My life was never destined to be quite happy. It was laid out along lines which I could not foresee, almost from earliest childhood. It has left me with nothing to hope for, with nothing definite to seek or strive for. Inherited wealth is a real handicap to happiness. It is as certain death to ambition as cocaine is to morality.
If a man makes money, no matter how much, he finds a certain happiness in its possession, for in the desire to increase his business, he has a constant use for it. But the man who inherits it has none of this. The first satisfaction, and the greatest, that of building the foundation of a fortune, is denied him. He must labor, if he does labor, simply to add to an oversufficiency.
Jeff Bezos, writing in his 2001 letter to Amazon shareholders:
Ouch. It’s been a brutal year for many in the capital markets and certainly for Amazon.com shareholders. As of this writing, our shares are down more than 80% from when I wrote you last year. Nevertheless, by almost any measure, Amazon.com the company is in a stronger position now than at any time in its past.
– We served 20 million customers in 2000, up from 14 million in 1999.
– Sales grew to $2.76 billion in 2000 from $1.64 billion in 1999.
– Pro forma operating loss shrank to 6% of sales in Q4 2000, from 26% of sales in Q4 1999.
– Pro forma operating loss in the U.S. shrank to 2% of sales in Q4 2000, from 24% of sales in Q4 1999.
– Average spend per customer in 2000 was $134, up 19%.
– Gross profit grew to $656 million in 2000, from $291 million in 1999, up 125%.
– Almost 36% of Q4 2000 U.S. customers purchased from one of our “non-BMV” stores such as electronics, tools, and kitchen.
– International sales grew to $381 million in 2000, from $168 million in 1999.
– We helped our partner Toysrus.com sell more than $125 million of toys and video games in Q4 2000.
– We ended 2000 with cash and marketable securities of $1.1 billion, up from $706 million at the end of 1999, thanks to our early 2000 euroconvert financing.
– And, most importantly, our heads-down focus on the customer was reflected in a score of 84 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. We are told this is the highest score ever recorded for a service company in any industry.
So, if the company is better positioned today than it was a year ago, why is the stock price so much lower than it was a year ago? As the famed investor Benjamin Graham said, “In the short term, the stock market is a voting machine; in the long term, it’s a weighing machine.” Clearly there was a lot of voting going on in the boom year of ’99 – and much less weighing. We’re a company that wants to be weighed, and over time, we will be — over the long term, all companies are. In the meantime, we have our heads down working to build a heavier and heavier company.
Amazon market cap today, March 22, 2022: USD $1.64 trillion.
It is time to stop obsessing about Covid. It is time to stop politicizing Covid. It is time to stop tweeting about Covid. It is time to stop reading about Covid. It is time to start healing and it is time to start moving on.
We can live with Covid and most of us will. The current death rate of Covid in the US is about what a bad flu season would be. We have vaccines if you want them. We will have anti-virals if you need them. We should take a lesson from many Asian countries and mask up if we are feeling sick from now on. And you can wear masks if you are uncomfortable on the plane or the subway. We’ve normalized mask-wearing in the US now and that is a good thing.
We’ve got other pressing matters to deal with. We have a warming planet that desperately needs our attention. We have economic challenges that need our attention. We have gun violence in our cities. We have other health care challenges to tackle. Covid was terrible, we are scarred from it, but we cannot let it divide us and we cannot let it drive us crazy. There are more important things facing us and let’s go deal with them now.
Yes, please. It is time to move on.
Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal, writing for the New York Times:
Over the past four decades, governments have slashed budgets and privatized basic services. This has two important consequences for public health. First, people are unlikely to trust institutions that do little for them. And second, public health is no longer viewed as a collective endeavor, based on the principle of social solidarity and mutual obligation. People are conditioned to believe they’re on their own and responsible only for themselves. That means an important source of vaccine hesitancy is the erosion of the idea of a common good.
Americans began thinking about health care decisions this way only recently; during the 1950s polio campaigns, for example, most people saw vaccination as a civic duty. But as the public purse shrunk in the 1980s, politicians insisted that it’s no longer the government’s job to ensure people’s well-being; instead, Americans were to be responsible only for themselves and their own bodies. Entire industries, such as self-help and health foods, have sprung up on the principle that the key to good health lies in individuals making the right choices.
Of course, there’s a lot of good that comes from viewing health care decisions as personal choices: No one wants to be subjected to procedures against their wishes. But there are problems with reducing public health to a matter of choice. It gives the impression that individuals are wholly responsible for their own health. This is despite growing evidence that health is deeply influenced by factors outside our control; public health experts now talk about the “social determinants of health,” the idea that personal health is never simply just a reflection of individual lifestyle choices, but also the class people are born into, the neighborhood they grew up in and the race they belong to.
