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Weekend reading: the ‘new not normal’

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What caught my eye this week.

There’s something weird about 2023 – which is that nothing bonkers has happened. (Yet?)

I mean just compare the past nine months to last year’s UK mini-Budget mania or Russia invading Ukraine. The pandemic years before that of course. And before that, Donald Trump becoming the US president, or the witless, self-harming, and implausible Brexit.

I suppose we have had the AI frenzy. Which has very possibly put us on course for our ultimate extinction as a species. And even until then, a browser tab on your desktop can now write better than you on almost any subject you can think of, which is pretty crazy. Albeit the output is full of lies.

Then again, so were the Brexit and Trump episodes and that didn’t stop the craziness.

Come on Elon Musk! Cage fight Mark Zuckerberg!

You guys with your pussy-footing are making 2023 feel inadequate.

Four seasons in one day

Most of us don’t remember things being this perma-bonkers in the past.

On the other hand maybe we’re just more aware of the craziness – with newsfeeds and TikTok and viral memes and flashmobs endlessly pumping it all to the surface like an angsty volcano.

But renowned financial writer Felix Salmon argues this is the ‘new not normal’.

In one of five insights from his new book shared by the Next Big Idea Club this week, Salmon writes:

You might think that everything is weirder and more unexpected than it used to be, and you are right. It turns out that with hindsight, there was this very unusual period of calm for about 70 years, from roughly 1945 to 2015. Then 2016 happened, with the election of Trump and the Brexit vote in the UK, there was a rise of unpredictable politicians and movements around the world. After that, COVID hit in 2020. At this point, all of the big post-war structures that were keeping volatility down and making things more predictable had pretty much evaporated. We are now back to what you could think of as “normal” in the 19th century, the 18th century, or even the 17th century. Life was much less predictable in those days.

For most of the 20th century, we lived in a world where someone like Warren Buffett could come along with one big idea and say, “I’m going to make a big bet on America being great, and that one big bet will always be true, and it’s going to make me the richest man in the world.” That is not a world we live in anymore. The world we live in is much more unpredictable, it has much fatter tails, much higher upsides, and lower downsides. We need to be nimbler to navigate it. We can’t just believe one thing that is always going to be true. We’re going to have to update our beliefs, and we’re going to have to get used to a level of volatility, both in terms of climate change, in terms of infectious diseases, and in terms of the economy. That is going to be pretty disconcerting.

Too right it will Felix. For me and my portfolio.

The book is called The Phoenix Economy. Given the consistent excellence of Salmon’s output over the years, I might just pick up a copy.

Then again, maybe I’ll re-read Generation X instead. Douglas Coupland’s classic ‘tales for an accelerated culture’ will surely feel sleepy by comparison, and that feels somehow reassuring these days.

Have a great weekend.

From Monevator

Duration matching bond funds to your time horizon [Members]Monevator

Benjamin Graham on bear markets – Monevator

From the archive-ator: a primer on life insurance and protection – Monevator


Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view click through to read the article. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing to sites you visit a lot.

UK mortgage arrears hit a seven-year high – Property Industry Eye

State pension triple-lock boost will see 650,000 more pay income tax – T.I.M.

Rich hit with wealth taxes around the world – Telegraph via Yahoo Finance

UK chip designer ARM up 25% on IPO to $65bn valuation – Reuters

FCA unveils enhanced screening checks for financial ads – Cover

Interesting potted bio of ousted BP chief Bernard Looney – Yahoo Finance

82% of students worry about making ends meet – Save The Student

Cash payments up for first time in a decade but debit cards dominate – BBC

Products and services

Investment transfer market needs a regulatory crackdown [Search result]FT

UK mortgage war ‘under way’; lender offers first sub-5% rate since June – Guardian

Monzo debuts investments feature using BlackRock multi-asset funds – ETF Stream

Open a SIPP with Interactive Investor and claim £100 to £3,000 in cashback. Terms apply – Interactive Investor

