Picture of Marcus Aurelius’

Vincent’s blog | Financial Meditations

#A weekend escape

I am waking up very slowly; there is no alarm set for today. It is eerily quiet, just what I needed. I booked a boutique hotel for the weekend far away from it all, to recharge my body and mind. It has been hectic, and I felt it was time for a small break from the financial markets and never-ending news cycles: a time-out, unplugged from the connected world, so to speak.

I look around my Philippe Starck designed hotel room. It is very small but extremely functional. I smell the designer’s choice of leather; it feels soft as only the best leather can feel. All the walls, floors and ceilings are padded in leather puffs; it is white like a gigantic Egyptian cotton sheet. It looks awesome, although a little out-of-place in my world. The padding is only interrupted at two places: a window with an exceptional view and a large super dense 3D resolution projector for my entertainment and communications center run by Googflix.com, a new company formed by a merger between Netflix, Alphabet and JD.com.

I sigh, take a sip from my no-straw zero-gravity macchiato cup and look through the window. I mostly see darkness and a blue-hued gigantic ball covered with white streams of creamy clouds. Wow, it is a mesmerizing view, just as advertised. Yes, you guessed right, I am floating 139,000 miles above planet earth in a hotel room operated by Axiom, a company acquired by Airbnb in 2034, just opened in the spring of 2068. Ah, you don’t believe me; check out my selfie on my Weibo profile.

The awesome view of our planet evokes the thought of the United States’ motto: “E pluribus Unum” (From many, One). This great motto should be adopted by all of us and ultimately will be true as I am looking down on the approximately 10 billion people living together on this small planet in 2068. During the last fifty years, the global population growth spurt came mainly from Asia and Africa. The more affluent a region becomes, the fewer children per household it has. With Asia and Africa becoming significantly richer these regions are reverting to an average number of children per household of 2.3. This data is indisputable. The total population on earth is therefore likely to top off at around 12 billion people, barring any epidemic or widespread catastrophe.

Think of it; it was only 200 generations or 10,000 years ago (8,000 BC) that we were only 10 million people on this planet. We have come a long way and several great investments have come from our growth in numbers and affluence. Fighting poverty and promoting education have proven the smartest things to do for those of us wanting to make our investments work in the long run and to decelerate our planet’s population growth.

I feel like taking a cold shower to get my blood going followed by a good meal, but I forgot, there are no showers up here let alone a restaurant. Water would float randomly around in small drops and food only comes in tiny one-bite cubes, which mimic the taste of great old recipes, but hardly give any joy. So maybe it is time for an old-fashioned book like “Meditations” written by Marcus Aurelius and for me to read it offline after I return from my space walk.

#Why I always put my right shoe on first

Marcus Aurelius’ book “Meditations” is timeless; you can read it over and over again at any point in your life. I bet people will still be reading this book to draw from its greatness on their way to beyond Mars. It was written around 170 AD by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, an absolute ruler who proved that power does not always corrupt and that absolute power not always corrupts absolutely, although Marcus might be the only one to have proven that in the history of mankind.

Imagine being the absolute ruler of the Roman Empire and being able to obtain anything you want with a flick of your fingers all of it without limit or consequences. What would you flick your fingers for or would you be able to suppress your desires for nineteen years like Marcus did and not yield to any of your temptations? He was surely a better man than me, no doubt.

Marcus Aurelius lived according to the stoic philosophy, which was common amongst the Romans at the time and highly regards Wisdom, Temperance, Justice and Courage amongst other things. I would like to think I have a pinch of each of those values, but I also know I am a sucker for good food, greedy for investments that have great potential and impatient because I wish for immediate results. I guess I am only so non-human.

That said, Marcus is certainly one to aspire to, but just to prove I am not within reach of this super rational moral high standard of living I put on my right shoe first, an old Roman superstition and continue to love good food other than just classify it as a source of energy. You see, I think I am trying to be a rational rebel bon vivant first and a stoic second.

