Book Review | Principles by Ray Dalio

“Life is short and hard like a bodybuilding elf” – my high school Physics teacher

I read 52 books in 2018, mostly because I fetishized CEOs, hustle culture, and reading as a heuristic for achievement.

I’m older now (27 as of last Friday – happy belated birthday to me), and in my wise old age my philosophy has changed from read as many books as possible to don’t waste time reading things that you find useless.

Principles by Ray Dalio is the first book that I’m putting down early. Not because it’s horrible – it’s not great, but because I don’t plan on starting or operating a global hedge fund anytime soon (and it’s VERY boring and repetitive).

The book (like many other self-help / business books) can be boiled down to: choose long term over short term and systems are better than goals.

If you’re looking for a book to explain to you why you should choose long term over short term and why systems are better than goals – there are lots of more accessible, less specific to running a hedge fund, and generally more interesting options (see Atomic Habits, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still win Big, 12 Rules for Life, Leadership Strategy and Tactics, the list goes on and on).

If you are looking to start / run a hedge fund this might be a great book for you and you might find those other books not specific enough to your problem.

For the rest of us: we can probably get by with something more fun, stop taking book recommendations from Bill Gates, and start putting down books we don’t care for before we get to the last page.

Memento mori

Buy Principles on Amazon

Get Principles for Free with Trial of Audible Premium Plus

Book Review | The Bitcoin Standard by Saifedean Ammous

Get The Bitcoin Standard Free with Audible Premium Plus

The Bitcoin Standard is Saifedean Ammous’s Bitcoin thesis. What makes the book great is that it doesn’t start from Bitcoin and draw conclusions about sound money but, rather, Saifedean reasons from first principles and comes to Bitcoin as the conclusion.

There are a few great takeaways from this book:

1) Low Time Preference

Keeping low time preference is what allows society to exist. Understanding that I (an individual) don’t have to constantly be farming and hunting my food allows me to specialize on other tasks. Which allows the individual to provide disproportionate value to society.

If Steve Jobs spent his whole life hunting food we’d all be a lot worse off.

2) Austrian vs Keynesian Economics

Saifedean dedicates part of this book to his hatred for Keynesian economics. I don’t feel as strongly and don’t know enough but he makes interesting points about how inflationary currency drives high time preference behavior which cheapens culture, art, and society.

This positions Bitcoin as the exit ramp from Keynesian economics. If you have ever wanted to play pure Austrian economics – Bitcoin forces its adopters to play by these rules. It is interesting to view Bitcoin this way – an environment to see how a programatic version of Austrian economics would play out where no central government or authority can change the rules.

I think reading this in tandem with The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton will give you a cursory understanding of the differences between Austrian and Keynesian economics.

3) Bitcoin as Digital Gold

Bitcoin is shown to have all the same properties (durability, portability, divisibility, recognizability, scarcity) that make gold sound money – but with Bitcoin those properties are on steroids. Bitcoin can’t be destroyed, it is much more portable than gold, it is infinitely divisible, it costs much less to verify that what you have is in fact Bitcoin, and as of 2024 Bitcoin will have a higher stock to flow ratio than Gold.

These properties of hard money are important because it stops foreigners (with harder money) from cheaply producing our money and then coming in and buying our country (as happened in Africa when they were using beads as money, and in India and China who were on the silver standard in a world with other nations on the gold standard).

The countries with easy to produce money were easily taken advantage of economically by countries with hard to produce money (this advantage didn’t stop governments with hard to produce money from getting addicted to stimulus – which will forever be politically convenient). In Rome they would lower the % of gold in a coin and today, JPow adds some extra 0’s at the end of a government database.

All of this ties together to present Bitcoin as the digital version of gold that promises to either:

reform the financial system that has been interfered with by governments and Keynesians (however you feel about them aside)

OR

create an entirely separate monetary system where we can see, in real time, whether the tenants of Austrian economics or Keynesian economics are more valuable (based on real market cap figures).

Looking at the USD/BTC chart, it doesn’t look great for the dollar.

Book Review | 1984 by George Orwell

I read this book during the COVID-1984 pandemic and it instantly confirmed all my biases.

That’s the problem with this book – you will use it to confirm your political feelings for the rest of your life. Any political action you see that you disagree with will be easily relatable to one of the dystopian concepts presented in 1984 (ex. my reaction to the COVID-1984 lockdowns).

Everywhere you look you’ll start to see opposing media rewriting history or your political opposites (parents / friends / enemies on Twitter) engaging in doublethink or accusing you of thought crimes.

