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Clever Hans

By Ben Hunt | 0 Comments

Part 7 of Ben’s Notes from the Field series reminds us that you don’t break a wild horse by crushing its spirit. You nudge it into willingly surrendering its autonomy. Because once you’re trained to welcome the saddle, you’re going to take the bit. We are Clever Hans, dutifully hanging on every word or signal from the Nudging Fed and the Nudging Street as we stomp out our investment behavior.

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Hobson’s Choice

By Ben Hunt | 7 Comments

“What do you mean you don’t make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don’t you?”

Bobby thinks he has lots of choices, but really he only has one.

We’re all Bobby today.

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The NFL Has a Gambling Problem

By Rusty Guinn | 20 Comments

The outcomes of NFL games are inordinately influenced by officials relative to other sports. This is not new. The narrative environment faced by the NFL in 2021, however, IS new.

I’m not sure they’re ready for it.

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Oh, a Rhinoceros

A video made the rounds on various social media platforms last night and this morning. By now you have probably seen it. A young man presents his case for a mask policy to the school board in Rutherford County, Tennessee. He recalls the death of his grandmother by COVID and begins to express fear that this could happen to other people he cares about.

And that’s where most cuts of the video end. You see, the young man’s speech was interrupted by the shouting and snickering of adults behind him. Adults holding ‘Let our kids smile’ signs.

Source: Rutherford County (TN) Board of Education

Elsewhere on the internet, there is a very similar – and very different – trend emerging. It is a simple meme. You find someone who dies of COVID or asks for prayer or good thoughts after having downplayed the virus, the vaccine or masks only weeks or days before. Then you juxtapose their statements for internet points. If you’re in a particularly virulent version of this community, maybe you even post something vile on their family’s announcement of the person’s passing on Facebook. This is NOT cherry-picking. There are entire social media sub-communities and hashtags devoted to these memes.

We have written several times about the imagery of Ionesco’s landmark play Rhinoceros. I’m abridging rather thoroughly here, but the main conceit of the play is that the humans gradually change into rhinoceroses. But the shock of the story isn’t the devastation the beasts cause, rampaging about town. The shock is that, at some point, we are no longer shocked. We see the family, friend, neighbor or colleague we once knew and and say simply, “Oh, a rhinoceros.”

Many of us today will shrug and say, “Oh, a rhinocerous” to adults laughing and jeering at a child discussing his grandmother’s death. The Real Issue, you see, is that the child made a statement about the role of masks with inadequate information to justify his claim, and that might unduly influence local policy.

Many of us today will shrug and say, “Oh, a rhinoceros” to those who barge in on a family grieving the loss of someone they shared their entire lives and dreams with. The Real Issue, you see, is the good we can do by making an example of how wrong they were about COVID.

Maybe it’s time to remind ourselves that it isn’t normal for humans to transform into rhinoceroses.

Maybe it’s time to wrap up a little bit less of our individual and collective identity in Being Right About COVID.

Burying the Lede

For news junkies and the Very Online, one of the most well-traveled news stories over the past couple days has been the story of the “American students who are stranded in Afghanistan.”

The first version I read of the story came from this piece published by The Hill, although it borrows heavily from a piece published in the LA Times and San Diego Union-Tribune the same day.

Dozens of California students, parents stranded in Afghanistan after summer trip abroad [The Hill]

The key excerpt if you don’t feel like clicking over is here:

Dozens of California students and parents are stranded in Afghanistan after taking a summer trip to the country.

More than 20 students and 16 parents from the Cajon Valley Union School District in El Cajon, Calif., visited Afghanistan on summer vacation. Now they are among thousands of people who are waiting to leave the country amid the chaotic U.S. withdrawal that has caused political unrest across the nation, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Cajon Valley Superintendent David Miyashiro alerted school board members on Tuesday that he would be meeting with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to discuss the situation, the Times noted.

Source: The Hill

However much of the headline or article you read, you will still arrive at the same two questions that roughly half of America has since yesterday: (1) What the devil were a group of students doing taking a summer trip abroad in Afghanistan, and (2) Why is one of the students’ parents talking about worries that they are missing class?

It’s the funny thing about news. We more or less define it based on the assumption that it tells the truth, and this article does. These students from California absolutely went to Afghanistan over the summer. They are absolutely stranded there. These are facts.

