This book is a fun little read. It's about how we have lost the character values of the enlightened era and how that leads to slow corrosion of best practices in the market as well. It's about how all of this can be transformed back to resemble more how things have been, while also making sure that we keep the good new things.
It's about putting character back into the equation in business, about developing yours and acting in a way that's responsible and beneficial not only for you but also for society on a grander scale. Think about why you do things, and choose to stop when you have "enough". In a way all those ideas are familiar, but we too easily forget them every once in a while so this book serves as a great reminder. However, if you know ideas like the character ethics from 7 habits or the ideas from Poor Charlie's Almanack or the ideas from the Navalmanack most of this book should seem very familiar to you. However, it is applied to finance and the financial ecosystem because that's where Bogle as the founder of the Vanguard index funds comes from.
To me, the best thought, besides the idea of living a life filled with virtue, honesty and a good character (and developing that character to be a little better every day until the day you die), is that of how financial markets and services extract value instead of creating it. And that's fundamentally shifting things to a zero-sum game and is therefore the wrong mental model to have. financial systems should work for their clients, not for themselves, yet that is not at all what the financial sectors do, inventing new and better ways of cleverly shuffling money around, to enrich mostly themselves and make their clients usually lose money if compared to a much simpler index fund. The value is placed on speculation in companies instead of investing in them and the marketing that comes along with it, promising people, not solid returns over years to come, but quick wins instead, is something that Bogle disagrees with so vehemently that it's infectious. Because fundamentally I think he's right.
Future Preference - tomorrow can be better than yesterday, but we have to make it so. Same idea as definite optimism from Zero to One
Central Idea: Financial Systems should enable long-term economic growth. They should have "Future Preference". Ours currently don't.
Future preference still matters.
Book Recommendation: In Search of Excellence - Bob Waterman
Numbers are soft, they can change, almost at will. They are not what matters.
Integrity, Trust, lasting Values, Solid Relationships, Quality and Excellence are hard. They are what matters.
It's in general what "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" refers to as "Quality"
A Crisis of Ethic Proportions
Capitalism fails at scale because large corporations can game the system, gaining unfair advantages, and destroying the idea of the "invisible" hand. They can evade market forces.
Book Recommendation: A Failure of Capitalism - Richard Posner
I will create value for society rather than extract it. — Rakesh Khurana
Success is now, measured only in money, we have become a "bottom-line" society.
This leads to the loss of ethics in conduct along the way. As long as it makes money, it's good. That's madness, yet the world we find ourselves in.
A country gets rich by making stuff, not by seeming to make money from money. — Edward Hadas
The economically illusory gains of finance distract people from more valuable tasks. — Edward Hadas
This in a nutshell is the argument against most of the crypto scene/bubble.
The main question the book poses is, when is enough, enough? And it poses that we are far beyond enough and that we should go back to the core values of 18th-century America. Because those were what built all the value that we are busy redistributing and extracting.
Greed is not knowing what enough is. It undermines values.
People are blessed with diamonds in their lives. But diamonds have to be sought and found in your backyard, and you have to stop and appreciate them, else you'll entirely miss them.
The main ideas of the book are summarized on page 23:
Simplicity > Complexity Trust > Measures Stewardship > Marketing Leaders > Managers Real > Illusory Character > Success Intangibles > Things Sense of Calling > Personal "Satisfaction" 18th century values > 20th century values
We think more like managers, whose task is to do things right, rather than as leaders, whose task is to do the right thing. — John Bogle
I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man. — Socrates
I might poison your minds, dear readers, with a little humanity. — Kurt Vonnegut
Chapter 1 - Too Much Cost, Not Enough Value
The more the financial system takes, the less the investor makes. — John Bogle
On balance, the financial system subtracts value from our society. — John Bogle
Some people create value, others take a share of that value by trading it cleverly, and yet others sit on top of that redistributing value by betting on the trader's actions.
When working in finance, don't lose your conscience, when investing, cut extraction - costs - incurred by the financial system and uphold 18th-century values. And pay back to society as well.
We pass through this world but once, so do now any good you can do, and show now any kindness you can show, for we shall not pass this way again. — William Penn
The problem: how can financial sectors earn more than the energy and technology sectors?!
What is good for the financial industry is bad for you. — John Bogle
The issue at heart is a disconnect between the cost and value of the financial system. It doesn't provide enough value for what it costs. Not nearly enough.
Investment Principles: Balance, Diversification, Focus on the long-term
There are questions so important that it is,or should be, hard to think about anything else. — Glen Weyl
Chapter 2 - Too Much Speculation, Not Enough Investment
Investing is long-term ownership of businesses.
