Reading Chicken Entrails

Humans don’t change much.  Whenever I learn more about a uniquely modern event I realize that it isn’t hard to find historical, and prehistorical, examples of the same thing.  If Shakespeare is to be believed, in Caesar’s time people would slaughter animals and read the guts to tell the future.  It isn’t hard to see similar things happening today.

My favorite example is the stock market.  If you think about, it’s a pretty bizarre entity.  It’s like if you built a system to judge students.  Anyone with a few bucks can judge any and all students.  But they’re not judging which students are best.  Nor are they judging what students will be the best in the future.  Nor are they judging what everyone else is betting on.  No, any given judge is trying to guess what the group as a whole is going to guess is the student that will be the best at some point in the future.  To call this imprecise is a maddeningly inaccurate statement.  And it’s made even more impossible by the words on nearly every financial document I have ever seen.  “Past results do not predict future performance.”

What on earth do I mean by this?  When people buy stock in companies they are doing so hoping the value of the stock will increase so they can sell it later at a profit.  Sure, some companies offer dividends to their shareholders as a means of attracting investors, but most investors look at their stocks as things analogous to cash.  So what makes the value of a given stock go up?  It goes up if more people buy it.  Why would more people buy it?  Because they all think the value will increase.  Not because they think it’s a great company, or they believe in its mission, but because if the value increases they can sell it at a profit.  People trying to guess the future to see if their stocks are going to increase in value are no more sophisticated than a priest millennia ago trying to figure out the weather by checking to see whether or not the chicken they just killed had a heart.  This is how Tesla is a more valuable company than Ford or GM, despite the fact that they sell a fraction of the number of cars.

I’m not trying to deride the stock market.  A lot of people make and lose a lot of money there.  I understand it only on a conceptual level.  I just wonder what other things we do today that future humans will look back on and laugh at their primitive nature.  So next we are going to explore what our ascendents might think of us.  


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