Healthy Living Corp

Business Name: Healthy Living Corp

Year Founded: 2024


Business Overview: Healthy Living Corp is a company focused on promoting healthy living around the world. The will be done through gyms, wellness resorts, a healthy meal app, healthy food in supermarkets, healthy restaurants and other initiatives under the Healthy Living brand.

The Graveyard of Fiscal Budgets

By Mo Fakhro

The term Graveyard of Empires has been used by historians to describe Afghanistan.  It is argued that the country defeated the British, then the Soviets, and then the US through a combination of harsh terrain, cold winters, and clan loyalties.  Some may argue that the people of the country are simply wired differently and have some mystical ability to defeat goliaths.  Historians look at the people, the terrain, the psychology, and the ideology.  What is often overlooked, though, is simple economics.  What all conquerors of Afghanistan have found is not that it cannot be conquered, but that once it is conquered, it is a loss-making enterprise.  In other words, they have come to the same conclusion that many entrepreneurs come to when they start a new business and discover over a period of years that it is losing money and must be closed down.  I would argue that this is the main reason why Afghanistan is difficult to conquer.  It has very little to do with the people or the religion or the terrain or anything mystical or intangible.  It is just simple algebra.  Basic math.  What is the point of ruling a country if doing so will lose you money.  What is the point of holding onto a business that loses money.  There is no point in doing that, and that is the point.

The British Empire ruled over large swaths of the world during its colonial period.  This began with what was perhaps not the most creatively named territory of Newfoundland in 1583 (which today is a part of Canada) and ended one might say when the British handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.  The British conquests of South Asia and North America were quite profitable.  The North American territory had so much potential that many chose to settle it.  When the British left what became the United States, it was not because they were forced to leave by the Native Americans but because the initial settlers had felt the prize was too great to be shared with their brethren back home.  It was the greed of capitalism that was the primary driving force, and that perhaps shaped the ideology of the country that would become the torch bearer of individualism.  Viewed from the lens of economics, the British therefore did not leave the United States per se, but rather allowed for the inevitable process of sybiosys to occur. It was the British settlers who decided to break off from the British Empire for personal gain.  In other words, the British left the United States very early in the colonial era not because it was unprofitable and not because they were defeated by the Native Americans, but because the settlers realized how profitable the land was and wanted to keep the spoils for themselves. 

If one were to exclude the US example therefore from the sample, it is quite telling that the British Empire left Afghanistan as early as 1919.  It left India in 1947 and the Gulf states in the early 1970s.  The problem with conquering Afghanistan, I would argue, is not that it is not conquerable.  All of the empires were able to conquer the territory.  The problem was that once it was conquered, there was no way to make money from the conquest.  The country lacked the jewels of India, the oil of the Gulf, or the grain of the United States.  In effect, the spoils of war were a large number of rocks in the middle of nowhere.  In fact, it is worth asking the question: Why on earth would any colonialist want to conquer Afghanistan? It would be like wanting to conquer Antarctica or Mars for that matter.  What financial gain could possibly come from that?

It was an unintended consequence of the fight against Soviet communism during the war of 1979 to 1988 in Afghanistan, that created an extreme aberration of a religion to achieve political and military objectives.  This was used to eradicate the communist threat in Afghanistan and to perhaps prevent its spread further to Pakistan and the Middle East.  There is a famous historical Arabic poet named Al Mutanabi.  One of his quotes is that “You should not go hunting with a lion, because eventually, the lion will run out of prey, and then he will make you his prey”.  I believe the lion is too heroic an animal to be compared to an Islamic terrorist.  A more appropriate term would be monster, in my view.  However, the meaning is the same.  The CIA, in coordination with the ISI in Pakistan and the governments of the Arab and Islamic World, had inadvertently gone hunting the Soviets with a band of monsters at their side, and those same monsters had come back to attack them once they had no prey left. 

