Mail Bag: What Issue Does Society Accept Today You Think Will Be Verboten in the Future?

This is a fun question …

Joshua,

I’ve read your stuff for a long time and have two questions I hope you can answer.  One of the amazing things about reading your work is how early you touch on topics that later go on to become national or global news.  You mention something that isn’t on the radar, be it politically, economically, or culturally, only to see it it on the front pages of newspapers within a few years.

My first question: How do you do it?

My second question: The marriage equality movement, the race equality movement, and the women’s equality movement showed how ideas that were once beyond question can come to be found abhorrent.  In retrospect, most people can’t understand how certain views were ever considered acceptable at all.  This comes with many paradoxes and social ramifications.  Looking out into the future, what do you think a future civil rights issue will be?  What is something that goes on today that people will look back on and say, “I can’t believe they did that”?

Les M.

The first question is easy.  It’s a by-product of my work process.  My job is to sit at a desk and look 36 to 60 months out into the future and figure out what probabilistic bets I can place, or investments I can make, that give me very high chances of enjoying returns that exceeds inflation and taxes by a significant margin without exposing me to meaningful wipeout risk.  Many people don’t share this disposition (I saw an advertisement recently for Charles Schwab, saying their new automated service would make recommendations based on how long you intended to hold a stock.  Less than two weeks was one of the options.  That’s madness to me.  I’m playing a completely different game that has nothing in common with what most people think of when they talk about the stock market.  My general rule is that an investment isn’t worth making unless I plan on holding for at least five years.  It makes me a lot more selective.)  Some would, if they could, but they are restrained by practical and institutional considerations (e.g., they work for a mutual fund that measures their performance quarterly rather than over multi-year rolling periods; one of the all-time stupidest things you can do if you want to incentive good behavior).

When you spend a great deal of time absorbing data, understanding how the puzzle pieces fit together, and risking real money on the outcomes, you tend to think a lot about concepts such as lollapalooza (to borrow a concept from Charlie Munger’s mental models) or watch out for things where the stars are aligning.  The more you spot, the better your chances of finding a way to exploit the situation for profit; as blatantly opportunistic as that sounds.  For the past week, I’ve been mulling over a particular industry in my head, trying to come up with an idea of where the demand situation is going to go because if I can estimate it, even within a fairly large range, it could result in a lot of cash flowing into the personal and company coffers.

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As for your second question?  Mark my words. The powers that be have already started moving the chess pieces.  It is inevitable at this point and in the coming decades, you’re going to see the topic slowly brought up until it accelerates in the public discourse.  If you are in your 20ss or younger, and live a normal life expectancy, you will see non-medically necessary, male circumcision for minors (18 years or younger) outlawed in almost all Western Civilization, including the United States, prior to your death.

It will be treated as barbaric as female circumcision despite the parallels being not entirely comparable.  It will be made a felony.  There will be no religious exemptions because it will be considered a fundamental violation of human rights against a child.  Medical professionals who performed the procedure when it was perfectly acceptable will be looked upon with the same sort of revisionary disdain that happened to those who practiced bloodletting or lobotomies to the point that I think it’s a big enough reputation risk were I in the medical profession myself I wouldn’t do it no matter how much money I could make relative to the work required.

You might think it sounds far fetched but, again, I’m in the business of making bets on probabilities.  To put it in terms you can understand – and to demonstrate how convinced I am – I’d bet half my net worth that I’m right on this were there a way to intelligently make the wager without counter-party risk.  The wheels have begun to turn and the course is set.  There is no derailing this train.

It doesn’t matter if you think it’s right or wrong.  It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a good thing or bad thing.  There are demographic, religious, political, legal, and cultural shifts taking place, along with changes in certain healthcare laws, some by design, some by coincidence, that are barreling us toward a tipping point after which opposition to the practice will become a self-reinforcing cycle that takes on the mantle of a human rights movement akin to your aforementioned women’s suffrage or marriage equality movements.  It would require a multi-thousand word essay to break out some of the reasons I think it is inevitable, and some of the amplifiers in play, but I believe anyone who can’t see the clear implications of the numbers has either very little understanding of human psychology and complex systems, the forces aligned against it, and/or doesn’t want to believe it for their own personal, psychological reasons.

At present, a majority of people probably aren’t even paying attention or have paid it any meaningful thought.  (If you feel like entertaining yourself, ask a European person to look at a chart of male circumcision rates in the United States; to compare us to, say, the United Kingdom where roughly 93 out of 100 infant boys are not circumcised with nearly all of the remaining minority made up of Muslims and Jews, frequently from immigrant parents doing it for religious reasons.  The reaction is often one of shock upon seeing that, at one point in the 1980s, certain geographic areas within the United States were circumcising young boys at a rate that approached 85 out of every 100 hospital births.)