Care home fees soar amid cost of living crisis – Which

The best 0% balance transfer cards have been downgraded – This Is Money

Open an account with low-cost platform InvestEngine via our link and get £25 when you invest at least £100 (T&Cs apply. Capital at risk) – InvestEngine

Can pet insurance protect you from the rising cost of vet bills? – Which

Homes for sale in England for budding artists, in pictures – Guardian

Comment and opinion

The never-ending ‘then’ – Of Dollars and Data

Building any new homes reduces housing costs for all [Search result]FT

On second thoughts – Humble Dollar

It’s time to consider TIPS [US bonds, but nice deep dive]Morningstar

Portfolio diversification: see it in action – Interactive Investor

Is the state pension really ‘a Ponzi scheme’? [Search result]FT

The power of an investment journal – Rational Walk

Wealth creation ideas inspired by Blue Zone habits – Validea

Going for the gold – Humble Dollar

Will you need permission to spend in retirement? – Morningstar

Naughty corner: Active antics

Investors call ‘peak pessimism’ for beaten-up UK stocks – Reuters via MSN

An update on the stock-bond correlation – Verdad

Why this UK income investor sold out of Prudential – UK Dividend Stocks

Where is US inflation headed now? – Cullen Roche

Why network effects unravel – Flyover Stocks

The real Yale model [Podcast]Capital Allocators

PM jobs at hedge funds are too toxic for most – Efinancial Careers

Kindle book bargains

Quit: Knowing When To Walk Away by Annie Duke – £0.99 on Kindle

How to Read Numbers by Tom Chivers – £0.99 on Kindle

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt – £1.99 on Kindle

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull – £0.99 on Kindle

Environmental factors

Why is raw sewage pumped into UK rivers and the sea? – BBC

Experts call for global moratorium on geo-engineering efforts – Guardian

The sea eagles that returned to Mull – Hakai

US sets new record for billion-dollar climate disasters in a single year – Guardian

America’s endangered amphibians are literally roadkill – The Atlantic

Robots trained to revive coral reefs via aquaculture – BBC

Robot overlord roundup

Even linguistics experts can’t tell ChatGPT text from human – SciTechDaily

M.B.A. students vs. ChatGPT: who comes up with more innovative ideas? – Mish Talk

Start-up Databricks now valued at $43bn as AI land grab continues – Axios

Off our beat

This will not always be a thing – Raptitude

American universities are running low on male undergraduates – New York Times

London is fighting for its future as a fashion capital [Search result]FT

You’re not supporting Ukraine hard enough until the nuclear blast hits your face – Newsweek

Why eating and traveling along is such a pleasure – Guardian

And finally…

“Adversity shaped me. My pain threshold became very high.”
– Elon Musk, Elon Musk

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{ 33 comments… add one }
  • 1 Vic Mackey September 16, 2023, 10:03 am

    Hmm. Everybody likes to think they live at a pivotal point in history. But to paraphrase Morgan Housel: history is just one damned thing after another.

  • 2 159F September 16, 2023, 10:21 am

    The FT State Pension scheme article Ponzi scheme Y/N? article is fairly lightweight but does highlight the main issues. However, whilst correctly summing up that

    ‘ It will be impossible to make changes that are “fair” to everybody.’

    it fails to conclude who it will be likely to be unfair to. Sounds like code for being unfair to most people let’s be honest.

    No doubt that it will be the most politically expedient group taking one for the team. International comparisons are difficult see here:


    however, there are not many people I know (anecdotally) who feel the UK has either

    a] a generous state pension nor
    b] the ability to afford a better one and
    c] expecting it even to be there when they collect
    d] are certainly not relying the state to provide a comfortable retirement or anything close to it

    With that in mind you’re probably on you own and best knuckle down.