The 9/11 terrorist attacks were a stain on anyone who had vouched for Islamic fundamentalism as a force against communism.  The attacks were a barbaric act of extreme violence.  They ruptured the lives of millions of people who were directly or indirectly impacted by the attacks.  The primary sufferers were the victims and their families.  Many more suffered around the world in ways that they may never fully recover from.  The goodwill between Muslim countries and the United States suffered what seemed at the time to be irreparable damage.  In particular, the countries of the Arabian Gulf, had built significant bonds with the United States at the country and individual level through cultural exchange, education, tourism, and business.  Most individuals in the Arabian Gulf felt deeply indebted to the US for saving Kuwait and the GCC from Saddam Hussein.  At the individual level, millions of people (your author included) had spent their lives building bridges between East and West through deep friendships and relationships developed over years of interaction in academia and business.  They found their worlds ruptured irreparably by a despicable act of extreme violence.  It is quite telling of the cowardice of Osama Bin Laden and his band of thugs, that they chose Afghanistan as their hiding place.  It takes a true coward to find a great hiding place.  They could have chosen other places to hide, but they chose Afghanistan.

Ultimately, the United States came to the same conclusion that the Soviet Union had come to before it, and that the British Empire had come to before it, too.  It is the same conclusion that millions of entrepreneurs and investors will have come to during their lives.  They all realized, sooner or later, that there is no point in holding on to a lossmaking asset.  It’s okay for one year, maybe five.  Beyond that, what’s the point? The only conceivable reason why the US stayed for twenty years is that it got stuck in a concept that we business people know well.  It is the concept of sunk costs.  It is money that has already been lost and will never come back.  Do you keep going hoping against hope that it will come back or do you pull the plug? You do not cut the cord and delay, delay, delay, because you are too embarrassed to drop your tools and head for the door, and so you wait for your successor to bite the bullet.  It is not then that no country in the world can conquer Afghanistan.  Afghanistan was in fact conquered by the British, the Soviets, and the Americans.  It is just that no politician can make a case to maintain a budget deficit indefinitely to own a collection of rocks in the middle of nowhere.

Unintended Consequences

By Mo Fakhro

When one takes a view of human history, it is clear that human actions often have unintended consequences.  This is true at the level of individuals and governments too. 

When the Bolshevik revolutionaries overthrew the Romanov dynasty, their new form of government, communism, under the leadership of Vladamir Lenin and with the ideals of Karl Marx, represented a threat to the regimes of Europe.  Interestingly, during much of the intraWorld War period (1918 – 1939), many in the West were more fearful of communism than they were of fascism.  The great fear was the spread of communism throughout Europe.  It may have been seen by some that Germany was a bulwark to the expansion of the Soviet Union.  This may partly explain the slowness with which Nevil Chamberlain reacted to the maniacal actions of Adolf Hitler.  The loss of Germany in World War II led to the expansion of communism into Eastern Europe.  While the goals of defeating Germany were achieved by the Allies during World War II, their actions inevitably led to an expansion of communism.  In effect then, the main countries that contributed to the emergence of the Soviet Union as a global superpower were the US and the UK, through their alliance with the Soviet Union to defeat the Nazis.  This is even though both the US and the UK did not want communism to expand in influence.  

When the economies of the Arabian Gulf discovered oil, there was a rapid expansion of the economies of the region.  This led to an increase in salaries in both the public and private sectors, which in turn led to an increase in land prices and rentals.  Factories thus found it more competitive to be based in other parts of the world where salaries and rentals were lower.  The discovery of oil led to a great deal of wealth, but it had the unintended consequence of making it difficult for companies in the region to be competitive globally in industries not affiliated with oil. To elaborate, it was possible to be successful in trading, tourism, and banking, for example, because they were services that served the local economy. However, being globally competitive, in say electronics manufacturing was not possible in the absence of artificially imposed barriers to entry.

When the Thai Minister of Science visited Iran, he was said to have been amazed by the industrial development in the country.  He wondered aloud to his hosts that if they were able to achieve so much with sanctions, imagine how much would be possible without sanctions.  The hosts responded that none of this would be possible without sanctions.  There is truth to this.  The sanctions created a barrier to entry that allowed the infant industries in that country to develop on their own.  Their industrial development was thus an unintended consequence of their hostility to the rest of the world.

When the US invaded Iraq, and subsequently, when Saddam Hussein was removed from power, this led to the expansion of Iranian influence across the Middle East.  The main government who thus contributed to the emergence of Iran as a regional superpower was the US.  This is even though the US did not want to see an expansion in Iranian influence.  It was an unintended consequence.

