Time Well Spent

… by studying why we’ve been wrong, we can be more right.

Russell Napier

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

I’ve been called a cynic, which I’ve long held rather as healthy scepticism. And I’ve railed over uncertainty now and then, mostly in academics although, in fairness, never absolutely. But, all irony aside, I now defer with appreciative respect to Russell Napier, whose typically gripping understatement offers a typically brilliant case not simply for uncertainty but for its necessity.

In this video interview with the Parish Church of St. Cuthbert, Edinburgh City Centre, Napier paints a humble image of The Library of Mistakes, a repository of “the recorded uncertainty of how things work in the real world” (to quote his Keeper’s Blog on the Library website).

Napier initially co-founded the Library to register mistakes from business and finance although he mentions that the Library’s embrace has since widened to reflect more equitable representation… true enough: if there was ever a sector of sustainable growth…

On the other hand, if the Library may ever truly succeed, you expect it will need to put itself out of business – gladly, I suppose. But, as I say, all irony aside.

He devotes a good portion of his commentary here to sound money, fraudulent banking, and the consequences of ruinous ill discipline. He’s droll, simple, clear, and engrossing.

It’s not all negative, either: whether or not the flipside to every mistake is great success or mere intention – either way, hey… there’s a flipside.

And that, I suppose, is the take-away just now, for me anyway… with modest whimsy, Napier and the Library sound a call of respect for uncertainty and the untidiness that efficiency and statistics and computation are not only unwilling to consider but unable to predict or control. If the reason to embrace uncertainty is because outcomes can’t be guaranteed, what is that if not attributable to people… to our deficiency, our equivocation, our inexactitude? In a culture where metrics are religion and science invincible, truth is what can be measured, and qualitative uncertainty has been a nobly humoured side of fries.

Napier speaks here for about half an hour, ahead of a short and equally informative Q&A, and caps his remarks with a reminder that any opinion one has will utterly depend on the perspective one takes in order to have it.

As ever with Russell Napier, at least for me, the time spent feels most definitely worthwhile and insufficiently brief.

Seriously, watch this interview.

… in the name of progress

Featured Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

There’s a cultural tone where progress is pretty full of its own value. The connotation of progress often suggests, by the same turn, that whatever is not progress is an obstacle. This sense of progress discounts whatever preceded it as obsolete – whether as something quaint or paltry but, either way, as certainly not worth keeping. To this sense of progress, however ironically, history is invective.

Progress is commonly venerated as something that’s coming next that is better and, obviously, thereby to be preferred, as compared to whatever’s coming next as being simply next. What might have amounted to an organic change is pre-empted by the contrivance of progress. What might have been less characterised than simply observed is superseded by an imperative for progress, the value and desirability of which is clear to any who decide to believe it, and lost on any who decide not to.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
“Planet Earth is visible as a bright speck within the sunbeam just right of center and appears softly blue, as in the original version published in 1990…. The popular name of this view [the “pale blue dot”] is traced to the title of the 1994 book by Voyager imaging scientist Carl Sagan, who originated the idea of using Voyager’s cameras to image the distant Earth and played a critical role in enabling the family portrait images to be taken.”
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Who decided progress gets to play the trump card? When and how was progress excused from easing its way in respectfully, the way I ask students to join us quietly when they arrive late? What makes progress this prevailingly important, as compared to any other approach or way to be that we might choose to try?

Maybe asking these questions is stubborn, but that only makes progress more pushy – and if both are arrogant for saying so, well… I’m pretty sure it takes one to know one.

Progress ought to understand, when it rips the past to shreds, that it’s not the only one who’s expended itself to become what it becomes. Tearing down the past can discount untold gallons of blood sweat and tears. One swing of progress can undo years, decades, centuries of labour, layer upon layer of things learned along the way up til then, things like the forebears of – yeah – progress.

Assuming one and only one stance risks neglecting any other perspective. Careful note here ought to assure that progress, like status quo, doesn’t have to be a nemesis or a victim, not unless it decides to be.

