Will there ever be a third party president?

Michael Bloomberg announced yesterday that he won’t be pursuing a third party presidential candidacy after all. Can’t say I disagree with his logic. It does seem like there would be no clear path to winning, especially if/when Hilary is the Democratic nominee. His policies are too similar to her’s and it would cripple them both leading to a Trump presidency, which is by far the worst case scenario (as he noted).

But that leaves me to ask, will there ever be a third party president in America?

Historically, and at first glance, it doesn’t appear likely. Yes, there have been presidents in the past that were neither Republican nor Democrat but only because the Republican and Democratic parties that we know today hadn’t come about yet. Instead, they had an equivalent two party system like the Federalist party and the Democratic-Republican party. There have been many third party candidates for President in the past but they have often just swung the vote in favor of one of the other candidates in a major party. Much like Bloomberg feared he would do.

Will this continue to hold? I am not sure. On the surface, it looks like an impossibility. But if you look more closely you can already see the current political parties cracking at the seams. The current GOP is a prime example. Even before the 2016 election, the so-called Tea Party began it’s departure from traditional conservative policies. And while all Tea Partiers still run under the Republican party, the division within the party is clear and it will probably only be a matter of time before that portion breaks away.

And then you have Donald Trump. Trump is by no means a “normal” Republican candidate. And the GOP knows it. That’s why the party’s elites are trying all that they can to try and stop Trump. They don’t have any idea what types of things he will do in office, and the policies he is running on are already far different than the rest of the Republican candidates still in the field. So Trump could be the final straw that broke the camel’s back, so to say, and leave the GOP as multiple parties instead of just one.

The Democratic party doesn’t get away so easily either. Yes, they currently look a lot less dysfunctional than the Republicans do but don’t think Bernie Sanders’ rise was normal. Sanders is running as a self-proclaimed socialist. I bet 50 years ago anyone in America would have thought that would be impossible. But that’s where we are today. Sanders is hitting the same nerve Trump is, albeit in a much different way. But both show there are a lot of Americans out there today that are feeling left out and ignored and they’ve finally begun to find their candidates.

While the two major political parties continue to hold on by the seams, it will be interesting to see what happens in November this year and what the fallout from it will be. Maybe it will all pass over and we will act like it was all just a one time thing. But I think more likely, the two major political parties will start to fall apart and more populist movements will take over.

Now that almost everyone has a smartphone and internet access, it’s a whole lot easier to be heard than it once was. And I think that means more and more groups at the margins will begin to form their own parties. Will this lead to third party President? That remains to be seen.

A new project – Sell and buy with peace of mind

I am excited to share that I am working on a new project. For the last year or so I have been trying to figure out what is next for me. In the meantime, that’s meant helping startups build their products and get them to market. I will continue to do that for awhile, but I always knew I would eventually start one of my own again. I am not calling this project a company yet, as I am still testing the waters with the idea, but I do have high hopes.

The idea for the project stems from my own frustrations and problems that I have had with buying and selling used goods. For a long time, I just accepted the frustrations as inevitable. But the more I began to think about it, the more I realized the barriers that exist could be surpassed with a new way of thinking using current technology. So that’s what I am working on.

I wish I could share more about it at this point but for now that’s all I am going to say. I am looking for beta testers and early adopters to try the product out and help shape what it could become. So if that sounds like you, go here to signup. And please share it with others!

P.S. I am also looking for help with design and development. So if you are a designer or engineer and you’re interested in helping build trust between people and solving the problems of buying and selling used goods, reach out to me here: [email protected]!

Second-Order Effects: Apple vs the US Government

As we all find out in our lives, every action has a consequence, and each consequence has its own consequence, and so on. This chain of events is usually referred to as second-order effects. And while the concept is intuitive to us, we often overlook the second-order effects of the decisions we make because it’s easier to think about one decision than the chain of events that are caused once a decision has been made. 

One example of not taking into account the second-order effects of a decision happening right now is the case between Apple and the FBI. On the surface, it’s easy to look at the case as a mere one-off effort by the government to access a terrorist’s iPhone. But what about the second-order effects of that decision?

If Apple concedes and helps the government with it’s request, does that set a precedent and mean every time the government comes to Apple wanting information they have to oblige? Or what about if another country’s government (let’s just say China’s maybe?) asks for information from a user’s iPhone, does Apple now have to answer that request too since it’s already shown to have done it for one government?

What about the effects it will have for overall individual security? If Apple creates this tool for the government and it leaks into a bad actor’s hands (an inevitable scenario), now that bad actor has the ability to do whatever he/she wants with what’s on your iPhone. You would no longer feel secure about what you put on your iPhone because anyone could have access to it.