What impact would the destruction of Palestinian aspirations have over the long term? What would be the consequences of the US support for Israel and what would be the unintended consequences? One strong possibility is that the positions of the US and UK will unify the Global South in a way that has not happened to date.  It would provide an opening for China to gain geopolitical influence in the Middle East and Africa, and perhaps emerge as a new global superpower.  While it is true that many of the governments of the Arab World maintain relations with Israel, one could argue that such relations are based more on fear and less on affection.  This may also be the case with many other governments around the world. It is an unwritten rule in geopolitics, that if you mess with Israel, you will face consequences from the US.  The intended consequence of the US supporting Israel is to ensure the security of its main ally in the Middle East.  An unintended consequence may be to drive the rest of the world closer towards the new Chinese world order.  In 2003, when the US invaded Iraq, it was the sole global superpower.  It was thus able to breach international law without consequence.  By supporting Israel today, even as Israel gets reprimanded by international institutions, the US is opening the door to China to create a new world order.  It is thus somewhat paradoxical that the main country that may contribute to the emergence of China as a global superpower may be the US, as an unintended consequence of its unilateral support for Israel.

The world we live in is highly dynamic.  It is a constantly moving chessboard with infinite parts.  Actions that upset the equilibrium will inevitably lead to unintended consequences.  It is important for us to always pause for thought before taking actions, as individuals and as institutions, to think first about the intended consequences, and then to think multiple steps further to the labyrinth of possible unintended consequences.

The Many Opinions of AI

I was taken aback by a response of ChatGPT to a question I put to it. I asked it “Is Caitlyn Jenner a man or a woman?” and it responded, “Caitlyn Jenner is a woman” without any explanation. I was surprised by the definitiveness of it, given its tendency to give me more verbose responses. Google gave me a more elaborate response that I felt was more accurate.

I think this is a reflection more of the initial data that ChatGPT was fed, rather than an intentional attempt to influence people’s views on political and ethical debates. Since OpenAI is a Northern Californian startup, my guess is that ChatGPT’s initial data will lean towards the views of Democrats in the United States.

My assessment is that OpenAI is an ethical organization that will ultimately have a balanced view of the world. However, some biases are unintentional, and sometimes people are not aware of their biases.

In the end, it is the owner of the product that gets to decide and if the customer does not like the responses, then they will be free to use a competing product. I am sure there will be many other products like ChatGPT, but I expect that ChatGPT will always be the leader in this category. I would compare it to a newspaper owner in the 20th century. The person who owned the paper in the city got to influence the views of people if they chose to.

The Power of a Thought

I am amazed by the power of ideas. We sometimes forget that many revolutionary innovations are based on very simple ideas. We often go about our business lives assuming that our business ideas need to fit into a box of what has already been done. Why not think about what has never been done before? Why not think about how to change the world for the better with a simple idea? 

The entire industrial revolution was triggered by the very simple idea that if one person does the same task repeatedly, he or she would get better at it and would hence be able to do it more quickly. This at its core is what economists refer to as specialization and division of labor. As a result of the application of this very simple idea, one-man shops where one individual would create a product from scratch to completion, were replaced by massive factories where each person would do a simple part of the process. As a result, products were produced more cheaply and more consistently.

Another very simple idea is the use of refined petroleum to power engines. We have gotten so used to the idea that oil is a source of energy that we forget that at its core, its only use is that it is highly flammable. It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact that the use of this substance has had on the world. This one property has created massive amounts of wealth, triggered wars, and significantly improved the mobility of humans. Yet at its core, it is only useful because it expands when it is lit and hence is able to move a piston.

The internet was also based on a very simple idea. The internet is perhaps the most significant economic development of the past 20 or 30 years and yet, as I understand it, it is based at its most basic level on something very simple. Someone somewhere realized that if they connected two computers with a wire, then a person on any one of the two devices would have access to the information on both devices. This was then applied on a massive scale to the point where we now, effectively, have access to the information on a massive number of computers and servers around the world. 

The internet replaced the printing press as the key engine for the mass distribution of information. The printing press itself was also a very simple concept. Rather than duplicating things by rewriting them all the time, someone figured that they could create a stamp with that information. While the stamp would take longer to create than writing one document, once it was created, it could be re-stamped in a fraction of the time that it would take to write the same document. 

