VALUE: After Hours (S03 E33): Memetics, NFTs, China Crackdown, Housing Prices

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In this episode of the VALUE: After Hours Podcast, Jake Taylor, Bill Brewster, and Tobias Carlisle chat about:

  • NFTs: The Future of Art Or A Waste Of Money
  • Memetics & Why We Want What We Want
  • China’s Widening Crackdown
  • Housing Prices Expensive & Cheap
  • Are NFTs Changing The Music Industry?
  • Beeple Sold An NFT For $69 Million
  • NFT Copyright Misconceptions
  • Celebristan – External Mediation
  • Freshmenistan – Internal Mediation
  • Scapegoat Mechanism
  • Warren Buffett’s 91st Birthday
  • How Do Hits Become Hits

You can find out more about the VALUE: After Hours Podcast here – VALUE: After Hours Podcast. You can also listen to the podcast on your favorite podcast platforms here:

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Full Transcript

Tobias: Preparing to Zoom.

Bill: Yeah, live streaming.

Tobias: It’s been [crosstalk] live streamed.

Bill: Got it. The Jake fans are broken right now. They’re like, “Ah, these two schmucks.”

Tobias: It’s two-thirds of Value: After Hours, because JT is on his way to Capital Camp, and hasn’t been able to quite make it yet. But he’s hoping to join us midway through. If he doesn’t, it’s just Billy and I. What’s happening, Bill?

Bill: That’s how it might be. Not much. I think that the total brain power of Value: After Hours has significantly decreased with just the two of us on.

Tobias: It’s gone down without the veggies.

Bill: This ship has sunk.

Tobias: Mate, it’s all the good stuff.

Bill: That’s right.

Tobias: It’s just dessert and meat.

Bill: Yeah. I seriously considered getting a glass of wine for this episode, but I thought that drinking during the day with COVID was probably not a great idea.

Tobias: Yeah, you got COVID. How are you feeling?

Bill: I’m feeling okay. If you can hear the children that just came into the house screaming. The hardest part going forward is going to be quarantining with my children.

Tobias: [laughs]

Bill: My wife is not in great shape. So, I’ve got to help her out more than maybe I thought I would.

Tobias: What were your symptoms?

Bill: Ah, I have a really bad cough, and at night, it gets pretty bad. She was dead tired, man. She couldn’t move for probably two and a half days. She just slept. It was a wild.

Tobias: Did you lose taste or smell?

Bill: No, I’ve been able to taste. Jake told me to drink a lot of bone broth.

Tobias: Whoa.

Bill: I was able to taste how disgusting that was.

Tobias: Bone broth is great. It’s [crosstalk]

Bill: I liked it when I got a lot of pepper and salt in it. I didn’t like it bland. Now, we’ve still got– [crosstalk]

Tobias: JT is in the house.

Bill: Yes.

Tobias: How did you do it, JT?

Bill: Boom. Look at that.

Tobias: You’ve done it. How did you do it?

Jake: What’s up, homies? Could you hear me?

Bill: Yeah. Hey, we’re live.

Jake: Live from Capital Camp.

Bill: Look at that.

Jake: It’s… rain right now. I was running through the rain to get here. Hopped on the Wi-Fi.

Tobias: Unbelievable.

Jake: My hair on fire. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m all stressed out.

Tobias: [laughs]

Bill: There you go. Well, if I recall correctly, you have a veggie segment to tie back to last week. So, good luck with that, sir.

Jake: Oof. Okay, I’ve got to take some deep breaths if we’re going to get there.

Tobias: You got to Capitol Camp– you’ve been in Capital Camp for like seven minutes.

Jake: Yeah, literally just got into Missouri.

Tobias: So, first impressions of Capital Camp.

Jake: [laughs] Haven’t seen it. It’s been too rainy. It looks like it’s going to be nice though. It’s going to be fun. Had spent a little time with one of the main man, Chris Bloomstran. He gave me a ride out. So, we’ve been-

Bill: Oh, nice.

Jake: -getting to chat. Yeah, he’s a good dude. I like him a lot.

Bill: Have some red wine with him tonight for me.

Jake: I did last night.

Bill: There you go.

Jake: Yeah.

Bill: Yeah.

Jake: He knows what he’s talking about there.

Bill: Yes, he does. Yes, he does. Well, perhaps– [crosstalk]

Jake: How are you guys doing?

Tobias: We literally just kicked off.

Jake: Oh, good.

Tobias: All we’ve done is discuss Billy’s COVID.

Jake: Yeah, how are you feeling, homie?

Bill: Ah, I feel okay. I have had better times, but I’m fine. The remainder of the quarantine with the children is going to be the tough part.

Jake: Oh, yeah. Jesus. [laughs]

Bill: Yeah. I’d like to get them away from me as soon as possible. I love you, guys. Love you.

Jake: Yeah.

Tobias: I got it early in the year. I got it in the first week of the year before the shots were available. So, I’ve now had COVID and two shots. So, I’m invincible, I think.

Jake: Yeah.

Bill: Dude, all right. So, this is actually a decent way to segue into investments, and I still don’t have– This is not fully fleshed out. So, please, everybody understand that you’re just listening to someone thinking out loud.

Tobias: You’re not allowed to have any personal opinion if your own– [crosstalk]

Jake: How’s that different from every week?

Bill: What?

Jake: Sorry.

Bill: No, actually I should– Shoutout to the people at Canalis. I’m going to pull up one of these models real quick to see if what I’m saying is completely stupid or not. I cannot help but think after seeing the amount of my friends that have been vaccinated and had breakthroughs. For me, I’m not going to–

Tobias: What’s a breakthrough? Is that where you get it after you’ve had a shot?

Bill: I think that’s how we’re defining it. I don’t know. Sorry, Google. I apologize. I’m not a doctor. I’m just a dude.

Tobias: Demonetized. We’re going to lose [crosstalk] this time around.

Jake: Yeah. Do they steal our tips from Thomas Brazil if– [crosstalk]

Tobias: Yeah, Chupa Chups. How do you say Chupa Chups? Chapa Chaps?

