The Big Lessons From History 路 Collaborative Fund - Deepstash
There are two kinds of historical events to learn from
  • Specific events. Their usefulness is limited to particular events that will not be repeated in the exact same way. What did this person do right, or wrong? What ideas worked? What strategies failed?
  • Broad behaviours that repeatedly surface in many fields and eras. These behaviours are often ignored. How do people think about risk? How do they react to surprise? What motivates them, cause them to be overconfident, or unsure?

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  • Good times often breed complacency and scepticism of warnings. Until 2020, the public assumed pandemics were things of the past. 100 years ago, people had a better understanding of how dangerous an outbreak could be.
  • Carl Jung thought that an excess of something gives rise to its opposite. When there are no recessions, people get confident. Confident people take risks, leading to recessions.

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Optimism and pessimism go hand in hand. In finance, we are told to save like a pessimist and invest like an optimist. The short term is full of setbacks, problems, breakages, depressions, pandemics, errors, but if you can stick around long enough, you can experience long-term growth.

The long-run is usually rather good and the short run is normally quite bad. In reconciling the two, we learn how to manage both.

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  • Everyone has a model in their head of how they think the world works. That model is built mostly from what you've experienced and what people you trust have told you. But everyone has different experiences and a different set of people, leading to different models.
  • We also believe something if our income or approval in a social circle depends on believing it.

It is then essential to understand that no one thinks independently. We all suffer from some degree of blindness.

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An important lesson from history is that big events are more complicated. It makes forecasting difficult, politics nasty, and lessons to learn from it harder.

We may demand simple answers to explain outlier events. However, it's almost impossible for something big to happen because of one event, person, or group. Unrelated things often culminate into something significant. For example, the Great Depression was the result of a stock market crash, a banking crash, a real estate bubble, an agricultural disaster, and an inadequate policy response. When all these things happened at the same time, it was a catastrophe.

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The risks we talk about are seldom the most important in hindsight. The real risk is what no-one sees coming. For example, September 11th, Pearl Harbor, The Great Depression. These events surprised nearly everyone and instantly shoved the world in a new direction.

When we are caught off guard, two things happen: One is that we are vulnerable. The other is that surprise shakes our beliefs in a way that leaves us paranoid and pessimistic.

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