The Narrative Game Ep. 3 – The Grift That Keeps On Giving

The Narrative Game Ep. 3 – The Grift That Keeps On Giving

August 16, 2020

Ben and Grant reconvene to discuss the broader changes evidenced by two very different presidential interviews, and the extraordinary ongoing escalation in the level of pure grift swamping the world – a situation which becomes seemingly more egregious with each passing day.

Chris Cornell’s level of happiness, the thoughts of Yogi Berra and Blaise Pascal and the damage that a mobster called Bobo could do to a man armed only with a bag of oranges are all referenced in an attempt to try and unravel the narratives du jour.

The Grant Williams Podcast
The Grant Williams Podcast
The Narrative Game Ep. 3 - The Grift That Keeps On Giving
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Dueling interviews with President Trump by two journalists with very different approaches, shameful PPE distribution shenanigans (complete with photo ops) and the farcical action in Kodak’s stock as it embraces cryptocurrency are all under discussion as Dr. Ben Hunt joins Grant for Episode 3 of The Narrative Game.

With the 1990 Stephen Frears classic, The Grifters as backdrop, Ben picks apart much of the grift which coarses through Washington and the upper echelons of the business community.

 

Grant Williams:

Before we get going, here’s the bit where I remind you that nothing we discussed during The Narrative Game should be considered as investment advice. This conversation is for informational and hopefully entertainment purposes only. So, while we hope you find it both informative and entertaining, please do your own research or speak to a financial advisor before putting a dime of your money into these crazy markets. And now, on with the show. Well, Ben, it’s good to talk to you again. You’ve been kind of isolated up there in rural Connecticut for a while.

Ben Hunt:

Oh, man. Grant, first of all, it’s great to be talking again. We were going to record this, I think a week ago. But, here we are in the woods of Connecticut, and we get hit by a tropical storm. And which seems kind of funny, right? A tropical storm, up in Connecticut. But we were without electricity, internet of course. We were without cell phone coverage for a full week. A full week, in the year of our Lord 2020 in Connecticut an hour outside of New York City, a week.

Grant Williams:

It’s amazing. I mean, it really is amazing. But what was the problem?

Ben Hunt:

Oh, both rank incompetence and what I think we’re seeing happen with entrenched monopolies or oligarchies everywhere. In this case, it’s a power company, of course. The CEO made $11 million cash last year. And they raised their rates two weeks ago, because golly, they got to get theirs. And then when this tropical storm was predicted to hit, they decided to make the bet that it would be a dud, it wasn’t. And so, they failed to provide the thing that they’re supposed to provide in exchange for getting a monopoly in providing electricity. It’s the same old story Grant.

Grant Williams:

Yeah. I mean, was the same as I guess, PG&E, we had out in the West Coast last year, right? Similar kind of debacle.

Ben Hunt:

Yeah. Exactly the same thing. It’s the privatization of public utilities. Things that are truly public goods that have to be provided in this sort of, I’ll call it monopoly-like fashion. You can’t have multiple companies, investing whatever it costs to put in the infrastructure for last mile electricity distribution. And yet, because we’ve privatized now these companies, and we’ve allowed management of these companies to become fiefdoms for generational wealth development. You end up like with the PG&E tragedy, you end up with this not a tragedy, but it was a darn inconvenience here. It’s a betrayal. It’s a betrayal of the public trust, it’s a betrayal of the public good. It’s a betrayal of our country. And it happens big and small, in an accelerating fashion.

Grant Williams:

Well, that’s a perfect setup actually, for what I want to talk to you about. And this is why I contacted you last week about something he wrote. But before we get to that. And I want to talk about griff because you’ve put out a spectacular piece of it out.

Ben Hunt:

Thank you.

Grant Williams:

But before I talked about that, there’s something else that kind of hijacked my thoughts in between. And that was a video you posted of the briefly ubiquitous Jonathan Swan interview of President Trump, for Axios, I think it was last week. And I think you posted this clip and said that, “There’s nothing here to say. I just couldn’t think of anything to say about that.”

Ben Hunt:

Yeah. I was just sad. It’s just made me sad.