  • 3 Neverland September 16, 2023, 11:26 am

    The way the system is currently set up if you have a full state pension and a workplace DC pension you will have a survivable (not comfortable) retirement taken together with pension credit – provided you own a house or live in a council/housing association home

    Trouble is by about 2040-45 a large minority people reaching retirement age will still have big mortgages or be renting privately

  • 4 Time like infinity September 16, 2023, 11:34 am

    Sad how partisan language of Newsweek has become in Ukraine piece under Off Our Beat links. Both positions perfectly respectable & arguable. Both have merits.

    @TI, you write: “very possibly put us on course for our ultimate extinction as a species. And even until then, a browser tab on your desktop can now write better than you on almost any subject you can think of”

    Really (on either count)?

    On the second count: Chat-GPT’s just a machine learning algo, not intelligence.

    No creativity. No lateral thinking. No real thinking at all. Zero real analysis. Zero new reasoning. It’s outputs are superficial, sit on the fence summation. Good for writing vacuous management puffery at pace. All but useless for anything requiring deep domain technical competence. Adds little to existing professional research tools.

    On first count: There’s a sound statistical reason to think we’re on a path to either doom soon or towards far smaller future population sizes; see posts #41, 42, 44 & 45 on recent Monevator thread underneath:


    This links with Raptitude piece “This Will Not Always Be a Thing” in this weekend’s links on the Lindy effect.

    There’s at least a mechanism by which worst could happen athropogenically, see the link in post #45 to paper by Turchin (philpapers.org), TURAMA-3.

    Even if self aware, Strong, superhuman level, General AI ever emerged (FWIW highly unlikely IMO), and even if it were to become misaligned with human values; this is not, in isolation, a really credible existential threat.

    The risk is of bad humans using machine learning (which is in the here and now, unlike AI, less still AGI) to do really bad things, especially to enhance likelihood and impacts of other threats (not least biosecurity/synthetic biology). This paper (especially pages 10 to 12) gives a succinct overview of the relative risks of different possible threats.


    Future AI/AGI looks to me to be far along the fanciful end of the scale; whereas genetically enhanced (and/or fully biosynthetic) virology is well within scope of nearly existing capabilities, with gene sequencing costs dropping at supra exponential rates and with the tech likely to eventually fall into the wrong hands.

  • 5 tetromino September 16, 2023, 11:50 am

    As Vic says, there seems to be some recency bias at work in that Salmon piece – ‘calm for 70 years’ is a bit of a stretch.

  • 6 Al Cam September 16, 2023, 11:54 am

    @159F (#2):
    Nice link.
    Personally I struggle with the Mercer rankings. IMO all such methods/metrics are, at best, semi-transparent and rather subjective. However, the pure numbers (presumably extracted from ‘reliable’ national records/statistics) tell many an interesting story.
    For example, there are some apparent oddities if you do a US vs UK comparison. The US seems to pay higher public pensions (which to my knowledge is indisputable, but may well come as a surprise to lots of UK folks). However, the US has a far worse pensioner poverty rating. And both measures (in principle at least) seem to be relative measures too. Any thoughts/ideas?

  • 7 ceratonia September 16, 2023, 12:11 pm

    Samuel Pepys’s Diary is always a good read for a reminder of how stable things are now. He lived through the English civil war, the restoration of the monarchy, the bubonic plague which killed a quarter of London’s population, the Great Fire of London and three wars with the Dutch including their fleet sailing up the Thames Estuary. He was imprisoned in the tower of London, went to Tangier to help evacuate the failed English colony there and was one of the first known survivors of a surgical operation to remove bladder stones.

  • 8 Bob September 16, 2023, 12:41 pm

    @Neverland I agree that the FT was very lightweight in its article about state pension. It falsely pits younger tax payers against older state pension receivers. If that were true, it could be a Ponzi scheme. But the state has many more sources of potential income and choices of expenditure. If only it could be trusted to use both for our benefit

  • 9 Hak September 16, 2023, 12:58 pm

    “Calm” for 70 years if you happened to live in say the United States or Western Europe. Less calm if you happened to be in the majority and lived in say China, India or any African or Arab country. The western centric nature of these “sweeping” type comment pieces is all rather lazy.

