Monday, March 9, 2009

Questioning Warren Buffett

"Everything will be all right. We do have the greatest economic machine that man has ever created."

"We're in a big war, and we're going to use money to fight it."

"If you don't trust where you have your money, the world stops."

Oh Mr. Buffett. How could you? When I really do like you. You are exactly what a nice, happy, next-door grandfather should look like. I suppose you had to say these things today because that's what everyone expected you to say. But we are in a crisis brought about not through some faulty mechanism in a money-making machine but a human nature that evolved over thousands of years to its present state of Net Worth = Personal Worth. If the greatest economic machine the world has ever known brought us to our current state of dismality, how great could the machine have been in the first place?

Well, let's just use more money to make it great again. So we can all end up where we are at the moment again and again and again? What does it say about the world we live in when the money-making machine says the single greatest thing you can place all your hopes and dreams in are pieces of paper with the words U.S. Treasury Bills printed on them? (By the way, I don't think it's a coincidence the words "In God We Trust" aren't printed on T-Bills.)

Have people become machines that register an error sign when they try to place trust in other people like SEC regulators and Bernie Madoffs and Alan Greenspans? And if we can't trust those people, how can we trust people like our parents and friends and colleagues and even nice grandfathers like you? Are the faces of dead American presidents destined to become the only things humans can plug into and interface with? How can we create a world where money isn't the biggest problem we're always trying to solve?


Planetx_123 said...

I feel your frustration and agree with it.

The pessimistic side of me says: this is impossible, thus I should just concede to the state of things, and try to better the short time I have. I.e. its always going to fluctuate- thus I can only hope to have a lifetime that is much more in a 'peak' than a 'trough'.

In all honesty- I do believe we can do better, but as we have discussed in past posts, we have to evolve the culture. Human history has shown a cultural evolution that mirrors (or trails) its industrial and technology revolutions. I am not implying causality, but if there were--I would have much more hope. We are 'on the brink' of a new era of technology/innovation (be skeptical of people that say this, including me) that will be unlike our past technology. This is the singularity of technology/AI that has been theorized about. I think there is no question that it exists-- but it is only a matter of time. It may not be in my lifetime, but its coming.

I can only hope that however radical it changes our world- it will take our culture along with it. Maybe we can create 'rational capitalism'-- a kind of capitalism hybrid that has mechanisms to account for changes in the fabric of the space such that optimal decision making is much easier, quicker, and rational than before.

I do think that a competition based system has greater applicability to humans than a communistic based system. They each work and fail due to human emotion and bias. I just think that competition based systems 'accentuate the highs' better than communistic based systems (like blackjack, bet high for the wins, and little for the losses)...if that makes any sense.

Met my 'ramble' quota for the day :-)


J.T. said...

So then, Mr. Planet, how do we, to borrow your words here, evolve the culture? How do we maintain our humanity in the face of the onslaught of technology? How do we preserve the competitive human spirit without allowing it to turn us into unrecognizable monsters who must win at all costs?

I am no fan of modern technology. I would gladly go back to a world without cell phones and Internet. Where getting on a plane still held out wonder. Where I'm not constantly being bombarded by friends who want to show me the ultrasounds of their babies. Seriously, no more. Where Americans all watched the same TV shows at the same time and talked about it at the water cooler the next day.

I have no desire to see communism take root in this country. What I would love to see are humans who occasionally let their fellow humans win. If that weren't possible, humans who could figure out solutions where everyone wins.

How do we evolve into a more caring species where it's not always about being ruthlessly calculating individuals?

Planetx_123 said...


I totally agree that getting humans to 'allow one another to win' every once in a while and NOT be 'calculating monsters' is definitely a desirable end-state. I have no solution to this of course... but hopefully someone much smarter than I has some ingenious plan to do this. It seems unlikely with the current environment though. We have had the same 'calculating monsters' throughout all of human history. We humans have never been peaceful, never put the common good about ourselves, and never exhibited the properties that we agree we need to 'evolve'.