And finally, an increasing likely scenario that could take place is someone like Donald Trump becomes in charge of the US government. By making Apple concede to the government’s request now, means someone like Trump will be in possession of that tool and who knows how he would wield that power. A very scary scenario indeed.

Always be aware of the second-order effects for the choices you make.

Trying to Wrap Our Heads Around Exponential Growth

The driving force of technological change is exponential growth. It’s the reason in the last ten years we went from having almost no one with a smartphone to almost everyone on the planet with one.

Yet, exponential growth is also is one of the hardest concepts to wrap our minds around. Our minds are tuned to think linearly. Thinking linearly helps us with our more biological tasks, like how far away is that lion from where I am standing? And do I have enough time to get to shelter before it runs me down? These were once very important concepts to master in order to thrive in our earlier biological times.

But the days of thinking about out running lions are gone. We live in a technological world, like it or not. And in a technological world, you need to be able to think exponentially. If you want to separate yourself from your peers, master this concept because most people are not able to wrap their head around exponential growth and what it means.

One of the best ways to understand the concept of exponential growth is in the animation below. The animation is from MotherJones and it shows the rate of growth of computing power over the last few decades and continuing into the future, increasing at an exponential rate (which it has been for all of its history so far). It depicts the growth as filling Lake Michigan. The thing to take away is how quickly exponential growth sneaks up on you. For a long time, it looks like no progress is made at all and then all of a sudden, the lake is full.

This is what is happening right now in technology. For a long time in the beginning, nothing seemed to be changing. And now all of a sudden, things are changing fast and they will begin to change faster and faster.

Besides computing power, there are a number of other technology fields that our growing at an exponential rate. For example, genomics, artificial intelligence, and solar power. It’s easy to dismiss any of these fields today as making little progress. But each are growing exponentially. And like I just mentioned, when something grows exponentially, in the beginning it looks like no progress is being made and then it overwhelms you. So don’t underestimate what these fields can do. You wouldn’t want to be in the group of people that dismissed the internet in 1990, would you?

My favorite (and most hopeful) underestimation of exponential growth is in solar power. If you listen to most people today they dismiss solar power because it generates only a small portion of the world’s energy. But both the drop in cost of solar power and growth of installations are increasing at exponential rates (actually they are increasing faster than exponentially at the current moment). Meaning we are basically at the year 2003 in the animation above. When you look around, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of solar power. But in 20 years, it’s powering the entire planet.

It may be easy to laugh at solar today and I may have an overly optimistic view, but if you learn anything from the history of technological change it is to not underestimate the power of exponential growth. 

World Book Day – Current Reading List

In honor of today being World Book Day and reading being something I both love to do and get so much out of, I am going to share my current reading list.

Books I am currently reading:

Books next on my reading list:

Happy World Book Day 🙂

What’s up with the “I Voted” sticker?

Seeing various people in my social media feeds during the primaries posting pictures of themselves with the “I Voted” sticker got me thinking, who started giving it out and why?

The reason I was interested in the “I Voted” sticker and it’s history is that the sticker could be seen has a basic form of psychological influence. Giving out stickers is (1) a reward (although tiny it still can have an affect) and (2) serves as a symbol of status (evident of people posting pictures with them). The use of rewards and status is a classic technique of psychological influence. So I thought it’d be interesting to find out who started it to see if they had any interesting motivations, as who actually shows up at the polls matters.

But after doing a bit of research on the subject, you can rest easy as there is no need to worry about a conspiracy theory or anything like that. Instead, it has more of a weird history that seems to have been started by a group of realtors in Phoenix, Arizona. Though, it seems not all polling places give one away and not all “I Voted” stickers are the same.

So while there doesn’t appear to be any real motivation behind the “I Voted” sticker, it’s always good to be aware of possible influences and biases since the only way to overcome them is to first recognize them.

For more information on the “I Voted” sticker, here are a couple resources:

(Not at all) Super Tuesday

Today is “Super” Tuesday, which means 11 states will cast their votes in hope of choosing their ideal candidates for President of the United States. I find the naming of the day ironic, especially in a political season marked by so much stupidity that Kayne West looks sane by comparison.

The dictionary defines super as very good or pleasant; excellent. Whoever named Super Tuesday as such, obviously hadn’t anticipated this election season. But nonetheless, many will still go to the polls today or whatever day their state’s primaries are and cast their vote.

I, however, will not be one of them. Despite my current state (Massachusetts) having it’s primary elections today, I am choosing not to participate (and I haven’t in the past either). Though it’s true that I am far from inspired by any of the current candidates running, the candidates on the ballot are not the reason I am choosing to abstain. Instead, it’s because of my political affiliation, or lack thereof.