  • 10 Vic Mackey September 16, 2023, 1:35 pm

    @AlCam the US pension system is contribution dependent. So if you’ve paid in over time you’re going to be able to take a lot out. Obviously healthcare can be ruinous there if you’re not in the tent peeing out so to speak. The UK public pension system is the only aspect of our welfare state that has a modicum of contribution dependency. Weakening that further would be disastrous.

  • 11 Pikolo September 16, 2023, 2:09 pm

    I’d love to see guaranteed ISA/SIPP transfer timeline guarantees, with SEDOL match guarantees (no “we turned your £ class ETF into $ class” that our friendly mustelid from Sommerset had ran into twice already). The Financial Times article quoting FOS saying they don’t expect platforms to guarantee transfer times was a sad read.

  • 12 Al Cam September 16, 2023, 2:10 pm

    @Vic Mackey:
    Personally, I would put the stress on ‘modicum’; especially with the move to the new state pension. That each year 52 weeks of class 3 (or the even cheaper class 2) ultimately buys you the same pension as unlimited NI on a salary above c. £6.5k; albeit at a lower rate above c. £50k PA is IMO quite eye popping!

  • 13 syrio September 16, 2023, 2:20 pm

    An unusual period of calm for about 70 years, from roughly 1945 to 2015, which included:

    Continual risk of nuclear war with the Warsaw pact.
    Cuban Missile Crisis.
    Operation Able Archer in 1983 nearly started a nuclear war.
    Successful assassination of a US president.
    Another shooting of a US president.
    1970s Oil price shock.
    Vietnam War.
    Korean War.
    Iraq War.
    Another Iraq War.
    Afghanistan War.
    Another Afghanistan War.
    Multiple revolutions in Eastern Europe as the USSR breaks up.
    911 Attack on the USA.
    Breakup of the European empires.

    To name a few things off the top of my head.

  • 14 Vic Mackey September 16, 2023, 2:25 pm

    @Sirio…I do believe Billy Joel wrote a song about that!

  • 15 Fatbritabroad September 16, 2023, 2:27 pm

    The never ending then piece on humble dollar really resonated with me . Very similar to my own thought’s in my recent interview and why I’m trying to loosen up a bit with the spending

  • 16 Neverland September 16, 2023, 3:17 pm


    You forgot:

    Cultural revolution in China
    Mass emigration into Europe in the 50s/60s
    Chernobyl and Fukushima

    Really quiet period …

  • 17 Fremantle September 16, 2023, 5:12 pm

    I call shenanigans on the idea that the post war era to 2015 was calm.

    During that time we had

    Korean War
    Hungarian Revolution
    Suez crisis
    Collapse of the French 4th Republic
    Algerian War
    Malay Crisis
    Berlin Airlift
    Cuban missile crisis
    Kennedy Assassination
    Vietnam War
    Moon landing
    US Civil rights disturbances
    Sino-Russian Split
    Cultural Revolution
    Year Zero
    European civil disturbances
    OPEC oil price shock
    End of the gold standard
    Domestic & international terrorism across Europe, Middle East & North Africa
    End of Bretton Woods
    Britain joining the EEC and end of favoured status for Commonwealth trading
    Sacking of Whitlam Government
    Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
    Falklands War
    Global move to floating currencies
    UK privatisation
    Black Monday
    End of the Berlin Wall
    Japanese bubble and lost decade
    Collapse of the USSR
    Iraq War
    German reunification and malaise
    UK withdrawal from European Monetary System
    Maastricht Treaty
    Dot-com bubble
    September 11 2001
    War on terror
    Iraq War part 2
    2008 banking collapse
    Russian regional interference and aggression
    German rejection of nuclear power
    Growth of Russian gas
    Green politics
    Chinese growth and stall

    What was the old normal again?

  • 18 syrio September 16, 2023, 5:27 pm


    Yes, indeed. I do have a bit of a Western bias in my answers.