I look outside my hotel window and see the space forces of both China and the US fly by, patrolling their GPS-marked space borders. The two reigning superpowers have consolidated their positions and a new détente, after years of fighting proxy wars all over the planet, has set in. I wonder what’s next on the agenda for the world at large and put on my spacesuit to go outside for my walk. It reminds me of an old Wall Street saying from the 90’s when pointing to a potentially great investment: “Time to get your Spacesuit from the cleaners, this thing is going to the moon.” I smile and think things will be all right; in the end, it always has been, no matter what the world threw at us or how much we tried to manipulate it.

#Super platforms without borders

Some fifty years ago in 2018, I tried to turn off my personal data gathering by Internet companies and I quickly learned that several of their tools made my life so much easier: local weather, local navigation, mapping services and shops available near me, electronic payments, etc. All of these were no longer available after I had turned off the data-gathering functionality of my phone. I quickly figured out that the advantages of personal data gathering outweighed the cost and I turned most of it on again. A significant amount of data is necessary to provide improved and helpful services, including in the healthcare related industry. Something we should have thought harder about years ago.

You see, in spite of the now fifty-year-old laws protecting individual privacy, the matter is no longer discussed in 2068. We all have embedded electronic baseball-like cards assigned to us for everybody else to read. They contain our vital statistics and rate our moral, financial as well as medical values. Facial recognition is as common as an open phone booth was in New York City in the 90’s.

Such is our new life: no more hiding or misrepresenting yourself; your electronic you is who you are.

You see, the initial laws protecting privacy and animal use for testing were helpful in a protective way but it did not stop innovation. It just moved innovation to places where it was allowed to grow or went underground. The major unintended consequence of strict privacy and animal testing laws was that certain countries leaped ahead especially in fields like Artificial Intelligence and biotech. You cannot stop progress. It is a constant in our world.

In 2068, Shenzhen- and Shanghai-listed companies are among the world’s largest and most innovative. Heavy state-subsidies, aggressive competition, colossal capital investments and an eager workforce made this happen in a very short time frame. Many companies have outgrown their home-markets and became known as “super-platforms.” Chinese companies followed the examples of Amazon and Facebook and became giant borderless entities. Facebook alone has three billion users, almost as much as India’s and China’s populations combined and operates everywhere in our world. The super-platforms not only allow you to search and find any service or product but also offer it to you or your company, can finance it and deliver it anywhere in the world by drone or EV (Electronic Vehicle). Companies like Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba and Tencent have replaced the search function for products from what Google and Baidu used to do.

In 2068, everything you buy is customer-rated, customer-reviewed and electronically paid for with your personal/company e-wallet all wirelessly and fully automated. The more you use their services the better they become; the current AI-driven algorithms simply know you better than you know yourself. Personal data sharing in China and the USA is still much more profound and widely accepted than elsewhere in the world and helped these countries surpass others in terms of innovation and growth. The days of finding your fridge missing an item, or missing anything in your home that is predictable is soooo 2020…

Super-platforms have helped keep inflation in check over the last 50 years and households have been enjoying better prices due the fierce global competition in e-commerce. After the trade-wars of 2018-2020, prices started to fall steadily again compensating for the ever-rising cost of housing, pension and healthcare.

Super-platforms were certainly the companies to invest in 50 years ago as they emerged from their local markets. If I could only time-travel back to 2018 and invest part of my assets into the then emerging super-platforms, I would be today’s Bobby Axelrod, laughing all the way to the moon and then some. The growth and profitability of these emerging super-platforms are unmatched over the last fifty years and still look unassailable now.

Super-platforms hold the power to bring vast richness to their investors and at the same time they hold immense power to corrupt their leaders. We can only hope their leaders find time to catch a SpaceX flight to a boutique hotel with a view, to relax, meditate and (re)read Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”, because there is always a lot at stake and always something to learn, especially from a superhuman.