Bill: I don’t know. Anyway-

Jake: [laughs]

Bill: -the thing that’s been going on in my head, man is I was okay. My wife was, like I said, fucked up from this thing. We’re both below 40. Let’s assume everything stays the way it is, which I think is probably against the underlying assumption because science gets better over time. The idea that when we’re 60, we’re going to go on a cruise ship, if this impacts her in that way is absolutely insane to me. I think that we’re in this part of modeling and figuring out consumer behavior after the pandemic where retail sales have just absolutely ripped higher, the consumers in the greatest shape that they’ve been, house values are high, everybody’s spending on travel, and this seems like the perfect blend to look at the short term, and extrapolate incorrectly into the long term, and I think I’m overly focused on how COVID is actually going to impact the world going forward, but I just sent out a tweet, and I was like, if I ran long, short, I don’t think I could not be short cruise lines. Part of the reason is if we live in a world where variants are just continuing to come, I know cruisers cruise but cruisers are also old, and I have a high degree of confidence that my wife and I will change our lifestyles to avoid her getting this in the future. Because it was not fun to watch how sick she got.

Tobias: The flu virus comes around every year. You’re supposed to get a shot for the flu virus because it mutates. We don’t give it a new name every year, but it’s a different variant, because it’s whatever circulating in the Southern Hemisphere, they collect a few of those and they give them to people in the Northern Hemisphere and then vice versa. Probably, you’ve got to get a shot every year or something. Maybe it’s [crosstalk] together.

Bill: I just wanted to [crosstalk] get us ability– I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t think that you can– I’m obviously overly concerned. I have a ton of cognitive bias. I’m living in quarantine. There’s a lot of problems with how I’m thinking.

Jake: It’s not a good time to probably make any big, big decisions. [laughs]

Bill: No.

Tobias: Tim Brown gave us $1.87. Tim, thanks, man.

Bill: Thank you. Thank you, man. That means a lot. That Twizzlers going to go far today.

Tobias: Chupa Chups are back on.

Bill: There we go. On a longer timeframe, I do think it’s going to be interesting to see where things settle out, because extrapolating what’s going on right now, I think is a flaw.

Tobias: I think there’s a reasonable chance we just go back to normal, just go back to where we were. Technology changes. A few things that maybe there’s a little bit more remote work but I think people have got short memories.

Housing & The Economy

Bill: Well, I tell you what it’s interesting. I’m going to sound like my man, Mike Mitchell, here, and I probably said it on the last podcast. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because he’s got me involved in this damn lumber thing. Housing, read the Homebuilders, and then read Builders FirstSource, and then read Home Depot and Lowe’s. If you think housing’s the economy, things are looking pretty good, assuming no material change in outlook from here, but they’re all saying the same thing. Then, there’s this other thing that I’m thinking is like, if housing drives a lot of the business cycle, is now this time to pour additional stimulus on that? I’d argue probably not. So, you’re welcome. These are the thoughts of Bill.

Tobias: [crosstalk] Thomas.

Jake: So hard. These complex adaptive systems, initial starting conditions, which way the ball bounces can completely lead to these totally insane different outcomes. I don’t know. I’ve honestly been spending less and less time thinking about that stuff because I just feel like I’m– I might just go around and pretzel. I get pretzel brained.

Bill: Yeah. I think that’s fair.

Tobias: I hadn’t really realized that we’re underinvest– not necessarily underinvested but there had been so many fewer home starts over the last decade. I went and pull up that data which you can pull off the ALFRED website pretty easily. That’s the feds. St. Louis Fed, St. Louis Feds.

Bill: Dude, it’s nuts.

Tobias: It’s not clear to me just eyeballing it though. What you can see in it is there it is very clear, and I was just talking about this on podcast with Stig Brodersen that it’s very clear that there’s this like sawtooth pattern. We have a massive ramp, then we crash to a low, and then we over a decade or so, we climb back up to the top and we crash again. It does seem that the last ramp was much, much flatter and shallower than preceding ones.

Now, we’re where it may be a little bit north of the long run average, but that’s halfway to the to the peak. So, if what that implies is that we’re halfway through a recovery, and there’s another half to go, and you’re going to see silly levels at some stage, but we’re nowhere near it now, when you get to the silly levels, that’s probably the signal that there’s something else. But it looks to me like there’s a long, long runway, and everything that flows from that Homebuilders, Home Depot, lumber, everything just seems like we’ve got probably got some good years in that part of the market. I don’t know. what do you guys think?

Bill: Yeah, I think that what it implies is that there’s a sufficient foundation to be bullish, and by bullish, I mean optimistic, that the underlying housing market and the tangential markets related to it will show a period of healthy growth over the next two years. That’s as confident as I’m going to be. I think how this thesis loses is there’s just not enough labor to get it produced. I think that that’s potentially a very real way that– if I was going to be a bear, I’d be like, you just can’t produce them. Because there’s just not enough people. Now, whether or not capitalism can solve that through wages and whatnot, and how much of that is like–

Jake: Prep more workers.

Bill: Yo, you can pay anybody to frame. You need skilled workers to be plumbers, so where’s the kink in the demand for labor and the supply? That’s to be determined. But I do think we’ve got a couple of good years of housing-driven growth in us.

Tobias: Having said that though, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the stock market does really well over that period of time. That’s going to be a different base. There is a valuation component to what the stock market does, and at the moment, it looks pretty stretched to me.

Bill: Yo, I could actually argue– If I was going to argue why the stock market wouldn’t do well in that, laborers when they get paid tend to spend the money. One of the problems with inflation, going back to 2009 was velocity of money. You start getting hands in the money and people that spend it, you get velocity increase, then you get potential inflation happened, and then you can get rate rises, and then you get a market correction. That’s how potentially– now, that said your growth goes up, so everybody can debate the formula but that’s how I would say it may not help the market.

Housing Prices Expensive & Cheap

Tobias: I saw a statistic last week that the cost to own a house is as low as it’s ever been. That might have been Jake, Econompic.

Bill: Or Logan. Logan posted a fair amount.

Jake: What is that based on?

Bill: It’s like debt service coverage.

Tobias: Yeah. Even though prices are high, as a proportion of the family budget, it is close to its lows.

Bill: Yeah.

Jake: Is that rates or is that income?

Bill: I think it’s mostly rates but I think incomes have something to do with it.

Jake: Hmm.

Bill: You’ve got a huge millennial tailwind come in here. If you’re a woman, you pretty much have to have a kid by the time that you’re 30. I mean you don’t have to. I’m not a fucking doctor.

