Top Five TEDx talks

I previously posted my top ten TED talks. TEDx is similar to TED but is an independently organised event under the TED banner, similar to a franchise. Many famous “TED” talks are actually from an independent TEDx event, and most are unaware of the difference. Here are my favorites:

1) Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work (Jason Fried). It’s often very difficult to get actual work done in the office, rather than firefighting, due to managers and meetings (which Jason calls M&Ms). Here’s how to overcome them.

2) Perspective Is Everything (Rory Sutherland). Fascinating talk on “framing” (a concept in behavioral economics on how you present a concept). By a top advertising professional, as knowledgeable as any top behavioral economist on this field; his other TED talks are also excellent.

3) Breaking the Habit of Small Talk (Omid Scheybani). On how to have meaningful first-time conversations with strangers, rather than just asking them “What do you do for a living?”

4) My Philosophy For A Happy Life (Sam Berns). How to find happiness in tough situations, by a high-schooler who weighs 50lbs due to a disease, Progeria. Genuine, uplifting, and spirited.

5) Talk To Strangers (Danny Harris). How we can substantially enrich oneselves by getting to know the “extras” in our lives – people we pass each day but don’t know their name.

Using Behavioral Economics to Keep Resolutions

In 2010, David Cameron set up the “Behavioural Insights Team” (nicknamed the “Nudge Unit”) to use behavioral economics to “nudge” individuals to take superior decisions for themselves and society, e.g. save more, register as organ donors, or give to charity. It uses Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) to find the method that best works – similar to clinical trials in medicine. The establishment of BIT was inspired by Cameron reading the book “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and Thaler (one of the pioneers of behavioural economics) was heavily involved. BIT had their annual “Behavioural Exchange” conference in Westminster in September 2015 and I was privileged to give a shortened version of my TEDx talk showing that social responsibility improves profit. But, the greater privilege was the chance to learn from the leading behavioral thinkers in the world, e.g. Thaler, Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Laureate), Dan Ariely (author of Predictably Irrational), Hal Varian (Chief Economist of Google). Over the next few blog posts I will share the leading insights of the conference.

Today I’ll start with what I thought to be the single most powerful idea, which I immediately started using in my own life. It’s from Dan Ariely, one of my favorite behavioral thinkers and giver of some of my very favorite TED talks (here is a blog post on my top 10 TED talks). It was in a session entitled “Nudging for International Development” – but the idea turned out to be one that you can apply just as much to individual habits as world economic problems.

Here’s the experiment he ran. He used a RCT to study the best way to persuade adults in a developing country to save money. Here are the different treatments he used:

1) A text message saying “Please try to save 100 shillings by the end of the week”

2) A text message signed by their kids saying “Hey Mom/Dad, please try  to save 100 shillings by the end of the week”. (The text still came from the experimenters – the parents knew that their kids don’t have cellphones – but signing it with their kids’ names prompted them to think of their kids when making the saving decision).

3) A 10% or 20% post-match – i.e. the experimenter gave you an extra 10% or 20% (depending on the treatment) of what you saved by the end of the week.

4) A 10% or 20% pre-match. Similar to the above, but you’re given the bonus at the start of the week, and it’s taken away from you if you fail to save 100 shillings. This is intended to exploit the “endowment effect”. People value something more highly if they have it than if they don’t, so giving them a reward and threatening to take it away may be more powerful than giving it at the end.

5) A gold coin. At the end of the day, you used the coin to scratch either a “Yes” or “No” box according to what you saved that day.

Dan asked the audience which they thought worked the best. The audience seemed split between 2), 4), and 5) (with a bit less suggesting 3). But, the coin turned out to be the most effective by a substantial margin. Here’s why. The coin scratch is much more salient and timely. The bonus pays off only at the end of the week. So, it encourages procrastination – you can spend today, and dupe yourself into thinking you’ll save tomorrow. The same goes for the text message – you think you’ll recover and still hit the weekly target. The coin scratch encourages you to save every day. And it “gamifies” saving. Adults feel they’ve achieved something when, at the end of the day, they scratch the “Yes” box. Note that, if they don’t save, they don’t simply do nothing – they’re asked to actively scratch the “No” box, i.e. admit to themselves that they’ve failed to save.