Grant Williams:

Yeah, exactly. And I watched it and I felt similarly, but I made a point in a tweet, about the complete loss of respect for the office. And obviously I got piled on as you do, by both sides. And you actually also replied saying, “That was the furthest thing from what I know.” And instead of getting into that, I want to talk to you about it now, because my point in doing that was, what I think you saw in the video and what everybody saw in the video was obvious. It was plain to see, the now commonplace obfuscation and just nonsense that we’ve become used to in this modern age.

Ben Hunt:

From the President of the United States.

Grant Williams:

Yeah. And then you came back to me and asked me about my thoughts on the Chris Wallace interview. What did I think? And I purposely left that for this because I wanted to talk to you about it so, we could kind of share this conversation because, I’m interested in-

Ben Hunt:

But if I could just interrupt.

Grant Williams:

No, please.

Ben Hunt:

Grant just for the audience listening then. Your point about process of the interview, that the interviewer Jonathan Swan, clearly the eye rolls and [inaudible 00:05:51]. Your point was in the, I’m not going to use the word decorum because that sounds too fuddy-duddy. And wasn’t the point you were trying to make. The point I think you’re trying to make, and I think its accurate. It just wasn’t on my mind when I was watching the videos on yours, was that we’re now in this world where the eye rolls and the-

Grant Williams:

Hammocks aspiration.

Ben Hunt:

Yeah. This is what we are now. And so it wasn’t that I thought your observation was wrong. And in fact, it was striking to me that until somebody calls it out, we’ve become so inured to all of this that we don’t realize, “Hey, this is really different. This is really different from the way it was not so long ago.” It’s the other Twitter internet meme, “I’m old enough to remember.” Well, if you’re more than four or five years old, you’re old enough to remember when it wasn’t like this. And so I thought your point was spot on. It was just, that wasn’t what I was thinking about when I was watching it. And I think intentionally, both sides they try to make it so that’s not what you’re thinking about. But I was curious because the Chris Wallace interview of Donald Trump, which I don’t know if you read. All of the attributes of this are so interesting to me for example, the very low-slung chair that Donald Trump sat in for both interview-

Grant Williams:

It’s almost like a child in a school [crosstalk 00:07:38].

Ben Hunt:

It’s like a child chair. And honestly, this was not selected by Fox or Axios. It was selected by the White House, by Trump himself as what he wanted to sit in to present himself in a certain way. And I’ve written notes about this before. I mean, he sits in these low-slung chairs, spreads his knees, put his hands behind the knees, forms this little inverted pyramid shaped with his hands. This is all intentional. And this is all part of the process by which, in this case, the President wants to present himself. And in response, we get how the interviewers want to present themselves.

Ben Hunt:

And I just find it so fascinating. And I hadn’t really thought about it in this context until you raised it. So, that does bring me into my question though which is, the Fox interview with Chris Wallace, which have some similar kind of, I’ll call it contentious moments around the tests you took for your mental competence. And Trump was, I took a test. I know what the word for an elephant is and I can remember three words in order. So, that’s the question, what did you think of that interview? And was it something about Jonathan Swan that was particularly noticeable on this for you?

Grant Williams:

And this is what was so interesting to me when you brought that out. It immediate took me back to Chris Wallace, because I actually thought Chris Wallace was every bit as confrontational as Swan, except he did it in a much better way. Because I was just exasperated with Swan in end, I was like, “You’re just overplaying your hand here.” They’re only eye rolling, the confused faces and all that stuff. I’m watching that and I’m thinking, stop it. You’re making great points. But just obscuring this little kind of vaudeville act you’re putting on. And I went back and I listened to the interview again.

Grant Williams:

And I just took it out of my mind that it was Trump. I was like, this is somebody interviewing a guest. And when you listen to it without watching it, all you hear is the interviewer, not at any point allow the interviewee to finish a point. He just talks over him interrupts, contests everything. And it’s such a wasted opportunity, because in all the interviews I’ve seen, Trump does the interviewers work for them for most of the time. If you actually let the guys speak, he will do more for your cause most of than you will by interrupting him. And so, I went back and watched Chris Wallace again. And Chris Wallace, pushed back, as you said, on a number of points, but did so-

Ben Hunt:

Very effectively.

