I love one-liners, especially the ones that are simple, witty and power-packed. Here is the latest that I came across – Investing is nothing but arbitrage of ignorance.

There goes EMT for a toss! How apt. You bet on what the other person doesn’t know that you know about it. That reminds me of an interesting article I read long back, about Warren’s talk at Columbia University in 1984. He takes on the advocates of EMT who say that Buffet, and the likes (Walter Schloss, Tom Knapp etc) are “lucky exceptions”. Just to fire up you interest, here is a part of the speech –
“Before we begin this examination, I would like you to imagine a national coin-flipping contest. Let’s assume we get 225 million Americans up tomorrow morning and we ask them all to wager a dollar. They go out in the morning at sunrise, and they all call the flip of a coin. If they call correctly, they win a dollar from those who called wrong. Each day the losers drop out, and on the subsequent day the stakes build as all previous winnings are put on the line. After ten flips on ten mornings, there will be approximately 220,000 people in the United States who have correctly called ten flips in a row. They each will have won a little over $1,000.

Now this group will probably start getting a little puffed up about this, human nature being what it is. They may try to be modest, but at cocktail parties they will occasionally admit to attractive members of the opposite sex what their technique is, and what marvelous insights they bring to the field of flipping.

Assuming that the winners are getting the appropriate rewards from the losers, in another ten days we will have 215 people who have successfully called their coin flips 20 times in a row and who, by this exercise, each have turned one dollar into a little over $1 million. $225 million would have been lost, $225 million would have been won.

By then, this group will really lose their heads. They will probably write books on “How I turned a Dollar into a Million in Twenty Days Working Thirty Seconds a Morning.” Worse yet, they’ll probably start jetting around the country attending seminars on efficient coin-flipping and tackling skeptical professors with, “If it can’t be done, why are there 215 of us?”

By then some business school professor will probably be rude enough to bring up the fact that if 225 million orangutans had engaged in a similar exercise, the results would be much the same – 215 egotistical orangutans with 20 straight winning flips.”

An edited transcipt of the talk later appeared in the Appendix of The Intelligent Investor. You can read the full transcipt here. Warren Buffet surely is the smartest person in any room.

So what is my piece of wisdom for the next EMTists I come across? Investing is nothing but arbitrage of ignorance.

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