Although Dan didn’t explicitly draw the implications for our own lives (he only had 8 minutes), I thought that this is something we can instantly apply to develop good habits. That same evening, I created a spreadsheet with a list of things that I would like to achieve each day. Every day, at the end of the day, I have to put a tick or a cross according to whether I’ve achieved it. These goals will vary from person to person; here are a few of mine:

1) Did I end the day with zero emails in my inbox? Typically, I don’t, which leads to the inbox getting more and more cluttered over time. (Note, this doesn’t mean I reply to every email – that’s unrealistic – but I file them for future reply by a particular deadline. See an earlier blog post, “Time Management Tips to Improve Your Productivity“, for more on dealing with email).

2) Did I do athletics/music practice today? We often set resolutions to lose weight, or get better at a hobby. But, these are long-term goals; without daily accountability, they get deprioritized.

3) How many times did I check my iPhone that day? I have an app called Checky which records the number of times I check my phone. I try to get below 20 each day, to help me improve focus and remove distraction.

4) How much time did I spend on my iPhone that day? Tracked with an app called Moment.

It’s only been a few days, but I’m (positively) shocked by the effect it’s had. Can a silly little tick or cross – on a sheet of paper no-one else sees – really affect how grown adults behave? Can something intellectually equivalent to a gold star we give to kids make a big difference? Actually, yes. As emphasized by one of my favorite authors Stephen Covey (especially in his books “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “First Things First”), people act differently when they keep score. You run faster if you’re wearing a Garmin, you row faster if the display shows your split time. No-one else sees these things but you, but they make a big difference. If you play a racket sport, you’ll play differently in an actual game versus just hitting about, even though the score has zero effect on your life. People (including me) invest time playing Fantasy Football even though you win absolutely nothing and the game doesn’t matter – because the score has meaning. So, why don’t we apply the idea of scorekeeping to things that do matter?

If Money Doesn’t Buy You Happiness, You’re Not Spending It Right

A good chunk of traditional finance research teaches us how to make money, such as optimal investment strategies. But, there’s very little on how to spend it. Studies show surprisingly little relationship between money and happiness. One interpretation is that things that make you truly happy can’t be bought – but money can allow people to afford healthier food, better medical care, more varied pastimes, better education, and leisure time with friends and family. So an alternative interpretation is that people don’t know how to spend it.

That’s where behavioral economists and psychologists come in. Elizabeth Dunn (UBC), Daniel Gilbert (Harvard) and Timothy Wilson (Virginia)’s excellent Journal of Consumer Psychology article, “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right” surveys a ton of research and distills it to eight succinct guidelines. I summarize five of them here.

1) Buy More Experiences and Fewer Material Goods.

People who fritter their money away on holidays or expensive dinners are seen as wasteful, as there’s nothing to show for it afterwards. Renovating your house or buying a better car are more prudent. But, it’s actually the former that has the greater effect than happiness. We adapt to things (such as a new conservatory or a flashier car) quickly. But, the memory of an experience (e.g. an African safari) remains with you long after the fact, and the anticipation of the experience also bring utility.

Moreover, “mindfulness” studies systematically find that unhappiness is correlated with mind-wandering. Experiences absorb you and keep you focused on the here and now, but you can be distracted by a dozen things while driving your car.

2) Spend Money on Others Rather Than Yourself.

Scientists believe that one major reason for humans’ large brain size is that we are more social than nearly any other animal. Thus, our happiness depends markedly on the quality of our social relationships. The “prosocial behavior” literature consistently finds that subjects report greater happiness after spending money on others rather than themselves – even though they anticipated that they would be happier doing the latter.

3) Buy Many Small Pleasures Instead Of Few Large Ones.