Arthur C. Brooks, writing for The Atlantic:
The ironic thing about feeling bad about ourselves because of what people might think of us is that others actually have much fewer opinions about us—positive or negative—than we imagine. Studies show that we consistently overestimate how much people think about us and our failings, leading us to undue inhibition and worse quality of life. Perhaps your followers or neighbors would have a lower opinion of you if they were thinking about you—but they probably aren’t. Next time you feel self-conscious, notice that you are thinking about yourself. You can safely assume that everyone around you is doing more or less the same.
I like to say that the most important science is political science. It teaches us how to live together. And I say.. if we can’t learn to live together, we’re gonna die together. And I really believe that. We have to learn to live together.
Shane Parrish, writing in Farnam Street newsletter:
Few things are more important in life than avoiding the wrong people. It’s tempting to think that we’re strong enough to avoid adopting the worst of others. But that’s not how it typically works. The changes are too gradual to notice until they are too large to address.
Over a long enough timeline, bad people eventually destroy themselves. They ignore relevant data because it doesn’t agree with them, they take unwarranted risks, they end up alone, without any friends. They might achieve external success, but they lack inner calmness and clarity.
Just as you watch what you put into your body or your mind, closely look at who you spend your time with. Are they kind? Are they honest? Are they thoughtful? Are they helping you or pulling you down? Are they reliable? Are they clear thinking? In short, are they the things you want to become? If not, don’t tempt fate, cut bate.
Distance yourself from the people you don’t want to become. Cultivate people in your life that make you better. People whose default behavior is your desired behavior. If circumstances make this difficult, choose among the eminent dead.
Crypto is one of those topics that calls to mind the parable of the blind men and the elephant – there are so many aspects of how it works and what it means that you can interpret it many different ways and seize on one part or another to make whatever point you want. A lot of people, for example, seize on the money part, and either glorify it as a new kind of monetary system that liberates mankind from the nation state, or crucify it as a danger to economic stability and the ability for governments to tax. All of these are interesting arguments, but I think they all miss a more fundamental point, which is that crypto represents an architectural shift in how technology works and therefore how the world works.
That architectural shift is called distributed consensus – the ability for many untrusted participants in a network to establish consistency and trust. This is something the Internet has never had, but now it does, and I think it will take 30 years to work through all of the things we can do as a result. Money is the easiest application of this idea, but think more broadly – we can now, in theory, build Internet native contracts, loans, insurance, title to real world assets, unique digital goods (known as non-fungible tokens or NFTs), online corporate structures (such as digital autonomous organizations or DAOs), and on and on.
Consider also what this means for incentives. Up until now, collaborative human effort online either took the form of a literal adoption of real-world corporate norms – a company with a web site – or an open source project like Linux that had no money directly attached. With crypto, you can now create thousands of new kinds of incentive systems for collaborative work online, since participants in a crypto project can get paid directly without a real-world company even needing to exist. As great as open source software development has been, far more people are willing to do far more things for money than for free, and all of a sudden all those things become possible and even easy to do. Again, it will take 30 years to work through the consequences of this, but I don’t think it’s crazy that this could be a civilizational shift in how people work and get paid.
Warren Buffett, writing in his 2013 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders:
Most investors, of course, have not made the study of business prospects a priority in their lives. If wise, they will conclude that they do not know enough about specific businesses to predict their future earning power.
I have good news for these non-professionals: The typical investor doesn’t need this skill. In aggregate, American business has done wonderfully over time and will continue to do so (though, most assuredly, in unpredictable fits and starts). In the 20th Century, the Dow Jones Industrial index advanced from 66 to 11,497, paying a rising stream of dividends to boot. The 21st Century will witness further gains, almost certain to be substantial. The goal of the non-professional should not be to pick winners – neither he nor his “helpers” can do that – but should rather be to own a cross-section of businesses that in aggregate are bound to do well. A low-cost S&P 500 index fund will achieve this goal.
That’s the “what” of investing for the non-professional. The “when” is also important. The main danger is that the timid or beginning investor will enter the market at a time of extreme exuberance and then become disillusioned when paper losses occur. (Remember the late Barton Biggs’ observation: “A bull market is like sex. It feels best just before it ends.”) The antidote to that kind of mistiming is for an investor to accumulate shares over a long period and never to sell when the news is bad and stocks are well off their highs. Following those rules, the “know-nothing” investor who both diversifies and keeps his costs minimal is virtually certain to get satisfactory results. Indeed, the unsophisticated investor who is realistic about his shortcomings is likely to obtain better long-term results than the knowledgeable professional who is blind to even a single weakness.
Timothy Snyder, writing for The New York Times:
Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump – like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia – is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.