Image Credit: Pixabay from Pexels
“Earthrise”

Turnabout is Fair Game

Featured Image by Lloyd Blunk on Unsplash

What happened to Gamestop was just as manipulative and false in the ‘save’ direction as being crushed in the ‘zero’ direction, and the ends attempting to justify the means is hypocrisy.

Have you seen this? You must have seen it, or else you heard something, I’m sure.

What this subreddit crew did was give hedge funds a taste of their own medicine, yet if you can imagine, they also put the people at Gamestop, and AMC, and BlackBerry too, into awkwardly middle positions they undoubtedly never asked to find themselves, to face grave uncertainty they definitely never expected, the likes of all this being rather unprecedented. The lives and livelihoods of those company people were taken for a joyride, which seems detached from what the redditors were out to defend. Where some Wall Street practice is questionable, doesn’t it remain questionable when practised by anybody else, likewise? Robbing the rich to give to the poor… it does have that certain romance, doesn’t it? Even so… ask yourself whether it comes justifiably at Gamestop’s expense. Gamestop and these other companies, it seems to me, already shorted and suffering, were basically used.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

All this began with a tweet from Chamath Palihapitiya, if I’ve understood the news correctly, which was answered by followers who must have thought how clever it would be to stop the hedge fund game this way. [*NB as of Feb. 03, 2021: read here a little more about the origins of this incident.] With no one from these ‘saved’ companies having a say, no one asking Gamestop’s permission, but simply hoisting them up onto heroic shoulders of retail… surely this would become momentum trading at its finest. Incidentally, I watched a live interview with Chamath Palihapitiya on CNBC while the Gamestop action was churning away on January 27 – it was truly fascinating television – and I will say that Palihapitiya stuck to a thesis that was clear and detectable in every statement he made. Also note that whether you agree with his thesis is beside the point that he had one and stuck to it.

Several times Palihapitiya explained what he’d ‘bought’ with his involvement. He said he’d learned more about the redditors – the range of who comprises their community, and the various motives they have. And he said he’d come to see more clearly the need for total transparency by all market participants – institutional as well as retail – if it’s to be an equitable venue for trade. As for me, I knew nothing about Palihapitiya before today and found him compelling and persuasive and, from his position, fully able to let anchor Scott Wapner dig himself deep into a hole with a +1 spade of ignorance. That was my interpretation, anyway, with no real dog in the fight – watch and judge for yourself.

Historically, the culture of the stock market has changed over time, particularly as the modes, tools, and products of investment and trading change with the times. Meanwhile, liars, grifters, and cheaters have always posed a problem; stock markets simply provide them a more sheltered, organised venue in which to ply their trade. But that’s no indictment of stock markets and honest practice; rather, it’s a call to regulators and enforcement officers, and an appeal to the measures of esteem and self-control by which any participant is willing to conduct themselves – and by ‘any’, of course, I mean ‘every’. In another context, I might well agree that some hedge fund is managed by a$$holes who deserve their come-uppance. However, the concern remains about Gamestop being taken up and used, and this remains whether hedge funds are right or wrong – even Palihapitiya didn’t address this question to my satisfaction.

Photo by Aditya Vyas on Unsplash

In a world with no hedge funds or shorts, saving Gamestop rests with Gamestop, full stop. What’s been demonstrated by the redditors as the power of ‘the people united who’ll never be defeated’ is the power of mob mentality. In fact, what actually happened to Gamestop was just as manipulative and false in the ‘save’ direction as being crushed in the ‘zero’ direction, and the ends attempting to justify the means is hypocrisy. That so much support of the r/wallstreetbets trading action doesn’t reflect that Wall is a two-way street suggests to me a position equally destructive for being equally one-way, just coming from another direction. One wonders if this game of chicken is, or ever really was, about Gamestop at all.

Somewhere along the way, this incident made me think that Occupy Wall Street had finally found a concrete objective which, you’ll recall, so few were able to assign ten years ago. I’m fully against the avarice of shorting more stock than exists, especially in the name of “our pensioner clients” and so forth… yet even as I can read that and roll my eyes, the defence of r/wallstreetbets – good intentions and all – is just as misguided. The road to hell with good intentions or, as some redditors have even said to Wall Street, be careful what you wish for.