Benjamin Franklin’s Junto

The heart and soul of Dent, a growing community that I steward, is the civil discourse that takes place twice a week in the Dent Forum. Our inquiry focuses on the values and incentives that underlie our economic, political, and cultural institutions.

In many ways, Dent is modeled after The Junto, a group that Benjamin Franklin established in 1727. He deemed The Junto as a club of “mutual improvement” whose purpose was to address questions of morals, politics, natural philosophy, and business. The conversations were, as Franklin described in his autobiography, “to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry…

Images of the stack of books that provoked the Dent inquiry

Twice a week, I host a conversation called the Dent Forum. I liken it to a grad school seminar meets a live podcast, where we explore important topics such as capitalism and inequality, universal basic income, and social media and democracy.

It started in June with me organizing a few dozen friends on Zoom, but then moved over to a new app called Clubhouse in late July. Clubhouse enabled me to scale the conversations, because there’s a clear speaker vs. audience in its design. Also, Zoom fatigue is real. …

“CC-BY-Mapbox-Uncharted-ERG_Mapbox-a129–097” by Mapbox is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I learned a two important lessons about inclusive leadership this past week; the first obvious, the second less so.

Last Thursday, I hosted a spirited panel discussion about Free Speech and Content Moderation on Social Media as part of the Dent Forum I organize twice a week on Clubhouse. There were three panelists: a rockstar assembly I was proud of — the technologist with contrarian views, the activist with a heart even bigger than his brain, and a fiery scholar deeply steeped in the legal landscape. I knew we’d have a great conversation exploring opposing points of view.

Two other…

On the interdependency of economic, political, and cultural institutions

Creator: retrorocket | Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Born out of a movement of individualism, capitalism is ingenious in many ways. Through labor specialization, private ownership, and the pursuit of self interest — markets coordinate production and consumption for billions of people around the world. Capitalism is an enabler of freedom; which Amartya Sen describes as both the objective and the means of human development. It’s clear the growth of market economies around the world has been a fundamental driver of human progress to date. In the past 30 years alone, economic growth has lifted 1.2 billion people out…

What does real reform look like, and how can the pandemic entrench it?

Can stakeholder capitalism get us out of this mess?

It appears that we’ve reached a tipping point in the shift towards stakeholder capitalism. It is no longer default for companies to maximize returns to shareholders — with limited regard for customers, employees, suppliers, and communities writ large.

Last May, the Business Roundtable (an association of nearly 200 major US corporations) released a new Statement of Purpose for a Corporation, wherein signatories committed to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders. In December, the World Economic Forum updated its Davos Manifesto, restating the purpose of…

Key passage from Rebecca Henderson’s Reimagining Capitalism

One of my biggest learnings from my recent research on capitalism and inequality is the extent to which corporate capture of government has contributed to the extreme inequality we see today. This is counter to the common narrative that inequality has been driven largely from an embrace of neoliberalism (i.e. free markets) in economic policies. Ironic too, as corporatism inhibits competition and as a consequence, the very free market efficiency that underpins neoliberalism itself.

The shareholder value maximization view of the firm is not fundamental to capitalism, it took hold in the 1960s on the heels of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism…

A starting point for a broader inquiry on reforming our economic institutions.

National income share of the Top 10% in the US, 1917–2014

The United States has the highest income inequality of all post-Industrial economies, reaching a record high in 2018 when for the first time in US history, billionaires paid a lower effective tax rate than the working class (23% for the richest 400 families vs. 24.2% for the bottom half of American households).

I spent a good part of the last month researching the drivers behind the graph above, learning a ton along the way. Underpinning this exploration is a deeper desire to parse out to what extent the…

I remember the moment climate change shifted from an uncertain threat somewhere in the distant future to a very real issue affecting my life in the present. I woke up in the middle of the night in October 2017, and smelled smoke in the hallway outside my bedroom. The next morning friends awoke to the same, posting on social media, wondering if their neighbor’s house was on fire. Little did we know that smoke was coming from a wildfire in Calistoga, 75 miles away. While wildfires are a regular threat in California, never in my twenty years living in San…

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” is perhaps Gandhi’s most famous quote. But when it comes to our personal behaviors and climate change, is alignment a moral imperative or a moral hazard?

Climate change is unlike most other challenges humanity faces. Each and every one of us cannot help but be complicit in the problem by virtue of the economic systems we inhabit. Every day we engage in behaviors, most often out of total ignorance, that cast an implicit vote for the institutional structures that got us into this mess in the first place.


What the Amazon Open Letter Missed

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how to leverage the technology industry to address climate change. So, I was thrilled to see Amazon employees publish this open letter to Jeff Bezos and the Amazon Board of Directors last week.

In the letter, more than six thousand employees call upon Amazon to lead on climate change. It states, “Amazon has the resources and scale to spark the world’s imagination and redefine what is possible and necessary to address the climate crisis.” …

Jenny Stefanotti

Steward and Curator at Dent. IG: @developingjen

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