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The Ultimate Game of Economics

Have you heard about the ‘ultimate game of economics’? Here’s how it goes.

A person – let’s call him proposer – is given a hundred bucks and asked to split the money with a stranger, called responder. The split doesn’t need to be equal. Proposer could split it 50-50 or he could even keep 90 for himself and offer 10 to the stranger. But the condition is that if the responder rejects the offer, none of them get any money.

If you were the responder, at what split ratio would you accept the offer?

50-50? Most people would consider that fair. But is it rational?

What if you didn’t know about the total sum involved in the deal and you’re told only about the amount that proposer offers you? Isn’t it like a free money, something that you found lying on the street. Why would you reject even 5 bucks that way?

But that’s not how humans think. Right?

The knowledge that someone else got a better deal (at our cost) makes us humans feel cheated.

“Not fair,” we cry. “How dare the proposer offer less than 50 to me?” [Read more…]

Latticework Of Mental Models: Hedgehog Vs Fox

On June 16, 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States. Most political forecasters and pundits brushed this news as Trump’s another gimmick for seeking attention and creating sensational news.

Sixteen months later, as November 2016 approached, it became frighteningly clear that Trump was very close to winning the elections.

However, when the experts were shaking their heads in disbelief and talking about all the things that were wrong with Trump, there was a cartoonist in San Francisco who had been writing blogs all through 2015 and 2016, claiming that Trump will win the elections in landslide. He received a lot of flak (even threats) but on November 8, 2016, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert was proved right.

Not entirely right because Trump’s victory wasn’t exactly a landslide but he did win the elections. But Adams was way ahead than the experts who were sweating over predicting precise numbers by which Trump will lose.

Charlie Munger likes to say, “It’s better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.”

[Read more…]

Latticework Of Mental Models: Planning Fallacy


When I planned my first road trip from Bangalore to Goa, I calculated that the distance (about 560 km) should take little more than 9 hours. Factoring in stopovers and few unexpected events like a flat tyre or traffic, I assumed that 12-15 hours should be sufficient for the road trip. It took 15 hours.

“Good job, Anshul!” I patted myself on the back. Not a bad estimate.

Now based on this, if I had to forecast the time it would take to cover a distance of say 5,000 km, a road trip to cover major cities in India, I might be tempted to extrapolate the Bangalore-Goa trip time. I’ll probably calculate that 560 km took one day so 5,000 km should take 10 days plus 2-3 more days.

Am I being reasonable in my estimation?

What I am forgetting here is that the second road trip is not only longer but more complex and subject to many more unforeseen and unexpected events. My estimation is fraught with over-optimism bias. And I am not alone in making this kind of mistake.

There are many ways a plan can fail and most of those things are too improbable to be anticipated. The likelihood that something will go wrong especially in a big project is high. Overly optimistic forecasts of the outcome of projects are found everywhere.

In fact, how often are you able to complete everything on your to-do list at the end of the day? This shows how absurdly ambitious we’re in planning.

This bias, a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias (underestimate the time needed), is called Planning Fallacy. The term was coined by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky.

[Read more…]

Latticework Of Mental Models: Lucretius Problem

It was a Friday on March 11, 2011 when a massive earthquake with an intensity of 9 on Richter scale hit off the coast of Japan at 2:26 pm local time. The epicenter of the quake was 70 kilometer east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku.

The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40 meters. It took 50 minutes for the largest wave in the tsunami to arrive at the shores of Fukushima. What followed was something totally unimaginable and unexpected for those who take pride in taming the mother nature.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant had six separate boiling water reactors, protected by a 10-meter-high seawall to prevent sea waves from entering the plant.

When the tsunami struck the Fukushima coastline, the gigantic waves easily overtopped the plant’s seawall. It took seconds to flood the basements of the turbine buildings and disabling the emergency diesel generators. Soon the backup generator building was also flooded. This resulted in an explosion and leakage of radioactive material to the sea water and created a huge nuclear hazard.

Why would the engineers and designers of Fukushima nuclear power plant build a wall only 10-meter high? What made them believe that the waves can’t breach the 10-meter height? [Read more…]

Safal Niveshak Stream – December 17, 2016

Note to Readers: In Stream, we suggest worthwhile reading material on a variety of topics, not all of which are directly related to investing. Some of the articles require you to be paid subscriber of those sites. However, it is often possible to read such articles by going to Google News and searching for the article’s title.



Some nice stuff we are reading, listening, and observing at the start of this weekend…

Investing

  • (1700 words / 7 minutes read) Could one person’s speculation be another person’s investment? The case study presented in this article titled The Risk of Backing into a Speculative Position illustrates the idea that investment and speculation are linked to an investor’s intent rather than the characteristic of stock he or she is buying.