My suggestion that technology could offer a solution is only because the forthcoming change should be radical enough to change the entire way the world works. Thats the kind of change that would be necessary to actually change the 'status quo' of things. Its probably likely to still fall into the same problem space, but its at least a reasonable attempt.

With regards to 'modern technology'- I can understand that complaints that technology disrupts traditional culture. However, I don't think that its really reasonable to propose we 'do away' with it. Fire and the wheel were both pieces of modern technology at one point, and I'm sure that there were plenty that felt we didn't need to 'change our ways'. Yes- of course- there are problems and negative side effects to technology. Do these outweigh the benefits? Are these inherent to technology itself- or by the users (uh oh, humans again)? Certainly technology and culuture have evolved simultaneously (again refraining from inferring causality). We have cars now, and we don't burn the witches if they float. I think that even though individuals are probably as evil/good as they ever were-- our society has made it less acceptable for this to pervade our daily lives. This is arguable... maybe yesterdays witches are todays stock market plummet. However, I think we can reasonably agree that it is 'better' now than it has been in history, and we seem to be progressing in a net positive direction (however slowly...i.e 3 steps forward, 2 steps back)

Also- technology is just the result of human ingenuity and innovation. These are both qualities that work due to some 'good' emotions that we have, and not trying to 'move forward' with our quest for knowledge, etc. would be do suppress the few good qualities we have. I just cannot agree with that-- I would rather have the ability to do something, and fix the human implementation of it if its broken than not have the knowledge to begin with at all.

I apologize if I sound like I 'have some answer' or am presuming that future technology is some golden calf to just 'hang on for'. I don't know any answers at all. I was just offering a viewpoint that seemed relevant to your post. I try to keep the tone skeptical, because thats what I am at the end of the day, but often times, I fail... I am only human after all :-(

If only I were a robot... to dream!

Much Love,

J.T. said...

I'm not proposing we do away with technology, not that it would be possible. Clearly there are certain technologies that have benefited humanity. Many of us no longer have to live in unsanitary conditions; we can get vaccinated for many diseases; we no longer have to toil ten hours a day to grow our food. Then there are all the technologies at the other end of the spectrum where the sole purpose is to kill or harm.

But it's the onslaught of information technology that should make us stop and pause. Banking is done online. It's only a matter of time before all medical records go online. We already sign certain contracts online. What happens when servers go down and things can't be accessed. I couldn't access my banking records online for two days, and I thought I was going to go insane. Hell, computer chips are already being implanted in humans. What happens if those should ever fail? And at some point, does the line between human and machine not grow increasingly blurry? Your last statement "If only I were a robot" may not be such an unintentional joke in the near future.

How do we use our technologies responsibly? Why are the voices of moral ethicists being drowned out by the school-girlish squeals of grown men who swoon that the latest iPhone is simply to die for? Is all our technology making us, *gasp*, dumber?

Raven said...

To address just a small part of your question about whether technology is making us dumber, I've heard people talk about us living in a "post-literate world" where language is not valued and even among the educated many people are incapable of distinguishing good writing from bad writing. It's said to be due partly to the prevalence of email, texting, IM, blogging, and other means of almost instantaneous electronic communication where the primary focus is on getting across a basic meaning, not saying it correctly or eloquently. I find this very sad.

I also find it incredibly frustrating to come across errors in grammar and syntax in printed materials which presumably went through an editor. To me the breakdown of grammar = breakdown of communication, because grammar exists to help us communicate. But I think most people simply don't notice these errors or care.

J.T. said...

oMG rAVeN!! LiKe tHat wAS sO toTAllY hARsh! CuZ LIke... iT wUz!!!

I guess it doesn't set a good example for young people when your President of 8 years is saying things like, "We will victoriate in Iraq."

Raven said...

OMG, no, it doesn't help. :|