I think it is important to be aware of these concepts and be wary of their encroachment on our everyday lives and values, while simultaneously giving context to our lived experience by comparing it to people facing much worse, happening right now, real atrocities all across the world (Yeonmi Park’s escape from North Korea comes to mind)

With that being said, the fact that this book was published in 1949 and is still incredibly relevant today is a testament to how well it was written.

A must read.

Book Review | Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock

This book is about prediction and “Superforecasters” – people who are better at forecasting than better than above average forecasters.

Turns out the biggest thing preventing you from becoming a Superforecaster is not your inability to do high school math, but rather your inability to let go of closely held beliefs.

People who are emotionally attached to their beliefs see things through a skewed lens (as we all do) but are then unable to course correct their predictions in light of new evidence.

And it turns out this frequent incremental updating is one of the key skills Superforecasters look to cultivate.

Superforecasting by Philip E. Tetlock

A Case Study – Me (not a Superforecaster):

This book confirmed three of my deeply held beliefs.

The first is that the national media is corrupt and evil. I’ve cultivated this belief by reading countless books on the subject, good luck changing my mind now.

Especially after this book revealed new information to me: the media actively avoids putting % chance predictions on vague assertions they make.

They use language like “a fair chance of…” or “more than likely” or “almost certainly” to justify whatever they’ve said afterwards no matter what happens – this allows them to get away with repeatedly overstating/understating the importance of issues to the public.

Showing a correct prediction % next to national news pundits while they’re speaking would be great (but they’ll never agree that because they’re pure evil).

The second is that decentralized command is an important leadership principle (Thanks Jocko)

The third is that all scientific knowledge is tentative.

Please recognize the massive risk I am taking for saying this in public.

There is a very long line of angry people (who didn’t do very well in high school science, consume a lot of IYI media in adulthood, and all of a sudden became scientists in the last 7 months) queuing up to give my advertisers a piece of their mind.

The worst part of this book is that Tetlock questions the infinite wisdom of Nassim Taleb.

It is difficult for me to contend with the idea that the Black Swan theory is overly complex (aren’t all events somewhat predictable beforehand?) while also deeply wanting to pay $3000 to attend his RWRI conference (with hopes that attending a week long lecture taught by people so smart I can’t understand them will undo the years of binge drinking and return me to the intellectual apex of society making me as smart and self righteous as I was in high school where I intellectually badgered the C student coronavirus experts who seek to cancel me).

If anyone wants to start a low stakes gambling ring on Predictit hmu

Book was good. Little too long (aren’t they all)

Book Review | The Art of the Deal by Donald J. Trump

Here is an actual, complete, real life, top 5 (as of this writing) Goodreads review of this book that I tried to have removed (to no avail):

I have not read the book.

But then hey, Trump did not write it.

DONALD TRUMP’S GHOSTWRITER TELLS ALL

27/03/2017

Well, I guess he’s not such a great deal-maker after all. The first chance he had to make one in the White House, he failed miserably.

Or maybe he’s just a dealer?

04/08/2017

I am interested in what kind of “deal” he’s going to make with North Korea.

25/01/2019

Opposing bills to end US shutdown fail in Senate, with no clear path forward

I would like to call your attention to line 1 of this review: “I have not read the book.”

When I was growing up, George W Bush was president

I saw religious dogma take Howard Stern off the radio.

I saw my favorite cartoons and Detroit rappers fighting legal battles with the freakin’ FCC about what they were and weren’t allowed to say.

And I watched Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert say out loud what everyone was thinking and challenge Fox News and the government to tell the truth.

All of this led me to believe that liberals were interested in freedom of speech, freedom to have different ideas, and critical thinking whereas conservatives (Fox News + the Government at the time) wanted nothing to do with it – instead holding on to ideas of the past.

My belief held through 2016. Much to my embarrassment now, I remember weeks before the 2016 election telling my dad over the phone that “Republicans will never win re-election”. And I remember being afraid the night that Trump won the election, because I thought pro-censorship, anti-critical thinking, racists had taken over America.

Coming back to the Goodreads review, someone (likely) of the critical thinking pro-science school of thought reviewing a book on a book reviewing site without having read the book and adding it to the “never-ever” shelf – AND THE REVIEW HAS A TON OF LIKES!!!

I don’t think many in the mainstream media have read the book either because I haven’t heard anyone refer to the president as “Donny” a name he says he hates in one of the first few chapters.

I don’t know how we got here, but it’s made me realize that critical thinking, irrationality, and dogmatism is not unique to one political ideology.

As for the book….it’s really not great. You’ll learn a little about some high profile deals Trump made, but I think where it shines is hearing some of the things he said in the 1980’s that don’t fit the media narrative we’re led to believe about him now.