Jake: Handmaid’s Tale. [laughs]

Bill: Yeah, well, but when we were having our kids, we were really nervous that we wanted to have at least our first by the time that my wife was 35, because then you start to have complications, birth defects, and stuff. So, there is a natural limit to how long-

Tobias: Your risk goes up.

Bill: [crosstalk] specifically can– Yeah.

Tobias: Your risk goes up. That’s what happens.

Bill: Yeah. So, if you look at the demographic bell curve, make an argument the baby making is about to really occur, and then that tends to drive [crosstalk]

Jake: Oh, yeah.

Bill: Yes, sookie sookie now.

Tobias: The reason that people haven’t been this–

Bill: Welcome to Value: After Hours where we make babies.

Tobias: That’s really after hours.

Bill: Out of mean by talking about value. Sorry.

Tobias: The problem I think, there’s been a lot of income insecurity and people have been carrying huge-

Jake: Student loan debt?

Tobias: -student loan debt. Not enough money left over to save up for a deposit for a house. That was my interpretation of it. Everybody’s experience is going to be a little bit different though. I’m in California where housing is expensive. It is high.

Bill: Yeah, I guess what is the story that I’ve always told myself is, millennials generally watch their parents accumulate a bunch of shit that they didn’t really value, and then life expectancy has gone so far out that as the generation millennials wanted to just hang out in the city for a little while, be flirtatious, not start a family quite as early, and now-

Tobias: You can’t hang someone for that.

Bill: -probably settling into that. What?

Tobias: You can’t hang someone for that.

Bill: No, no.

Tobias: It’s not fair.

Bill: Especially, now with lots of options in the internet.

Jake: How’s that sound, dude? Father of three. [laughs]

Tobias: Yeah, honestly, the thought of going out there, just it’s too much. I’d rather hang out with my three and my wife.

Jake: Ah.

Tobias: [laughs]

Bill: My version of hell is if my wife were to die, the idea of dating again. I’m just not going to do it. I’ll hire somebody to take care of my kids, but I’m going to be alone.

Jake: I thought you’ll hire something else. [laughs]

Bill: No, no.

Warren Buffett’s 91st Birthday

Tobias: Yeah, you know what? Thanks, MD. Thanks for the shoutout. It’s Warren Buffett’s birthday. Happy birthday.

Bill: Wow. What’s up Buff-dawg?

Jake: All right. Not today, yesterday.

Tobias: 91 yesterday, yeah.

Jake: Yeah.

Tobias: That’s a good knock.

Jake: Buff-dawg.

Bill: I hope he had a great day. Toby sat down and read it.

Jake: Everyone [crosstalk] for Buff-dawg.

Bill: Yeah, read a 10k and got super happy.

Jake: I bet it looked like every other day of his life for the last 50 years.

Tobias: Yeah, just that ice cream and peanuts, right? “I’m going to celebrate. I’m going to have some peanut [crosstalk]

Jake: He probably splurged for the McGriddle.

Tobias: Yeah.

Jake: [laughs]

Tobias: Got the extra coin.

Jake: Yep. Extra coinage.

Tobias: Astrid threw a few extra coins in there for him.

Jake: [laughs] Oh.

Tobias: Should we– [crosstalk]

Bill: Talk about something?

Jake: Let’s bang out the veggies in case my battery dies-

Bill: Oh, yeah. That’s cool.

Tobias: You haven’t gone first for a little while, JT. Let’s [crosstalk] first.

Jake: Okay. Fair enough. So, remember back to last week just in case you missed it, we were talking about thermodynamic equilibrium and this idea that the molecules bounce into each other and share energy until they become one common temperature. We drew that back to social like you becoming the average of the five people you spend the most time around. So, we had a social thermodynamic equilibrium that might be existing. Then, we got into everybody’s vagus nerve, and all that stuff. [laughs]

Memetics & Why We Want What We Want

Jake: Anyway, let’s see if we can keep going on this and then pull in memetics, which is a topic that I’ve actually been wanting to talk about for a while, but I’ve just been lazy and/or waiting for the right segue or time to do it, but now’s a good time to do it. The father of memetics is this guy named René Girard, and he was a French born professor. He studied history mostly, but he was a polymath. He bounced around at different universities, finally ends up at Stanford, but the only class that they give him is like a literature class.

He hasn’t read most of these books that he has to teach on and he’s staying basically one week ahead of the students as one does. He’s starting to look for patterns in these books so that he can work less hard, like “Well, if I could just find the common pattern between all these, I don’t need to read the next one.” What he what he realizes, and I guess it may be from historical relevance too, that the accidental nature of discovery and innovation often, I think, we discount that.

He realizes that all the characters and all of the classic literature from the Bible all the way up through the great Russian works, all those guys, all the characters rely on other characters to show them what is worth wanting. There’s always a character who influences the desire of the main character, and that’s a really important part of all these stories. That guy, Girard, thinking about, “Why do you want what you want?” You might be saying like, “Oh, well, Maslow’s hierarchy.” Well, this isn’t quite like– Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, not wants. Let’s separate that to start out. Girard is talking about the wants and desires, where does that come from? Why do you want to wear that brand or why do you think that’s the right house for you or the right car or anything [unintelligible 00:19:40]?

Bill: NFT?

Jake: Why is that NFT worth more than a Monet? Who knows?

Tobias: [laughs]

Jake: He comes up with this idea– and by the way, I read a couple of Girard books to try to wrap my mind around this, because I think it’s an important topic, and they are just rough. I’m not going to say impenetrable, but it’s damn near. But thankfully, this guy named Luke Burgis, who was actually in the startup scene, he wrote a really approachable book that explains a lot of this stuff for the layperson like me. It’s called Wanting, and I really enjoyed it. I think it’s well worth the read, especially, the first half of the book. So, Girard is describing memetics as basically the psychological– it’s like what gravity is to physics, this is to psychology. Where I first heard of memetics was actually from Peter Thiel. He saw Girard giving lectures at Stanford, that’s where Peter Thiel went. He saw him giving lectures in the late 80s, and he learned about memetics firsthand from Girard, and this then allowed Thiel to see Facebook really, really early on it and see that it was just a mimetic generation machine. He put $500,000 into it, and that’s turned into about a billion for Thiel, probably also recognized that Zuck is like a stone-cold killer.

