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12 Things I Learned from the Book "The Bed of Procrustes"

By Morgan Housel - Dec 26, 2014 at 8:48PM

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Wisdom from Taleb.

I read Nassim Taleb's book The Bed of Procrustes.

Taleb, author of The Black Swan, is one of the smartest thinkers around, and one of the best writers to boot -- a rare combination. 

The Bed of Procrustes is a list of hundreds of short quotes and aphorisms about life, money, politics, and business. Here are 12 that stood out to me as particuarly smart. 

1. "Economics cannot digest the idea that the collective (and the aggregate) are disproportionately less predictable than individuals."

This is why markets are so hard to understand. 
2. "To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week's newspapers."

I've written a bit about this. You'll never take predictions too seriously again. 
3. "Fortune punishes the greedy by making him poor and the very greedy by making him rich."

This explains Wall Street before the financial crisis. 
4. "'Wealthy' is meaningless and has no robust absolute measure; use intead the subtractive measure 'unwealth,' that is, the difference, at any point in time, between what you have and what you would like to have."
5. "My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill."

People love talking about how busy they are like it's a sign of success. Maybe it is for some, but for most it's a sign of being out of control. 
6. "The fastest way to become rich is to socialize with the poor; the fastest way to become poor is to socialize with the rich."

This might explain why most hedge funds fail while the payday loan business thrives. 
7. "Over the long term, you are more likely to fool yourself than others."

But let me guess, you don't believe that's true? 
8. "The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary."
Self-interest is a powerful force and people do what they need to do to stay employed. 
9. "The tragedy is that much of what you think is random is in your control and, what's worse, the opposite."

Saving is in your control. Expectations are in your control. Behavior is in your control. Market moves are not. 
10. "The calamity of the information age is that the toxicity of data increases much faster than its benefits."

Same for 24/7 news. 
11. "Knowledge is subtractive, not additive—what we subtract (reduction by what does not work, what not to do), not what we add (what to do)."
12. "Anyone voicing a forecast or expressing an opinion without something at risk has some element of phoniness. Unless he risks going down with the ship this would be like watching an adventure movie."

This is why punditry is so embarrassing

Go buy the book here. It's great. 

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