Learning from the Past
I wish I had studied more history. Not necessarily as a degree at Stanford, but had devoured all solid books I could find on the history of development, economics, business, and finance. The World Is Flat times 100. After a meeting yesterday, I’m going to make this a point going forward.
I met with my undergraduate advisor, Michael Boskin, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Bush Sr. I was mesmerized by his ability to connect what was happening today with the past five recessions and across countries, including their differences and similarities. Then, within a matter of minutes, he was able to talk about the shifting of the Democratic and Republican parties over the last 50 years, after which he told the story of the development and creation of the phonograph, and why it was such a revolutionary technology compared to its counterparts. Super comprehensive and all in 15 minutes.
I am always blown away by his intelligence and wisdom. His intelligence is undeniably derived from a combination of his academic work, his experiences, and his interactions. But I would argue that his wisdom is brought about through a meticulous study of history. Not just from a theoretical perspective, but from a careful analysis of the choices, actions, and then subsequent ramifications policymakers, CEOs, and economists made/did/had in various situations.
He has made it a point to understand not just what decisions were made, but why certain decisions were made and the tradeoffs between them. In his ability to understand the past, he has the results of a warchest of experiments already tabulated when a similar situation arises in the present. His analysis of history is remarkably practical. It’s probably why he sits on the board of three of the most powerful companies in the world: ExxonMobil, Vodafone, and Oracle.
I wish history education in America’s schools could take a page out of the way Dr. Boskin has learned it.