A variety of frequently small pleasures (in the authors’ words, “double lattes, uptown pedicures, and high thread-count socks”) dominate one big-ticket purchase, such as a front-row concert ticket. This is the well-known economic principle of diminishing marginal utility – a two-week vacation is less enjoyable than two separate one-week vacations. Indeed, studies show that happiness is more associated with the frequency rather than intensity of experiences.

The main reason is the surprise factor of a new experience. Two smaller vacations allow you to explore two different places. Moreover, variety exists even for “everyday” experiences – a beer after work is never the same as the last one, since it will feature different people and different conversations.

4) Buy Less Insurance

This principle doesn’t just apply to literal insurance, e.g. over-priced extensive warranties, but also the “insurance” that comes with a generous return policy. Customers prefer Amazon to eBay and Craigslist, despite it being more expensive, because of the option to return a product they don’t like. But, as Dan Gilbert discussed in his excellent TED talk The Surprising Science of Happiness (see here for my list of top ten TED talks), whether we like something or not doesn’t just depend on the item’s attributes – we can consciously choose to like it. Indeed, studies show that you like an item more if you don’t have the option to return it.

5) Beware of Comparison Shopping

Websites allow you to compare products on tiny details, which leads to consumers fixating on very small differences and ignoring the similarities on the major characteristics. They can thus miss the forest for the trees and choose the wrong product based on a minor attribute. In addition, doing so wastes substantial time on minutiae, particularly since we typically grow to end up liking the product we buy anyway if its major characteristics are correct (see point 4).

Time Management Tips to Boost Your Productivity

(A shorter version of this article was originally published in CityAM. A talk on time management and personal leadership is here.)

At work, often the last thing you can do is work.  Emails flood in, colleagues make urgent requests, and fires need to be fought.  But, a few pointers can help us get the most out of each day.

Focus on the Important, not the Urgent

Traditional time management involves writing a “To Do” list and doing the Urgent tasks first.  It’s extremely addictive to tick Urgent things off your list – but you may end the day having done 9 Urgent tasks, but not the 10th, most important one.  Stephen Covey, in his excellent book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, instead advocates tackling the Important tasks first.  Urgent tasks are those that you have to do, externally imposed by others, and often low-hanging fruit – so it’s tempting to start with them.  Important tasks are those that you want to do, internally generated by you, such as developing a new idea.  No-one’s nagging you to do them, and they take significant time.  So if we don’t prioritize them, they’ll get swept aside by the Urgent.

Covey also emphasised that people act differently when keeping score: you’ll run faster if wearing a stopwatch.  The same is true for work.  Have a stopwatch on your desk, and start it when working on an Important task.  Stop it when you’re distracted to surf the internet, or respond to an Urgent email.  Set yourself a target of how much real work you aim to get done that day. It will change your behaviour.


Control Your Email

Urgent email burns a hole in your inbox and demands to be attended to.  How can you focus on the Important, but still meet your deadlines?  Create a sub-folder called “Today”, and another called “This Week”.  When urgent emails come in, file them in the appropriate subfolder.  When they’re out of sight, they’re out of mind, freeing you to do the Important tasks.  Then, in the late afternoon, after the Important duties have been accomplished and when your mind is less sharp, you can turn your attention to these folders.

What if the Important tasks involve writing email?  Select “Work Offline” so that you’re not distracted by incoming email when doing so.  Change your settings so that you don’t have the “new email” little envelope in the bottom right, which demands to be clicked on.  Remove the “new email” chime for the same reason.

Emails to mailing list (e.g. advertising special offers) are neither Urgent nor Important.  Such emails will have “Unsubscribe” at the bottom.  Create a new sub-folder called “Mailing Lists”, and use a filter rule (in Outlook, go to File – Manage Rules and Alerts) to automatically move messages with the word “Unsubscribe” into this sub-folder.  You can read them at the end of the day.

Outsource and Automate

Many emails you send will contain stock phrases, e.g. directions to your office.  In an Outlook email, go to Insert – Quick Parts, and save these phrases, so that you can paste them into an email at a flash.

For incoming email that you can give a standard response to, but don’t trust an auto-responder, create a sub-folder that your secretary has access to.  File these emails into the sub-folder, and inform your secretary of the stock responses to such emails.

