Category Archives: Philosophy

Notes – Reading Popper: “The Open Society And Its Enemies”, Introduction (#philosophy, #criticism)

Notes from a shared reading of Karl Popper’s “The Open Society and Its Enemies” (available at Amazon.com), to be updated as read and discussed. An introduction to Popper, his life and his ideas can be found at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Popper sets up a dichotomy– the Closed Society of tribal authoritarianism, and the Open Society of individual reason and critical rationalism. He claims that there are potent intellectual forces trying to always return civilization to the Closed Society and that the Open Society is relatively new as a cultural phenomenon and still in its infancy (implying it requires special protection and pleading).

He advocates “piecemeal social reform” through a democractic social structure as opposed to “Utopian social engineering” which is an ancient, totalitarian project most recently (as of his writing) guided by historicist philosophy. It’s interesting he felt the need to attack historicism as you would think the end of the two world wars effectively destroyed the power structure of the Prussian monarchy built upon that intellectual foundation.

Popper says he will concern himself with the method of science. Specifically he says that in the social realm the methodology of predicting and knowing the future is flawed and impossible and implies a determinist metaphysics he can’t abide by. He stands against predictivism and it seems he is also going to make an argument that the predictive methodology of physics and other natural sciences has been transferred, uncritically, to the social realm where it does not apply due to human will. However, curiously he does not say he is offering a scientific refutation but only a personal one intent on showing the “harm” of historicist thinking. What an odd position for a scientific philosopher to take!

Popper wants to show the barrenness of following Great Men unquestioningly. He wants to turn people away from philosophies built on the disappointment with reality not reflecting their wishes. Ultimately, it is about personal responsibility and many of these popular philosophies wish to deny it to everyone but the Great Men.

I may be putting the cart before the horse here but I think it’s interesting that Popper offers democracy as a salve for totalitarianism because it offers a “peaceful way to share power”. But democracy isn’t peaceful. It’s built on the gun. Popper only knew a little about economics in his own time, despite being so physically and intellectually close to many great economists (such as Mises!) I think that replacing democracy with the market would greatly improve his thesis in terms of both consistency and explanatory power.

Quotes – Anti-Fraud Ethics (@nntaleb, #ethics, #fraud)

If you see fraud and don’t shout fraud, you are a fraud.

~Nassim N. Taleb, “Ethics

Quotes – Configuration & Rearrangement (#philosophy, #physics)

All unhappiness is configuration, all happiness is rearrangement. Your life lacks nothing, the universe contains within it everything, you need only order it as you like.

~Anonymous

Quotes – Observation As Intelligence

To observe without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.

~Jiddu Krishnamurti

Hailing The New Year

In early 2013 I penned a personal reflection on what I had accomplished in 2012, and what I had hoped to see happen in the new year.

I didn’t actually accomplish much with regards to the specific goal I outlined for myself in that post, looking back on it now. My hope was to spend more time “practicing investing”, specifically in the sense of looking at lots of ideas and trying to value things.

In addition, while not a stated goal I did not make even half as much progress reading new material over the course of the year as compared to the year prior in 2012. In fact, I had planned not to in order to free up more time to spend on “doing” rather than “thinking about doing” investing.

My excuses were two. First, and this reason looms largest in my mind though it’s in objective actuality the least potent, the market continued to run up in 2013. Value dried up, the marginal effort expended yielded consequently less marginal return so I just threw in the towel and decided not to bother with it. We know this is a weak excuse because plenty of people, including value investors, managed to crank out stellar returns this year past, though some of this was on legacy positions made in 2012 and held through 2013 and I did notice my pen wasn’t the only dry one in 2013– many of my value blogger friends suddenly cut down on their blog output, while many others gave up blogging to get real jobs as money managers. From rags to riches, a sign of the times?

My second excuse is that while I had significant free time, even during the course of my “normal” daily professional responsibilities, to think about and act on my value investing interests and portfolio management duties, in 2013 the demands of my day job were much more significant as was the total opportunity to learn and grow as a businessman in the industry and more generally speaking. This dominated my time so that I did not grow as much as an investor, but I nonetheless grew as a businessperson and productive individual and ultimately I think what I learned in terms of the problems (and solutions) of a real operating business, as well as my ability to effect change, will have significant effects on my future investment returns. They clearly had significant effects on my short term investment returns this year! One small portfolio I tend to was essentially flat and uninvested, my personal portfolio grew by single digits, mostly uninvested and mostly through the churning of the JNet portfolio and the other larger portfolios I watch over grew mostly because legacy bond positions had increased in price and I decided it was time to take money off the table there (I traded some JNets around the margins, too).

I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to, but I did accomplish other things so all in all I was satisfied with how 2013 went.

Looking ahead, I’ve decided the most important thing I can accomplish in 2014 is to master the art of focus. To that end, I am going to look for a way to disabuse myself of the portfolio management responsibilities I so eagerly sought out in 2012-2013, in order to completely free my time, attention and anxiety to be applied to my daily professional opportunities. The enterprise is much greater in scope and I can have a much more leveraged effect here. This is a real opportunity to harness competitive advantage and the power of the division of labor to better myself and provide a meaningful chance for someone more talented to do better than I can.

I’ll content myself with “playing Buffett” in my personal portfolio and enjoy the satisfaction of cheering from the sidelines on everything else. That way I can be myself in everything else I do.

If I can accomplish this, I forecast 2014, and beyond, will be very good for me.