now worth north of $7 trillion. The appeal of building a platform is clear.

. . .

The word “platform” has been deployed so many times in so many ways that it has lost almost all meaning, a fact that Jonathan Knee, who teaches at Columbia University’s business school, tries to spell out in his new book, “The Platform Delusion.”

. . .

Knee’s book is filled with business school case studies that might be a bit in the weeds for general readers. (One of the successes he identifies is a company that makes software for a very specific financial accounting function.) But for aspiring entrepreneurs these stories offer a primer on the delusion Knee has identified, and show how to avoid the two primary misjudgments that cause it. The first is a belief that platforms emerged with the dawn of the internet. In fact, they’ve been around for decades.

. . .

But the crux of Knee’s argument is that “beyond their size and success” — no small feat — there is little the big platforms have in common.

. . .

Knee grants that the breadth and scope of the giant tech platforms is “awe-inspiring,” but he thinks our collective fear of them is overblown. (. . . ) The platforms have weaknesses just like any business, he argues, and the succubi themselves push the myth of their own invincibility in order to dissuade any potential competition.

But what the myth has mostly done is tempt young entrepreneurs to try to match them.

. . .

Knee believes that investors, and many of his students, are fooling themselves into thinking that building a globe-spanning platform is a viable goal. Platforms are successful not because they are platforms, but because they exploit the same kinds of advantages that successful businesses have enjoyed for decades. It’s a boring realization, but one that Knee hopes will save his students not only from pursuing bad ideas, but from ruining their lives. The platform siren song, he writes, “fatally impedes the ability of many to clearly consider what they might actually enjoy.” Not everyone needs to start a company to be happy. And not every company needs to take over the world.

For the full review, see:

Reeves Wiedeman. “Nosedive.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, September 26, 2021): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 15, 2021, and has the title “Why Does Every Company Now Want to Be a Platform?”)

The book under review is:

Knee, Jonathan A. The Platform Delusion: Who Wins and Who Loses in the Age of Tech Titans. New York: Portfolio, 2021.

Precise Decisions Can Be Fairer (But Can You Be Precisely Wrong?)

There’s a famous quote, usually wrongly attributed to Keynes that ‘it’s better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong.’ In a new book “noise” refers to inconsistent decisions, that need not be biased in any consistent way. But consistency is not the only value that matters. Academics are sometimes evaluated on the basis of the number of articles they publish. If this is done conscientiously, then the evaluation is consistent, and in that sense “fair.” But maybe there are other criteria that are harder to measure, but that matter more, like the profundity and insight of what is published. Evaluating on the basis of well-measured criteria, that matter less, rather than poorly-measured criteria, that matter more, may increase unfairness in a deeper sense.

(p. 10) A study at an oncology center found that the diagnostic accuracy of melanomas was only 64 percent, meaning that doctors misdiagnosed melanomas in one of every three lesions.

When two psychiatrists conducted independent reviews of 426 patients in state hospitals, they came to the equivalent of a tossup: agreement 50 percent of the time on what kind of mental illness was present.

. . .

Doctors are more likely to order cancer screenings for patients they see early in the morning than late in the afternoon.

. . .

In a study of the effectiveness of putting calorie counts on menu items, consumers were more likely to make lower-calorie choices if the labels were placed to the left of the food item rather than the right.

“When calories are on the left, consumers receive that information first and evidently think ‘a lot of calories!’ or ‘not so many calories!’ before they see the item,” Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein explain in this tour de force of scholarship and clear writing. “By contrast, when people see the food item first, they apparently think ‘delicious!’ or ‘not so great!’ before they see the calorie label. Here again, their initial reaction greatly affects their choices.” This hypothesis is supported, the authors write in a typically clever aside, by the “finding that for Hebrew speakers, who read right to left, the calorie label has a significantly larger impact if it is on the right rather than the left.”

These inconsistencies are all about noise, which Kahneman, Sibony and Sunstein define as “unwanted variability in judgments.”

. . .

As the authors explain in their introduction, a team of target shooters whose shots always fall to the right of the bull’s-eye is exhibiting a bias, as is a judge who always sentences Black people more harshly. That’s bad, but at least they are consistent, which means the biases can be identified and corrected. But another team whose shots are scattered in different directions away from the target is shooting noisily, and that’s harder to correct. A third team whose shots all go to the left of the bull’s-eye but are scattered high and low is both biased and noisy.