Grant Williams:

Very effectively and very respectfully. And he didn’t make it about him, he made it about the questions. And he was composed, and comported. And I just found there’re so much more effective way when you almost use the expected deference to the office in your favor by being deferential and confrontation at the same time. It’s just so much more powerful than being a cheap vaudeville act.

Ben Hunt:

So, here’s where I’m going to agree and I’m going to disagree with you, Grant. And I’m going to use an example from my own writing. And I bet you’ve had similar experiences in your own writing. Where I’m going to disagree with you is when you say, it’s more powerful. And what I mean by that is for all the reaction in the press and after the Chris Wallace interview, that interview didn’t get the play, it didn’t. And when I say powerful, I’m just saying in just objective terms.

Ben Hunt:

Think of these interviews as pebbles you drop in a puddle. The Chris Wallace interview in terms of the wave that it made, was okay, but small. The wave dropping the Jonathan Swan, Axios interview was much larger. And I think it was because of Swans mugging for the camera, for the theater, the theatrical in which it was presented. So, I think it was more powerful. Now, both for a matter of taste, which is a small thing, but also for a matter of truthfulness with a capital T. Which is not a small thing, which is a very important thing.

Grant Williams:

Certainly used to be.

Ben Hunt:

It used to be and this is going to be right. Then I thought the Chris Wallace interview was a better interview. The experience I had just recently, I was writing this most recent Grifters note. And there’s a section in there where I talked about Honeywell, one of the main corporations that makes the N95 medical respirators. The N95 masks and the way that the Honeywell has played ball with the White House, to give their facilities as a backdrop for Trump to make essentially campaign speeches, and photo ops, and the light. And in the original draft of that note, I had a whole section about the Honeywell CEO’s compensation package. Which is as you might expect from any rational perspective, egregious.

Ben Hunt:

Honeywell stock trades that call it 160 bucks a share. And he’s been CEO and chairman for three years, the last three years, he’s been given over 600,000 options on Honeywell stock. This is something that, if he plays his card rights, the options last for 10 years. This can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to him. And not to mention the restricted stock units, the free stock. The man has never used his own money to buy a single share of Honeywell stock in his life. And he sells it every year. Last year, he sold seven and a half million dollars worth of the stock that was given to him. This year, so far, he sold $4 million worth of stock. This is on top of six to $10 million in cash compensation.

Ben Hunt:

I had this whole section about it. And Rusty is my partner in Epsilon Theory, and we read each other’s notes before we publish them. And Rusty said, “Look, it’s an amazing note, it’s going to be so popular and it’ll be a blockbuster. But I got to ask you, why are you calling out the Honeywell CEO, in this note? Why are you going through your version of theatrics Ben?” Because that’s my version of theatrics. And I stopped and I thought and I said, “You know what? You’re right, I know this section that I just wrote would be extremely popular.” People eat this shit up Grant, you know this, right?

Ben Hunt:

Where you talk about the greedy CEO who’s getting 600,000 options granted to him. And it’s just like, are you kidding me? But it wasn’t directly pertinent to the story I was trying to tell about the political grift around in N95 mask production and distribution this country. And so, I ended up taking it out. And I know in my heart that taking it out, addition by subtraction, Yogi Berra used to say, made the piece stronger and more truthful with a capital T. What I also know is that I lost a whole group of readers who would have been enraged and attracted by that theatricalness that I had inserted into the note.

Ben Hunt:

And I can’t help myself sometimes but to put it in there. I’m really fortunate, I’ve got a partner like Rusty who can say, “ Really is this who we want to be? To kind of set up this theatrical, Oh here are the bad people with a capital B and a capital P?” And the answer is no, that’s not who we want to be. But damn, if it isn’t powerful, if it isn’t effective in making the content that you create and I create. It’s hard, man.

Grant Williams:

It’s really hard. And every time I sit down to write I remember that Blaise Pascal quote “If I had time, I would have written you a shorter letter.” Which I think for anyone that writes, it’s such a perfect quote. Because that comes about if you had more time, you would subtract rather than add, because you tend to put all this stuff down. And it’s only going through that you realize, I could tighten up here, I could tighten up there. But when he talked about theatrics and losing those views and stuff, that’s exactly what I was thinking about when you were talking about the Jonathan Swan interview versus the Chris Wallace interview in terms of the reception received.

