November 21, 2015

The defense industry and silicon valley have had a long history in tandem – there is even a lot of evidence that defense spawned the technology industry there. Whatever the case, an interesting parallel that popped into my head while reading this article. That thought was about the creation of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) during WWII that preceded the CIA. While traditionally technologies were developed for military use first, could there be a new era of consumer-/industrial-driven advances being applied to warfare? Rather than the target customer for technology companies, the DoD is now more of a(n) sub-sector/afterthought due to companies focusing on problems that affect the mass population – and the military is tough to do business with for many reasons. While DARPA focuses on challenges that are 20-30 years out, the new task is to find challenges that need fixing which are much more immediate.

This is obviously a super-long read but I find it fascinating. We’re living through a truly unique time in the history of finance with all the extraordinary experimentation going on via central banking. There is no good way to sum up the essay but I think that this quote is pretty on-the-money: “History shows us that economic recovery from a depression has never been successfully engineered without a major debt reduction, default, hyperinflation, political revolution, or world war.” Now that is a pretty wide statement of possibilities, but I think that currently the mentality of the market is that – at least for the Fed – central banks have “beaten” the recession. The essay really is about volatility rallying for any of the stated reasons. I think it’s a pretty good bet vol is relatively cheap compared to all the “shadow convexity” that exists with these multi-dimensional risks playing out in real-time.

I’m a huge fan of Charlie Munger and the “mental-model” school of thinking. That’s why when I read this article it was just another confirmation that if you can find certain patterns in nature, they can be applied across a variety of disciplines. Here’s a good quote: “...the same basic species-area curve was found regardless of the species or habitat. To put it mathematically, the curve followed a power law, in which the change in species number increased proportionally to the square root of the square root of the area. ... Power laws are common in science, and are the defining feature of universality in physics.”