Despite its prominence in so many realms of human judgment, the authors note that “noise is rarely recognized,” let alone counteracted. Which is why the parade of noise examples that the authors provide are so compelling, and why gathering the examples in one place to demonstrate the cost of noise and then suggesting noise reduction techniques, or “decision hygiene,” makes this book so important. We are living in a moment of rampant polarization and distrust in the fundamental institutions that underpin civil society. Eradicating the noise that leads to random, unfair decisions will help us regain trust in one another.

“Noise” seems certain to make a mark by calling attention to the problem and providing a tangible guide to reducing it. Despite the authors’ intimidating academic credentials, they take pains to explain, even with welcome redundancy, their various categories of noise, the experiments and formulas that they introduce, as well as their conclusions and solutions.

For the full review, see:

Steven Brill. “No Chance.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, May 30, 2021): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 18, 2021, and has the title “For a Fairer World, It’s Necessary First to Cut Through the ‘Noise’.”)

The book under review is:

Kahneman, Daniel, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein. Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2021.

Chinese Communist Party Has “Instinct” for “Repression and Control”

(p. B1) To build a logistics hub next to Beijing’s main airport, Desmond Shum spent three years collecting 150 official seals from the many-layered Chinese bureaucracy.

To get these seals of approval, he curried favors with government officials. The airport customs chief, for example, demanded that he build the agency a new office building with indoor basketball and badminton courts, a 200-seat theater and a karaoke bar.

“If you don’t give this to us,” the chief told Mr. Shum with a big grin over dinner, “we’re not going to let you build.”

Mr. Shum recounts the conversation in a memoir that shows how the Communist Party keeps business in line — and what happens when businesspeople overstep. Released this month, “Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption and Vengeance in Today’s China” shows how government officials keep the rules fuzzy and the threat of a crackdown ever-present, . . .

. . .

(p. B4) . . . Mr. Shum’s book has come out just as the future of China’s entrepreneurs is in doubt. The government has cracked down on the most successful private enterprises, including Alibaba Group, the e-commerce giant, and Didi, the ride-hailing company. It has sentenced business leaders who dared to criticize the government to lengthy prison terms.

. . .

“The party has an almost animal instinct toward repression and control,” Mr. Shum wrote in the book. “It’s one of the foundational tenets of a Leninist system. Anytime the party can afford to swing toward repression, it will.”

. . .

“Only in times of crisis does the party loosen its grip, allowing more free enterprise and more freedom,” Mr. Shum wrote. “China’s growing economy presented the party with an opportunity to reassert its dominance.”

. . .

Many businesspeople have managed to move at least part of their assets abroad, he said. Few make long-term investments because they are too risky and difficult. “Only idiots plan for the long term,” he said.

. . .

To win a green light for the airport logistics hub, Mr. Shum dined with officials nearly every day for a few years, downing one bottle of Moutai, the famed Chinese liquor, at each meal. His employees brought officials fine teas, ran their errands and looked after the needs of their wives and children.

One employee accompanied so many people to so many sauna trips that his skin started peeling off, he wrote.

The top airport and local district officials changed three times during the project’s span. Each time, Mr. Shum’s team had to restart the ingratiating process.

For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. “An Insider To Money And Power In China Tells All.” The New York Times (Friday, Sept. 24, 2021): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the same date as the print version, and has the title “An Insider Details the ‘Black Box’ of Money and Power in China.”)

The book discussed in the commentary quoted above is:

Shum, Desmond. Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today’s China. New York: Scribner, 2021.

Volatile Investor Goaded WeWork Entrepreneur “to Think Bigger”

(p. B1) Adam Neumann and Masayoshi Son were negotiating a possible $20 billion check when Mr. Son pulled up an image of Yoda on his iPad.

It was summer 2018 and Mr. Son’s tech conglomerate, SoftBank Group Corp., had already pumped over $4 billion into WeWork, the shared office space startup Mr. Neumann co-founded eight years earlier. Now Mr. Neumann was trying to get Mr. Son to buy a majority stake in WeWork. It would have been the largest acquisition ever of a startup, part of a bid to turbocharge a three-pronged strategy to dominate global real estate.

Mr. Son, a risk-taking investor who likened his gut-based strategy of “use the force” to that of the bat-eared Star Wars Jedi, was visibly excited that his new disciple was pushing for such an ambitious plan. Mr. Neumann, more than 20 years younger than Mr. Son and roughly a foot taller, charted out (p. B6) gargantuan growth projections in presentation after presentation throughout the summer. Mr. Son, scribbling on his iPad, calculated WeWork would be worth $10 trillion in a decade, more than 10 times the price tag of Apple at the time, the world’s most valuable company.

Still, Mr. Son kept urging Mr. Neumann to think bigger.

WeWork’s salespeople, real estate professionals and buildings numbered in the low hundreds. Mr. Son, though, told Mr. Neumann each category needed to grow—to 10,000. On his iPad, he commemorated the dictate.

