kottke.org posts about Charles Munger

The art of worldly wisdomMay 12 2010

Charles Munger, who works with Warren Buffett as Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, gave a talk at USC Business School in 1994 that is very much worth reading. Although the main point of Munger's talk is how to pick stocks, he spends much of the time talking about "the art of worldly wisdom"...basically what you need to know to be a functional human being who can make informed decisions.

I have a name for people who went to the extreme efficient market theory-which is "bonkers". It was an intellectually consistent theory that enabled them to do pretty mathematics. So I understand its seductiveness to people with large mathematical gifts. It just had a difficulty in that the fundamental assumption did not tie properly to reality. [...]

The model I like -- to sort of simplify the notion of what goes on in a market for common stocks -- is the pari-mutuel system at the racetrack. If you stop to think about it, a pari-mutuel system is a market. Everybody goes there and bets and the odds change based on what's bet. That's what happens in the stock market.

Any damn fool can see that a horse carrying a light weight with a wonderful win rate and a good post position etc., etc. is way more likely to win than a horse with a terrible record and extra weight and so on and so on. But if you look at the odds, the bad horse pays 100 to 1, whereas the good horse pays 3 to 2. Then it's not clear which is statistically the best bet using the mathematics of Fermat and Pascal. The prices have changed in such a way that it's very hard to beat the system.

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