But anyway, the basis of mimetics is really about role models and models, and then seeing what it is that they want and then you adopt what that role model is. It actually starts at birth. Babies who are just a few hours old even, if you make faces at them, they will tend to copy those same faces. Like you stick your tongue out, and they’ll stick their tongue out back. We are hardwired from the gate to be mimetic, copying creatures. Even by the time you’re 18 months old, we understand the intentionality of wants.

They do these little studies with 18 months old, their pre-language. They will see an adult trying to do something and not able to do it, and they’ll hand it to the kid and the kid knows like, “Oh, that’s what you were wanting to do.” They understand intentionality that way. If it goes down into our mirror neurons. A mirror neuron is basically, let’s say, seeing someone else eat a grape will trigger the exact same neurons inside you as if you were actually eating it. We have this amazing empathy. Even apes have the same thing.

Celebristan – External Mediation

Anyway, let’s rewind back in history. There’s this guy named Edward Bernays, who was really the father of public relations. 1929, at that time, it was really taboo for women to smoke in public. You didn’t smoke in public if you’re like a classy gal. The 19th Amendment had happened maybe 10ish years ago and women are really finding freedom at that point. It was a new time for women. They were feeling themselves at that point. It was a cool period in history after eons of–

Tobias: Is that the Flapper period?

Jake: Yeah, right.

Tobias: Okay.

Jake: What Edward Bernays did was he hired a bunch of women to march in this parade, and they were all smoking in public, and they called them Torches of Freedom.

Tobias: [laughs]

Jake: It appeared like it was spontaneous, but he had news coverage or newspaper coverage all set up for it, and it was plastered on every single newspaper in the US. These women with their torches of freedom, and all of a sudden, cigarette sales, they hired Bernays to do this, they tripled that year. It was just like, all of a sudden it was fine to smoke in public, what they wanted was their torch of freedom, were looking for these role models.

In this book, Wanting, how Luke breaks it down is, there’s what Girard calls an external mediator of desire, meaning outside of you and controlling it is better described I think by Luke. He calls it a Celebristan, to use some of Tlaib’s– you know how he likes to make Mediocristan and Extremistan. So, this is Celebristan.

This is like people who are so far above you, you see what they do, and what they want, and then you copy it. Michael Jordan’s drinking, he wants Gatorade at his game and now, I want that too, because at my basketball game, I want to be like Mike. There’s no conflict there because I’m never going to be Michael Jordan obviously and it’s not zero some where like I’m taking Mike’s Gatorade from him.

Freshmenistan – Internal Mediation

Jake: However, there is what was Girard would call internal mediators of desire, and this is what Burgis calls freshmanistan, like your freshman year of high school. That is where everyone is copying each other, their hair, their makeup, their clothes. They’re all looking around for a model of like, “Who is cool? Who should I be like?” This one– maybe ever, all your friends like the same girl or guy. What ends up happening is it becomes very zero sum then and conflict builds up. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a friend who copied you like so closely that it becomes weird. There’s a dynamic to it.

Scapegoat Mechanism

Eventually, all of this mimetic pressure gets built up, and then something has to be done to relieve it, and that’s where scapegoating comes in. The scapegoat tends to be a sacrifice that actually, we’ve had it– Girard calls it sacred violence. It’s like this clearing mechanism for mimetic pressure that gets built up. The Aztecs had human sacrifice. He would say Jesus was like a mimetic sacrifice. Think about Lord of the Flies are Mean Girls, or any of these iterations. Well, it’s always someone who’s part of the group that gets sacrificed, but they’re just outside of the group. It often ends up being like the king or a beggar, it’s on opposite ends of the spectrum. Those people are singled out to be sacrificed and relieve the pressure of this memetics.

Okay, all of that said, I was going to say, another reason for us to get canceled, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a little bit of the wokeism now is not some of that same mimetic pressures, and scapegoating, and canceling people. That is a very scapegoaty dynamic that I feel like we’re living in today.

All right, let me see if I can land this back to full circle thermodynamics. As you remember, fighting entropy requires outside energy. You have to have an open system. For us, thankfully, we have the sun that is always providing our little system on Earth with new energy that allows every single thing that’s making a living here is fighting entropy through the use of this energy from the sun. This is how you keep disorder at bay is with new energy.

Well, that is almost the external mediator of desire. It’s a little bit more like the Celebristan. It’s an open system, it’s not zero sum. There’s new energy coming in. Well, Freshmanistan is more like that internal close loop system that entropy builds up in, and eventually, enough entropy builds up, it gets cleared by what Girard would call like sacred violence. I’ve never seen anyone ever talk about trying to bring physics back to memetics. Maybe that count is still at zero. I’m not sure if I got it back. But yeah, so that’s mimetics and Girard.

Tobias: There’s two scenarios that we’re talking about this. One, Celebristan?

Jake: Yeah.

Tobias: Where you’re receiving your directions from an external third party who is well known to everybody, and it’s non-zero sum and probably the objective of most of it is to sell something too, so there’s going to be a lot of stuff there. Then, there’s another manifestation of it, which is early on in high school, where it’s not zero sum, it’s competitive, and that results in some kind of sacred violence. Some kind of bloodletting– Does that then allow the tribe to move on, or it’s just ongoing? How does that work?

Jake: Yeah, it allows the tribe to move on, the pressure is released, and now everyone can get back to– It’s like a resetting mechanism.

Tobias: Do you think that the social media has taken one version of it, which is the closed system, and then magnified it– so the high school version of it and then magnified that as if it’s like a broader issue?

Jake: I think it might be moving maybe to the other direction where you’re used to that outside non-zero sum, Michael Jordan selling Gatorade advertising, and now, it’s much more like– I feel like Instagram maybe especially, is more like people that you like– it’s almost you. They’re not full-full celebrities, but they are sending you or you are absorbing what they want, but they’re much closer to you. Then, the frequency of it, I think, is such a big difference to that. We have to be creating way more of mimetic pressure I would imagine with some of these systems.

Tobias: What do you think the outcome of that is? Does wokeism break itself as some of the critics say that it will?

Jake: I don’t know.

Tobias: Too far from investing?

Jake: You’re way over my– Yeah, way over my paygrade for that societal.

Tobias: How do you connect it back to investing? Sorry, I might have missed the landing being stuck.