    Numerous wars and uprisings in the Middle East – Israel, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and others.
    Numerous wars and uprisings in Africa.
    Russia Ukraine war. (started in 2014 so just scrapes in)

  • 19 BillD September 16, 2023, 6:36 pm

    Love that Billy Joel song. It was playing on the car radio late 1989 when I drove to an evening job interview for a position at a UK software startup that jump started my career. I got the job, it went well – the startup flopped but the experience and connections led on to better things!

    I previously held ARM stock on the LSE before the sale. Trying not get FOMO on the IPO. I managed to kill my habit of buying individual company tech stocks, it didn’t always go well. I thought maybe I’d get some ARM exposure eventually via some ETFs like VUSA or VWRL if it goes well but maybe not according to this article https://www.cnbc.com/2023/09/14/the-arm-ipo-is-here-but-many-etfs-will-not-be-buyers.html

    The link about Sea Eagles was an interesting read. The eagles vs lambs debate continues it seems.

  • 20 Follows68 September 16, 2023, 7:06 pm

    This Remoaner still can’t let go & accept a democratic vote! Amazing that even with a ‘left wing’ Conservative government who think the answer to every problem is to throw more tax payers money at it & increase the size of the inefficient civil service, the UK economy still manages to outperform when compared to EU member countries whose share of the global economy diminishes year after year, due to it even eclipsing the UK in its desire for ever more bureaucracy, intervention & red tape.

  • 21 ZXSpectrum48k September 16, 2023, 7:09 pm

    There period 1945 to 2015 was not a period of calm, or without risk. There was an increasing risk of a nuclear armageddon until 1985. It was, however, a period where liberal democracy seemed in it’s ascendency.

    Liberal democracy is now clearly in decline. Not due to an external threat (albeit China has shown another possible way), economic decline or environmental collapse (though that may be to come). The vast majority of the population has the best standards of living ever experienced.

    Nonetheless, many seem willing to exchange liberal democracy for forms of populism, fascism and religious fundementalism. In that sense, we are back to a period pre-1945 for the West. The difference is that pre-1945, you could understand why populations were desperate enough to accept these demagogues. Now people seem to want change over issues as irrelevant as “culture”. Favouring belief in sky fairies and conspiracy theories, rather than rationality or science.

    I’m not sure whether Skynet is coming or not. I totally understand though why it might want to wipe us all out. Humanity is becoming an embarassment.

  • 22 Hospitaller September 16, 2023, 8:17 pm

    I would recommend “The Coming Wave” by Mustafa Suleyman for what seems a balanced view on what may happen as AI progresses. And while it seems balanced, the risks do look more than somewhat alarming. Mass disruption to individuals’ employment through to potential collapse of the nation state. And that’s before one starts worrying about the military stuff. I mean, yikes.

  • 23 London a long time ago September 16, 2023, 8:30 pm

    @XZ, haha.

    @FBA, yep, ‘arrival bias’ is a thing! This is why I find @TA’s posts on his life post-(formal) career so interesting and satisfying.

    IMO, the whole point about focusing on financial independence is to understand neoliberalism and forge a mental model that allows you to truly reach a point of calm. That’s empowerment. Net worth without the latter = worry, neuroticism, exhaustion.

  • 24 Time like infinity September 16, 2023, 9:29 pm

    @Vic Mackey #14: Indeed. “Ayatollah in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan” as Billy Joel put in. And, speaking of which, 1979-81 has a better claim as a hinge of history than 2015. Thatcher and Regan ascendant. Neoliberalism unleashed. Deng Xiaoping’s American visit. Start of China’s economic reform and ascendancy. Sino-Vietnamese and Vietnam-Kampuchea wars marking end of residual left-ideological affinity.

    @ZX #19: What’s changed since 1989-91 (or perhaps 1979-81) is the collapse of belief in the transformative power of ideology. Period 1945-2015 did appear in Euro-Atlantic polities to be a validation, entrenchment & extension of ‘democracy’. But it was also part of a longer sweep from 1920s to 1970s when intellectuals, coopted elites and multitudes of working people to some degree brought into ideas from extremes of right, left and religion about the transformation of one or more of economy, society, culture, and geopolitics.

