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You only have to get rich once

We should never risk something that we have and need for something that we don’t have and don’t need. But some people pull the trigger anyway.

This is what Warren Buffett said about the Long Term Capital Management affair:

Here are 16 extremely bright – and I do mean extremely bright – people at the top of LTCM. The average IQ among their top 16 people would probably be as high or higher than at any other organization you could find. And individually, they had decades of experience – collectively, centuries of experience – in the sort of securities in which LTCM was invested.

Moreover, they had a huge amount of their own money up – and probably a very high percentage of their net worth in almost every case. So here were super-bright, extremely experienced people, operating with their own money. And yet, in effect, on that day in September, they were broke. To me, that’s absolutely fascinating.

In fact, there’s a book with a great title – You only have to get rich once. It’s a great title, but not a very good book. (Walter Guttman wrote it many years ago.) But the title is right: You only have to get rich once.

Why do very bright people risk losing something that’s very important to them to gain something that’s totally unimportant? The added money has no utility whatsoever – and the money that was lost had enormous utility. And on top of that, their reputation gets tarnished and all of that sort of thing. So the gain/loss ration in any real sense is just incredible. Whenever a really bright person who has lost a lot of money goes broke, it’s because of leverage. It’s almost impossible to go broke without borrowed money in the equation.

Source: this blog, but that author lifted it from Seeking Wisdom, which is one of my favorite books!

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