“10k, 10k, 10k!” Mr. Son wrote in yellow, above Yoda grasping a green lightsaber. He signed below: “Masa.”

Fourteen months later, WeWork underwent one of the most spectacular corporate meltdowns of the decade.

. . .

Mr. Neumann, a long-haired, energetic entrepreneur, started WeWork after struggling to build a baby-clothes business in New York, where he moved from Israel in 2001.

. . .

Following a dinner with Walter Isaacson, biographer of Steve Jobs, he gathered staff around to read a complimentary email from the author. He told his employees he wanted Mr. Isaacson to write a biography about him.

. . .

Playing a role in Mr. Neumann’s growing ambitions was Mr. Son, who was frequently needling Mr. Neumann to think bigger.

At a meal in Tokyo with Mr. Son and Cheng Wei, CEO of Chinese ridehail giant Didi Global Inc., Mr. Son told Mr. Neumann that the Didi CEO beat out Uber Technologies Inc. in China not because he was smarter than Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Mr. Cheng was crazier, Mr. Son said.

On the same Tokyo trip, Mr. Son asked Mr. Neumann who would win a fight between a smart guy and a crazy guy, according to people familiar with the conversation. He told Mr. Neumann that being crazy is how you win and that Mr. Neumann was not crazy enough, according to these people.

Roughly a year later at another meeting in Tokyo, Mr. Son clicked on a promotional video of SoftBank-backed Oyo Hotels & Homes, led by the then 24-year-old Ritesh Agarwal. Oyo was growing far faster than WeWork, Mr. Son told Mr. Neumann, ribbing him about lagging behind his SoftBank-backed counterpart, whom Mr. Son equated with a sibling.

“Your little brother is going to beat you,” Mr. Son told Mr. Neumann, according to people familiar with the conversation. “He is being bolder than you.”

Following meetings like this, Mr. Neumann often pushed for bigger ideas, aides said.

For the full commentary, see:

Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell. “The We That Didn’t Work.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 17, 2021): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The We That Didn’t Work at WeWork.”)

The commentary quoted above is based on the authors’ book:

Brown, Eliot, and Maureen Farrell. The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion. New York: Crown, 2021.

When Does Selling an Entrepreneurial Vision Cross a Legal or Ethical Line?

(p. B4) I’m angry about start-up founders who over-promise, behave badly and sometimes crater their companies and walk away unscathed.

. . .

I’ve been thinking about this recently because of the glare on two start-up founders, Adam Neumann and Trevor Milton.

. . .

A new book details the ways that WeWork mostly just rented cubicles, burned through piles of other people’s money, treated employees like garbage and made Neumann stinking rich as the company nearly collapsed in 2019. WeWork has stuck around in less outlandish form without Neumann.

And last week, federal authorities charged Milton with duping investors in his electric truck start-up Nikola into believing that the company’s battery- and hydrogen-powered vehicle technology was far more capable than it really was. Among the allegations are that Milton ordered the doctoring of a promotional video to make a Nikola prototype truck appear to be fully functional when it was not.

. . .

Disproportionate rewards go to the entrepreneurs and companies that can sell a vision of billions of users and values in the trillions of dollars.

. . .

Those conditions tempt people to skirt the edges of what’s right and legal. But I also wonder if curtailing the excesses would also curb the ambition that we want. Sometimes the zeal to imagine ridiculously grand visions of the future brings us Theranos. And sometimes it brings us Google. Are these two sides of the same coin?

For the full commentary, see:

Shira Ovide. “Why Do Hucksters Come With the Territory?” The New York Times (Monday, August 9, 2021): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated August 4, 2021, and has the title “Innovation Invites Hucksters.”)

The book on WeWork mentioned in the above commentary is:

Brown, Eliot, and Maureen Farrell. The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion. New York: Crown, 2021.

20 Startups Are Developing Senolytics to Slow Cell Senescence

(p. A17) Some species of tortoises, . . ., have a risk of death that doesn’t seem to change with age in adulthood. Though these wrinkly, lumbering beasts might not seem like ideal ambassadors for aging well, by the statistical definition of aging—how fast your risk of death increases with time—these tortoises hardly age at all.

. . .

A secret of the tortoises’ longevity is that their cells can divide more than twice as many times as human cells before becoming aged or “senescent.”

. . .

Already, therapies to combat cell senescence—senolytics—are undergoing human trials. Senescent cells build up in our bodies as we get older and seem to accelerate the aging process as they accumulate. Drugs and genetic modifications that periodically remove them have been shown to make mice biologically younger: They live longer and healthier than untreated mice, with stronger muscles and hearts; delayed cancer, cataracts and cognitive decline; and even plumper skin and thicker, glossier fur.