Blockchain is another simple idea. It sounds abstract, but at its most basic level, it is simply a very small modification on the way that computer programming is currently done. At its most basic level, it is just about connecting blocks of data to one another in a way that makes them interconnected and, crucially, almost impossible to edit or erase. This, when extrapolated over millions of applications, will likely change the way that business is conducted in the years to come. 

I write this because most people assume that changing the world is something that should be reserved for people with PhDs wearing lab coats at a university. While this is true in many cases, it is true in my view because the people in those settings are wholly dedicated to that goal, and not because they are any more gifted than you or I. So, when you start your day and look at the world, realize that you too could actively participate in its progress. When you think of your next business idea, challenge yourself to think about how you could change the world.

The Clock’s Last Chime

Today is the last day of BBC Arabic Radio. This is quite sad for me. The chimes of Big Ben that they play at the top of each hour remind me of hearing the news in the background as a child, at the old house of my grandparents, sitting by the black transistor radio of my grandmother. The sound takes me back to a simpler time, a perpetual constant in a world of constant change.

Perhaps this is a sign of the times, although I wish there was a way for the old ways to continue. In recent years, I have come to rely on it to strengthen my Arabic. My English and Math skills remain sharp because of the nature of my job, but my Arabic needs regular “maintenance” to remain where I need it to be.

I hence keep it on in the background when I drop my kids to school, to allow me to strengthen my Arabic skills, and to perhaps rub off on my kids as well, dare they lose completely the Arabic roots that I, through circumstance, have eroded. The chimes will stop for good tonight, and with them the nostalgia that has taken me back in time daily, if ever so briefly, to a world that was.

From Good to Better

One of the missing components in Arab societies is academic excellence. This, I believe, is the result of many factors. One of the key ones, it could be argued, is that individuals in the Arab World do not see a clear correlation between academic excellence and career success. This seems to be changing slowly. It will not change significantly though, until there is general cultural acceptance of this correlation. More broadly, the countries of the Arab World need to get better at rewarding people based on talent and hard work, rather than based on ethnicity, or country of origin. Status needs to be attained based on merit, and not based on what one wears, the car one drives, or the tribe that one belongs to.

While every culture has its pros and cons, this aspect of Arab culture may be one of the reasons for the generally low levels of productivity and creativity. In other words, the close familial ties, and the cultural nature to devalue merit, and overvalue traditions, creates strong societal ties, but it has a negative impact on economic progress.

Another critical reason for the lack of academic excellence may be the feeling among many Arabs that they live in an unfair world, in which effort and good intentions do not get rewarded. This in the Arab psyche is the result of a combination of geopolitical factors that may have impacted the current mindset. If one were to peer into the minds of Arabs, they would find a conflicted organism. It would be a mind that sees the world unfairly due to a long history of civil wars, corruption, famine, and revolution. In this environment, academic excellence is not of as much use.

Most Arabs see the Palestine issue as a core injustice. They feel that the creation of a two-state solution that can allow Palestinians and Israelis to live peacefully is a requirement that is long overdue. When one combines this with the series of revolutions and civil wars that Arab people have endured, it becomes not surprising then that in many pockets of the Arab World, daily life for the past few generations in many cases has revolved around “I just want to not die today” or more likely “I just want to die of natural causes one day”. This culture of persecution has an impact on what parents teach their kids from Iraq to Lebanon to Libya, and about what society and experience teach the Arab collective, about the value of education, or more likely the low priority given to education, in this complex ecosystem. This then makes it somewhat easier to understand what is preventing the creation of a meritocracy in the Arab World.

There are pockets of hope though. The countries of the GCC have the potential to recalibrate things over the coming decades. They have been amongst the fastest growing and most dynamic economies of the world since the discovery of oil. They collectively account for approximately half of the total 3 trillion US Dollar Arab World economy. All have in recent years taken bold steps to nurture and reward merit, and to diversify their dependence away from oil. They have also invested heavily in scholarships and on quality education to their people while rewarding people based on capability, attitude, effort, and results. They have been a shining ray of hope of what is possible when merit is nurtured and will likely collectively be amongst the 10 largest economies in the World over the coming generation. Their collective success will likely be the tide that lifts all boats in the Arab World and changes the Arab mindset from one of dependence and conspiracy to one of hope and intellect.