Jake: Yeah, well, that makes two of us. I don’t know if it’s necessarily an investing thing. It could be. When you have memetics as a frame of one of your hammers in the bag, you do start to see it all over the place. It is like gravity in every human interaction. Studying businesses is often studying how humans interact, so I think it’s a useful tool to understand.

Tobias: Can you connect it to NFTs?

NFTs: The Future of Art Or A Waste Of Money?

Bill: Oh, NFTs, I think it’s fairly easy to connect. I think within investing, meme stocks in general are very– That’s like a direct steal, but I think if you look at accounts that have gotten big in stuff, people follow people into ideas. I struggle with how much of this is different versus how much of this used to just go on at– I paid a lot of money to go to this conference, and somebody really smart pitched me on this idea, and then I bring this idea out to my idea dinner, and now my idea dinner shares it with other people. I just wonder how much social media has turned this into the open versus how much not. I know it’s different. I’m not clear how different it is.

Jake: I think the degrees of separation now– a friend was telling me about this. Shoutout to Niall. It used to be that six degrees of separation was this common– that Kevin Bacon game or whatever. I think the degrees of separation have shrunk now. So, I think it’s just a denser network. Anything with a denser network will propagate anything through it faster.

Bill: Yeah.

Tobias: What’s the argument for NFTs as an investment class? [crosstalk]

Bill: I think it’s just digital art.

Jake: You’re trolling me right now, Toby. I’m not going to take the bait. That’s bait.

Tobias: [laughs]

Bill: I wish that I bought one of these Bored Apes. I love those things. I think they’re dope. It’s a way to flex on the internet and there’s some social agreement. I know the Board Ape that I would buy if I wanted one. I have a picture of it on my phone. I don’t share it. I would never make it my profile picture. It’s against the code. That’s fucking rude. I think that matters to some people. Now, people may say, that’s really stupid, but I think it’s stupid to spend a bunch of money on a Picasso. What’s more different? Something that I can actually flex to the world and everyone can see it or something that I have to masturbate over about in my house?

Jake: So, is that consumption or investment though?

Bill: Well, I’m not sure that it’s either. It can be both. I agree, it’s like a way to peacock but there’s no underlying cash flow. So, if you want to find investment is something that can pay you back, then I think you have to get into the artist rights and stuff like that. But those things are going to trade on the underlying cash flow. They’re going to trade on the ability to signal something to a crowd.

Beeple Sold An NFT For $69 Million

Tobias: Yeah, let’s separate out. So, non-fungible tokens, I do think that they probably do have some utility. I’ve seen guys selling them to conferences, and probably that makes a lot of sense. The pictures or the trading cards, I also understand that too, but the level that it’s got to where it’s like $5.5 million or whatever was paid for Beeples, it was $69 million for Beeples. Where’s that money coming from?

Jake: Wasn’t it Ethereum that were traded for it or something– [crosstalk]

Bill: Yeah, some of it is crypto millionaires. Probably, a lot of it is crypto millionaires.

Tobias: Is it money laundering?

Bill: Isn’t art always some form of money laundering?

Jake: [laughs]

Tobias: Well, but Sotheby’s has a know your customer requirement surely.

Bill: Yeah. I think that one of the biggest money laundering assets in the world is cash, and I do think that people are a little lazy when they start to say crypto is a money laundering asset and NFTs are too. I’m not willing to write it off as a money laundering scheme. I think this is something way, way bigger, and the people that are not paying attention to NFTs and crypto generally are probably the same people that thought the internet wouldn’t change the world. I think there’s something very real going on. Whether or not you want to participate is up to you. But I think the idea is–

Tobias: What’s the use case? What’s the utility?

Bill: I don’t know that people even know right now, but I know that as far as Bored Apes go, I think a lot of it has to do with just signaling on the internet. I think that means a lot to people. Whether or not it means something to somebody is debatable, and no one has to participate. I certainly wouldn’t expect the value crowd to understand it. People spend hundreds of millions of dollars on art that I think is worthless. How’s an NFT any different?

Jake: It’s an amazing thing to look at our species and say, “Wow, we’ve reached a level of affluence where we could put that much resource into something that is that subjective in value.” It’s not like, “God, I need to get a roof over my head and a meal. I haven’t eaten in weeks.” We’ve reached a level where we can sell each other digital shit. It’s cool in a way to be that affluent.

Bill: Yeah. Well, why does anybody drive a Range Rover? Why does anybody drive a Mercedes? Why does anybody do anything for status outside of anything? It’s digital art. But actually, there is something different about owning that particular NFT than looking at it on a screen, and whether or not certain groups of people value the ownership, I don’t think it really matters.

Jake: Does the lack of scarcity matter there though?

Bill: What do you mean?

Jake: Well, if you have that one Picasso and it’s in your private collection, no one gets to look at it unless you say they could look at it. Whereas this is like, I can go get the same artwork, bitmap, as whatever the real one is, I just technically don’t have– It’s not recorded in some blockchain somewhere that that’s mine. But the experience of viewing it is not much different.

Bill: Yeah, but you could presumably get a print of the Picasso or look at it on the internet. Unless it’s like this one Picasso that’s never seen the light of day.

Jake: Yeah, sure there are those private collections like that.

Bill: So, Beeple could generate art and sell it privately, and then discreetly issue in NFT, and people don’t ever have to see it. It can just go into a vault somewhere.

Jake: It’s like a Wu-Tang album.

Bill: Yeah. I think it’s just different. I think it makes people uncomfortable, but I don’t think that means that it’s crazy. That said, I don’t own any, but I do get it.

Tobias: My question is more related to the investment in it, because the way that I view it, it’s the tail end of a pretty speculative period and I’m not talking about the 10 years– I’m not only talking about the 10 years before, I’m talking since the March 2020 bottom, and just seems to me at this– [crosstalk]

Jake: I thought you’ll go back to 1973.

Tobias: [laughs] This story starts in 1850.

Jake: Yeah.

Tobias: It’s overpaying for something, because there’s people overpaid for these things already with the expectation that they’re going to make– You’re buying a lottery ticket, you’ve got this lottery ticket outcome likely. I think that the more likely these things bottom down a lot, like 99% or more, Beanie Baby type stuff.

Jake: It does-

Bill: I don’t know.

Jake: -feel Beanie Babyish, doesn’t it?