But at some point here, you have to feel like a writer without an axe to grind might have felt inclined to mention that the California students are LITERALLY REFUGEES FROM AFGHANISTAN WHO WENT TO THEIR OLD HOME TO VISIT FRIENDS AND FAMILY. And look, that doesn’t change that they are people just as deserving of our efforts to extract safely as anyone else. It just takes away the single reason the article went viral, that is, that a bunch of kids going to Afghanistan for summer vacation seemed pretty wacky.

The ability to influence our behaviors as information consumers isn’t confined to whether we are explicitly being told how to think about something. Narrative is just as easily communicated through the selective absence of information, through its placement on a page, and through editorial decisions regarding the volume and emphasis of its coverage.

So which explanation for this preposterous framing do you think is true? And remember, you can always pick more than one:

  1. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. They just didn’t think about the very obvious omission, or they didn’t do the basic research to inform it.
  2. They were terrified of getting canceled for maybe implying that refugee status was a relevant detail to the story.
  3. Clickbait. C’mon.

Join us in the forum which you think it is – or offer another explanation!

— Rusty Guinn | August 26, 2021|

C’mon, Australia

From the ET Forum …

An Australian Pack member living abroad published what I think is an outstanding review of the depths to which Australia’s Covid-zero policy has descended. Here’s the skinny:

We are a country that pulls things out of the ground, sells coffee to each other, and invests every dollar we don’t have in residential property. And that’s been fine until this point. Australia, more than any other country, has ridden a wave of prosperity over the last 30 years that resulted in a quality of life almost unsurpassed anywhere in the world. But it has bred complacency, and the country’s response to COVID has revealed this complacency and its worrying lack of urgency. We’ve convinced ourselves that we generated long-term prosperity because there’s something special about us; but a lot of it’s been due to luck.

Taking a step back, Australia’s approach to COVID implicitly includes the following: a comfort with severely curtailing its citizens’ liberties; the capacity to absorb and pay for economic calamities; a belief that its brand is strong enough to recover from the damage inflicted and to once again attract talent and capital; zero tolerance for risk or its citizens ability to manage it; and conviction that trust in authority will remain despite all the failures, hostility and dishonesty.

Daniel Bookman

— Ben Hunt | August 25, 2021|

Kabul is Falling

From the ET Forum …

If Barbara Tuchman were alive she would be adding another chapter to her classic The March of Folly.

I am fascinated to see what narratives spring forth from this sad and tragic failure to accomplish anything other than leave behind a string of broken promises.


‘‘Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that; for it is true that we may give advice, but we cannot give conduct.” said another Ben


— Ben Hunt | August 18, 2021|

This Is What a Wage/Price Inflation Cycle Looks Like

From the ET Forum …

With the jobs report today showing 4% year-over-year wage inflation and 0.4% month-over-month wage inflation, it seems like a good day to repost this note. Personally, I’m delighted that wages continue to rise at a rapid clip. But if you think that any of this happens in a vacuum, if you think that employers aren’t preserving their margins by raising prices more than they’re raising wages … you’re living in a fantasy world.

This is what a wage/price inflation spiral looks like.

— Ben Hunt | August 6, 2021|

Proof of Plant: A New Vision for Crypto, Pt 1

By Ben Hunt | 39 Comments

I want to change the language of crypto from mining to growing. I do not mean this in a metaphorical sense. I mean a proof-of-plant method for literally growing cryptocurrency tokens as a representation of the value stored in the human cultivation of plants.

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In Praise of Bitcoin

By Ben Hunt | 57 Comments

What made Bitcoin special is nearly lost, and what remains is a false and constructed narrative that exists in service to Wall Street and Washington rather than in resistance.

The Bitcoin narrative must be renewed. And that will change everything.

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Through the Looking Glass, or … This is the Red Pill

By Ben Hunt | 1 Comment

The first ET note focused on Information Theory.

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Recent Notes

Critical State Theory

By Ben Hunt

This note is about the narrative process that makes it so politically difficult to say that yes, parents are responsible for their children’s education AND yes, our children should be taught the fact of embedded racism in our nation’s history.

And why it’s so important that we do so, anyway.

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Cursed Knowledge #6: F*ck Almonds

By Harper Hunt

Move over Hollywood! Almonds are one of the most lucrative and fastest growing industries in California. Unfortunately they’re not as good for us as you’d think.

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Prime Time in Crypto

By Marc Rubinstein

No one gives a clearer explanation of how financial institutions work than ET contributor Marc Rubinstein, and his primer on prime brokerage services (and its extension into crypto) is no exception.

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The NFL Has a Gambling Problem

By Rusty Guinn

The outcomes of NFL games are inordinately influenced by officials relative to other sports. This is not new. The narrative environment faced by the NFL in 2021, however, IS new.

