Read on the street 18 January 2020

Good morning,

As a man of 47.1 years of age, you can imagine why I was drawn this week to news of research that suggests "middle-age misery" peaks at the age of 47.2. "Ah, it gets worse", I thought, unsure whether to laugh or cry and questioning whether my family and colleagues will wonder if I was the only subject of the study, which found evidence of a ‘happiness curve’ through life, in 132 countries (see below). 

What better place for people at my stage of utter despondency to find solace than in music. Last Saturday, The Times published a feature on Genius, a Brooklyn-based tech company born from an argument between friends over the meaning of a rap song; the paper also highlighted what they say are the 50 greatest pop lyrics, from the nonsensical rhymes of Vanilla Ice to the more profound and poetic words of Bob Dylan and David Bowie. Enjoy. 

As I look forward to being 47.3, I wish you a good and restful weekend. 

Middle Age Misery Peaks at Age of 47.2, Economist Says

A new study by Professor David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College, a former BoE policymaker, that investigates the relationship between happiness and age across 132 countries found that the age of 47.2 is when misery peaks. There is a U-shaped happiness curve, it turns out, throughout people’s lives in the developed world. This is a timely study, given the increased focus on mental health and well-being. 

Read on Bloomberg.


What once started as a dispute between friends regarding the meaning of a rap song, has rapidly turned into a platform worth hundreds of millions where artists, politicians and poets expound their written work. The journey of Genius from fringe to mainstream has not been easy, but it has been certainly entertaining. Read about it on the Times.  

And now that you’re aware of its existence, why not try it out? Here’s a list from The Times with the 50 best pop lyrics ever produced. 

Moving beyond GDP

The basic idea behind Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is to measure the total monetary value of all the goods and services produced by a country within a given period of time, usually a year. It has worked fairly well as a proxy of prosperity, but GDP is far from perfect. It does not, for example, account for household work. It does not value people’s health, the state of the environment and in general it does not pay attention to the quality of life. In the United States, for example, deaths from self-inflicted causes such as suicide and drug overdoses continue to rise, together with GDP. A big culprit of that is the opioid crisis, of which many pharmaceutical companies reap profits from. "It’s a system that is really killing people, and we’re counting that money as part of GDP”, said Angus Deaton, a Nobel prize-winning economist. 

Nonetheless, GDP is extremely tricky to replace. Learn why in Planet Money.

The Death of a Temperate Leader in an Intemperate Region

The death of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos may not have dominated headlines, but it could have significant implications for the Middle East. While far from liberal, he broadly managed to keep out of regional conflicts, and acted as a key bridge for things like the Iran nuclear deal. Due to his almost 50 year reign, many Omanis haven't experienced another leader, so it will be interesting to see how the country reacts in the medium term. 

Learn more on The Atlantic.

The consolations of rail travel

With a surge in train journeys, the virtues of rail travelling are becoming increasingly relevant. But while short distance journeys between cities such as London and Brussels are now popular, long-distance journeys are still seen to be too much of a hassle. This is not necessarily the case. Trains may once have accelerated life, but in our digital world, they have the opposite effect. We should embrace this different travel idiosyncrasy. 

Read more about it in the New Statesman.

The Polish hero who infiltrated Auschwitz 

Of all the hidden histories that deserve to be told, that of Witold Pilecki must be near the top. An operative with the Polish resistance during World War II, Pilecki deliberately allowed himself to be arrested by the SS and sent to Auschwitz in order to document Nazi war crimes and help smuggle out inmates. He was the first to alert the Allies of the atrocities taking place at the concentration camp and is credited with having saved many lives. Pilecki survived his ordeal but was executed in 1947 for resisting the Soviet takeover of Poland, and all trace of his wartime records were destroyed. As a result, his astounding bravery has only recently come to light, thanks to the work of author Jack Fairweather and Polish researchers.  

Extracts of The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz were published in The Times this week.

Exposing the problem with default data

No one can seriously argue against the notion that the world is modelled on what worked best for men. Whilst more obvious challenges such as the gender pay gap have been the focus of campaigns for decades, inbuilt structural prejudices run far deeper than most would realise.  Caroline Criado-Perez won the latest Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award for Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. She speaks to the FT podcast about the depth of the problem, how it astounded even her, and what we might do to strike some form of balance.    

Listen to the podcast here


Written by Malcolm Robertson, Founding Partner