Grant Williams:

And that is such a perfect example of what’s become important. It’s not the substance of that interview but it’s the reaction to it. And of course, as I like to think of myself as a level headed observer of these things, and I try very, very hard not to let politics cloud when I think about these things. I try and watch all these things with as much dispassion as I can, is the substance that’s important, which is why I just look past all the Jonathan Swan marking and Trump’s just some of those ridiculous things he said, and the chants he was pulling out.

Grant Williams:

I just past at what I’m watching. And I just found that the Chris Wallace thing, so much more meaningful to me simply because I’m watching someone hold someone’s feet to the fire, in what was a much more calm, much more elegant way, which I find paints the person whose feet you’re trying to hold to the fire in a much worse light, and does a much more effective job of it. But your point is absolutely right, it received a fraction of the cover. The Swan’s did. And so it’s just another example of that kind of hollowing out of everything that used to be meaningful, or important, or carry weight, is just slowly being replaced by clicks, and likes, and views, and reaction.

Ben Hunt:

Yeah. That’s right, Grant. And it’s not that this was never the case. Effective politicians have always known this, effective entertainers and providers of popular culture we’ve always known this. But the difference today is, I think, two fold. First is, everybody’s in on the act. Meaning that what does it mean to be a successful CEO? It means being able to tell the story about your company, to tell the style and it presented in a winning style, as opposed to whatever it is, you’re actually doing. What is it that makes an effective central banker? It’s, again, telling the right story. And having the winning style as opposed to substance. And everybody who is successful now realize, okay, this is the game we have to play.

Ben Hunt:

So, I think that’s issue number one that everyone’s in on the act. And then issue number two, is that this is the, I think, the most powerful impact of our changes in technology. That the fact that we carry around Little dopamine machines with us all the time, in the form of our smartphones, that’s what they are. I’ve had this conversation before, they’re little dopamine machines. And so, when we have this dopamine economy, well by God, the world is going to supply that dopamine. And that’s what these things do. That’s what it means to have that winning style. Are you providing dopamine to your audience? And if you do, you’re going to be successful, and if you don’t you’re going to be kicked to the roadside in favor of someone who will. It’s this marriage of okay, this is the new economy, these are the new addiction devices that everyone has. So, that’s the way the world’s going to work.

Grant Williams:

This does bring us nicely to the main subject at hand this week, which is this grift that you highlighted there but stayed away from in that particular letter. Because again, it wraps all the things that we spoke about, it wraps narrative, it wraps in the new cycle, it wraps in outrage. It wraps in all these things that kind of become more and more transitory by the episode it seems. And the first one of these that you highlighted, which was what really made me want to talk to you was the Kodak situation. Now perhaps you could just talk about that and also what it was about that after you more than anybody, I think been observing this stuff and pointing out, but what made you start to write The Grifters series. And just explain and there will be people that haven’t seen that masterpiece of a movie. So, perhaps you can just wrap the whole thing into a nice little bundle for people.

Ben Hunt:

Sure. So, The Grifters is a phenomenal movie. John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening who was nominated for an Academy Award for performance there. And is about the world of con men and con women, because everyone in the movie is a grifter. Maybe they’re working on a long con, a short con. Maybe they’re working for the mob, maybe they’re working for themselves. But they are all confidence game players. And it’s a movie that’s both funny and sad as it’s based on an amazing novel. Anyway for my money is the best movie that has ever been made about confidence games.

Grant Williams:

I can hear David Mamet bashing himself in the head right now.

Ben Hunt:

Right. There’s a scene in that movie where it’s just horrific and its psychological violence, where the mob boss has had one of his money laundering schemes interrupted by Angelica Houston, one of The Grifters. So, he terrorizes her by threatening her with this brutal punishment, which is used in insurance scams apparently. You put oranges or grapefruits wrap them up in a towel and you just beat the crap out of somebody. And it leaves these big, awful looking bruises. But if you do it right, it doesn’t do any serious damage to the person who’s getting beat up. But if you don’t do it right, if you’re a little careless, and you’re hitting somebody with this big bag of oranges it messes you up for life. As Bobo, the mob boss says, “Yeah, you won’t shit right for the rest of your life.”