Book Recommendation: General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money - John Maynard Keynes
The distinction between speculators and investors. One is focused on the short-term movement of prices of stocks, trading them to their benefit and speculating on how they are going to behave, while the other is focused on the long-term returns from the companies bought. One cares for the company's true value the other only for its price.
Markets are volatile when the number of speculators exceeds the number of investors in the market.
In the long run, volatility cancels out, because speculating is random, and investment returns remain. The only thing adding value to the economy in the long run, are the things that add value, namely companies producing and selling those goods.
The stock market is a giant distraction from the business of investing. — John Bogle
Book Recommendation: Little Book of Common Sense Investing - John Bogle
Speculators rent stocks, investors own companies.
Speculations can only adjust to reality, the opposite is impossible.
Speculation is a loser's game. And the laws of probability don't apply to financial markets. They are essentially random in movement.
Book Recommendation: Black Swan - Nicholas Nassim Taleb
Don't assume the future will resemble the past. Because in the financial market it won't. And if you count on it, you lose even more.
Even through changes in markets, economies grow, resiliently.
Book Recommendations: Economics and Portfolio Strategy - Peter Bernstein
Timing the market is impossible because there always has to be a bag holder, otherwise who is buying things from you? And every once in a while, you are the bag holder.
Book Recommendation: On Money and Markets - Henry Kaufman
Trust is the cornerstone of most relationships in life. — Henry Kaufman
The hazards we face now that enterprise has become a mere bubble on a whirlpool of speculation means that the job of capitalism is being ill-done. — John Maynard Keynes
Chapter 3 - Too Much Complexity, Not Enough Simplicity
Complicated finance products enrich the finance sector, but always in the long run underperform a simple market-based index fund.
Innovation in finance is "bad" for investors. The only ones profiting from "innovation" in the end are the fund managers.
ETFs are different from other funds, like absolute return funds, commodity funds, index funds, managed payout funds and international funds.
70-95% of funds fail within a time of 7 years.
Chapter 4 - Too Much Counting, Not Enough Trust
Book Recommendation: Economic: An Introductory Analysis - Paul Samuelson
To presume that what cannot be measured is not very important is tantamount to blindness. — John Bogle
Numbers are not reality. At best, they are a pale reflection of reality. — John Bogle
Estimating future numbers from past numbers is usually wrong. Trusting and extrapolating graphs is flawed if the underlying reasons are not taken into account. Often the things moving a market are very very hard to quantify hence the market is almost impossible to predict accurately in numbers as well.
Book Recommendation: The Sum of Our Discontent - David Boyle
Accounting is necessary for a business but it shouldn't be the objective to produce "good" numbers. The business should be the focus, providing value to the customers instead of quarterly earnings.
We must either compete or die. — John Bogle
Chapter 5 - Too Much Business Conduct, Not Enough Professional Conduct
Professionalism is this: Commitment to clients' interests, as well as society's interests 2. Special Knowledge 3. Specific Skills/Practices
- Capacity for Ethical Judgement
- Organized Learning from Experience
- Community of Quality Monitoring
Professionalism means interacting with society in a way beneficial to society. And it's on the decline because numbers - money - counts more.
Professionalism is creating value for society.
Economies suffer if the economic rewards for redistributing wealth are higher than for creating it.
Today this is the case.
Company shareholders move from single ownership to institutional ownership. This means that managers for money, like banks, funds etc. are now commonplace. However in this transition, the trust was lost, namely, other people don't have your interests at heart when they invest your money. And hence the focus went from long-term investment to short-term speculation. Trust went out of the window as well.
Book Recommendation: Battle for the Soul of Capitalism - John Bogle
CEO pay is way too high. 520 times that of an average worker in a company. Up from 42 times back in the day. The reason, shareholders simply don't care, is because they don't care about the actual long-term value of a company, they care about the stock price going up or down in the short term because that's what they are incentivized to do. Because that's how fund managers make bonuses.
Principles go out the window if the bottom line should be higher than it is. Everything goes as long as it increases profits is the modern way of doing business. This is very unprofessional and should be reverted.
In other words, capitalism breaks ethics because of greed. So capitalism can be bad for society.
Chapter 6 - Too Much Salesmanship, Not Enough Stewardship
Fund Industry changed away from market indexing funds into more diversified products. Mostly to increase sales, not to increase actual earnings.