    Let’s assume that the investor and the speculator purchased the exact same security at the same time and then subsequently sold at the same time. Obviously, the returns that both of them will experience are identical, but it is still useful to differentiate between investment and speculation. This is because over long periods of time, process is important and will eventually dominate results. The effect of a good process on any individual investment may not be clear but, over time, a good investment process should generate good long term results.

    It is important to make a clear distinction between investing and speculating and to classify one’s activities appropriately. The possibility of major losses exists when someone who believes that he is investing is actually speculating instead. There is nothing illegal or immoral about speculating but such activities really do need to be segregated from investing in our minds to avoid trouble.

    [Read more…]

Latticework Of Mental Models: Chauffeur knowledge

Charlie Munger, in one of his talks, tells the story of famous scientist Max Planck –

I frequently tell the apocryphal story about how Max Planck, after he won the Nobel Prize, went around Germany giving a same standard lecture on the new quantum mechanics. Over time, his chauffeur memorized the lecture and said, “Would you mind, Professor Planck, because it’s so boring to stay in our routine, if I gave the lecture in Munich and you just sat in front wearing my chauffeur’s hat?” Planck said, “Why not?” And the chauffeur got up and gave this long lecture on quantum mechanics. After which a physics professor stood up and asked a perfectly ghastly question. The speaker said, “Well, I’m surprised that in an advanced city like Munich I get such an elementary question. I’m going to ask my chauffeur to reply.

Well, the reason I tell that story is not to celebrate the quick wittedness of the protagonist. In this world I think we have two kinds of knowledge: One is Planck knowledge, that of the people who really know. They’ve paid the dues, they have the aptitude. Then we’ve got chauffeur knowledge. They have learned to prattle the talk. They may have a big head of hair. They often have fine timbre in their voices. They make a big impression. But in the end what they’ve got is chauffeur knowledge masquerading as real knowledge. I think I’ve just described practically every politician in the United States. You’re going to have the problem in your life of getting as much responsibility as you can into the people with the Planck knowledge and away from the people who have the chauffeur knowledge.

On a lighter note the chauffeur had some Planck knowledge of his own, being clever enough to turn that question around!

But in the real world, it is critical to distinguish when someone is “Max Planck,” and when he’s just the “Chauffeur.”

Building Planck knowledge takes deep commitment and large amount of time and effort. Chauffeur knowledge comes from people who have learned to put on a show. Their talks sound impressive and entertaining, they have good voice and may even ooze great charisma but their knowledge is not their own.

[Read more…]

Investing and the Power of Serendipity

In July 2003 I was fresh out of college and was waiting to join my first job. I was excited but a little anxious too. The thought of transitioning from a laid back college life to a hectic corporate job was giving me jitters.

The life in college was quite predictable. The syllabus was fixed. If I studied the textbooks diligently and attended all the classes, I was supposed to graduate in four years with predictable grades.

But in the job, I had no clue what to expect. I didn’t know how my first boss would behave. Although there weren’t going to be any exams or pop quizzes in the job, there was no set curriculum either. It was a different flavour of uncertainty out there which I hadn’t tasted before.

So, to make the best use of my vacation before the corporate grill started, I thought of meeting someone who was successful in this field. I decided to meet the president of small scale industries association in my hometown.

“Uncle, I am about to join my first job in a chemical industry. What should I do to make the best use of my time in my job?” I asked him.

“Always keep your eyes and ears open. Opportunity can come from any direction. Be ready to grab it and work hard to capitalize on it,” he said. We spoke for about half an hour but these are the only three sentences that I still remember.

At that time, those words didn’t make much sense to me. However, after spending 10 years working in different jobs, I began to realize the importance of uncle’s advice.

[Read more…]

Latticework Of Mental Models: Hyperbolic Discounting

Last year I decided to get a brand new laptop for myself. This got me started on the herculean task of selecting from thousands of choices available on numerous e-commerce websites.

After weeks of an excruciating process of comparing, shortlisting, and researching, I finally zeroed in on my final choice. Then started the wait for online discounts.

Very soon, the so-called online-sale-season arrived which offered a ‘whopping’ Rs. 100 discount on my selection. So much for the patience! But for a self-proclaimed prudent consumer, it still was a good deal.

What happened next is pretty much the story of every online shopper. Just when I was about to place the order, I saw the option of same-day delivery for an additional Rs 100. Guess what I did? Yours truly didn’t hesitate for a moment to take the offer.

Ironically, I waited for a week for a small discount but when the time came for buying I couldn’t wait another day and forked out extra money just to get my toy immediately. What happened to my admirable qualities of patience and prudence?

A little research on Google revealed that the introduction of get-it-now temptation in the deal caused me to behave irrationally. The symptom of this behavioural bias goes something like this.

When I have agreed to wait for six days, I don’t mind waiting for one more day. Well, if I can wait for six, goes the rationale, waiting for seven shouldn’t be a big deal!

But when I am told that I can get something today instead of tomorrow, my temptation refuses to wait for another day.

[Read more…]