Ben Hunt:

And like I said it’s a scene of intense psychological violence. And it just struck me that we are all living in this ocean of grift, where every day we… And again, we just become inured to it. It’s not just the theatricalness of our world that we become inured to. It’s just the daily outrages of fraud, and cons, and big and little, long and short. We’re just swimming in this ocean of it. And I just was so taken back by the Kodak episode where the U.S. government made a $765 million non-recourse, non-securitized loan to Kodak to do something that Kodak has never done before, just because they’re politically connected. $765 million, here you go guys have fun. And then there were the stock shenanigans around that. It was just such an egregious example of just being hit again by the sack of oranges and just, here’s another bruise. That was my hook, The Grifters movie and getting hit by a sack of oranges. And he was my verse, the first verse, the Kodak, “Loan,” to this politically connected but… This ridiculous example of just thievery right?

Grant Williams:

Yeah.

Ben Hunt:

And it is striking, this does play back to what we talked about earlier. So, you know what? I’m going to write a whole series of notes about this. The one I wrote this week was about the political grift around N95 masks, masks that doctors, and nurses, and EMTs, and you use to protect yourself from COVID. And the way that the mask are being hoarded, the masks are being not distributed where they need to go. It literally is a crime.

Grant Williams:

And the deeper you get into that piece that you wrote this week the worse thing as I was reading it, you just get more and more angry about the whole thing. When got down into the photo ops and you realize it’s [crosstalk 00:26:08].

Ben Hunt:

You do. Oh my God, it is literally unbelievable. And yet, here’s the thing, Grant, here’s what going to tie back, so it’s a kind of a question for you. There’s been a nice response to The Grifters piece about the N95 masks. And I’m so proud of that note. The Kodak note took me a day to write it. Frankly, Kodak is not as big of a betrayal. It’s not as big of a grift as the N95 mask issue is. The Kodak is a much smaller thing.

Ben Hunt:

And yet that Kodak note was much more popular. There was something about it that was much more theatrical. It was much more Jonathan Swan, than the most recent note, which was more Chris Wallace. And I’ve been trying to figure out what was the chord that the Kodak note plot in its popular reaction versus the N95 mask? I’ve got an idea, but let me throw it of to you. Let me ask you the question.

Grant Williams:

Yeah, let me guess. I would think two things. One is a household name company. And even though 3M and Honeywell are household names, literally they provide household products. Kodak is something with which people are familiar. The second is the share price chart. And you can show people a picture and say, “Hey, look at this.” And they go, “What the hell happened there?” That will be that would be my guess as to why.

Ben Hunt:

I think that’s exactly it. I think that we have become so deadened to, Oh, another White House kind of con job, yawn. Whereas here what do you mean that there was 30 times the trading and Kodak stock the day before this announcement. What do you mean that the CEO was given one point something million shares of stock the day before the announcement was made? I’m certain that’s what it was. There was something about that immediacy, the visceralness of, here are the villains and here’s how they made money in this event. It’s just not the same when you’re talking about a much bigger and actually much more injurious con game that’s being played in America, which is the N95 mask. It didn’t have that theatricalness to it, right?

Grant Williams:

No, absolutely not.

Ben Hunt:

So, I just been running this over in my head, Grant, because the next chapter I want to write on The Grifters is the grip that happens around U.S. banks. And in particular the recent legislation, it came out with the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Protection Act. There these clauses in there that allow banks to extend, and pretend on their loan books. It’s just so egregious. It allows them to take non-performing loans and put them in what’s called a deferred loan bucket. Where you don’t have to put the same sort of reserves against them. You don’t have to raise capital. It’s all there again to bail out or protect banks and the people who own them. And it’s just naked. It’s just [inaudible 00:29:54]. It doesn’t have to Hawk

Grant Williams:

Again it’s all about, I keep referring to this as the Andre Agassi economy. It images everything. And we get to that point where the thinking around that is if we can keep the non performing loan numbers low then everything’s okay because people aren’t going to freak out. So, how do we keep the numbers low? I doesn’t matter that you got a non-performing loans, we just mustn’t let people see that number, because if they see the number they’ll panic. If they don’t see the number life will carry on.

Ben Hunt:

Right. That was like testing and coronavirus. Well it’s not that the actual real world cases are going to go away if you test less, but the image will be less.

