Dean Clough

March 24, 2023

Portico Darwin: Let's Leave the Rope Ladder Down


<5 Minute Read
Flag of Ukraine.jpg

Let me virtue signal my way into the weekend by saying that I have a proud history of mentoring, both formally and informally.  I enjoy helping others and giving back.  And it has the side benefit that I get to hear myself talk - always a plus for me.

I have an equally proud history of listening to very smart people on podcasts and then liberally borrowing from them for this blog.  Today it's a bit of both:  the following is motivated by some recent musings by my hero (yet oh-so-close to being overexposed) Scott Galloway, combined with my own pithy advice on a topic that matters to us all.

Because today I (and Professor Galloway) would like to remind you of the importance of not pulling up society's rope ladder.  Let others get to your level, or better still, climb over you and go far above your rung in life.  In fact, I'm pretty sure we'd all be much better off if you leave that rope ladder dangling.
rope (1).png

I am not talking about your own children, or even those of your friends and family.  I am talking about being happy when perfect strangers have the same or better opportunities than you had or even do now.   

Naturally, I have a list of examples.

NIMBY and Similar Bullshit
The granddaddy of them all, and we know the drill.  You get in early enough somewhere and can actually afford a house.  The value of your and most everyone's home goes up, typically way up, and you're happy.  But once a homeowner has theirs, most will do just about anything to prevent change - any change.  Because OMFG, what if their house didn't appreciate in value at the absolute maximum rate???

So:  make it easier for new homebuyers to get in the game by allowing duplexes to be constructed in your neighborhood?  No fucking way!  Subsidized housing to allow the children of the less affluent to attend better schools?  Are you out of your mind?  Change zoning laws to allow for mixed residential and commercial usage, facilitating less driving and more walking?  What are you, one of those radical far-left Democrats?

Or the holy grail:  you want to take away my mortgage deduction and do WHAT with the money?

And remember, if you know my wife and me personally, you know people that have done quite well professionally throughout our careers, yet could never - to this day - comfortably afford to buy a proper home in the city of our choice, San Francisco.  But hold the cracks, because that would be different even here if we had the condo towers on our southeastern waterfront that we should - look at Vancouver as a model. 

Hunter's Point could easily look like this, but it most certainly does not.  And what we do get - Mission Bay - doesn't either, nor is it dense enough to make a dent in the cost of buying a home or condo here.

Because, mostly, the controlling NIMBYs of SF like things just fine the way they are.  And we are among the lucky ones:  somehow, rent control was enacted in SF in 1979 and we directly benefit from it to this day.  But we're still in a one bedroom apartment, no matter how classic or gloriously located it may be.  If there were more homes available in the Bay Area (and places like it), prices would be lower, and we and others could buy a home instead of renting one.

Because I believe that's how it works?  Something called The Law of Supply and Demand?  But the housing rope ladder has been cut here, and is getting badly frayed in many other places.

Social Security and Medicare
I can just hear it:  "Portico, now you're attacking the components of what little safety net we actually have as Americans?"  No, and in fact, I am in favor of our country joining every other OECD nation, and guaranteeing all of our citizens basic physical and mental healthcare. 

To what I'm referring instead is straight from a Galloway rant, and that is that Social Security and Medicare are nothing except a transfer of tremendous amounts of wealth from the young and working generations, to those older and not working.

That's fine, but where is the reverse?  Where is a comparable rope ladder for those in their 20s and 30s in America, vs. the one we give old people?

It should start with a drastic (but locally indexed) increase in the minimum wage and healthcare for all, but given the relative impossibility of all of that, we could start smaller.  Let's figure out a better way of educating and equipping our young to be productive members of today's society.  Less student loan debt.  More options for certifications (vs. degrees), yet those earning them receive the same prestige and compensation.  Imagine if Google and Stanford partnered on a 2 year certificate affordable to all in something like cybersecurity?  Or Apple and Cal in AI?  Amazon and MIT on robotics?

