Harvard Square

The imminent closing of Out of Town News, while sad, really doesn't surprise me.

For five years in the early 1970s, I managed one of the many bookstores in Harvard Square -- back in the analog day before just about everything in print was available online, most of it for free.

My store, Reading International, was one of four full-service bookstores within a few minutes of one another. Sprinkled throughout the same area were several specialty bookstores as well – poetry, foreign languages, architecture and design, etc. – each serving a specific clientele.

Back then, before amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, WaldenBooks and Borders, customers paid the price that publishers printed on the books. There were no discount bookstores because publishers and booksellers worked together to fix prices and preserve their profit margins. And consumers were content to pay full price.

In the 1980s, it all changed.

By then, I was buying books for chain stores, and negotiating quantity discounts from publishers, who eventually capitulated by rewarding their largest customers with the best pricing and promotional deals.

Then the internet kicked in; then the Kindle.

And speaking for myself as a fairly large consumer of the printed word, we're all (with the exception of independent bookstores) better off for it.

Harvard Square has changed in many ways, but so have we all. And it will always be fun to pass through or hang out there.

The Ruling Class

From David Brooks:

"Jan. 20, 2009, will be a historic day. Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) will take the oath of office as his wife, Michelle (Princeton, Harvard Law), looks on proudly. Nearby, his foreign policy advisers will stand beaming, including perhaps Hillary Clinton (Wellesley, Yale Law), Jim Steinberg (Harvard, Yale Law) and Susan Rice (Stanford, Oxford D. Phil.).

The domestic policy team will be there, too, including Jason Furman (Harvard, Harvard Ph.D.), Austan Goolsbee (Yale, M.I.T. Ph.D.), Blair Levin (Yale, Yale Law), Peter Orszag (Princeton, London School of Economics Ph.D.) and, of course, the White House Counsel Greg Craig (Harvard, Yale Law).

This truly will be an administration that looks like America, or at least that slice of America that got double 800s on their SATs. Even more than past administrations, this will be a valedictocracy — rule by those who graduate first in their high school classes. If a foreign enemy attacks the United States during the Harvard-Yale game any time over the next four years, we’re screwed."