River of Doubt

On My Mind | 2024.03.01

Happy Friday and welcome to all our new subscribers!

I continue to read through material related to the Great Depression, which I expect to write about here in the coming weeks. If there are any books / papers / articles that you have enjoyed on the events in-and-around the Great Depression, I would appreciate a quick note pointing me to the material. Thank you!

Also, last week there might have been an issue with the poll — I had lots of clicks suggesting responses would be shared, but no responses came through. If you could do me a favor, consider replying to this week’s poll and then filling in the prompt with a custom reply! That would help me troubleshoot.

On My Mind

This week has been a blur — one of those where you feel busy the entire day but can’t quite say exactly what you did.

In the middle of all the sprinting between meetings, overflowing email inbox, and memo preparation, I had to take my car into the shop. This was terrible because I obviously didn’t have time for that.

But, the car is the main one used by the family, so I needed it to work reliably. Thus, I drove across town and sat in a dealership’s service department for a couple hours.

In the hecticness of organizing things ahead of getting to the dealership, I left my laptop at the office. Thus, I couldn’t keep the blur moving. I had to more or less waste the time.

Oddly, nothing broke back at the office. After a couple hours, I was back. I had to choose to not get to a couple things done that day due to the lost hours.

At the end of the day, everything was fine. The next day the blur began again, and those things that I had to ignore from the day before actually no longer needed to be addressed.

Doing them would have been a wasted effort.

I’m wondering how much of the blur is self manufactured. That is something I am going to think about a bit more in how I setup my day.

As this week’s quote suggests, I might have just learned something in between a calm and a storm.

Quote of the Week

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.

— Willa Cather

Willa Cather was a well-respected American author who lived from 1873 to 1947. She wrote novels and stories that often explored themes of life on the Great Plains, drawing inspiration from her own experiences growing up in Nebraska. She won a Pulitzer Prize for a story about a restless Nebraskan searching for a purpose during WWI.

Poll of the Week

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  • Last Week’s Question: What book do you most often recommend to friends?

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Things to Read

Credit Never Taken | From 2023 Berkshire Annual Letter by Warren Buffett, 2024

In the physical world, great buildings are linked to their architect while those who had poured the concrete or installed the windows are soon forgotten.

Berkshire has become a great company. Though I have long been in charge of the construction crew; Charlie should forever be credited with being the architect.

Though it has been out for only a week, much has been written and shared online about Buffett’s 2023 annual letter. It is an interesting dive into how accounting sometimes obscures the truth, the challenges facing railroads and utilities in the coming years, and the potential for insurance prices to keep climbing.

What stood out in the letter to me most — and probably everyone else that read it — is the first page of the letter this year. It is a tribute from Buffett to Charlie Munger and his influence on Buffett’s life and Berkshire’s business.

They were the most exceptional business partners. Both constantly trying to give the other person credit. Both constantly belittling what they themselves contributed.

The way things played out, Buffett got the last word. But Munger would have done the same if he was the one to leave us second.

The Unknown | From The River of Doubt by The Rational Walk, 2024

Rondon proposed five alternate trips to Roosevelt with the descent of the River of Doubt being the most challenging. Of course, Roosevelt chose the most difficult trip — the exploration of a river that was completely unknown even to Rondon. Although it was assumed that the River of Doubt would join the Amazon River eventually, no one even knew where it would emerge from the jungle.

The unknown was not an impediment for Roosevelt. It was the primary attraction.

Long time readers will know that I’m a fan of Theodore Roosevelt and have written about him a few times.

That said, I’ve often struggled with something that seems to be repeated throughout Roosevelt’s life — he takes risks by manufacturing adventure and hardship, surviving himself but not always bringing everyone that started out with him back home to their families.

As Roosevelt, his son, and a crew of other adventurers set out to explore an unmapped Amazonian river for no reason beyond adventure — the River of Doubt — malaria, infection, starvation, capsized canoes, suicide, murder and abandonment almost prevented Roosevelt from coming back home.

Three of his fellow adventurers did not.

Markets are mirrors. Look at them, and what's reflected back is the aggregated, dollar-weighted preferences of everyone with similar desires, adjusted for what real-world constraints will allow…

Given the opportunity, almost everyone will almost always opt for choices that make it a better business decision for airlines to unbundle different aspects of a flight and then charge for them separately…

The broad context for understanding this is that airlines are a famously, notoriously cyclical business, one whose cycles are so extreme that the industry has on occasion been net unprofitable for its entire existence.

I’ve never met someone who was happy about a last minute fee at the airport. Byrne, however, argues that the average person actually votes for these “hidden” fees with the way they shop for airline tickets. The airlines are just responding to market signals as they must.

Byrne gives a wonderful short history / market-based analysis of why some airlines have debundled different services from the main cost of the ticket — and why, on average, it might be better for all of us and result in lower ticket prices (hint: it increases utilization for the airline).

He also talks briefly about the marketing dynamic driving airlines to compete on “sticker price,” which forces the disaggregated services: “Most people search for flights online, and a large number of these people look at the "price" column and not the "airline" column.”

Generosity | From $1 Billion Donation by Joseph Goldstein, 2024

Dr. Gottesman sometimes wonders what her late husband would have thought of her decision.

“I hope he’s smiling and not frowning,” she said with a chuckle. “But he gave me the opportunity to do this, and I think he would be happy — I hope so.”

Last week, I shared a story from 1965 on how Warren Buffett made a quick return searching for opportunities where others were not looking. David Gottesman had partnered with Warren to make that trade happen — and in fact, Gottesman was the brain behind identifying the opportunity in the first place.

Gottesman and Buffett remained lifelong friends. Gottesman served on the Berkshire Hathaway board, and when he passed in 2022, his stake in Berkshire was worth $2.6 billion.

Gottesman was survived by his wife, Dr. Ruth Gottesman. She just donated $1 billion - yes, with a “b” - to Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a medical school in the Bronx.

What could you possibly do with such a large sum of money? Well, you could make tuition free forever for the students… and that is exactly what they intend to do!


Declining potential for the American Dream (@TheEconomist)

We will get the forecast right, eventually (@Business)

Changing approach to meeting each other (@MarriagePact)

Have a great weekend,


Twitter / X: @HistoryEJ

Disclosure: Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice. More detailed disclosure here.

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