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December 29, 2023
Internet Speed and the Ethical Econ Bro

This week, the director of CAIR-SFBA decided to ruin my week by posting about an incident at a Philz Coffee shop where employees were sent home for wearing Palestinian flag pins.

The immediate reaction? Boycott Philz – the coffee chain that has likely been receiving the biggest boon from pro-Palestinian boycotts of Starbucks (among other brands) given that it was founded by a Palestinian father and son duo.

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This pissed me off for a couple of reasons.

First, I love Philz. If the call for a boycott was legitimate, I would’ve cried.

But second – and most importantly – there was no legitimate reason to boycott the chain. Evidence for the incident was provided in a single article in Berkeley’s student-run newspaper. While employees were asked to take off their pins, I wasn’t able to corroborate the key statement from the article.

According to Christine Belardo, the shift lead working at the time of the incident at the Gilman St. location, “As baristas we felt like it was not necessarily our job, but our duty to let those customers know that, ‘Hey, you’re coming in for this reason, but we are not a Palestinian-owned company anymore.’"'

Where’s the evidence?

Social media posts began circulating that claimed to confirm Belardo’s statement by observing that the Philz’ CEO and CFO were not Palestinian.


That’s true – but that has nothing to do with the company’s ownership.

A quick Google search confirms that the younger Jaber is still the company chairman and that there is no evidence that the family has sold their ownership stake – they simply raised money, like any high-growth chain based out of Silicon Valley would in the year 2023.

But let’s just say the Jaber family no longer owned any of the company. Do the actions of a single store manager, which weren’t uniquely anti-Palestinian in nature, justify a boycott? Of course not.

So… yeah. False alarm. There’s no reason to boycott Philz :)

A few weeks ago, Charlie Munger died. Munger was known for being an extremely intelligent and blunt man who built one of the most successful holding companies of all time alongside Warren Buffett.

I tried buying the Stripe Press edition of Poor Charlie’s Almanack two weeks ago, but it was on backorder. Instead, I ended up listening to a bunch of podcasts from people who were reflecting on Munger’s life and had read the book.

One of Munger’s core pieces of advice is to “learn the big ideas” from every field. You don’t need to know everything, but an understanding of natural selection might help you in business in the same way an understanding of exponential growth functions might help you in fitness.

Ideas aren’t constrained to any one field of study, but often manifest themselves in different ways across disciplines and experiences.

I can attest to that. I’ve tried my best to stay curious across disciplines, and that has helped me in basically every part of my life. I’m able to think creatively and critically at work, I’m able to pull thoughtful comparisons while writing about complex topics, and I’m able to hold conversations with just about anyone.

And I don’t even know that many things!

My friends in college used to joke that I was trying to be the “first ethical econ bro.”

I was deep in tech and entrepreneurship clubs on campus, but I was also a part of SJP, MSA, and other cultural and advocacy orgs. In hindsight, I think those jokes were just commenting on the fact that I had my foot in a lot of different spaces.

And that manifested itself in much of my work. My senior year, I attempted (failed – I didn’t finish it lol) to write a thesis on “post-capitalist entrepreneurship.” I got into crypto on the basis that I thought it unlocked the possibility of a more democratized financial system. I’ve worked with DAOs for years trying to figure out how startups could “exit to community” instead of to institutional investors.

Most of those pursuits morphed or fizzled out, but the core interests still remain, and I feel like I have done meaningful work in my short career by working at the intersection of seemingly unrelated fields.

The internet moves really fast.

A meme, a tweet, a call for boycott – content today moves at the speed of light, and evolves just as quickly.

I get really frustrated when people and organizations I generally agree with spread misinformation, even unintentionally. But when moving at the speed of light, it’s impossible to keep perfect balance. It’s inevitable that we’ll trip up sometimes.

The only antidote that I’ve found is to force yourself to learn a little bit about a lot. Understand history and current events and politics – but also understand economics and biology and statistics. As the world becomes more complex and the technology we use becomes more opaque, it’s crucial that we value boundless curiosity as much as we valuing being “experts” in any one field.

This not only gives us the ability to accurately communicate complex ideas, but also to check things we read against a few big ideas to understand whether they pass the smell test.

We live in an environment of information warfare. Our only protection is boundless curiosity.

Otherwise, you’ll accidentally boycott your favorite coffee shop.