It might be said too though, that the discovery of oil in the region has been a key factor that has devalued merit, even while it has helped to finance the education and well-being of the people of the area. Many Arabs tend to see wealth creation as simply an accident of where one is born. Those born in oil rich countries get rich, and those born in countries with no oil do not. The difficulty to migrate from the oil poor countries to the oil rich countries, or to migrate from the oil poor countries to anywhere in the world for that matter, act to exacerbate this feeling. Moreover, the general perception is that no degree from Oxford or Cambridge or even MIT will allow one to change the color or usefulness or location of the black gold from which many of their brethren subsist. Perhaps more importantly, no degree will change your nationality or your tribe, and this then explains why many feel that the main determinant of their wealth is an accident that is determined by fate and can only be influenced by prayer or good luck, rather than by hard work, creativity, or ingenuity. This may also explain the pervasiveness of the word Inshallah (God willing) in the Arab vocabulary and Arab parlance over the past fifty years. In this narrative, is oil then a blessing or a curse? It has brought wealth, but it has also brought war and complacency. It has built our roads, but what has it done for our minds? What has it done to our minds?

Arab tribes have long learnt how to deal with adversity. It is a mindset that has allowed them to survive as a collective for centuries without much access to water or food, in one of the most inhospitable climates on our planet. In a culture in which staying alive was an everyday struggle, societal bonds and familial support over the centuries had taken precedence over individuality. This may explain why Arab clothing is so uniform, as though the intent is to not highlight the individual but the collective. This feeling then, that we either all sink together or float together, is one that an observer would find still forms the nucleus that bonds the confines of many families and tribes. It is then not surprising too why loyalty to the tribe, respect for societal traditions, and a reverence for the community, persist as Arab values, and are seen as more important than individuality, merit, and intellect.

A Rise and Fall

The rise and fall of Kanye West are an interesting case of all that is right, and all that is wrong with capitalism. On the one hand it shows that capitalism has the potentially dangerous tendency to allow people to be successful not based on merit but based on who can shout the loudest. It also shows the dangers of giving a microphone to the loudest person in the room, even when that person is so obviously ill informed. While his initial rise as a musician may have been a reflection of what is possible through talent, his current stardom also seems to be a reflection of a global society that has become corrupted by an obsession with fame. Fame has become the new currency. Famous people are our new prophets or messiahs in a world that has lost sight of what is truly important in life.

His fall is a reflection of a recalibration of truth over misinformation. It is a comforting reminder that the world will not accept any form of antisemitism, or any form of prejudice for that matter. As the decades pass, newer generations may become less aware of the atrocities committed against Jewish people over many centuries. False, antisemitic accusations by any person need to be taken seriously, even if that person is deranged, and need to be quashed for history to never repeat itself. All humans have a duty to create an environment in which Jewish people around the world never have to live in fear of persecution again.

In a world in which there is no such thing as bad publicity, I fear that Mr. West’s fall may provide him with the publicity he needs to rise again. Humanity has a moral obligation to make sure that this does not happen.

The Persistent Ripple

It’s hard to predict what will happen next with the global economy. It seems clear that the effects of the pandemic will linger for some time longer. I like to think of it like a pendulum or a Rubik’s cube. The initial disruption caused by the pandemic rearranged the cube in a way that has made it almost impossible to correct. Perhaps though, like a pendulum, the disruption will eventually subside. The big challenge now for economists is to find a way to reduce inflation without causing a recession. How that transpires will determine what happens next.

There is no Skyline in Silicon Valley

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There is no skyline in Silicon Valley. This is an important fact that people in emerging markets should take heed of. A city need not be measured by the impressiveness of its skyline. Emerging markets often attempt to “create” success by constructing grand structures. They build train systems even though most older cities had metros before they were replaced in usefulness by cars. They build high rise buildings even when low rises will do.

In the picture above, that I took during my morning walk in Silicon Valley, there is actually nothing that impressive to see per se from an architectural standpoint. It is however the skyline of Silicon Valley, arguably the most consequential “city” of our age. The market capitalization of the companies within the borders of the picture is approximately 10 trillion dollars. This I believe is a visual demonstration that the true wealth of a nation is created not by the buildings it builds but by the minds it enlightens. To win, a country must invest in its brains, and not its bricks.