Predictions, Expertise and Shaping the World

I just read this story on a decade-long public bet that Warren Buffet made against an investment fund guy.  Buffet bet that over ten years an index fund would out-perform managed funds.  I think the main argument here is basically compound interest in action — the higher level of fees paid out in a managed fund inherently cripples it level of return against a low fee fund like a Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund.

The bet was tracked and arbitrated by the Long Now Foundation which every time I read about something going on there – it still feels like science fiction.  The thing the LNF is most famous for (frankly they should be a lot more famous than they are) is the Clock of the Long Now.  The clock is a 10,000 year time piece being built inside a mountain in West Texas:

(Maybe testament to how hard it is for humans to maintain any perspective longer then the immediate nanosecond in front of them – I am having trouble figuring out if the full scale long clock has been built or not.  The clock’s website doesn’t have any updates past 2011. UPDATE: I must be psychic – there was a story in The Verge just today about construction beginning on the clock in West Texas.)

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10,000 years is longer than human civilization on Earth.  It is an unfathomable period of time from the perspective of humankind.  But if we realized that we could, barring self-inflicted catastrophic disaster, be around that long, maybe we should have some of that perspective.  It reminds me in part of Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem where part of the premise is a system where monks close themselves off from society for very long periods of time to study math and science (which is probably because Neal himself was inspired by the Long Now Clock in writing it).

It seems like the gulf between a long now perspective and the way we organize our affairs today is even bigger as everyone clicks on twitter every second and our attention is distracted every hour of every day.  I wish I had a profound thought to offer on how to resolve this gap but I don’t.  We need to think of ways to embed a longer perspective into the way we organize society and government.  We need to find ways to create structures in society and government that push and protect us from our own short-term perspective.  Let’s start small!  Could you imagine forcing the U.S. Congress to adopt a 20 year budget? Not that long on the 10,000 year scale, but it would be amazing to force ourselves to really debate and decide the shape of our society for 20, 50 or even a 100 years.

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