Refocusing

I’ve decided to shut this down. The blog that is. At least for now.

I recently retired (had been semi-retired for the past few years). That doesn’t mean I’ve put myself out to pasture. But I’m not sure what it means.

At the very least, it means the next stage of my life. At this point I’m reluctant to pick anything up that will impinge upon my freedom, which eliminates a lot of options. But I’m not sure I won’t pick something up. Sometime. Down the road.

In the meantime, I want to devote more of my time and attention to investing. And learning. About investing. And other things.

Interests on the front burner these days include Buddhism, meditation, and mindfulness. I want to go take my meditation practices deeper.

I also want to spend more time not only reading (which I enjoy immensely) but also studying and doing what Cal Newport calls “deep work.” Which means fewer distractions. And less screen time.

Finally, I want to travel more. And cook more. And ride my bike more. And go to Disney World with you, Vera (this year!).

I suppose the germ of this idea to close out the blog came during and following my solo desert retreat in early January. Being disconnected and less distracted by technology yielded more benefits than I could have imagined.

I may be back. Honestly, I have no idea. It’s not my plan, but that’s mainly because I don’t have any long-term plans (other than to stay as healthy as I can and enjoy life). I like it that way. But that could change.

In any event, goodbye for now. It’s been fun.

Anti-Hope

I’m not a fan of hope. That’s not to say I feel hopeless. I don’t. And it has nothing to do with optimism or pessimism. Hope is different.

The way I see it, hope can be a dangerous thing. It can promote complacency. Inaction. Passivity. A sense of entitlement or, if things go poorly, victimization. And before you know it, opportunity has passed you by. And all you’re left with is hope. False, empty hope to be exact. Or disappointment. Or perhaps even despair.

That’s not to say hope is inherently bad. It is to say, however, that, contrary to conventional wisdom, hope isn’t inherently good.

I suppose a case can be made that hope is essential to countering despair. I probably used to think that. But no more. I no longer think despair is the default position. For anything.

Reality doesn’t have to fuel feelings of despair. Indeed, it’s our illusions and delusions that fuel despair, not reality. It’s the realization that our hope is false. That our illusions are only that. That our capacity to delude ourselves is greater than we realized.

It turns out reality isn’t a bad thing. Sure, it doesn’t negate pain. Or shield us from the cruel actions of others or the consequences of our own stupid mistakes. But it allows us to see more clearly. And to deal with reality more effectively. And most importantly perhaps, it allows us to live without suffering.

Admittedly, all of this may sound a bit nebulous and abstract. But it isn’t. It’s far more real than the illusions that seek to control us.

So I shall endeavor not to waste any time with hope. Others can have it. Instead, I shall endeavor to embrace reality and deal with it as best I can, without regret, rumination, despair, worry, or delusions.

It sounds easier than it is. But the payoff is bigger than you may think.

A Key to Life

“Single men could die about 8 to 17 years earlier than their married male friends. Mortality risk is 20% higher for those who are socially isolated and 32% higher for people who live alone. We are pack animals, and mortality rates, especially among men, skyrocket when you’re not actively engaged in other people’s lives. Most studies on longevity across genders cite the strongest signal of a long life is how social (engaged) you are in other people’s lives, whether it’s marriage, friends, children, or colleagues. For a 50-year-old, the biggest predictor of your health at 80 isn’t your cholesterol level, but the quality of your relationships.” – Scott Galloway Continue reading

Prosper and Live Long

Spock on Star Trek would often say, “Live long and prosper.” But it appears he had it backwards. It would have been more accurate to say, “Prosper and live long.” Why? Because life expectancy is correlated with wealth.

The poorest 5 percent of Social Security claimants live on average six years less than the broad population, and the wealthiest live an additional six years on average. So if you want to live as long as possible, it pays to have wealth. And it most certainly pays to avoid poverty.

 

 

Football Destroys Brains

“The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains,” renowned sports announcer Bob Costas said. And that statement, it seems, ended Mr. Costas’s career with NBC Sports.

Your grandmother was ahead of her time in this regard, Vera. She refused to allow her sons (your dad and uncle) to play football because of the bodily harm the game can inflict. Now, we’re seeing more and more parents come to the same conclusion, and football, if current trends continue, may become a game primarily for the lower class, where the prospect of financial rewards seems to carry more weight or, possibly, the prospect of injury seems less concerning.

