What We’re Reading

Here are a few good articles the Collaborative Fund team came across this week.

Sticker shock

New York state crunched the numbers on its hedge fund investments and was not impressed:

The New York State Department of Financial Services said pension investments in hedge funds have been a giant failure, resulting in $2.8 billion in underperformance for the two state retirement systems. “The state pension system simply gave away tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in fees every year for 10 years to hedge fund managers, and received no value in return,” the department said in a report.

Wisdom

Peter Bevelin talks about simple learning lessons he’s come to appreciate:

That I don’t need hundreds of concepts, methods or tricks in my head – there are a few basic, time-filtered fundamental ones that are good enough. As Munger says, “The more basic knowledge you have the less new knowledge you have to get.” And when I look at something “new”, I try to connect it to something I already understand and if possible get a wider application of an already existing basic concept that I already have in my head.

Neither do I have to learn everything to cover every single possibility – not only is it impossible but the big reason is well explained by the British statistician George Box. He said that we shouldn’t be preoccupied with optimal or best procedures but good enough over a range of possibilities likely to happen in practice – circumstances which the world really present to us.

The importance of “Picking my battles” and focus on the long-term consequences of my actions. As Munger said, “A majority of life’s errors are caused by forgetting what one is really trying to do.”

How quick most of us are in drawing conclusions. For example, I am often too quick in being judgmental and forget how I myself behaved or would have behaved if put in another person’s shoes (and the importance of seeing things from many views).

Ongoing concern

Paul Graham writes about the distinction between default alive and default dead:

Assuming their expenses remain constant and their revenue growth is what it’s been over the last several months, do they make it to profitability on the money they have left? Or to put it more dramatically, by default do they live or die? The startling thing is how often the founders themselves don’t know. Half the founders I talk to don’t know whether they’re default alive or default dead.

Experience

Jason Zweig’s interview with Phil Tetlock highlights the advantage of being a beginner:

MR. ZWEIG: Why is it so hard for experts to make forecasts about things in their own domain of expertise?

MR. TETLOCK: One reason is that experts sometimes know too much. I was talking once to John McLaughlin, former director of the CIA, about the end of the Cold War period, and he was remarking that the analysts who were slowest to recognize that East Germany was disintegrating were the people who had been on the case for 20 years.

It was the newbies coming in who got it pretty quickly. And there’s a lot of psychological evidence that attests to the power of preconceptions to grip us and make it hard for us to be timely belief updaters. So sometimes knowledge is actually an impediment. Another big factor is that there is a large amount of uncertainty in the world. So no matter how smart you are, it isn’t going to give you a lot of traction.

Your world, my world

President Obama writes about how the economy is strong overall, but prosperity remains elusive for vast numbers of people:

A capitalism shaped by the few and unaccountable to the many is a threat to all. Economies are more successful when we close the gap between rich and poor and growth is broadly based. A world in which 1% of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99% will never be stable. Gaps between rich and poor are not new but just as the child in a slum can see the skyscraper nearby, technology allows anyone with a smartphone to see how the most privileged live. Expectations rise faster than governments can deliver and a pervasive sense of injustice undermines peoples’ faith in the system. Without trust, capitalism and markets cannot continue to deliver the gains they have delivered in the past centuries.

Looking ahead

James Surwiecki writes that short-termism isn’t as bad as some people think:

There is reason to think that some companies are investing too little in the future. As a whole, though, corporate spending on R. & D. has risen steadily over the years, and has stayed relatively constant as a share of G.D.P. and as a share of sales. This year, R. & D. spending is accelerating at its fastest pace in fifty years and is at an all-time high as a percentage of G.D.P. Furthermore, U.S. companies don’t spend notably less on R. & D. than their international competitors. Similarly with investors: their alleged obsession with short-term earnings is hard to see in the data. Several studies in the nineties found that companies announcing major R. & D. investments were rewarded by the markets, not punished, and that companies with more institutional investors (who typically have shorter time horizons) spent more on R. & D., not less.

Have a good weekend.


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