Category Archives: Books

Economist, Heretic, Activist: Brett Scott

As an economist with my own visceral response to the economic status quo, I was interested to discover a fellow Grahamstownian with a really interesting take on finance.

BrettBrett Scott is a former broker, living in London. He is a fellow at the WWF/ICAEW Finance Innovation Lab and can be aptly described as a financial activist (I like to think his two year stint as a broker was more of a spy job). He is a really rad dude with deliciously radical ideas and has recently written a book called The Heretics Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money, which is being published by Pluto Press and is coming out next month. Click here to read more about it and to preorder a copy if it interests you. Hopefully I can get my hands on one!

Brett’s latest endeavour is to start a School of Economic Activism in London, a centre that offers learners the opportunity to better understand and grapple with the financial system. The world needs an extensive network of engaged financial watchdogs in all major global financial centres”, writes Brett.

The school will offer what Brett calls “mischievous courses” that emphasize experiential learning that is embedded in the financial system itself. It will offer a Chartered Financial Activist Programme, a cheeky, heretical take on the mainstream Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) programme. “It will be based on adventurous, experimental courses that immerse campaigners within the financial dark arts…” says Brett. The syllabus he is planning will address five core areas:

  • Money
  • The financial intermediaries that steer money around the world
  • The main instruments they use to do that
  • The major problems associated with that
  • How we might do it differently through alternative modes of finance

Whilst studying economics at university, I often pondered the logic of capital flows, the de facto functionality of capital markets and the ability of capital to truly find its most valuable and logical destination. I find it overwhelming, too, that we have created such a complex beast, that we ourselves cannot understand let alone predict the behaviour of this intangible thing we call “the market system”. Now we surrender ourselves en masse to its erratic moods and outright failures; we sacrifice our poor to its unrelenting suppression; and we watch a cunning few prosper in isolation for a while.

I’ve spent the last year working for an economics consulting company in Johannesburg, and focused my efforts mostly on projects relating to Financial Education. Although the kinds of programmes I worked with primarily targeted low income beneficiaries and addressed basic financial capabilities, I truly believe in the importance of empowering individuals to navigate the financial system, and to learn to use it to their own benefit. A school of financial activism is right up my street! Go Brett!

Check out Brett’s video on Indiegogo for more information on his School of Economic Activism, and for details of how you can help him fund this venture. He’s got some innovative, mutually beneficial packages available. Brett also writes a blog called Suitpossum: Post-Crisis Adventures in Financial Subversion, where he discusses gripping finance-related topics in superb style. I love his use of art and photography in his posts.

I think Brett Scott is someone to watch. I’m really excited about his school, and I will certainly be keeping an eye on him.

Vag•a•bon•ding | ˈvagəˌbändi NG |

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At any given time, I’ve probably got about five books stacked up next to my bed. There’s usually a poetry anthology or two, a collection of short stories, maybe a book of art, and at least one novel. I’ve just finished reading an amazing travel book by Rolf Potts called Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. It’s been a wonderful companion for the last two weeks while I’ve been plotting my next adventure. I’m not one to read self-help books (though I wouldn’t call this a self-help book either), but in the midst of my vacillating uncertainty about my own travel strategy (or lack thereof), Vagabonding has been a liberating and reassuring read.

The book starts with a chapter on how to ‘Declare Your Independence’. It was interesting for me to read this, having recently quit my job in order to travel. Carefully extracting yourself from the life you have carefully established is a very difficult thing to do. The most prominent and poisonous feeling, I think, is the blanket belief that long-term travel is just not possible. Potts dispels this misconception with a logical argument that peels away the layers of doubt and the excuses that prevent people from going on substantial travel adventures. He scathingly claims that “no combination of one-week or ten-day vacations will truly take you away from the life you lead at home.” He is not radical in this regard. His encouragement, though compelling and vindicating, is also practical and realistic. He writes, “Ironically, the best litmus test to measure your vagabonding gumption is found not in travel but in the process of earning your freedom to travel.”

Vagabonding, as Potts explains, is about simplicity: taking with you only the essential items, and making plans only when necessary. It’s about feeling your way through the experience of travel and allowing yourself the time and flexibility to let opportunity and desire lead you. That doesn’t mean thoughtless travel, however. On the contrary, mindfulness and sagaciousness are central to the vagabonding philosophy. It is about consciously liberating yourself from the confines of a scripted existence; removing yourself from the bounds of your usual context, and placing your trust in chance, in order to make room for new experiences, insights and perspectives. Most important is probably the self-discovery that this sort of travel elicits. But it is vital that the pursuit of this kind of revelation is not active, as Potts gently urges, but rather the result of the process of vagabonding.

Potts is refreshingly realistic about the experience of travel, making fair mention of the dangers of rigid preconceptions, expectations, cultural perceptions and even politics. He warns of some of the disappointments and challenges that may arise on the road if these prevail. He provides practical advice for avoiding and dealing with negative experiences, but ultimately maintains that an open mind and the right attitude are the foundation of a meaningful travel experience.

Possibly my favourite part of the book is a discussion on the phenomena of tourists and tourist attractions, and, at the other extreme, ‘anti-tourists’ and their pseudo-countercultural behaviour. Potts is scathing and vivid in his description of both of these clichés, leaving you determined not to emulate either type of traveller. This lands you squarely in a space where your perception of your approach to travel can have no rules, except to be true to your own experience. How wonderful!

Something I love about this book is that it is filled with parables and epiphanies from travel greats such as Jack Kerouac, Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Ed Buryn, to name a few. Potts reflects constantly on the history of travel and situates the reader among a community of explorers, from across distant generations, who have embarked on this noble, time honoured pursuit. The reader is left feeling proud to want to travel and to walk among such gallant, pioneering folk.

Vagabonding provides useful references to resources on every imaginable travel topic. The book is clearly written for the American traveller, but the counsel holds true across nationalities. The generosity and eloquence with which Potts shares his insights is indulgent. He is simultaneously cutting and exuberant and, in spite of the wealth of wisdom he bestows in his book, he manages to humbly allow the reader room to carve out and discover a unique travel experience.

 This is highly recommended reading. But be warned: you’re bound to want to uproot yourself immediately and embark on your own vagabonding adventure.

Visit Rolf Potts’ blog for more vagabonding material and resources: http://www.vagablogging.net/