    Since 1989 (or 1979?) it’s orthodox to only accept the notion of negative liberty (as Isaiah Berlin coined it in 1958, in his Two Concepts of Liberty). Positive liberty is the belief that state power can be used to transform the world and it’s people (e.g. New Socialist Man). It found expression first in the Jacobin radicals of the French Revolution. By the time of Thatcher and Regan, it had died. What’s survived is negative liberty, but it is under threat now because it’s fundamentally hollow. Negative liberty holds the state exists only to allow people to enjoy freedom of property and personal expression to the extent that it does not interfere with those same rights as enjoyed by others. That limited aim sounds pragmatic. But what hope does it offer? What inspiration? That’s why that version of democracy is under pressure. For the moment at least, this vacuum of meaningfulness has been filled by politics of fear, resentment and performance. This is the blank canvass upon which MAGA, Brexit and Fidesz have been painted. The narratives which win out eventually are not those of the objective truth, as revealed by scientific methods of investigation; but rather the ones which people most want to believe in. People didn’t stop believing in God because of scientific truths. They did so because religious dogmas interfered with their lives and conflicted with negative liberty’s consumerism.

    Always remember it is overwhelmingly likely that a technological civilisation like ours is going to be the product of the least intelligent species that could give rise to a technological civilisation.

  • 25 Mo September 16, 2023, 10:44 pm

    I’m not especially impressed by Salmon, but he was right in commenting on Fauci, “it wasn’t because he lied. It was simply because he didn’t have as much information yesterday as he had today”. This admittance is the foundation stone of Bayesian statistics.

    More generally, how Passive an investor does one really want to be?
    I’m passive in the sense of not picking specific investments, but when one knows absolutely that rising interest rates will make your bond capital decrease, why stick with one’s ETF bond trackers, when it is so easy to switch into, say, money market ETFs? You can do this within literally minutes. This isn’t about ‘market timing’, it’s about not running your Titanic into an iceburg that you know you are approaching at full steam ahead. If one can re-balance one’s portfolio annually, surely switching from a known evil into a lesser one is worth doing too. There will be a time in the not too distant future to switch back into bonds (when the interest rates stop increasing), but I’m glad I ditched them in the interim.

    Live long and prosper.

  • 26 Time like infinity September 17, 2023, 12:13 am

    [Erratum: ref to @ZX #19 should be @ZX #20. New #19 (from Brexiter @Follows68) appeared after I’d clicked ‘Submit’]

  • 27 Fi-Firefighter September 17, 2023, 9:59 am

    Great links and comments again this week.
    Been reading about and discussing pensions (state, triple lock, work place pensions, SIPPs etc etc and the decisions we need to consider and make) a lot over recent weeks. For us and the children, two very different strategies needed IMHO.

    I think the Guardian link might be ‘alone’ rather than along.

  • 28 G September 17, 2023, 1:20 pm

    My understanding with LLMs is that while at their base level, they are basically stochastic parrots – the sheer complexity means that unexpected capabilities and behaviours can emerge. Add in automation and poor alignment and we should expect the unexpected.

    I agree that synthetic biology is an under recognised threat. That has the potential to go very wrong, very quickly.

    I am only very slightly reassured by what’s happened with drone technology. Although, apparently cheap – it does not seem to have emerged as a widespread terrorist threat. It would be interesting to understand why that is.

  • 29 xeny September 17, 2023, 5:33 pm

    @26 – possibly drones are unappealing to terrorists as the payloads aren’t high enough for the relatively low energy density explosives they have easy access to?

    Also I suspect (indeed hope for other reasons) that geek and terrorist is a relatively small intersection of personality types.

  • 30 Time like infinity September 17, 2023, 7:41 pm

    @G #26 & @xeny #27: unfortunately likes of Unabomber are in that intersection.