There are currently at least 20 startups trying to transfer senolytics from the lab to the clinic. These efforts target specific diseases in which senescent cells are known to be key villains. A company called Unity Biotechnology is targeting these cells to combat age-related sight loss, while a team including scientists at the Mayo Clinic who first demonstrated senolytics in mice is working to use the same drug cocktail to treat age-related lung fibrosis.

The average 80-year-old is suffering from five different diagnoses and taking a similar number of medications to treat them.

Senolytics are the vanguard but close behind are dozens of different ways to slow or reverse aging in the lab, ranging from drugs and diets to gene and stem cell therapies. These treatments intervene in the molecular, cellular and biological underpinnings of the aging process, from the smallest scale in our biology (damage to DNA and protein molecules) to the largest (dysfunction across the immune system). They are aimed at slowing down multiple aspects of the process and at wide-ranging rejuvenation.

There have been some high-profile failures in the field. One was resveratrol, found in grapes and other sources. A company working on resveratrol, Sirtris, was acquired by drug giant GSK for $720 million in 2008 but closed down five years later. The path from lab bench to pill is filled with obstacles, and we can expect further setbacks, but with so many different therapies and a deeper understanding of the biology of aging, at least some of the new ideas are likely to succeed.

For the full commentary, see:

Andrew Steele. “The Best Remedy for Our Diseases? Aging Less.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 10, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated April 10, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Steele’s commentary, quoted above, is related to his book:

Steele, Andrew. Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older without Getting Old. New York: Doubleday, 2021.

“Weak Venture Capitalists Who Kowtow to Charismatic Entrepreneurs”

(p. 11) . . . the unbelievability of the rise and fall of a company that marketed itself to investors as a tech enterprise when it actually rented work space to gig-economy freelancers and starry-eyed entrepreneurs is part of the considerable lure of “The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion,” a juicy guided tour through the highly leveraged, not-quite-rags-to-billion-dollar-parachute saga of WeWork and its co-founder Adam Neumann, a startup demagogue who aspired to be a demigod, but got hamstrung by his ego and greed.

. . .

. . ., the book saves its firepower for the cataclysmic combination of Neumann’s gift for salesmanship, addiction to fund-raising and focus on his personal wealth. We meet weak venture capitalists who kowtow to charismatic entrepreneurs as well as mutual fund directors, investment bankers and deep-pocketed benefactors like SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son who enabled Neumann.

For the full review, see:

Katherine Rosman. “Office Space.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, August 15, 2021): 11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July [sic] 18, 2021, and has the title “‘How to Explain the Rise and Fall of WeWork?”)

The book under review is:

Brown, Eliot, and Maureen Farrell. The Cult of We: Wework, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion. New York: Crown, 2021.

Emerson’s Buoyancy and Resilience in Adversity

(p. C5) Life compelled Emerson to become something of an expert on resilience. As a young man he lost the love of his life, his wife Ellen, to tuberculosis when she was just 19. His oldest son, Waldo—a joyful child who seemed to concentrate in himself what was most uninhibitedly life-loving in his father—died of scarlet fever when he was 5 years old.

. . .

In the essay “Power,” Emerson writes that we carefully watch children to see if they possess “the recuperative force.” Those who instinctively retire to their rooms in sorrow when they’re slighted, miss the prize or lose the game will be at a serious disadvantage in adult life. “But,” Emerson continues, “if they have the buoyancy and resistance that preoccupies them with new interest in the new moment,—the wounds cicatrize, and the fiber is the tougher for the hurt.”

When Waldo died, Emerson needed that kind of buoyancy and resistance to overcome the greatest sadness of his life.

. . .

Emerson’s resilience was shaped by his conviction that we are mortal and there is no other life than this. Nothing can redeem the time when you did not plunge forward and do what you had to do. The moral quality Emerson commends above all others isn’t love, faith or patriotism but a commitment to work. “But do your work and I shall know you,” he writes in “Self-Reliance.”

Emerson’s commitment to rapid recovery from loss isn’t gentle or humanitarian. But it is classically American in its insistence on affirming the future over the past. For all our faults, Americans are still people who look ahead, scope the territory, move forward. When we fail at something, we give it one more go and maybe get it half right.

For the full essay, see:

Mark Edmundson. “What Emerson Can Teach Us About Resilience.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 19, 2021): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date June 18, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Emerson’s most famous essay, “Self-Reliance,” can be found in:

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Self-Reliance and Other Essays. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.