If you go in with an open mind you might learn something and get to wrestle with some cognitive dissonance about very concrete opinions you hold about a man you’ve probably never met.

If you don’t go in at all, you might be able to get some Goodreads clout if you’re biting, self righteous, and sarcastic enough.

Book Review | Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden

2015 was a tragic year for Joe Biden, who is an incredibly empathic family man. The story about his son Beau and the rest of his family in 2015 was heartbreaking. If you’re close with your family and siblings it will move you (if you’re not completely turned off by the book because of some political cognitive dissonance).

It will be even an even more tragic third act if it comes out that Joe Biden is actually suffering from some cognitive decline that mirrors what happened to his son. If he is elected I hope he can put some of the plans he talks about in this book in place – namely the aggressive emphasis on cancer research (that we haven’t heard much about since this book’s publication), and then retire to enjoy the rest of his life with his family.

I was listening to this audiobook alongside The Art of the Deal – written by your favorite current president. And the tone of the Audible exclusive portions was a stark contrast (audio seemed to be from 2016 for Trump and early 2017 from Biden). It sounded like Trump re-recorded a message for the opening portion of his book asking people to vote for him as he really wanted to be president – as you would expect. Promise Me, Dad starts off with Joe longing for a return to private life (his first in nearly 50 years) and ends with Joe promising “as a Biden” that he has no current plans to run for president and doesn’t want to live in the White House, but that if no one competent shows up in two years he’ll think about it.

Big persuasion L for Biden here.

Something else I picked out was his questionable financial history. At the time of his VP confirmation in 2008 Joe Biden claims to have owned no assets – stocks, bonds, etc. I find this shocking from someone who has been making six figures as a Senator since 1991 (and a good wage as a Senator since 1973). Hopefully the rest of his administration can sort out the economy and he can focus on foreign policy – that seems to revolve around the idea that Vladimir Putin is uniquely evil and “soulless”.

If you don’t want me to label you a low information voter during yuppie cocktail hour you should read this book and The Art of the Deal.

Book Review | Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

This translation is excellent. Marcus Aurelius’s insights are capital-T-True, evidenced by the fact that people are still reading and finding value thousands of years later. You could come back to this book for advice for the rest of your life. Definitely going to read it again.

I had a discussion with a great master in Japan.

We were talking about the various people who are working to translate the Zen books into English.

He said, “That’s a waste of time. If you really understand zen,” he said “You can use any book, you could use the Bible, you could use Alice in Wonderland, you could use the dictionary.”

Because he said,

“The sound of the rain needs no translation.”

– Alan Watts

Book Review | The Price of Tomorrow by Jeff Booth

I’ve been trying to explain this idea to people forever. The idea that this 2% inflation target is not being met because technology was driving the costs of some goods down. Why do phones cost the same every year even though they keep getting better? Why are some goods cheaper than ever on Amazon and Alibaba? Where was the inflation occurring?

This book has the answer I was unable to articulate. Technology is deflationary.

Unfortunately that nugget of good information is contained mostly in the first chapter of the book (with some what should we do about it in the final chapter of the book – hint: bitcoin [duh])

The middle chapters read like Andrew Yang’s The War on Normal People – a scary and exciting picture of things to come from technology painted by a tech entrepreneur who has made his fortune and is now out to make the world a better place.

To be honest, I barely remember any of those middle chapters. I’ve already heard all the theories about AI and job loss and robot workers and how polarized the world is and the rise of populism – it’s exhausting even recounting these ideas.

I was primed to love this book as the author shares my views on inflation and bitcoin (my two favorite things to talk about), but I would have liked more of the author’s opinion and analysis of what to do about it rather than explaining to me how the world is doomed (which seems to be a pretty fashionable thing to talk about).

That being said the timing of this book (published January of 2020) is remarkable. It was pre-trillion(s) dollar stimulus, pre-bitcoin halving, pre-coronavirus (the acceleration of all these futuristic trends). And I’m sure Jeff Booth has many lucrative speaking opportunities and doesn’t care about my 3 star review of his book (that I mostly agree with and really enjoyed some parts of).

C’est la vie.

Book Review | The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

I follow a lot of people online who have raved about and other who have hated the 4 hour workweek. People who love it will claim that it was the catalyst for them starting an entrepreneurial journey or a remote lifestyle. Detractors say that it’s not practical advice for the average person (try telling your boss you’re working remote next week see how it goes) or that it’s more marketing hype than truth.