Not surprisingly, more and more empty seats are appearing in college football stadiums on Saturday afternoons, and it’s not unusual to see NFL stadiums half empty. One wonders whether football will go the way of boxing given enough time.

As someone who’s been knocked unconscious and experienced the aftereffects of a major concussion, I have a hard time understanding why people would want to put themselves at risk for recurrent incidents and permanent brain damage. I have a harder time understanding, given what we now know, why parents allow their kids to take these risks. Yet I also recall it was your grandmother and not me who imposed the prohibition on football, which leads me to conclude some of us are slow to come to terms with the reality of the situation.

Of course, there are risks in most activities, even something as simple as driving to school or work. We can’t live our lives with all risks removed. Each of us must decide which risks are acceptable and which ones are not.

When it comes to football, it seems the tide has turned.

Best Paying Jobs, with Projected Demand

People are happier if our work is interesting and satisfying. But we like to make money, too (for obvious reasons), which means there has to be a demand for our services (just ask most artists).

Here are some interesting data, with two comments: 1) salary data is median, not mean or ranges (average salaries and salary ranges can be quite different than the median), and 2) take projections with a grain of salt (humans are terrible at predicting the future).

Continue reading

The Wealthy Are Seriously Misjudging the Situation

This memo from one of the most revered icons of the investment world, Howard Marks, is typical of the public clamoring from the wealthiest elites in the face of rising populism from the Left. Mr. Marks, who has freely given sage advice over the years, benefiting many a budding investor, decries proposals from the Left that would impinge upon owners’ rights to run their companies as they see fit. This is typical of the elites’ response to rising populism, the diminishing share of profits going to labor, and the resulting gross disparity in income and wealth–in short, to what many consider gross unfairness and injustice.

I actually agree with much if not most of what Mr. Marks writes and do believe the risks from proposed solutions that would prove to be counterproductive are significant if not outright dire. What I object to, however, are the tactics of the elite, and what I am most concerned about is their obliviousness.

The tactics are to criticize and warn while ignoring or dismissing the problem out of hand. There are exceptions of course, but they are rare. To this point, the elite routinely dismiss the warnings of their more prescient members such as Ray Dalio.

In former times, when things got bad enough, the wealthy, powerful elite had to worry about insurrection and revolution. But today no one takes the threat of guillotines seriously. Today, serfs in western democracies have other options, the power to vote to be precise. And history shows they can be pushed quite far before becoming immune to manipulation by propaganda and threats; indeed, modern humans can be cowed fairly easily. We are a passive bunch.

The last time American serfs threatened to overturn the established order was during the Great Depression. The country was fortunate enough then to have a leader as astute and wise as Franklin Roosevelt. He understood the threat and headed it off. Social Security was born. Jobs programs were enacted. The role of the federal government was fundamentally transformed.

Roosevelt understood that unfettered capitalism was unworkable over the long term. I suspect Mr. Marks understands that as well, but after reading his memo I can’t be sure. Even if he does, it seems doubtful many of his fellow billionaires and multimillionaires get it. They seem to have been lulled into thinking their positions were secure since the guillotines have been dismantled and are no longer a response available to the masses.

Of course, if things got bad enough, they might be surprised at how quickly things could be reassembled, but we’re probably a long ways from that. What’s more likely is a political response that could strike at the heart of the elite: their balance sheets.

Which could be problematic, for some of the so-called “solutions” being proposed by the politicos on the Left would end up hurting the people they are designed to help, of that I am sure. But of course that’s not the real objective in most cases anyway. The real objective is to win an election and claim power.

It would be nice if Mr. Marks and a substantial number of other elites would do something other than complain and warn; it would be nice if they proposed and implemented solutions. But that would mean giving something up, and as of yet that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. So the power of the Left swells. And the risks increase.

To  be fair, in a parenthetical near the end of this memo, Mr. Marks concedes there is room for increases in tax rates. He cites the fact that today’s top rate of 37 percent is one of the lowest in the 106-year history of the U.S. income tax (thanks, of course, to Mr. Trump and the Republicans in Congress). But it was a mere parenthetical. And there is no evidence Mr. Marks is exhibiting any leadership in addressing the issues. He’s apparently content with writing memos.

My fear is that the wealthy are seriously misjudging the situation and that a global backlash may be unleashed which does more harm than good, to just about everyone. Of course, there are never only losers; there are always some winners, no matter how much the sands shift.

It’s time, I suspect, to be particularly attentive to ensure that, even if you can’t be a winner after this has played out, your losses will not be crippling.