For non-work-related admin, use a virtual assistant (e.g. AskSunday or GetFriday).  For example, a virtual assistant could download all talks from a website, or delete duplicate photos from your computer.

Use Natural Stimuli

On the hour, every hour, do a short physical activity – a set of press-ups if you have your own office, a brief walk if not.  This accomplishes two goals.  First, the actual activity is energizing.  Second, you’ll try to complete the task in hand before the next enforced break.  I dislike doing press-ups, so if it’s 10:50am, I think “I only have 10 minutes before an unpleasant activity” and make the best use of them.

As an alternative to coffee, Jamie Oliver recommends a fresh chilli.  One or two seeds will give you a pick-me up.  Sounds maverick? Maybe so, but a lot of punch can come from something very little.  That’s the art of time management.

World Cup fever: Why an England loss will wipe billions off the stock market

(This article was originally published in CityAM. A brief, humorous, five-minute talk on the paper is here.)

THE WORLD Cup, which starts today, will spark a huge range of human emotions, from the excitement of victory to the despair of defeat. The effect of football results on national mood is so strong that it can spill over into the stock market and cause swings of billions of pounds. Why?

While the World Cup pits arch-rivals against each other, raring to settle scores of decades past (did Geoff Hurst’s shot cross the line in 1966? Frank Lampard’s in 2010?), there are also long-standing feuds in the halls of academia. The equivalent of England-Germany is the debate over what drives financial markets. The “efficient markets” camp argues that the price of a share incorporates every single piece of relevant information: management quality, product mix, growth options, and so on. Prices end up at the theoretically “correct” fundamental value, as if calculated by an infinitely powerful computer.

The “behavioural finance” team points out that traders aren’t computers, but humans. They’re prone to mistakes and psychological biases. Thus, share prices are affected not only by fundamentals, but also by emotions. Internet shares were wildly expensive in the late 1990s, not because these companies’ prospects were stellar, but because investors had become irrationally exuberant.

Refereeing the “efficient” versus “behavioural” match is extremely difficult. One way to settle the tie would be to compare actual prices against the theoretical “correct” value based on fundamentals. But we don’t know what the “correct” value is. It could be that, based on information at the time, internet shares were fairly valued in the late 1990s, and the subsequent crash only occurred because bad news unexpectedly came out afterwards.

But there is another tactic we can use – study whether prices are affected by emotions. Previous papers looked at whether weather affects the stock market. However, weather isn’t correlated across a country. If it’s sunny in Bristol but cloudy in Manchester, it’s not clear what will happen to the overall stock market. Moreover, the effect of weather is unlikely to be strong enough to drive your trading behaviour, particularly since traders work in insulated offices.

That’s why I chose to look at sports. Sports have huge effects on people’s emotions, these are far stronger than the effects of weather, and they can’t simply be neutralised by the office environment. When England lost to Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, heart attacks increased over the next few days. Suicides rise in Canada when the Montreal ice hockey team loses in the Stanley Cup, and murders go up when the local American Football team loses in the playoffs. International sports, like the World Cup, affect the whole nation in the same way, and lead to a large effect on national mood that is correlated across a country.

Together with co-authors Diego Garcia and Oyvind Norli, I investigated the link between 1,100 international football matches and stock returns in 39 countries in our paper Sports Sentiment and Stock Returns. The results were striking. Being eliminated from the World Cup leads to the national market falling by 0.5 per cent on the next day – controlling for everything else that might drive stock returns. Applied to the UK stock market, this translates into £10bn wiped off the market in a single day, just because England loses another penalty shootout.

The effect is stronger in the World Cup than the European Championship, which makes sense because the World Cup is the bigger stage and conjures up even more emotion. It’s stronger in the elimination stages than the group stages, because if you lose you’re instantly out. It’s also stronger in football-crazy countries like England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Argentina and Brazil. We also studied 1,500 other international sports matches and found a similar effect in one-day cricket, rugby, and basketball. We ruled out the explanation that the market declines are due to the economic effects of losses (e.g. reduced sales of replica merchandise, or reduced worker productivity).