Grant Williams:

I mean, how does it change. Because-

Ben Hunt:

How doesn’t change? I don’t know.

Grant Williams:

When get here very, very incrementally, but it seems to be almost as if the memo is kind of got through, and people now understand that we kind of accidentally started doing this on a small scale with people not wishing to look bad. And then it became companies not wishing to look bad, and then it came countries not wishing to look bad. But we’ve now kind of accidentally got here and we realized that it images everything. And as long as things don’t optically look bad, you can convince people that they’re okay. Is there anything that ultimately can break that because that really resonates with the economy and the stock market given the coronavirus damage. I mean optically, the stock market looks okay. So, therefore, everything else must be okay, when anyone with any degree of sanctions will know that’s not the case.

Ben Hunt:

I’m pausing here because I’ve been thinking literally about nothing else for the last two weeks.

Grant Williams:

In the dark for the last seven days.

Ben Hunt:

In the last two week, exactly. Another kind of vignette on this. So, I was in the car where of course I have electricity. And I was listening the radio, and some serious channel and they were doing some posthumous interview with Chris Cornell. I don’t know if Chris Cornell, he was the-

Grant Williams:

I know very well who he is, yeah.

Ben Hunt:

He is the lead singer, songwriter for like Soundgarden. And he was talking about the song that they were about to play. And the song was Fell on Black Days. He was saying, “What was this all about?” He said, “Well, I was sitting in my flat, and I was just thinking. I’m not as happy right now, as I was this exact day, a year ago or two years ago. So it’s not like I had some big trauma that happened to me. It’s not like some event occurred to lower my station in life or my standard of living a lie. But I just all of a sudden realized, ‘Hey, things are not as good for me right now, as they were a year ago.’ It just kind of happened.”

Ben Hunt:

And I think we’re all kind of coming to that realization. And obviously, there’s been a trauma that COVID and the like. But it’s more than that. It’s to your point about how you watch that interview with Jonathan Swan and you kind of, “Wait a second, how did we get here? How did we get to this?” And I’m thinking about that so much these days? How did we get to this, whether we’re talking about medical protective equipment provision to people, whether we’re talking about companies and the way they do business, whether we’re talking about the way we have our lives, whether we talk about carrying around these dopamine machines with us all the time.

Ben Hunt:

Wait a second, how did we come to this? And you’re asking the right question is okay, well, all right, here we are. Where do we go from here? Can we go back to a time when we weren’t addicts to our dopamine machines? And to the where not just discourse but everything about our social lives at big levels. The social life of our country and politics and markets, to the social lives of our families and in our interaction with our friends. And I don’t think we do go back. And that’s why I think that the only response to this is to find little pockets of realness. People, human beings, it can start with your family, it brawn from that, who you don’t think of an instrumental terms. Who you don’t think of in terms of, okay, what dopamine are you providing for me today.

Ben Hunt:

And the only way out of this that I can come up with is to start with these bottom up efforts to help a neighbor, to support your family and your friends, to support your neighbors, to support strangers who are part of your community. I can’t tell you how much my personal life has changed from doing this PBE project of trying to get the masks and connect with people who need them, and then give them to them. And then writing with Epsilon Theory and finding people like you Grant and finding that community. I don’t know, man, this the only thing that keeps me going.

Grant Williams:

Yeah, no, I hear. It’s got that fainter and that’s why when I see the Kodak thing. I’m someone with a degree of understanding of the world of finance, am outraged on one level, just by the sheer chicanery of the whole thing. And that raise another level and perhaps for me a much more intense level by the fact that it’s done so brazenly, because it’s that brazen attitude as though well, either no one’s going to understand what we’re doing. Which is to ridicule those who do understand it, or it’s no one’s going to care, which is probably more accurate. Or more troubling to me no one’s going to do anything about it, even if they do realize.

Grant Williams:

And that last part is the bit that I find the most troubling because everywhere you look now, whether it’s looters believing that well the police aren’t come near us, we can just loot with abandon, and they’ve been proven absolutely right. Or it’s the slap on the wrist for Elon Musk for his funding securable $20 million fine, and your stock goes up by $30 billion afterwards. It’s big and small, it’s this is this total lack of any accountability. I think when I sit and think about this stuff, that really troubles me because as soon as you lose that, you’re on the way to what essentially is going to be a lawless society.

