Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Describing a problem well does not mean that you have a solution.

The Art of the Good Life is taking a break this week as I am blogging from my parent's home and recovering from a nasty bout of food poisoning.

This is part 2 of my critique of Teo You Yenn's This is what inequality looks like.

After completing the book, I became a lot more disappointed at this piece of work. The first half had vivid descriptions of inequality but the second half is a confusing mess. There were two chapters dedicated to the problem of the lack of dignity in the lower classes. One chapter, which I find really ridiculous, was about why the author refused to account for "race" in her research. It gave me the impression that she was passing the buck in order to pander to political correctness.

Anyway, let me illustrate why describing something well does not often lead to making better decisions.

There are a investment trainers and bloggers who take a qualitative approach to investing and this has done very well for them. They can describe a company's strategy and management very well. Even my friends in Maybank Kim Eng has invited me to listen to a few REIT managers to see if their REITs are good buys.

I always find this approach to investing difficult. Anyone can spin a tale and talk about good management is. Management can, in fact, be very sincere and can demonstrate why they are running the company well.

But a nice narrative alone cannot be an excuse to go long in a company stock.

Perhaps the stock is already overpriced.

How do you measure trustworthiness ?

Instead, I use rigorous quantitative backtesting to determine the portfolios I will build of the rest of the year. Some results of my backtesting may constitute financial porn, I will be starting with a portfolio that is purported to return 27% over the past 10 years. Every investment idea must be easily explainable and reversing the measurements can lead to negative returns, making double alpha market neutral portfolios a reality.

With this approach, I might still lose out to the touchier and feelier investment managers, but it's rigour lets me sleep at night.

I think the same applies to a sociologist's writings. Ethnographic research inevitably means that stories are anecdotal. Furthermore, I can tell from her writings that many social workers do not even agree with her and adopt a tough love policy to the people they are helping.

Teo You Yenn did not explain what is the price to pay to reduce inequality.

Who will suffer when we free the Child of Omelas from our basements ?

The true test will come when Singaporeans decide whether to open their wallets to overcome inequality in our society.

To many of us, that price would be too high.


  1. I havnt seen her book but I have read her interview with CNA. She seems to be advocating a society where regardless of capabilities or connections, everyone should have the same access to the same pool of resources divided as much as possible equally (which sound just like the Ideals of communism, which we all know when actually implemented, is corrupted as fuck, and also a grotesque and unrecognizable variation of Marxism, but, I digresss).

    Anyway, she sounded mildly solipsisitc (I am trying to be kind here, f**king hell, for a professor in Sociology to be saying stuff like this without thinking deeply about the economical implication is really quite unforgivable). I am also quite surprise she didnt realise after all this years, the purpose of our education system is becoming less to educate and more to siff out the good ones from the medicore ones. It is mean to be hierarchical. I dont like it and most ppl prob wont like it and what can we do, almost every developed and non-socialist (and lesser tax paying) countries are facing this problem.

    I am not sure when she talk about equality, is she talking about eveyone being equal despite having differences in talents, resources and connections to begin with (which wouldnt be fair, something she is also trying to advocate) or equal opportunities, which Zheng hu is trying to do, and not very successful (those at the top, why will they allow those below to come up and share the pie? If u increase the pie, limpeh got more resources, of course I go kio the biggest share first liao la, although if can, $$$ come out a bit pull those in the drain u a bit also ok, if they 醒目,they will crawl their way out one). I think the best we can do, is to work with what we have and try to be "wake up" as early as possible, arbo pie all snatched finish liao, you will be the one left behind kpkb

  2. Maybe it's the problem with NTU Social Sciences.

    Somehow the folks I meet from that school are just not that impressive.

    She might survive because she's not a threat to any of the powers that be.

  3. I love it when you mention freeing the Child from The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.