Depressingly, we found no effect of a win in any sport. One reason could be that sports fans are notoriously over-optimistic about their team’s prospects. If fans go into each game expecting they’ll win, there’s little effect if they do win, but they become depressed if they lose. Another is the asymmetry of the competition: winning an elimination game merely sends you into the next round, but losing leads to instant exit.

Let’s hope the Three Lions not only give us some cheer on the pitch, but also help to maintain the value of our portfolios.

Top Ten TED Talks

London is a great city, but one of its downsides is that it takes a long time to get to most places. The TED Talks app has significantly enriched my commutes. Here are my top ten TED talks:

1) The Family I Lost in North Korea, and the Family I Gained (Joseph Kim). Perhaps the most poignant TED talk I’ve heard, about a boy who list his family in North Korea. About how simple acts of kindness can transform someone’s life.

2) Are We In Control Of Our Decisions? (Dan Ariely). On how “nudges” (e.g. by companies selling products, or policymakers) can radically affect people’s behavior. One of the leading lights in behavioral economics; his other TED talks are also excellent.

3) The Hidden Power of Smiling (Ron Gutman). On how the simple act of smiling has a positive causal effect on your lifespan, success, and health. 4 million views.

4) The Puzzle of Motivation (Dan Pink). How intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation (using rewards). I thought I already knew this idea, but this went into far greater depth than what I’d heard before. 3 million views.

5) How Great Leaders Inspire Action (Simon Sinek). Leadership and inspiration doesn’t require you to do superhuman feats (what you do), but stem from how and why you do something. 2.5 million views.

6) Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (Amy Cuddy). How adopting particular body language has a causal effect on your performance. This is something I was naturally skeptical about, being an dull economist, but this was an illuminating talk based on scientific evidence.

7) The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong (Dan Pallotta). We often think that charities shouldn’t spend on advertising, on hiring good managers – but such investment pays many times over.

8) Teach Every Child About Food (Jamie Oliver). The critical importance of nutrition for health. You may think that you’ve heard it all before, but this is powerfully and cogently argued, and has the potential to change your everyday life.

9) Building US-China Relations By Banjo (Abigail Washburn). The power of music to create community and cross boundaries – that diplomats, politicians and economists couldn’t cross.

10) The Surprising Science of Happiness (Dan Gilbert). We spend our whole lives chasing after happiness, but we can actually manufacture it ourselves.

Davos in a Nutshell (Non-Economics Sessions)

Perhaps the most illuminating sessions in Davos were ones unrelated to economics, and thus gave me insights into topics that I would not normally get the chance to learn about. Here is a short summary.

While these sessions were on quite different topics, one common theme to many was the “neuroplasticity” of the brain. The brain is not fully formed after childhood, but you can keep developing it, e.g. through meditation, mindfulness (paying attention rather than being distracted).


A Buddhist monk led a session on “compassionate” meditation, which is quite different from standard meditation:

  • Picture a loved one in suffering, and being relieved of this suffering. Then, move to acquaintances, strangers, enemies, and dictators. This simple practice helps us show compassion in our everyday life
  • A little bit of meditation every day is better than 8 hours once a week. You water plants every day rather than throwing a bucket once a week.