Ben Hunt:

Yeah, I wrote a note about sociopathy because that’s what it is. Is essentially institutionalized sociopathy, where everything is seen in instrumental terms. Every human being is seen in instrumental terms, not as a human being in and of themselves and that plays out. So, the laws don’t really matter. I mean, they’re part of a cost to benefit analysis, not something that you should follow because it is right to not steal. This is going to sound really weird, but when you read the writings of, I know this can sound hopelessly silly, but St. Augustine, who was a worldly guy living in Italy, dealing with Rome. And he’s in the life.

Ben Hunt:

And he decides that, or whatever you want to ascribe his conversion, to rethinking what his role and what society should be about. He leaves, it’s not that you can find some top down political solution to this. And I think this is so right, that this is never going to change from the top down. It’s never going to change from finding another sociopathic billionaire to come in and fix it. It can only happen, I think, over a period of decades, maybe centuries. And all I know to do right now is to distance myself. And that includes physical distancing. Augustine moves to freaking North Africa, to get away from Rome, and all that entailed.

Ben Hunt:

And so we have to find our distance that there is a physical nature to that even more, so it’s our technological distance is finding that space where the sociopath are not able to intrude on you, to push their messages on you. And then to find more and more, start with your family, start with a couple of friends. Find ways to build these, we call them packs. Where you are looking out for each other, were you’re not treating each other as a means to an end, but as ends in themselves. That’s all I know to do Grant. And as a result, so many things that I used to take great pleasure in like, trying to figure out the markets. I don’t enjoy it anymore.

Ben Hunt:

There’s no there, there to markets. They’re not connected at all to real world economies, and businesses, and the like. It’s like watching a football game, which I guess I can enjoy as entertainment. But football games are presented to me as entertainment, sports are presented to me as entertainment. The market is not presented to me as entertainment. And it’s not supposed to be entertainment. But that’s what’s been transformed into.

Grant Williams:

Yeah, I mean, since the markets is mostly known the Harlem Globetrotters. I mean, it’s entertaining but the Washington Generals ain’t going to win. It’s that’s simple. But I despair sometimes. Like you I try and find bits of quiet. In fact, I was just talking to someone over email, a good friend of mine. He’d kind of got off the radar, and I was checking with him and he normally answers emails very quickly. And it took him a few days to get back and I thought, he’s okay. And he came back and said, “I’m just sorry, it took me so long. I’m just taking some time to be away, and I’m not checking my phone. And I’m just quiet and still and just thinking in a place out in the middle of nowhere.”

Grant Williams:

And I thought that’s probably the way forward. Is to try and find that time, whether it’s a few days, or a few hours, or a few minutes even, to just try and remove yourself from this stuff. And reading your notes they perform too probably very critical functions. They make you understand how pissed off you really ought to be. And sometimes I don’t think people realize quite the extent of this grift and how upset they should be. Because if the anger level was appropriate, we would see an awful lot of things happening and I don’t think would be very pleasant to watch. But there make you realize just how endemic it is and how almost impossible it feels like right now it’s going to be to shift and make a change.

Ben Hunt:

Well, a couple of things on that. And this is what I tried to do it in the writing. And I think it’s something that I hope to communicate to people. I really do think it’s possible to be both incredibly angry which I am. I’m seething with rage, I’m. Burn it the fuck down. I really feel that right. At the same time, I think it’s also possible to combine anger with empathy. Anger doesn’t have to be part of I got mine jack or my team is going to beat your team. It doesn’t have to be part of a top down blue versus red, or in Rome the greens versus the whites versus the different chariot teams. It is possible to combine anger with empathy, and to extend that in the idea of finding your distance, whether that’s physical, or emotional, or technological.

Ben Hunt:

I think that is crucial for everyone in their own way. But the issue and I keep wrestling with this is what a luxury it is to have the wherewithal to find that distance. And I don’t know what to do about the fact that billions of people don’t have that luxury to distance themselves from this egregiously corrupt system that has developed over a period of decades, that’s always been there, but is now even more accelerated and entrenched. What can we do for them? I mean, I feel so, not small but I feel so inadequate to say, “Oh, I’m going to go off to North Africa to look at Rome from this distance and write about it, and maybe 1000 years it will make a difference.” That feels so inadequate and yet, for me, I think that’s what I can do to try to help wherever I can, in a much more immediate physical sense.

