Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Diary

For various reasons, I think that the pandemic put my brain to sleep, and it seems to be waking up a little now. There is still the problem of finding adequate new reading material, though I do have a new book that I'll start one of these days. In this household, it sometimes seems as if we are preparing for Armageddon, and on that front we are certainly better prepared than most people. Besides living in one of the coldest states, far from coastal flooding, and with few right-wing fanatics, we have a propane generator and heat pumps now, so we are prepared for power outages and higher temperatures. If the odd neo-Nazi tries to assault the house, he will probably be shot. I'm considering whether or not I should buy a shotgun just in case there is a larger attack. Actually, I don't care that much whether I die now, since I'm seventy-one, and my father only lived to the age of fifty. His father lived to the age of sixty-eight. In my case, I've figured out most of the things that I wanted to figure out and am already getting tired of ordinary mortals. I'm not very interested in extreme longevity, though, obviously, there is a human instinct for survival.

I've been spending more time on investing than necessary, perhaps because it becomes addictive. In this instance there is an additional incentive, because, with new conditions in the stock market, it seems easier to make money. This situation has arisen due to meme stock investors. What happens is that certain stocks suddenly shoot up in value without good reason, and if you can identify those stocks and buy them in advance, you can make a lot of money very quickly. The people who push up the prices of the stocks are uninformed investors who simply follow recommendations from websites that purport to offer investment advice. In my case, by using more traditional stock analysis, I am occasionally able to identify and buy those stocks and then sell them when memes suddenly drive them up to ridiculous prices. There is a certain amount of luck involved, though, on the other hand, I have an advantage over the meme buyers. However, it now looks as if some of those buyers have wised up – or run out of money – so the rewards are diminishing. A few large institutional investors were caught off guard by this phenomenon and lost billions of dollars by shorting stocks that suddenly surged in price. Because the markets are returning to normal, I am starting to move back to a more traditional portfolio. For a time, it was enjoyable to see big money take a hit, because they have immense computational firepower at their disposal and usually outperform retail investors.

On a larger scale, the phenomenon of meme investing is just one example of how the internet influences choices and encourages irrational behavior. Of course, I'm tired of thinking about Donald Trump, but his success is an excellent example of how the internet expands poor choices in politics. You can now plainly see that, despite not understanding his constituency or having any real connection with them, Trump was suddenly catapulted to the most powerful position in the world. For the remainder of his life, he will be exposed as a charlatan who hardly knew what he was doing but managed to succeed mainly because he was unprincipled, while others, particularly the right-wing media, used him to advance their agendas. When his actions are closely examined in the future, it will increasingly become apparent that Trump had no idea what was going on and was merely following his lifelong habit of inflating his ego and lying in order to enrich himself. This has already been clearly demonstrated in his dealings with Ukraine, and the same picture is emerging from the January 6 riot. Rather than being a shrewd political operative, Trump is merely the accidental beneficiary of irrational behavior fueled by the internet. Investigations can only show that he was stupid, lucky and unscrupulous, and sooner or later he and the people who supported him will be shamed. Not only is it a bizarre situation that millions of people still think that Trump won the 2020 election, it is also a warning of future risks.

I think that meme stocks and the victory of Donald Trump in 2016 are examples of how unregulated technology can have undesirable and potentially disastrous consequences. New examples are appearing at an increasing rate. Thus, I still think that optimists such as Steven Pinker are more than a little naïve. You only have to consider that under slightly different circumstances Trump could have been reelected. That would have meant further erosion of international alliances, inaction on global warming, an increase in economic inequality, the continued collapse of the infrastructure and a mismanaged economy. Besides not caring about any of these issues, Trump doesn't understand them at all. There is some cause for optimism with Biden in the White House, but there is no guarantee that he will be successful in solving the problems at hand.

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