Exploring Our Limits: Workshop on Creativity

  • Jeremy Balkin (Karma Capital, Give While You Live, 5x marathon runner)
    • Modern society tells kids to conform, to color within the lines, but we need risk
    • For each of us, there’s one thing we haven’t done because we’re scared. Think what this is, and do it
    • We’re all born as naked vulnerable beings, and we’ll all die as naked vulnerable beings. What matters is what we do in between. And we don’t know at what point death will come
    • We’re told that running 26 miles is physiologically dangerous. But, humans used to run to get food. And technology is evolving (e.g. better shoes) to help us. The world has changed a lot in the past 5 years, even in the past year. There’s almost nothing we can’t do
  • Lewis Pugh (first person to swim across the North Pole)
    • Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t get his ideas for Top Gear by sitting in the BBC studio, but going to the pub, having a few beers and allow his imagination to get wild
    • Lewis himself decided to swim the North Pole and Everest in creative moments, on a whim
    • Creativity and imagination never takes place in the office, but with friends. You don’t make a wild decision based on an economic cost-benefit analysis, but on a whim
    • Use the “4am test”. If a crazy idea makes sense to you at 4am in the morning, it’s probably a good idea
  • Bobby Ghosh (TIME magazine World Editor)
    • 10 years from now, you’d like to think “I’m proud I did this wild and dangerous thing”, but also “I’m proud I did not do this wild and dangerous thing”. We often extol the virtues of being wild and crazy, but judgement is also required. Sometimes not doing something wild is the boldest decision
    • Ask yourself: “When is the last time you did something for the first time?” Hopefully, the answer is “recently”
  • Celine Cousteau (granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau)
    • You need a team of people to help you – you can’t do it alone. We like to promote the “self-made millionaire”. No-one is self-made. Entrepreneurs have customers, employees
    • Must connect with the hearts and guts with everyone in your team. This principle also guides you on choosing your team-mates: are they in?
    • You need to give yourself space for creativity to happen. We’re obsessed with doing things. Don’t do, just be
  • Tina Seelig (Stanford, moderator)
    • Privilege.  If you’re an MBA student (or professor) at a top business school, you’re privileged, There are others who should be here who aren’t here
    • Platform. We are lucky to have a platform – use it to help those in need
    • Perseverance. Nothing comes for free
    • In baseball, if you hit 0.300, you’re a great hitter. Encourage people to make mistakes when stakes are low: don’t be a perfectionist on small things

Making Better Decisions

This was the session that I served as a discussion leader (on behavioral finance). Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard was one of the co-facilitators (with Eldar Shafir of Princeton, his coauthor on a book called “Scarcity”). He talked about two topics: bandwidth and scarcity:Bandwidth

  • We talk a lot about time management, but what’s more important is “bandwidth” management. You only have a limited capacity for difficult tasks
  • The biggest predictor of a plane crash is whether the pilot is in a bad relationship
  • Tools to manage bandwidth
    • Delegate unimportant decisions to others
    • Manage expectations. If others know that you may not reply to email instantly, this removes the mental burden of having to constantly check email
    • Don’t pack every item in your schedule. You can’t go from one meeting on a hard topic to another meeting on a hard topic. Your mind will wander and you will lose focus. You need to build in “bandwidth breaks” during a day, else you’ll be ineffective
  • Respect other people’s bandwidth. We think it’s unacceptable to charge kids $100 to apply for a scholarship, but it’s OK to make them fill in a 40-page form
  • Listen to hear the other person, rather than to prepare your reply to the other person. You can’t do both, as you have limited bandwidth
  • If you’re overcommitted, you may think you should drop everything from your schedule so that you have lots of time. But, then you’ll take on unnecessary commitments
  • A woman with lots of debt still keeps spending. She’s a bad debtor of money, spending money she doesn’t have
    • We’re often bad debtors of time, spending time we don’t have
  • The tagline of their book “Scarcity” is “Why having too little means so much”. When we experience scarcity, we focus on the one thing to make ends meet right now
    • Sometimes it works: we can be super-productive when you have a deadline
    • But, long-term consequences: spending money you don’t have involves taking payday loans
    • Thus, there’s an optimum amount of scarcity – not too much, nor too little
Mindfulness (Goldie Hawn)
  • For further color, read the TIME Magazine article “The Mindful Revolution”,
  • The more attentive you are, the more your brain circuits wire together and fire together. Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to change the neuroplasticity of the brain
  • Mindfulness – focusing on one thing – teaches self-control, and ensures that you can control your emotions rather than being reactive
    • Hot cognition: you make decisions based on emotion
    • Cold cognition: you can distance emotion from decisions
  • The “Stanford marshmallow experiment” showed that, whether kids were able to resist eating a marshmallow, was a significant predictor of future success
    • Being distracted (e.g. checking phone during dinner, or doing urgent stuff over important stuff) is like eating a marshmallow or not controlling your hot cognition
  • Psychology used to be about fixing broken things. Nowadays, positive psychology is about building on the good things in people. This involves attentiveness and focus
Mindfulness Dinner
  • Otto Scharmer (MIT): the success of an intervention depends on the internal state of the interviewer
    • For someone to be a good leader or teacher, the people he’s leading or teaching must be mindful
  • Tania Singer (Max Planck Institute): mindfulness isn’t just attention (like being a sniper). It doesn’t just make you more efficient
    • Mindfulness has an ethical dimension. Being present and aware of what it exists, and accepting what exists: compassion for others, self-acceptance for yourself
  • Buddhist monk: mindfulness isn’t just being aware of your thoughts, but also countering bad thoughts
    • People are born with traits. However, by accumulating moods, you scientifically modify your traits by changing the neuroplasticity of the brain.
    • Being a restless monkey all the time is bad. Be deeply aware of what’s going on
  • The founder of Twitter mediates for 10 minutes a day, even though Twitter seems the opposite of mindfulness