And then there is the real medicine:  maybe higher retirement ages, coupled with fewer benefits?  And how about means testing?  Why do people with a net worth above, say, $10 million, still get Social Security payments?

And lastly:  no one wants a recession or even more obviously, a depression.  But it is at the bottom of economic cycles that the savvy get in on the bargains, and can begin to build wealth.  Ask someone who invested heavily in Apple or Amazon in their darkest days.  (Don't ask me:  I missed out.) 

But because of what our Federal government has done, really from 9/11 onward, and over various and sundry crises, we now expect to have the real pain taken out.  So, sure, our 401k's go down as we have a once-in-a-century global pandemic, but they don't go really down.  Or most certainly, they don't stay down.  That could make people retired people like me with investments in the market very uncomfortable; so we get corporate bailouts and things like PPP.

Versus just giving money and healthcare to people in their 20s and 30s.  You know, like the way we do for people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s via Social Security and Medicare.

Higher Education
I should simply link to one of Scott Galloway's many writings on this subject.  But instead, I'll summarize his impassioned take:  private and public universities, and their graduates, find it in their best interest to make it harder and harder to gain admission.  He believes brands like Yale and USC are similar to Hermès and Ferrari (to name two) in that they benefit greatly from false scarcity.

How and why?  We can largely blame the dodgy US News & World Report and their annual university rankings:  lower admission rates at a given school began to equate to the words "prestigious university", and thus desirability.  And - here's the good part if you're on the inside of the racket - this allows schools (and not just the great ones) to raise tuition and fees far, far higher than the rate of inflation.  I mean it's Penn State, for cryin' out loud!  And thus get away with it.   Add in the obscene endowments at the best private and public schools, and it's pretty gross and selfish already. 

But making it worse is that many graduates of say, Harvard, do not want it any other way.  They like the exclusivity, and seek opportunities to tell even perfect strangers that they made the cut - they're elite, because they got in to Harvard.   You could replace "Harvard" with Cal, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Duke, or many others, and it would be the same.  Better to let legacy applicants and the kids of huge donors in - keep it fancy

So while there isn't much stopping the University of Chicago or any other top university from expanding both its professorial base and its admissions, it likely won't.   There's more money not doing so.
Taxes:  No Thank You, I'd Rather Not
I covered this recently when I wrote about the role luck plays for everyone - even the wealthy.  So I won't repeat myself and I'll wrap up today with this:  the rich and even others don't want to pay more in taxes to help others. 

But to me, that's a result of our dysfunction in the US.  Because this unwillingness stems from the fact that many are convinced the government simply can't be effective in improving the lives of its citizens.  I attribute that to an overall loss of trust, fed by our extremely corrupt and gamed system.  The government doesn't use our tax dollars wisely to help others get a leg up because a select few get and/or stay extraordinarily wealthy when they don't.  

Perhaps that is why now only the affluent can live comfortably and with real dignity in America?  

Pretend otherwise as we might, the middle class is largely gone from our country, and it's because many decided to not leave the rope ladder down.  


The fashion maven and our soon-to-be-in-town niece Nicki Vale couldn't resist sharing the shock - shock - she experienced upon learning about my black jeans of choice.

I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams you would order clothes from Amazon 😆!

What exactly she's implying I have no idea.

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


Gosh, so serious before a weekend.  Maybe I - and you - should just chill.  Well, have I got just the thing for us today on KLUF.  For the 4th consecutive Friday, I am proud put out another of my ginormous playlists.  This one mostly speaks for itself . . . on both TIDAL and Spotify it's

There's of course a searchable/sortable list of its Diamond Certified contents here.  This one is different in that you might not recognize many of the artists.  It shouldn't matter - this one has 320 songs and the party can go for 26 hours without hearing the same song.

Fun Facts:  yes, that is Julie, and yes, we were on Formentera, one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, and considered the world HQ for chill music.  10 Seconds of Seriousness:  it is. 

About Dean Clough