The Daily View 11/29/2023: Unrest, Home Prices, College, Life Expectancy, Charlie Munger

Item #1

America is not at all like Ireland in terms of culture, diversity, geography, and other key factors. Although diversity is often seen as a catalyst for unrest, more diversity and atomism is generally protective against unrest. Diversity is more than ethnicity: it’s economic, or political or interpersonal values too. Sure, there is the occasional unrest–like Jan 6th or the BLM/antifa riots of 2020–but these tend to to be short-lived, infrequent, and contained. America is an outlier in almost every respect, and represents the perfect confluence of factors that yields economic success and geopolitical stability unrivaled by any other large country, much like how life arose on earth due to the alignment of a multitude of fortuitous factors compared to the apparent sterility elsewhere in the universe. Even America’s flaws, such as being a low-trust society or atomic individualism, are features in disguise. Americans not having a shared culture, beyond consumerism, is part of this.

Item #2 Home prices hit another record high in September despite higher mortgage rates. As far back as the inception of the blog in 2014 I have been telling people that home ownership is a good investment, and I keep being right as home prices keep going up:

Here’s one such post from 2015 in which I rebut James Altucher’s ‘renting is better than owning’ argument: Is James Altucher Right About Never Buying a Home?. It does not matter if interest rates are high or low–home ownership always always produces real returns and is way better than renting.

Item #3

Despite wokeness, the college wage premium is still wide. The ‘college cliff’–that is, the abrupt decline of perceived competence of 4-year college grads compared to high school grads–is real, and is possibly the widest it has ever been, even compared to the mid-20th century. Counterintuitively, it’s possible for college to be more dumbed-down yet a more reliable signifier of competence if the cliff is higher. As evidence of such a cliff, the college graduation rate is still only 40% despite supposedly dumbed-down courses and wokeness, whereas the high school graduation rate, including GEDs, has hovered around 90% for decades.

College was possibly more like daycare in the past, but for wealthy people. Cheating was rampant during the mid-20th century, and there were no standards of accreditation (colleges had the discretion of choosing whatever curriculum they wanted). Athletes didn’t even have to pretend to meet minimum academic standards, which didn’t exist. Without such accreditation or uniformity of standards, and with cheating and favoritism so rampant (affirmative action for rich white gentiles), employers had no way of knowing if college grads were competent or not, so they relied on connections for hiring or interviews and less on impersonal screening.

JFK’s Harvard admissions ‘essay‘, which doesn’t even rise to 7th grade level, was apparently adequate for the era he inhabited–that was what was expected of Harvard applicants at the time (given that his essay filled the allotted space in the application form, it was not expected to be any longer), not having to be valedictorian and near-perfect SATs as seen today (plus, AP courses and extracurriculars). Similar to Obama and FDR, except in tech, elites are generally not our ‘intellectual superiors’. They are by in large intellectually mediocre people who landed the right connections or lineage, and then hyped/promoted by the media, like Obama was.

Item #4

How does one square this with rising rates of obesity worldwide though? The narrative is that obesity is supposed to lower life expectancy, yet people are living longer than ever despite being fatter than ever too. I think people get the causation wrong–rising rates of obesity is a byproduct or tracks people living longer and being healthier overall (healthier in every respect but weight). Sure, controlling for all variables, obese people die sooner, but not by much, but everyone regardless of weight is making gains in life expectancy. It’s a sort of tradeoff between being fatter and otherwise healthier or thinner and more sickly or lower standards of living. Keeping old people alive longer seems like an economic drain, yet the stock market has not gotten the memo. An old person who spends his savings on medical procedures to delay death, instead of bequeathing it to his heirs, possibly contributes more to the economy, as the money is spent sooner. Consumer spending is a big part of the economy.

Item #5 Is journalism really as bad as everyone says it is? Yes it really is.

Item #6 Charlie Munger dies at 99. What’s interesting is he lived such a long life despite a lousy diet (he was always seen nibbling on peanut brittle during shareholder meetings, along with CEO Warren Buffett, whose junk food of choice is Coca-Cola), and no exercise. His job presumably entailed sitting at a desk for 70+ years of his life–not active at all–yet still lived longer than at least 98-99% of males (going by actuarial data). It goes to show how important genes are. Studies of centenarians shows that the only major commonality or factor is having a lot of family members who also lived a long time, and not smoking or drinking too much. The rest is irrelevant.