I am registered as an unaffiliated voter (also known as an Independent for those of us who don’t speak like political pundits). This means, in the current two party-dominate political system that we have in America, I am not even able to vote in 11 states’ primaries. On top of that, even in a number of states that do allow Independents to vote in their primaries, voting is seen as a view of registration for a party.

Considering that all signs seem to point to a Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton face-off in November and most states primaries having little meaning anyway, I would much rather hold on to my Independent voter status than cast my vote in a primary election.

This actually bothers me because I think the right to vote is an important one (which I will exercise in the actual presidential election) but our current system (created by the two dominate political parties) actually tarnishes this right. And I would bet I am not the only one to feel this way.

It hasn’t only been this way either. Primary elections are only a recent phenomenon. It’s not like the Founding Fathers thought it’d be a great idea to have Iowa get this much attention.

There are a host of other issues with the primaries, but doesn’t it seem wrong that our current political system pushes out the more moderate voters from choosing our presidential candidates? Independents are increasing in numbers among American voters. So not only do we have more extreme ideological voters picking our candidates but they also represent less and less of the American population. Maybe that’s why we have the chaos and extremism we see today in the primaries?

Just a thought.

Short-term vs Long-term Thinking

One of the hardest choices we have to make on a daily basis is choosing between optimizing for the short-term or optimizing for the long-term. Should we eat that donut today because it tastes good and won’t have an impact on today’s weight? Or should we choose to not eat the donut because over the course of our life, the less donuts we eat the healthier we’re likely to be?

It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now. It often takes over our thoughts. We optimize for the immediate because it feels good to be rewarded today. But every choice you make has a long-term impact. What you choose to do today, will effect you tomorrow. And the best rewards always take time to win.

This choice is made extra difficult because of the way we are wired. Evolution made us want to optimize for today because tomorrow was far from certain. But we now live in a world where tomorrow is often much more likely to come if we make intelligent decisions today.

The challenge everyday is fighting our own biology to make the tough decision to hold off on what gives us pleasure today in order to enhance our tomorrow.

Planes, trains, and ketchup

Full disclosure: I am an investor in Berkshire Hathaway.

Yesterday, Berkshire Hathaway released it’s 2015 Annual Report to the public. The entire report is 120 pages long but the real gem is in the beginning, which is Warren Buffett’s letter to shareholders. As it has been for the last 50 years, every annual report includes this letter from Buffett, which is always a witty and insightful read. This year’s letter was no different.

All public companies are required by law to release an annual report each year. And many of them also include a letter to their shareholders. What separates Buffett’s letter is his ability to write and think clearly about topics that often get complicated by the popular media. For instance, one of the topics Buffett talks a lot about, for obvious reasons, is the stock market.

If you were to turn on CNBC right now and listen to it for 10 minutes, I would take a bet that unless you’re an investment banker, most of it is hogwash. But Buffett is able to take a complicated system and break it down into an analogy that elementary school students can understand: in the short-term, the stock market is a voting machine and in the long-term, it’s a weighing machine. By using this simple analogy he is able to explain to the common person why you should pay little attention to the market day to day but instead be interested in what it has to say over the course of a few years.

Another quality of the Berkshire letter that goes unmatched is Buffett’s honesty. He doesn’t make excuses like most managers and investors do when they miss their numbers or try and cover up loses with complicated jargon or fancy accounting. Instead, he’s upfront about his mistakes and even explains the quirks of accounting despite it not being in his own interest. He even sometimes manages to do so by putting a smile on your face with his wit.

Another impressive part of the letter is it doesn’t avoid the messier subjects like employee job-loss. In this year’s letter Buffett addresses the growing uncertainty many Americans today have with future work prospectus in the section Productivity and Prosperity. He does so by explaining the business side of the equation but also recognizes the struggle of the worker side. In an industry that sometimes treats people like numbers on a sheet, it’s often refreshing to hear one of the country’s largest employers recognize the struggle of the individual worker.

There are many other lessons and tidbits to get out of any Berkshire Hathaway annual letter, but I’ll leave the rest to you. Even if you have no interest in business, the letter to shareholders is an insightful and fun read.

I hope one day I have a company that is as well and honestly run as Berkshire Hathaway is by Buffett and Munger.

If you ended up reading this year’s Berkshire letter and want more, visit the Berkshire Hathaway website or pick up this book of shareholder letters.

Also unfortunately, this year I am unable to attend the annual shareholder’s meeting in Omaha. So if you are interested in going to the meeting reach out to me for tickets. As someone who’s gone to it before, it’s definitely worth checking out!