Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Easy to Teach & Useless

Here's a useful s useful summary of something Charlie Munger said about beta at the 2010 Wesco shareholder meeting:

The concept of beta or volatility is asinine. It isn't always bad ideas that cause bad outcomes but good ideas taken to excess. Obviously if you own very volatile stocks your returns can be volatile day to day. The main problems in life can only be solved when you know what works, what doesn't and why.

Very high IQ people coming out of b-schools are basically useless to us, aside from their own idiosyncratic virtues. These people often tell him and Warren that what they learned in b-school was useless and they like the way Warren and Charlie think. Simple formulas are all that are taught but they are totally useless. B-schools have not done civilization a favor by making the matter easier to teach but useless. If he were running a business school, he would start off with a history of business. That system would steal cases from each of the sub-specialist's repertoire so there would be a lot of cross-academic friction. However, he thinks it is useful to know why GM rose and then failed. He also thinks it would be beneficial to examine why railroads rose, struggled and why are they better investments now. Unfortunately, it is easier to teach beta, which he equated to algebra; where you can plug in values and find an answer.

Check out these notes for more on what Munger had to say.


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