To Be And To Last #37

This week we explore why banks are jealous of gift cards, the word game that saved BASE jumpers from a felony charge, and one view of the North American social class structure.

The secret(?) class system of North America

“The higher you ascend the ladder of the Educated Gentry class, the more you become Michael Scott [of the TV The Office].” - Alex Danco

Borrowing from The Office, this fascinating article deconstructs the North American class system.

Building on a “three ladders” social class theory, the Danco delves into social currency required for “social promotion” (money, power, and “human interest” - respectively).

And because people in all three classes must coexist, distinct language patterns begin to emerge in the performative way an “Educated Gentry” member addresses an Uber driver, or in the way an “Elite” plays information power games with competitors in the office.

No model is perfect to reality, but this model certainly holds a disturbingly clear mirror.

Hire a lawyer who plays Scrabble

On a lighter note, I came across the fascinating legal story of three BASE jumpers who successfully beat a felony charge after leaping off the World Trade Center in 2013. They published a video online and admitted to having leapt off the tower, but were eventually deemed “not guilty” of burglary (illegal entry of a building to commit a crime).

Why? Their lawyer successfully argued that they didn’t jump off a building… they only jumped off a communication structure. Purely coincidentally, that structure happened to be on top of the World Trade Center building.

Like a real-life game of Scrabble, this definitions game saved the trio from a felony charge, and they got off with only two misdemeanors.

Is PayPal jealous of Starbucks?

When you deposit $10 in PayPay, strict regulations govern how they can use your money. They can’t take big risks or earn decent profits, because they have to be ready to give your $10 back whenever you ask.

When you load $10 on a Starbucks gift card, they can do pretty much anything with that money. Like invest in new Starbucks locations. They just need to be ready to give you a coffee when you ask.

Companies like Starbucks borrow billions to finance expansion, and they pay millions in interest every year. But when thousands of people load their Starbucks gift cards every day? That’s a 0% loan to Starbucks, which they can use in place of loans from professional lenders.

A couple weeks ago, I shared how states like Delaware use gift cards to finance highway construction, but this article gets into the other side of the gift card world: what happens when companies manage to keep the gold mine to themselves.

PS. This is also why every startup wants to become a fintech company and launch their own ewallet. It’s often a bit more complicated than gift cards, but offers similar rewards to the issuing company.


To Be And To Last: Thinker Nate Desmond’s weekly roundup of long reads, contrarian thoughts, and hidden jewels that aren’t getting enough attention.

You likely joined on NateDesmond.com or BuckFiftyMBA.com.

Got thoughts? nate+newsletter@natedesmond.com.