    My concern about bio threats are that;
    a). They’re neglected. Toby Ord (senior research fellow, Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, advisor to DeepMind and WHO) in “The Precipice, Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity” (2019, Bloomsbury) suggests (p. 203) bringing the Biological Weapons Convention into line with the Chemical Weapons Convention taking its budget from $1.4 m to $80 m, commensurately increasing staffing, and granting power to investigate suspected breaches. $1.4 m and just 4 employees is, as Ord notes on p. 134, less than the turnover and staff of a typical MacDonald restaurant. As he also notes (footnote 55, Ch. 5, “Future Risks”) the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has 2,500 staff and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (which oversees the CWC) has 500 personnel.
    b). They’re both misunderstood and, consequently, underestimated. Ord, in his otherwise excellent book, only considers the risk of human extinction from a single release of a single synthetic or genetically enhanced pathogen. He puts the risk per century at 3% (he gives a risk of 0.1% per century for extinction from all natural pandemics). However, he doesn’t address the very real possibility of an artificial multi pandemic. It is unlikely that a single strain could be made to make humanity extinct with any technology, but just 30 different enhanced and/or synthetic strains of disease all of which are released simultaneously and which each killed half the population would between them leave only one in 1 billion survivors. 50 such strains would almost certainly leave none at all. Turchin’s paper, which I linked to in the previous thread, covers this risk.
    c) They’re unique types of threats. With the possible exception of rogue Artificial Super Intelligence, which seems very far fetched and speculative, all other threats diminish to at least the fourth power as they dilute over three spatial dimensions and diminish with time: e.g. radioactive fallout spreads and becomes less intense per unit volume whilst also diminishing as a function of time (the time function alone is at a fall off rate of nine tenths in intensity per seven fold increase in time, so at a fortnight on even fallout which is confined to just one area is only at one thousandths of the intensity it had at two hours after coming down, which is why shelters work). But a disease uses the host to reproduce. It can increase its intensity of prevalence in a population over time as well as spreading geographically (without diluting) by way of infection. It will do so until essentially everyone who is without immunity gets infected. This makes it a quite different type of threat, and a much more serious one.
    d) They’re growing in seriousness. It’s no use looking at the level of threat right now. Now it’s quite low. Over time though Digital to DNA sequencing will become more widely available and more persons will get access with fewer restrictions. This will increase the threat level to near certainty. Torres (in the paper I linked to) puts the future level of risk at 99.995% per decade once 10 m people separately get unsupervised access to cheap and efficient Digital to DNA (or RNA for viruses) sequencers. Machine Learning (even falling well short of full AGI) will likely make the position much worse. Last year KCL reported that machine learning had been used to identify 40,000 new lethal biochemicals (fortunately the good guys were doing this work to see how difficult it would be for those with bad intentions. Unfortunately, it turned out to be easy). See report here:

  • 31 Time like infinity September 17, 2023, 8:24 pm

    [Another erratum spotted after posting: When my reply to #26 & 27 appears the reference in it to “two hours” should be to “one hour”. 7x7x7 hours = 343 hours ~ a fortnight (336 hours). Apols].

  • 32 Time like infinity September 18, 2023, 11:54 am

    On a more optimistic note, Monevator’s just topped another best investment site / resources / blog list:


    Also, an interesting and maybe useful piece today from Noahpinion covering inter alia longer term direction of US government spending and market rates:


    In the longer term, I find it difficult to see how UK rates could be kept significantly lower than US rates.

  • 33 The Investor September 18, 2023, 2:09 pm

    @TLI – Interesting spot, thank you for sharing!

    @All — Cheers for the conversation and further thoughts. I’ve had friends staying over all weekend so little time to contribute, but as usual lots of behind the scenes moderation (and rescuing legitimate articles from spam continues 🙁 )

    On the moderation front, we did stray into some edge-case territory with this discussion and in the end I deleted a couple of ‘big conspiracy’ type comments about the state of the world. I don’t believe there is any such conspiracy, but regardless Monevator is not the place to discuss it. Cheers!

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