Good Reading -- June 2018
Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life -- I have learned something valuable from all of Taleb's book, and while I still think "Fooled by Randomness" is the best of the bunch this new book is very much worth reading.
Taleb is notoriously disagreeable and prone to picking fights. And one of his targets in this book is Steven Pinker (see next) for reasons -- namely, Pinker's use of numbers/statistics/charts -- that I think are mostly justified.
Interestingly, Taleb seems to have reversed his prior animosity and taken somewhat of a shine to Buffett and Munger. He quotes Munger -- albeit with a line that I've heard Buffett use and that I thought was attributable to someone else -- and quotes Buffett twice, all approvingly.
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress -- This is another "follow on" book, several years after. Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature. This book is loaded with charts/data (to the effect of almost belaboring the point, and ignoring the debate about their utility). And there will be justifiable objections on many grounds. A few sections on the environment and humanism, among others, bothered me, even though I agreed with the overall message of the book.
Limping on Water: My 40-Year Adventure with One of America's Outstanding Communications Companies -- This is an autobiographical account of Phil Bleuth's career at Cap Cities, where he worked with Tom Murphy and Dan Burke. That was a great company, and no less than Buffett himself recommended this book several times over the years. But beyond a few interesting or amusing anecdotes I struggled to get anything out of it.
Facts and Figures
33,000: JP Morgan's software engineer workforce, out of a total of 50,000 tech employees.
25,000: Facebook's total employee count. (Source: Fortune)
"Chiseled into our heads every year at the our management meeting was [Tom] Murphy's reminder that we could make honest mistakes, or miss our budgets, but if we put the company, or ourselves, in disrepute, there was no second chance at Capital Cities. Those words were the bible. [sic] Do the right thing was our person road map. We were taught to avoid the quick-fix solution and when faced with a tough decision, favor the best long-term interest of the station, person or community." -- Alan Nesbitt writing to Phil Bleuth in Limping on Water [This should sound familiar to students of Berkshire/Buffett.]
"It is not just that skin in the game is necessary for fairness, commercial efficiency, and risk management: skin in the game is necessary to understand the world. First it is bull***t identification and filtering...Second, it is about the distortions of symmetry and reciprocity in life: If you have the rewards, you must also get some of the risks, not let others pay the price of your mistakes.Just as you should treat others in the way you'd like to be treated, you would like to share the responsibility for events without unfairness and inequities. If you give an opinion, and someone follows it, you are morally obligated to be, yourself, exposed to its consequences. In case you are giving economic views: Don't tell me what you 'think,' just tell me what's in your portfolio." -- Nassim Taleb
Daniel Kahneman on Expertise, Bias, and the Investment Industry -- A "mini seminar" (full video halfway down the page) with four simple recommendations for better decision making: trust algorithms, not people; take the broad view and don't view problems in isolation; test for regret; and seek out good advice.
I'm already looking forward to Noise, Kahneman's new book due out in 2020.
Where Humans Meet Machines: Intuition, Expertise, and Leaning -- Eric Brynjolfsson of MIT talks with Kahneman about AI decision-making.The full video is here.
An Extraordinarily Expensive Way to Defeat ISIS -- William Langewiesche is one of the best writers out there, and this typically rivetting stuff from him.
Everyone Makes Investing Mistakes -- Even Warren Buffett -- All Jason Zweig columns are worth reading, but this one is especially worthwhile.
Make sure to click through for "How Corporate America Tries to Forget Its Mistakes"
Reclaiming the Idea of Shareholder Value -- Michael Mauboussin and Al Rappaport wrote this a couple of years ago, but the topic remains timely and this is a good treatment of it.
Internet Trends 2018 -- The annual report from Kleiner Perkins is always packed with interesting nuggets.
Phoenix will no longer be Phoenix if Waymo's driverless-car experiment succeeds -- My old hometown is certainly an interesting test case for new car technology, and this article is a good introduction to the topic. "What happens to Phoenix and hundreds of similar cities when we reinvent the car? We will find ourselves redesigning society to accommodate that technology in ways that go far beyond safety...Safety is only the first question. After all, if vehicular deaths were our primary concern, we might have banned cars from urban roads long ago; Arizona itself leads the nation in its rate of pedestrian fatalities."
The Psychology of Money -- Writer Morgan Housel on the most important topic for investors.
A Seismic Change in Predicting How Earthquakes Will Shake Tall Buildings -- A follow up to my recent links to articles about earthquakes and building codes on the Pacific coast. "Earthquake experts now say the [prior] projections significantly underestimate the severity of shaking that buildings in several West coast cities are likely to under go during earthquakes...'The structural engineers said this is really going to cause a problems with developers up here [in Seattle]. They said, "We can't institute this immediately."'
How Elon Musk Became an Inequality Machine -- I don't agree with every word of this essay, but corporate governance/compensation and incentives are important topics, and it's hard for me to see how equity or options grants like this are a good idea.
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