The Digest #175
Pseudonyms on social media, Superinvestor portfolios, Apple Vision Pro, Gates on AI, 40% discount rates, Evolving moats, Jay Gould, Garry Tan, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, Steve Ells, and more ...
Pseudonyms on Social Media
In The Digest #147, I wrote about Benjamin Franklin’s defense of free speech which he published in 1722 at the age of sixteen. Franklin wrote under the pen name of Silence Dogood because he knew that he would not be taken seriously due to his youth.
In the decades leading up to the American Revolution, writers published ideas in newspapers and pamphlets using pen names. These articles were often every bit as edgy and combative as articles we read on the internet today. In an age when freedom of speech was not protected against government retaliation, writers had many reasons to be wary. This was also a time when men often settled their differences with a duel.
Nikki Haley, a Republican presidential candidate, has advocated requiring all people on social media platforms to reveal their identity. She justified this authoritarian proposal by citing “national security” interests. Due to massive backlash within her own party, Haley has walked back the comments, but her instincts remain clear:
“I don’t mind anonymous American people having free speech; what I don’t like is anonymous Russians and Chinese and Iranians having free speech,” Haley said, not explaining how [she] would recommend that social media companies parse those users.1
The irony is that the Constitution itself was debated vigorously using pseudonymous essays distributed in pamphlets and articles. The first amendment was created specifically to protect Americans from the suppressive instincts of the political class. Given the widespread use of pseudonyms in the 1780s and 90s, the founders clearly did not intend to limit free speech to those who disclose their identities.2
In the United States, we elect Presidents, not monarchs. It is nice to know that Nikki Haley “doesn’t mind” free speech. Voters can decide whether her latest statements are sincere or simply damage control after she mistakenly revealed her real sentiments.
The final batch of 13F reports were filed with the SEC this week. I found it interesting to see that several investors I respect bought Dollar General shares during the quarter. I also looked at Berkshire Hathaway’s activity. I don’t recommend blindly coat tailing superinvestors, but 13Fs can often be sources of ideas to independently research.
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Vision Pro, Spatial Video, and Panoramic Photos by John Gruber, November 10, 2023. Apple continues to provide journalists and influencers with access to the latest iterations of the Vision Pro device set to ship in 2024. As an investor with an indirect position in Apple, I found this positive review quite reassuring. (Daring Fireball)
AI is about to completely change how you use computers by Bill Gates, November 9, 2023. Bill Gates has become a controversial character but few would deny that he is an expert in the software field. In this article, Gates makes the case that intelligent “agents” will completely change the way we interact with computers. (Gates Notes)
Discount rates in venture backed startups by Jerry Neumann, November 7, 2023. Access to money is no longer free and it is fashionable to talk about hurdle rates again. The author makes the case that the discount rates typically used for early-stage ventures are not nearly high enough. He suggests 40%. (Reaction Wheel)
With Interest Rates Above 9%, Small Businesses Slam the Brakes by Ruth Simon, November 14, 2023. Financial gravity is making a comeback. (WSJ)
Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Relief, But Still High Relative to Recent Years by Betty Resnick, November 15, 2023. The Farm Bureau thinks that you can buy the groceries needed to feen TEN people for $61.17, DOWN from $64.05 last year! Perhaps this is possible if you are a very careful shopper and a skilled cook who can make everything from scratch but the rest of us will need to dig quite a bit deeper. (Farm Bureau)
The Longer I Do This, The Less I Care About Results by Ryan Holiday, November 15, 2023. Having an inner scorecard is a good thing, despite its limits, but I’d suggest that it is easier to accomplish if you are already successful and financially independent, as Ryan Holiday no doubt is at this point in his career. (RyanHoliday.net), November 11, 2023. “Everyone talks about ‘moats’ but almost no one talks about how moats change. Moats get a little bit wider or narrower every day. A widening moat is even more valuable than a wide moat. A moat’s direction is more important than its width.” (Eagle Point Capital), November 12, 2023. Highlights from a recent interview with one of the members of Berkshire Hathaway’s board of directors. (Wall Street Gunslinger)
Learning from Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger with Chris Davis, October 28, 2023. 2 hours, 21 minutes. Transcript. Video. (Richer, Wiser, Happier)
Review of A Man for All Markets by Ed Thorp, March 24, 2017 (Rational Walk)
Garry Tan — Y Combinator CEO, November 15, 2023. 1 hour. Video. Writing is (and has always been) Garry’s #1 tool to excavate his identity and discover his purpose. In his own words, “Writing is the most potent form of representing your own experience.” (How I Write)
Jay Gould (Dark Genius of Wall Street), July 22, 2022. 1 hour, 39 minutes. Transcript. “Gould was the most astute financial and business strategist of his time and also the most widely hated. He was the undisputed master of the nation's railroads and telegraph systems at a time when these were the fastest-growing new technologies of the age.” (Founders Podcast)
The Coca-Cola Company, November 15, 2023. 46 minutes. Transcript. There are very few people in the world who have not heard of the brand but certain aspects of the Coca-Cola business model are often misunderstood. (Business Breakdowns)
Brad Jacobs - Think Big and Move Fast, November 14, 2023. 1 hour, 25 minutes. Transcript. Brad Jacobs is the Executive Chairman of XPO which is one of the largest logistics businesses in the world. (Invest Like the Best)
Jennifer Burns on Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, November 15, 2023. 1 hour. Transcript. Video. Jennifer Burns is a professor of history at Stanford who has written biographies of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. (Conversations with Tyler)
When a Robot Cooks Your Lunch, November 9, 2023. 44 minutes. Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle, discusses his new restaurant concept, Kernel. (How I Built This)
How Chipotle’s Founder Is Moving Beyond Burritos, November 11, 2023 (WSJ)
The Road to Vétheuil
“Monet painted five views of the road to Vétheuil from the direction of La Roche Guyon, this one being the last of them. Three of these related compositions show the road in winter with snow and constitute examples of Monet’s famed effets de neige. This example shows the road in the autumn. The artist’s colorful palette is organized around the road that recedes into depth at a central vanishing point, a classic landscape composition.”
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The question of whether TikTok should be permitted in the United States is a separate issue. Permitting a social network controlled by a totalitarian dictatorship that has used its algorithms to harm American children while protecting Chinese children from the same content is strong evidence that TikTok is a modern-day electronic Trojan Horse. The United States has no obligation to permit a foreign adversary to operate a propaganda outlet within our country, particularly given the demonstrably negative effect on children.
I choose to write without a byline but The Rational Walk is not “anonymous”. I used to write with a byline and my identity can be found with a few internet searches. My name is also on older research reports, press releases, and cited in a few mainstream media articles. I write without a byline because a) I am an introvert; b) there are plenty of crazy people in the world and I do not want random people to easily know my identity and/or location; and c) because I have no interest in building a personal “brand” since I am not looking for employment and have no interest in networking opportunities.