I’m not sure they’re ready for it.

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The Mandarin Class

By Ben Hunt

I don’t think there’s anything illegal in how Fed governors trade their personal accounts.

No, I think it’s much worse than that.

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When Narrative Takes Flight

By Rusty Guinn

We find ourselves together now at the stage of the Widening Gyre in which your political identity now determines the reality you wish to accept about three days of moderate operational difficulties at the ninth largest global airline, as measured by passenger-miles.

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No Time to Die: China Banks Edition

By Marc Rubinstein

With $300+ billion of assets, Evergrande is big, but if you want REALLY big, take a look at the balance sheets of Chinese banks.

ET contributor Marc Rubinstein was there at the beginning when Chinese banks went public, and he’s here now to review the sector.

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How Lucky You Are To Be Alive Right Now

By David Salem

ET friend and contributor David Salem is back!

Here with his Constitution Day address at Middlebury College, David makes the rich tradition of academic speeches richer still, with nods to the Founders and Vitalik Buterin alike.

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The Uncontained Spark

By Ben Hunt

There is an uncontained spark in the financial world today, a spark that emerged from the unlikeliest of places, a federal courthouse in Florida.

It’s a spark with the potential to light a searing bonfire under Robinhood and Citadel.


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Zeroism and the Allocator Status Quo

By Matthew Edwards

ET contributor Matthew Edwards pushes back on seven rules that allocators often apply to new managers.

1) We don’t do crypto.
2) We only invest in what we know.
3) We never pay full fees.
4) We prefer fundamental investment strategies.
5) We seek strong alignment of interests.
6) We cannot be greater than x% of a fund’s total assets under management.
7) We require a minimum track record of X years.

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By Brent Donnelly

ET contributor Brent Donnelly starts up where he left off, with a new launch of AM/FX and a new riff on the classic ET note, “Snip!”.

In the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro!

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Whitestone Bridge

By Ben Hunt

Our true enemies on 9/11 – the Deep State of Saudi Arabia and the Deep State of Pakistan – are our true enemies still.

And we won’t defeat them until we bridge our petty divides.

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The Green Protocol: A New Vision for Crypto, Pt 2

By Ben Hunt

The Green Protocol is a set of rules for the tokenization of symbolic betting markets in positive social good.

I think this is how crypto saves the world.

Our first step on this new path? Let’s plant one billion new trees in North America over the next ten years.

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Cursed Knowledge #5: Hot Coffee

By Harper Hunt

The McDonalds Hot Coffee lawsuit is the archetypal example of nonsense litigation. But there’s a lot more to the story than most people know.

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Notes from Camp Kotok 2021

By Brent Donnelly

ET contributor Brent Donnelly with an end-of-summer compilation of the top–of-mind topics at Camp Kotok!

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Prophet of the Pandemic

By Luke Burgis

Sophocles knew it. Dostoevsky knew it.

Disruption to the biological order and disruption to the social order are one and the same.

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Afghanistan and the Common Knowledge Game

By Ben Hunt

When the State Department announced on August 12th that it was removing all remaining non-essential personnel from Kabul within 3 days and was considering a relocation of the US embassy to the more defensible airport, the fall of the Afghani government became common knowledge.

And that’s when everything fell apart.

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The Afghanistan Narratives

By Rusty Guinn

We are in the very early innings of the narrative formation around responsibility for the outcome in Afghanistan. Steel yourselves for weeks of gaslighting from every angle. Hooray.

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ET Podcast #13 – Wanting

By Ben Hunt

It’s the only question that really matters here in the Age of Nudge: why do we want what we want?

A conversation with Luke Burgis, author of “Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life”.

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Cursed Knowledge #4: The Olympics

By Harper Hunt

The Olympic games are known as a time of triumph and glory. The truth is that a lot more work goes into creating and maintaining that narrative than you’d expect.

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False Binary Choices

We seem obsessed with false binary choices. What do I mean – choices that aren’t really choices. Sort of like when your mom says do you want orange juice or apple juice? I don’t want juice. I want Soda. But that is not on the menu.

Do you want Brainard or Powell? Seems right in the zip code here. Like does this choice really matter? I don’t think so and the fact that markets are moving on these small binary choices that are meaningless seems like its becoming part of the weaponized narrative arsenal.

Take a look at what I mean.

And btw, we’ve talked about this before.

— Harper Hunt | November 23, 2021|

Why Am I Reading This Now? 11.22.21

Recent major media stories that feel to us like they’re part of a larger narrative campaign.