Bill: I assure you that the three of us are not the people that are qualified to comment on something like that.

Tobias: No one’s qualified to comment on this. What do you mean? This is what I do. I think about the value of stuff all the time.

Bill: Yeah, these fall outside of where I think your brain would naturally go anyway.

Tobias: It’s just another asset class. It’s like fine wine.

Bill: Okay.

Tobias: [crosstalk] whiskey.

Bill: Yeah.

Tobias: It’s like anything. These things do follow their own– It’s not like there are no rules and you can’t understand any of this stuff. It’s the same thing that’s happened over and over and over again with people pretending a little bit of technology makes a big difference. It doesn’t. Same shit, different day.

Bill: [crosstalk] yes.

Jake: [laughs] Different this time, Toby. Come on.

Bill: Well, my point is you don’t know it’s not. I don’t know. I don’t have a strong opinion. Frankly, I don’t give a shit. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care what my prediction is. What I do think is I think if you say this is a bubble, therefore it’s going to crash, and I don’t need to learn about it, that’s where I have a problem with thinking. Because I think that line– [crosstalk]

Tobias: How much do you know about art? How much do you know about–

Bill: Not much, but guess what. As an asset class, it’s performed pretty well. If this is truly digital art and people actually start to value it, it can actually make people money. Whether or not you want exposure to that asset class is a different question.

Tobias: I don’t think you have to kiss all the girls.

Bill: Yeah, well, that’s fine. So, don’t. But I don’t need to have an opinion on every girl either. I haven’t even dated this girl. I barely even know her. I just see an ape on the internet, and I like it, and I wish that I could buy it. If it was like a grand, I’d buy it. But it’s like a couple million bucks. I don’t have any–

NFT Copyright Misconceptions

Tobias: Why can’t you right click on it and download to your computer and make it your screensaver?

Bill: I won’t do it. It’s not right. That’s the wrong thing to do.

Tobias: But there’s no restriction against doing that.

Bill: It’s not right, man.

Tobias: It’s not copyright.

Bill: It’s not right.

Jake: So, where does that come for?

Bill: Every man has got to have a code.

Jake: [crosstalk] for your code for this?

Bill: I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do. It falls outside of my code of life. I think it breaks a rule that is unwritten and shouldn’t be broken.

Tobias: Is this code something that is discussed between people who own these things, like you shouldn’t right click on somebody else as they– It’s serious. I’m being serious.

Bill: No. I don’t know.

Tobias: It sounds like a joke, but it’s serious.

Bill: I haven’t paid the money to represent that that is– [crosstalk]

Jake: Never [crosstalk] like another ape.

Tobias: [laughs]

Bill: Well, I haven’t paid the money to represent that I have the right to use that ape. So, I’m not going to. I’ve [crosstalk] that I like this.

Tobias: Because let’s be very clear. What you’re paying for is not… it’s the receipt that says that you own that picture, and then that receipt is stored in a different place, and that’s what you paid for. Not the picture itself. Because the picture itself can be replicated over and over and over.

Bill: Yeah.

Tobias: The non-functional part is the receipt.

Bill: I don’t know, man. I don’t know. I disagree with you.

Tobias: That’s the definition of it.

Bill: It’s the right to use it. It’s like a social code and the right to use it. It’s the right to have it as your profile pic and to use it on the internet as if you own it.

Tobias: So, if you do own it, you would use it as your profile pic?

Bill: Oh, hell yeah.

Tobias: Okay, I see. So, you’re not using it because it’s not yours.

Jake: Can you sent it to me later. I just want to see what it is that you like so much. I’m not trolling. I honestly want to know what it looks like.

Bill: Yeah, sweet.

Jake: Are you hold it up right now?

Bill: Well, if I can find it real quick.

Jake: Okay.

Bill: See, I think this is okay because I’m saying this is somebody else’s ape that I happen to like.

Jake: Sure.

Bill: But if you get into– I do think the ownership conveys the right to use, and I think that using without the permission to me violates a code. I don’t like it.

Tobias: Using is a defined term under the copyright act that would outline what you’re allowed to use.

Bill: Okay, well, I only have– [crosstalk]

Tobias: [crosstalk] stuff, you’re allowed to do that.

Bill: I only have my own personal definition of uses. I haven’t run it by an attorney.

Jake: We’ve got two on the call right now.

Tobias: I’m not practicing. Never like to say it unless you’re practicing.

Jake: Thank God, it’s only two.

Bill: I’ve been pitched to invest in a digital horse stable. I will say digital horses are much better business than a–

Jake and Bill: Real horse. Yeah.

Bill: Forget a real horse.

Jake: Don’t get broken legs as much.

Bill: Yeah.

Are NFTs Changing The Music Industry?

Tobias: I saw someone in the comments was saying that, I can see the NFT’s being used for like a song where there is an income stream attached to the song and there are websites that you can go through to where you can see songs that are being auctioned off, so, you can derive the revenue stream from them? That makes sense.

Bill: Yeah, the idea that NFTs are going to be done with labels, I think, it is a joke. The way that I view a label is a label is part of the platform that enables a career. They turn hits into careers. If they’re going to do that for somebody, they’re going to own the rights to the NFT. I don’t buy this world where all these independent artists don’t need labels. I think it’s insane. I think you could argue to me that labels won’t generate any free cash flow, because the cost of artists will become so high. That, I’ll buy, but the idea that labels are going away is insane to me.

Tobias: It’s distribution. They’re going to provide that service.

Bill: Yeah.

Tobias: But if there’s somebody else to disintermediate some like, there’s some technology solution where you just upload your song, it starts getting lots of plays, distributed lots of platforms, you get one cent per thousand spins on Spotify or whatever.

Jake: Toby, [crosstalk] with your books, right? The book publishing industry versus self-publishing, kind of a similar thing, where they were taking too much of the economics relative to the value they were providing often.

Tobias: Now, Amazon takes all of those economics.

Jake: Yeah. [laughs]

Tobias: You do a little bit better self-publishing, but not much.

Jake: It’s a little better, but you’ve got to do all the work.

Tobias: But then, I think that the publishers could easily just be doing it on Amazon as well, and you’d have no idea.

Jake: That’s true.

Tobias: They could use Amazon for all of their fulfillment.

