Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Through the power of his words, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn helped change the world. He wrote about Russia, the country in which he was born and where he died. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His writings helped bring about the downfall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or Soviet Union), which began and ended in his lifetime. But surprisingly the place where he lived the longest, and where he was the most productive, was Cavendish, Vermont.

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn lived from 1918 to 2008. The 100th anniversary of his birth is being celebrated in Vermont this year. Who was this man and what did he do? And what was his connection to Vermont?

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Illusion of Explanatory Depth

Zac Mayo introduced me to the concept of the “illusion of explanatory depth” (IOED):

Most people feel they understand the world with far greater detail, coherence, and depth than they really do.

For example, how well do you feel you understand how a refrigerator works? Try explaining it to a friend or on paper and then consider the question again.

The phrase IOED was coined in a 2002 paper by Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil of the psychology department at Yale University. Zac found the idea online at Edge.org.

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2008 Financial Crisis: What can we learn?

Financial markets crashed ten years ago. See my previous post for what happened and comments about the graph to the left. This post is about lessons that we can learn from that crisis.

What caused the 2008 financial crisis? People who are skeptical of unbridled capitalism will highlight mismanagement, greed, and fraud in financial institutions, and there was some of that. People who are skeptical of too much government will highlight perverse incentives in certain laws and government institutions, and there was some of that, too.

This post is about two different causes: debt and models.

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2008 Financial Crisis: What happened?

Financial markets crashed ten years ago. What happened? If we are to learn from the past, we must first remember the past.

In September 2008 I was the CEO of a financial institution – Yankee Farm Credit, part of the national Farm Credit System. I had worked for Farm Credit for 24 years and I had been CEO for 2 years. Yankee Farm Credit was small ($320 million in assets at the time), but the Farm Credit System in total is a large financial institution ($186 billion then).

Ten years ago today two large financial institutions failed. These institutions were not typical financial institutions. They were a certain type of financial institution known as Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs). There are only four significant GSEs in the United States. The Farm Credit System is a GSE. This financial crisis had my attention.

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Free Speech Pioneers

Matthew Lyon was the first person to be fined and imprisoned under the Sedition Act of 1798, one of four federal laws passed that year known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. His crime: public criticism of President John Adams that was deemed seditious.

Lyon was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Vermont. His conviction in October 1798 came near the end of his first term. Vermonters overwhelmingly re-elected Lyon to a second term, and to this day he remains the only person elected to Congress from jail.

Anthony Haswell was a printer in Bennington, Vermont, and publisher of the Vermont Gazette newspaper. His publications in his newspaper in support of Lyon incurred the wrath of federal authorities, and Haswell was also arrested, tried, convicted, imprisoned, and fined under the Sedition Act. When his prison term ended, a crowd of 2,000 people gathered in Bennington to celebrate his release.

This post is about three pioneers of free speech: Anthony Haswell, Matthew Lyon, and Ethan Allen. Ethan Allen?? Yes, read on.

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Bennington Battle Day

Today is a state holiday in Vermont – Bennington Battle Day, commemorating the Battle of Bennington in the American Revolution on August 16, 1777.

The year 1777 was a pivotal year in our history.

For Vermonters, that was the year we declared ourselves an independent republic, six months after the Thirteen Colonies declared themselves to be “free and independent States.” For our country, that was the year that the American Revolution turned in our favor. The Battle of Bennington was “the turning point that led to the turning point.”

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Zac Mayo for House

Today I submitted the following letter to the editor of the News & Citizen:

Cambridge and Waterville are fortunate to have two fine young people running for the open position in the Vermont House created by Bernie Juskiewicz’s decision not to run for re-election. I have visited with both Lucy Rogers and Zac Mayo and I am impressed with their character, intelligence, energy, and humility.

In visiting recently with Zac, I was pleased to find that he is intellectually curious, a seeker of multiple viewpoints, a good listener, and an independent thinker. He talked about his quest to understand our country subsequent to the 2016 presidential election, and his desire to improve the state of our political discourse. His views about the appropriate role of government in our society comport well with my own views. (I want good government, but not necessarily more government.) Zac’s years of service in the Navy taught him about people and organizations, which will serve him well in Montpelier. For all of these reasons, I am supporting Zac Mayo for the Vermont House.

The contest between Zac and Lucy has been positive, which has renewed my faith in our ability to govern ourselves. Other political campaigns, mostly by candidates of my generation, have sometimes led me to question that faith. But if Zac and Lucy are representative of their generation, our country will be in good hands. Thank you, both Zac and Lucy, for your interest and participation in our grand American experiment in self-government.

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