Should Drugs Be Legalized?

  • Governor Rick Perry (Texas): I’m the only one on this panel against the legalization of drugs, but I come to this debate with an open mind
  • Kenneth Roth (Human Rights Watch): decriminalize drugs, so that we can regulate them like alcohol, tobacco
    • Treatment is key, but treatment is undermined by criminalization, so victims run away from treatment
  • Kofi Annan: drugs have destroyed many people, but government policies have destroyed many more.
    • The US spends more money on prisons than education
    • We don’t need to legalize drugs, but we should decriminalize them – there’s an important difference. You can decriminalize possession, but still keep supply illegal (as in Colorado)
  • Juan Manuel Santos (President of Columbia): drug policy is currently decided by law enforcement people, but it should be discussed by public health people
    • Criminalization creates drug cartels and the potential for huge profits. This leads to murders – profits are so high that people are literally willing to kill for them
    • Tobacco and alcohol firms make normal profits because these substances are legalized
    • The Surgeon-General of the US said 8 million deaths have been prevented by the legalization of tobacco
  • Roth: decriminalization doesn’t mean throwing your hands up and giving carte blanche. Use education, drug substitutes
  • Perry: I won’t jump in front of the parade just because this is the way public opinion is going. Instead, science should lead us
    • In the 5 years since decriminalization of drugs in Portugal, the murder rate has risen 40%
    • Marijuana today is much more potent than in the past – it’s genetically modified
    • The fact that Texas is stricter than other states doesn’t mean that Texas is too strict, or that the other states are too lax. The 10th Amendment was to give states authority to set laws, and then people can choose where to live. We shouldn’t have the “one-size-fits-all” mentality that seems to come out of DC.
  • Perry: something must certainly be done, but there are other steps we can take besides criminalization
    • Go after the money. Crack down on banks who allow money laundering
    • Science can create drug substitutes. Decriminalization dissuades drug users from moving off drugs onto substitutes.
  • Annan: decriminalize consumers, stay harsh on suppliers
  • Audience question: does it apply to all drugs?
    • Santos: we need a different approach for each different drug, since each drug is different
    • Perry: the others on this panel have used economic arguments for legalizing drugs – that legalization will remove cartels. But, if so, the economic argument would apply to all drugs. This exposes the fallacy of a purely economic argument. Instead, we should look at the science of each drug. We should also think about the medical cost of sending the message that it’s OK to smoke marijuana
    • Roth: but we’re not sending the message that tobacco is OK. Packets say “smoking kills”
    • Perry: but that used to be the message. Films, celebrities portrayed the image of smoking being cool. We haven’t spent enough since then to reverse this image.

Closing Address

  • Pope Francis: humanity should be served by wealth, not ruled by it
  • Jim Wallis: Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then seeing the evidence change
  • When we return home, we will be confronted by the tyranny of the urgent – but we need to be mindful of what’s morally urgent
  • Think about: what’s the one thing I will commit to right now to help support the World Economic Forum’s mission to improve the state of the world?