Bill: I just think in a world where everyone can release content, it becomes very, very hard to get yourself found consistently. That’s what I think the core job of labels is.

Tobias: There’s been some research on that. There’s an Australian researcher who created these three different universes. So, when you logged on to use a song, it’s website– [crosstalk]

Bill: Bang. Keep that ape?

Jake: That’s the one you like?

Bill: That dude is dope. Yeah, man, he’s got like bullets and shit. It’s dope.

Jake: Okay. It probably took someone like 12 minutes to draw that.

Bill: Now, they’ve got a 360 rendering of all the apes, which is even cooler.

Jake: Ooh.

Bill: Yeah.

Jake: Do you have to pay more for that?

Bill: I don’t think so. I think that just came as an upgrade.

Jake: Oof. All right.

How Do Hits Become Hits

Tobias: The function that might serve as is distributing and promoting stuff, that’s the legitimate function. This is the publishers I guess of music, or of books, or whatever. There’s been some research done by this Australian researcher. When you log into this website, you didn’t know– You’re put into one of three universes, just like randomly chosen. They had the same songs in each, but the trending songs were based on the people in your universe, and what they liked. To further support your argument, JT, they had completely different songs become more popular in each universe. It was an accident of what people heard and liked initially, and what bubbled up… and not successful in that little universe.

Jake: Yeah, there’s a good book on that called Hit Makers, I think, by Derek Thompson. He talks about how do things become hits. It’s pretty interesting.

Tobias: I think the most popular podcast ever was one on this guy who recorded a song in the mid-1990s or the early 2000s, something like that… at the time when music labels were making the absolute– So, it must have been mid-1990s, because they were making huge amounts of money, and there was no streaming going on. What they were doing was, they just released some songs that were like 50-50 on into a few regional markets, and then they’d let them go, and just see if this song picks up, and we’ll translate it across.

This guy lived in this market where he heard this song on high rotation, and he just remembered the song and it went into his brain, and he was with his wife or girlfriend in the car like 20 years later singing the song, and she’s like, “I’ve never heard that song.” He said, “How’s that possible?” He went trying to search for it, and he couldn’t find the name of the song, or the lyrics, or anything. But he had the lyrics memorized as you do when hears songs over and over. So, the podcast is about tracking down that song. I’ve given away the punchline but there’s a reason why it’s the number one podcast– It’s the number one single episode podcast in the world, I think. I’ve to look it up.

Jake: It wasn’t a Value: After Hours?

Tobias: No, surprisingly.

Bill: That’s a shame.

Tobias: Below thousand spins for us.

Bill: I just think with all this NFT stuff– Yeah, I’m just going to say value investors are not who are going to figure this out. They just aren’t. By definition of value investor, I think is just lives way too skeptical of life. You know what? They all may go to zero and value investors won’t get crushed. But I don’t perceive value investors as a group, myself included, to be people that figure out the future and where the future is going.

Tobias: Value investors buy lots of dumb shit for fun.

Bill: Yeah.

Tobias: It’s just whether they categorize the dumb shit they buy as an investment or whether it’s just dumb shit they spend money on. That’s a different question. You’re going to buy $100 million penthouse in New York City, you’re probably overpaying for it, but you’re thinking about it in different terms. You thinking about it, I’m going to show everybody that I’m a successful hedge fund guy, and this is a statement in NYC. That sort of stuff is going to go on all the time. That’s all this is.

Bill: Yeah, well, that is what it is a little bit. But I just don’t see how that’s much different than most art. It’s just very hard for me.

Tobias: I don’t think it is at all. I’m just saying that people tweet out stuff all the time and I look at how much their exposure– I saw something this morning. This guy’s got $3 to $4 million in– I can’t remember now where it was assets, but I think he might have had $752 million in NFTs. It made me a little bit nervous that just–

Bill: Well, he’ll either get crushed or he won’t. I don’t care at all what happens to him. I hope he’s happy-

Jake: I do.

Bill: -at the end of his life. I hope he doesn’t end up in a ditch crying about his NFT exposure. But whatever. People are free to do what they want with their money.

Tobias: No dispute. I still think that be overly careful spending lots of money on NFT’s.

Bill: Yeah, and I think probably, if you’re getting all your information on Twitter, that’s probably a source that is overly skewed to accepting the idea. So, maybe find some boomers to talk to for a counter opinion.

Tobias: Hit us with questions.

Bill: I basically am too.

Jake: Yeah.

Tobias: I’ve only recently learned that I’m a millennial or just get into millennial. It’s such bullshit. When I’ve been working for five or six years, they said there are these new people in the workforce. They’re coming through, get ready, they’re the millennials. They’re the ones who have all these unreasonable demands, and they don’t want to work and they don’t– I was like, “Oh, we’ve got to watch out for these guys when they come through.”

Jake: [laughs] And then they moved in, and you are one of them.

Tobias: I’m either millennial or the other guys, Gen X. When I was a kid, Reality Bites which came out 1994 when I was a kid, I was 13, 14, or 15, or something. That were totally different group of people to me too. I’ve got no idea. I’m not millennial or Generation X.

Jake: Yeah, both [crosstalk] that 80 to 82 which is I think we have our own little tiny subset apparently, I’ve heard. I don’t know.

Tobias: Yeah. Pre-internet and post– I don’t know, whatever. Post reality, but I’d say I’m not Gen X and I’m not millennial.

Jake: No.

Tobias: I think a millennial cut is 1979 or something weird like that. Hit us with the questions, dudes, if you got any? I saw that–

Bill: I haven’t heard [crosstalk] to the person that asked. It hasn’t been on my list yet. I tried to turn it on yesterday, and I was like, “I can’t take this.”

Jake: No good?

Bill: No, it’s not that. It was just the morning and I wasn’t ready for Kanye. It was a little too much. I have COVID. I was like I need to be high at night and listen to this.

Jake: Yeah, there you go.

Tobias: Did Stig convince you that Baba is a good buy? Hey, Bread, thanks for the $1.88 before too. I saw that go through. I just get to shout it out in the moment.

Jake: Now, they’re trolling us. [laughs]

China’s Widening Crackdown

Tobias: I think the argument we had– not the argument, but JT and I discussing it last week, it’s undervalued. The only question is how comfortable can you get with that regime? I think it’s an investment that you probably can make, but everybody’s got to make that decision for themselves.

