A while ago, economists Sara Solnick and David Hemenway conducted a survey where they asked participants if they would rather earn $50,000 a year while other people made $25,000, or earn $100,000 a year while other people got $250,000.Alex Green
Sit down for this one.
The majority of folks selected the first option. They would rather make twice as much as others – even if that meant earning half as much as they could have.
This is completely nuts, of course. Yet other findings in the study confirmed the envious nature of contemporary culture.
— Bill Bonner
Whether it was on a prehistoric African Savannah or in modern America, the instinct is the same.
But who’s “us”? And who’s “them”?
It’s hard to say… and probably not worth trying.
The instinct that worked so well in the private space of a small tribe is a catastrophe in the large, public space. It cuts off trade. It leads to wars, persecutions, and genocides.”
— Yuval Noah Harari
That’s how history unfolds. People weave a web of meaning, believe in it with all their heart, but sooner or later the web unravels, and when we look back we cannot understand how anybody could have taken it seriously.”
Imagine you had to walk across the Rub’ al Khali – the “Empty Quarter” – of the Arabian Peninsula. This 250,000-square-mile desert is the largest sand desert in the world. Sand dunes there reach as high as 800 feet. It rains less than two inches a year. The surface temperatures reach 125 degrees. Think about the three most important pieces of equipment you’d need, beyond the most basic stuff like shoes, clothes, food, water, etc.
This isn’t hypothetical. Three guys decided to try and walk across this desert completely unassisted. In 2013, South Africans Dave Joyce, Marco Broccardo, and Alex Harris became the first humans to walk completely unassisted through the Empty Quarter. They plotted a 1,000-kilometer course from Salalah, Oman to Dubai. Their story is completely nuts… but fascinating.
The most obvious piece of advanced equipment you’d need? A GPS, right? Nope. What they needed most wasn’t a GPS… or even a map. What they had to have to make it across 1,000 kilometers of desert in 40 days (after which they would have quickly starved to death) was Google Earth. They needed to know their precise position in the desert relative to the giant sand dunes, which you can only see using Google Earth’s satellite photos. Before the advent of publicly available satellite photos, walking across this desert would have been impossible. GPS alone wouldn’t have been enough.
They also needed a strong, lightweight, easy-to-pull cart, so they could carry enough water for the journey. Obviously, they needed food, too. But the water was far more critical and heavy to carry. They spent about three years testing various designs for carrying enough water. The key to success was using mountain bike tires on their cart, rather than wide full tires, which were too difficult to pull through the sand.
And finally… to make sure they had continuous access to Google Earth, they needed to use a solar-based charger to power up a satellite phone. They lost the charger on the 10th day of the trip. So one of them had to turn around and follow their tracks for 25 kilometers to find the charger before it got dark. Without it, they probably would have died. Imagine trying to find that charger… before dark… in the desert… by yourself… knowing that if you couldn’t find it, you and your friends would probably die.” – Stansberry Research
— The Essays of Warren Buffett p. 103
After buying a farm, would a rational owner next order his real estate agent to start selling off pieces of it whenever a neighboring property was sold at a lower price? Or would you sell your house to whatever bidder was available at 9:31 on some morning merely because at 9:30 a similar house sold for less than it would have brought on the previous day?”
– Bill Bonner’s Diary June 8,2016
The typical man hides in solemn conceits and flattering fantasies. He would rather die than challenge the system.
He believes that he is running the country… his sons and daughters, protecting it, are heroes… the Fed will make sure nothing goes too far wrong in the economy…
And as for God… he’s always on our side.”
– Bill Bonner Diary May 12, 2016
The problem with democracy,” we explained to a friend yesterday, as she looked at her watch and hoped her phone would ring, “is a matter of scale.”
“We see the New England town meeting as a model,” we explained. “It’s a democracy that seems to work plausibly well. Everybody knows everybody else. They are all families, friends, coworkers.
“So, everybody knows the important details – for example, that the mayor is a scalawag and that you have to stay off the streets when Ms. Jones gets behind the wheel.
“In a small town, you can know real things… and vote on things that concern you all. You can do central planning, too… You almost have to. Where to put the town dump. When to schedule the next town fair. How much to charge for parking in the town’s lot.
“Everybody has to do central planning. When you get up in the morning, you have to plan your day. When you have a business or a family, you have to make decisions… you have to decide what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.
“On a small scale, central planning is necessary and effective. And democracy is not bad, either. It helps build the consensus you need to set goals and get everyone behind them.
“But even then, you still get a lot of bullying and bumbling. There are always some jackasses who want to tell everyone else what to do. But in a small community, most people learn to get along with one another.
“In a big community, on the other hand, central planning and democracy are completely different things. People elect leaders they’ve never met… based on slogans and brand advertising. Nobody really knows what they will do, or why.
“And then, the leaders get away – literally – with murder. But people think it’s okay because they think it is just a big version of the town meeting. It’s not. Large-scale democracy is something entirely different. On a large scale, central planning and democracy don’t work.”
From Seth Klarman:
Fear of missing out, of course, is not fear at all but unbridled greed. The key is to hold your emotions in check with reason, something few are able to do. The markets are often a tease, falsely reinforcing one’s confidence as prices rise, and undermining it as they fall. Pundits often speak of the psychology of markets, but in investing it is one’s own psychology that can be most dangerous and tenuous.
If investors could know only one thing about greed and fear, they should know this: Over the 30-year period from 1984 to 2013, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index returned an annualized 11.1%. Yet according to Ashvin Chhabra, head of Euclidean Capital and author of “The Aspirational Investor,” the average returns earned by investors in equity mutual funds over the same period was “a paltry 3.7% per year, about one-third of the index return.”
Bond fund investors fared even worse: while the Barclays Aggregate Bond Index returned an annualized 7.7%, investors in these funds “captured just 0.7% (not a misprint!) in annualized returns… That staggering underperformance is the cost that individual investors paid for following their instincts” by adding to and pulling money out of their funds at precisely the wrong times. In short, retail investors, in aggregate, substantially underperformed both the markets and the very funds in which they were invested.”
Ariely, Dan (2009-06-06). Predictably Irrational
I don’t want to live the life of a Boxster,” he told the New York Times, “because when you get a Boxster you wish you had a 911, and you know what people who have 911s wish they had? They wish they had a Ferrari.”