Ben Hunt:

But I just feel like we’re at a place in history where it’s not possible to do something that changes it. I really feel like it has to be covert and subversive before it can be overt and have whatever, a new constitutional convention. So, I say it’s all I can think about. And I’m plagued by these senses of inadequacy, because there is a luxurious part of this, the ability to distance myself when I know that most people can’t. Anyway, I’m rambling at this point.

Grant Williams:

No, no. I think before it can even be covert, it has to be understood. And so I think what you do with your writing is help people understand it, because a lot of the anger that I think people feel is they just don’t know what it is they are upset about. And there is this feeling that the system is not working for me, personally, and there’s a lot of people it isn’t working for. And as a few people, it’s working very, very well. We’re pulling it down to the point 1%. And the rest is way too simple.

Grant Williams:

And it doesn’t give people the right outlet for that sense of injustice. Because what can you do? How do you go and vent your anger at Jeff Bezos? How do you that? Boycott Amazon, we can’t do that. Do you do stand outside his house with a banner, that’s not really going to help you. There’s no real way to do it. But I think by helping people to understand just how entrenched this culture I won’t say has become, but is becoming is more of a service I suspect than that it probably feels like in the moment.

Ben Hunt:

Thank you for saying that. I really do hope and I know that COVID makes it difficult that everyone listening to this can find ways to connect with their pack. Whatever that means to whoever’s listening to this, they could be family, it can be friends. It can be small, it can be large, but to find ways to participate politically. And by political participation, I don’t mean voting. Voting is the least important part of your political participation. Your political participation is what you do to help your community to provide the things that politics is supposed to provide. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Ben Hunt:

And what can each of us as individuals do in our small way. I tell you, it’s everything, it seems small, but the small actions of building community and neighbors, it’s everything. Is finding an alternative to the entertainment of markets and elections that we are peppered with every day. I know it seems small, and I feel those feelings of inadequacy a lot as well. But I really believe in my heart of hearts that that is not just all we can do. It’s what really matters. It’s what will really change things over time. Anyway, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Grant Williams:

Well, listen, it’s a superb way to wrap up what was yet another fascinating hour. I love having these kinds of conversations. And oftentimes, it’s just you and me going around in circles trying to figure stuff out. If you don’t do that, what chance have you got?

Ben Hunt:

Right on brother.

Grant Williams:

I mean, there’s so much to try and process. And unfortunately people struggle to do that a lot these days. Because instantly, either politics, or religion, or something gets in the way of actually just sitting down with someone and kind of kicking ideas around. And trying to understand things better. So, thanks for all you do with Epsilon Theory. And I’m sure there will be somehow people out there that aren’t familiar with that, allow me to do the plug for you to save you [crosstalk 00:49:47]. But for those of you out there that who aren’t familiar with Ben’s work, you’ll find out a lot more about it at Epsilon Theory, the website epsilontheory.com.

Grant Williams:

It is in my view, absolutely essential reading. The work that Ben and his partner Rusty do is unlike anything you’ll find out there and remarkably educational. And it will make you think about yourself and about the world around you. Unlike anything else, you’ll find this remotely connected with finance. So, I would urge you to seek that out and then devour as much of it as you can. In the meantime, all that’s left really, I guess is to thank you for listening to us. Ben, thanks to you, as always for this. We’ll do it again at some point soon. But I’ll leave your Twitter handle to you, how’s that? You tell people how they can find you on Twitter.

Ben Hunt:

I’m all Epsilon Theory all the time. So, @EpsilonTheory. Thank you, Grant for all that you do, and let’s get back on the air.

Grant Williams:

Let’s do it. Folks thanks for listening, and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye-bye.

Ben Hunt:

Thanks.

Grant Williams:

Nothing we discussed during The Narrative Game should be considered as investment advice. This conversation is for informational and hopefully entertainment purposes only. So, while we hope you find it both informative and entertaining, please do your own research or speak to a financial advisor before putting a dime of your money into these crazy markets.

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