Holding periods went down as well from avg. of 16 down to 4 years, now funds are traded. Partly obliterating the usefulness that they had over individual stocks.
Stocks in actively managed funds are swapped out much more often today than earlier. Trading and speculation again instead of investing.
In a good world, shareholders would pay less for fund management, investors would be served in their long-term interests... over their entire lifetimes. And they would be the ones making decisions.
Chapter 7 - Too Much Management, Not Enough Leadership
Management Guru - Warren Bennis.
Managers administer, they are copies. They imitate, focus on systems, rely on control, think about the short term and accept the status quo.
Leaders innovate, they are original. They originate, focus on people, inspire trust, think about the long-term and challenge the status quo.
The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing. — Warren Bennis
People should care about the organizations that play a role in their lives.
Rules for Building Great Organizations:
- Make Caring the Soul of the Organization
- Don't think of employees as cogs in a wheel
- Set and stick to high standards and values
- Talk the talk.
- Walk the Walk.
- Don't overmanage.
- Recognize Individual Achievement
- Be loyal.
- Lead and manage for the long term.
- Press on, regardless
A guide to life, as well as companies:
Have skill in what you do, imagination in what you create, integrity in what you produce, judgement in goals you set yourself, courage in times of peril, good humor in adversity and humility in accomplishment. — John Bogle
A leader can be defined as a person who initiates and directs an endeavor in the principl e pursuit of a project of consequence. — John Bogle
Character is the bedrock of the firm that lasts. — John Bogle
Pressing on with something, sticking with it, and working on it, diligently over long time frames is what produces great results. Neither talent nor genius nor education or any other quality for that matter stands a chance against persistence.
The ability to have this kind of persistence is summarized nicely in the book Grit
Chapter 8 - Too Much Focus on Things, Not Enough Focus on Commitment
Wealth is not a measure of life. Instead, Character is what counts. The intangibles. One of them is boldness. The other is commitment. Both together. That's what you want.
Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. — W.H. Murray
Boldly commit to your work, your family and community and even to your state (or society in general)
Chapter 9 - Too Many Twenty-First-Century Values, Not Enough Eighteenth-Century Values
Book Recommendation: Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century - Neil Postman
We gain factoid knowledge but lose wisdom.
Book Recommendation: The Age of Reason - Thomas Paine
Book Recommendation: The Rights of Man - Thomas Paine
Book Recommendation: Common Sense - Thomas Paine
Book Recommendation: Theory of Economic Development - Joseph Schumpeter Do things well, bold and committedly because you believe in the goodness of your character. Not for the external rewards. Do but without attachment as the Tao would say.
Book Recommendation: Authentic Leadership - Bill George
Book Recommendation: Trust and Honesty: America's Business Culture at a Crossroads - Tamar Frankel
Benjamins Franklins Questions: Morning Question: What good will I do today? Evening Question: What good have I done today?
Virtue is the expression of a good character. Moral values of virtue: temperance, silence, order, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, humility
Chapter 10 - Too Much "Success", Not Enough Character
Definitions of Success are based on wealth but our concept of wealth is flawed. It lacks the idea of when it is enough. We play games Naval Ravikant would say but we don't know where the finish lines are because we never thought about it.
Fame and power are the other two notions of success and they are equally, flawed. Power wisely used means success, not power in itself. And you can be widely successful but yet never acquire fame. Because your focus is on the small communities and the well-being of your friends and family. There is success in that.
Success is measured in our contribution to a better world. It's about creating value for others. A better word for it would be meaning.
The small actions of everyone are what make the world go round.
People are trained perfectly and educated perfectly, but they lack one key ingredient. Character. Virtue.
Consider the rabbit you chase. Ask yourself if it matters why it matters and if it should matter. If the answers to these are no, stop chasing the rabbit.
Character is about that change in perspective about doing things not for your sake only, but for "the greater good" of society. It's about careful consideration for what rabbits to chase and then chasing them, with commitment, and boldness.
Wrapping Up: What's Enough?
Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. — Albert Schweitzer
Yet we come to realize, again, "this too shall pass away". So we survive and we move on. — John Bogle
To be happy humans need: Autonomy, Human Connections, Exercises of Competence
People in America largely forgot the idea of saving along with their 18th-century values.
Values form the basis of societies.
The great game of life is not about money; it is about doing your best to join the battle to build anew ourselves, our communities, our nation, and our world.
Book Recommendation: Ulysses - Lord Tennyson
Life is a kind of campaign. People have no idea what strength comes to one's soul and spirit through a good fight. — Gutzon Borglum