25 Jun 2009

Was Keynes a Good Investor?

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In a post chocked full of interesting tidbits, Scott Sumner reveals that Keynes as an investor got wiped out in 1920 but his father bailed him out. That changes everything, according to Sumner:

Don’t anyone write in and tell me that Keynes made lots of other good investments, because if you’ve got a rich backstop, none of that matters. Here’s what I’d do if Bill Gates was willing to lend me $3.57 billion dollars for a day:

I’d go to Vegas and put $5 million on numbers 1 through 34 on the roulette wheel. The odds are roughly 90% I’d win. If I did so, I’d win $180 million on a bet of $170 million. I repay the $3.57 billion and pocket my $10 million dollars and be rich for the rest of my life, clipping coupons. If numbers 35, 36, 0, or 00 came up I’d bet again, this time $100 million on each number 1 through 34. If I won, I’d receive $3.6 billion, repay Gates, and have $30 million dollars to spend for the rest of my life. The odds are nearly 99% that I’d win one of these two bets. Of course if both failed, I’d be in big trouble. But that’s not very likely is it?

What’s the point? If you have a rich backstop it’s relatively easy to come up with investment strategies that will usually (not always) make you look like a genius.) From now on I will never believe anyone who tells me that Keynes was a great investor.

Unfortunately, Sumner goes on to argue that if you disagree with him, you support Hitler, or something almost as silly. But overall, still an excellent post. See too his rating of Wilson versus Harding.

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