Bill: This is interesting, because a bear could tell you that, and I know that I argued this just the past two weeks, but you can make an argument that China is now saying that they’re going to return capital back to the people, and that they’re not going to let these corporations keep the money. So, forget about my previous stances about the VIE structure and whether or not you can trust that. Now, it’s about whether or not the corporation has the right to actually have the cash. I don’t have a good idea of what’s going on, and I think people should follow Rui Ma if they want to. Rui spells her name R-U-I.

I think there’s an argument to be made that you can’t out value these stocks at all. Probabilistically, I don’t know what it is, but it’s interesting on the back of an NFTs comment to hear us say like, “Oh, well, Baba is undervalued.” Why? I’m not sure you have a claim to any of the cash. People would argue that you don’t.

Tobias: Well, that’s what I’m saying.

Jake: That’s a good question.

Tobias: If you take away that metaphysical risk or whatever it is, the thing is objectively undervalued on its financial statements. But you have a question that you have to resolve which is as a shareholder, whether you’re ultimately going to participate in that valuation or what you are rights are to that. The VIE is one issue. Then, there’s other just amorphous regulatory changes that China seems to make at the drop of a hat that will come in the future, one of which might be, “Yeah, we’ve just decided that you can’t have the cash, we’re paying out the cash.” That’s the thing you have to get comfortable with. That’s where–

I don’t know. You’ve got to go on a balance of probabilities, so you get buy a LEAP or there’s– I don’t own any Baba. I find it an interesting thing to consider. But that’s the problem. The issue is not is this thing undervalued. The issue is, what is your right to that valuation? What is your right to share the value?

Bill: Yeah. There some off balance sheet obligation to the government that you don’t see.

Jake: I don’t really see this being that dramatically different in the grand scheme of things as every value investment that has hair on it that you are trying to assess the probabilities of, shit, is this business going to– is it a going concern? Can they turn it around? Do they have assets enough to do it? It’s always the same that often existential crisis that you’re trying to nail down and get figured out. This is just a permutation of that.

Tobias: Yeah, I think I meant existential when I said metaphysical.

Bill: Yeah. I think that’s right.

Jake: It’s okay, we got you, tsetse.

Tobias: [laughs]

Bill: This guy, Success From Chess, has now asked the same question twice. It says, I believe Kindleberger’s “Manias, Panics and Crashes” made the point that surges in real estate often precede financial crises, so why do you see housing as a positive, and how confident are you? I guess I don’t really understand what he’s asking, because I just think that we have tight supply, bad housing stock, pretty good affordability, consumers’ balance sheets are as good as they’ve ever been, and outside of the sky will fall one day and real estate will lead it, I’m not sure how you come to a negative conclusion.

Jake: I think real estate has always been often the problem because it lends itself to leverage, and therefore, the damage that it can do gets more extreme. It’ll sweep the banking sector into it often.

Bill: Yeah. We’re structurally undersupplied right now. So, a price surge is just how capitalism works.

Jake: Right.

Tobias: The only thing that’s not obvious to me from that ALFRED chart is that we are in fact structurally undersupplied. It’s just not in that data, and I just wasn’t sure, and I don’t know where else to look. So, anybody let me know if you’ve got a better idea about this. But I just looked at–

Jake: Where’s Mike Mitchell?

Tobias: Yeah, we probably didn’t–

Bill: Well, talk to real estate people.

Tobias: I’m not going to ask the barber if I need a haircut.

Jake: [laughs]

Bill: Well, they also happen to be experts in their field.

Tobias: It’s always a good time to buy.

Bill: Yeah, well, some would argue the same for value guys.

Tobias: That’s true. It supposed to get– [crosstalk]

Bill: I know. It’s coming back.

Jake: [crosstalk]

Bill: Yeah, if you can ask anybody about anything they do–

Jake: In fairness, this group has not always been the ones pounding the table that value is the best value at different points, right?

Bill: Yeah. I think we all see the world a little differently, which is a good thing.

Tobias: That chart is just as not clear to me, because if you look at that chart from the Alfred website, there are these very distinct sawtooth patterns where we get up to some big boom, and we are making way too many houses, like 1.6 million or whatever it is, 1600, I don’t know how to interpret the numbers. But at the bottom, it collapses to like a quarter of that, and then it spends another decade or so kind of going back, and you can clearly see that the most recent ramp, it’s just much flatter, much slower trajectory, and [crosstalk] at the long run average of what we need to.

Bill: What are real estate inventory days? I bet they’re super tight right now. Call realtors and see how easy it is to put deals together. The real estate market– [crosstalk]

Tobias: But that would lend more an argument to his, because they would say, it’s red hot at the moment, wouldn’t they? It’s white hot.

Bill: Yeah, but the question is not whether or not that’s like– [crosstalk]

Jake: The sell or buy?

Bill: But the question isn’t whether or not that in and of itself is a sufficient indicator. The question is why is it that way? What I’m saying is when you have consumers whose balance sheets are as good as they’ve been, and loan to value ratios are not crazy, and you don’t have liar loan documents like we did in 2007, and you’re not just going out and just buying real estate because you can sign your name to something and you actually have to have supported documentation to do the deal, that’s different. That sounds to me like there’s a shortage. That sounds to me like when desirable assets hit the market, they go quick. But maybe I’m wrong. I’m fine being wrong.

Tobias: That’s what the peak of a bubble looks like too. That’s always the argument at the very top of the bubble. I’m saying that I don’t think that it is, but then that behavior makes me think that maybe we’re closer to it then.

Jake: Yeah, remember that this second day after peak, it’s just a tiny bit less amazing than it was the day before, right?

Bill: Yeah, thinking back to 2007, strippers aren’t buying [crosstalk] houses right now. It’s way different.

Tobias: They’re buying NFTs.

Bill: Yeah, okay. So, maybe that’s the bubble. That’s fine. But I don’t know. Maybe, I’m wrong. I don’t know. Short it. Fuck it. Let’s see. Nice thing about this game is the scorecard does the talking, the opinions don’t matter.

Tobias: All right, dudes. That’s time. I will see everybody next week. That was fun.

Jake: Sorry, I was late.

Bill: Have a good one. Enjoy Capital Camp, man.

Jake: I will.

Bill: Tell some peeps I say, hi.

Jake: I will.

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