As with much of life the truth is somewhere in the middle. Can you go from Chipotle cashier to working remotely on your SAAS business in 6 months? Gonna be tough. Do a lot of the claims seem outlandish or too good to be true – yes.

However, I haven’t heard of anyone who took the advice and has had bad results (part of a larger problem that deserves its own discussion of how most readers of self help / business books myself included don’t implement much of what they learn and instead just read more self help / business books). And there’s a reason that it’s the most highlighted book on Amazon.

It can be uncomfortable to hear about all the things you could be doing to succeed or achieve the things you want (especially when the author is telling you he’s done it and kind of sounds like an asshole bragging about it). When I was younger I would freak out at my parents and other people who would try to give me advice – even when they were really nice about it.

While some of this book seems like slimy marketing hype, I’m going to ignore those parts and assume based on the countless hours of Tim Ferriss content I’ve consumed that he’s a good guy who means well and is trying to empower people to think outside the box and design better lives for themselves.

This is one where I don’t recommend the audiobook (I’ll be picking up a physical copy to page through later) because there’s so much content that you can’t implement right away. It’s also frustrating to hear him plug four hour blog (that no longer exists – now tim.blog and is difficult to navigate) and other technology solutions that don’t exist or are obsolete (is blackberry still in business?)

Pick up a copy.
Check your ego.
Learn what you can.
Implement what you learn.
???
Profit (probably).

Book Review | The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton

How I got Here
I picked up this book after watching a friend’s instagram story where he claimed that after reading this book, Joe Biden’s 2 trillion dollar climate plan made a lot of sense. I disagree, and thought I’d read the book because I wanted to experience cognitive dissonance.

The Thesis
The thesis of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is that currency issuing countries that hold debt denominated in their own currency can print money at any point to make all the debt go away.

MMTers see (currency issuing) government debt as an irrelevant metric to measure financial stability instead opting to view economic health through the lens of how much inflation a country is experiencing. They’ll argue that we should print as much money as we can before causing a big inflation problem to get massive public works projects underway (employing everyone possible through a federal jobs guarantee) and that taxes are not meant to fund the government, only to reduce the spending power of citizens.

The Good
This book makes great points and, because of the credentials of the author and how well structured the arguments are, is very persuasive.

I agree that this is how the government is operating now (spend and print as much money as you want, the debt doesn’t matter as much as people think because the government is not a currency user it is an issuer).

The Bad
However, I disagree that MMT is a reasonable path forward.

Forgetting the Loserthink that demonizes politicians by reading their inner thoughts like:

“Lawmakers can feign empathy with their constituents while claiming their hands are tied by the deficit. If they couldn’t hide behind the deficit myth what excuse would they use to justify withholding support?”

the real problem with the MMT philosophy is the obvious black swan hyperinflation risk it creates.

Stephanie admits in the book that printing tons of money will eventually lead to inflation (she just thinks that we’re far from that point – we’re a “6 foot man hunched over in a home with 8 foot ceilings”. Which is totally possible – she would know better than I would). What we likely disagree on is the effectiveness of the government or any group of people to appropriately predict what the outcomes of pulling all these different levers (interest rates, printing more money, artificially creating full employment, etc). We’ll only need to get it wrong a few times (with very different people controlling this massive responsibility for the rest of America in time) to really mess things up.

The ultimate irony occurs when Stephanie is railing against the US’s failing infrastructure pointing to a dam (that was recently inspected and given a review noting the fragility to a low probability catastrophic event) burst and killed a man and destroyed his home when that low probability catastrophic event came true.

MMT is the dam. MMTers are the inspectors. And the water coming to flood our homes is hyperinflation.

MMTers will tell you that the chance of hyperinflation is low and that they’ll create robust government systems (paradox?) to avoid it, but by the time we’ve spent hundreds of trillions dollars on projects that don’t need to ROI it will be too late to turn back.

The Bitcoin
*gets on soapbox*

“Well Rhett, if you don’t like how unpredictable the money supply from the US government is that’s too bad, there’s no alternative.” – They

If only there was a way to convert my unknown supply dollars to a fixed supply asset that adds new supply to the system in a programmatic, predictable, public way and doesn’t take decision making advice from lobbyists.

Stay away from They.

*stays on soapbox until the soapbox is on the moon*

The Conclusion

Yuppies who fantasize about one upping their friends with political / economic knowledge at dinner parties should read this book because upcoming policy debates are no doubt going to come down to your feelings on MMT. If nothing else, it will make you think differently about the problems the country faces.

The 2 trillion dollar stimulus (so far) and the proposed 2 trillion dollar climate plan are 4 trillion more reasons to buy bitcoin.

(None of this is financial advice)