Camp Kotok: Wall Street In The Woods

August 13, 2019

China Playing Different Game

Quite a few folks at this year’s Camp Kotok can legitimately be considered China experts. Several have spent their entire careers focused on the country. A few have written books on it. And while there was some discussion of the short-term economic impact of tit-for-tat tariffs and currency manipulations, the consensus was that China was playing a much, much longer game than the U.S.

I came away wondering whether the Chinese may actually be relishing the trade war, which has created a global distraction from the million Muslims in concentration camps, the cat-and-mouse game going on in the South China Sea or the threat of Chinese corporations to global infrastructure. And that’s to say nothing of what’s going on today in Hong Kong.

My Takeaway: I’m going to read far beyond the Google news headlines for my China coverage. China simply works on a different time scale, and under different rules than the rest of the world. To assume everything will magically be better the moment a trade deal is announced is likely a critical failure of imagination.

Politics—& People—Are Exhausting

As I mentioned, this is a diverse group. In the 2016 election year, discussions around politics dominated, and while incredibly civil and respectful, there were, shall we say, differences of opinion.

This year, the political discussions petered out quite quickly. It wasn’t disinterest that defused things, it was bone-penetrating exhaustion. Even folks I would’ve pegged as the most die-hard partisans seemed to have a hard time mounting a fervent defense of any politician or appointee. The opinions were still there, but the will seemed to have faded.

I feel the same way. Any thinking about policy for the last few years has been waylaid by a discussion of the people (in the nanosecond) uttering the policy.

My Takeaway: Ideas matter, and ideas last forever. People are ephemeral, and in the scope of history, a lot less relevant than the ideas. Here’s where I can make a small change in my day-to-day life that I think will really matter. I’m going to stop reading about people so much, and focus on ideas. Without having been able to articulate it, this is part of why I like stuff like Epsilon Theory and Datatrek and Alpha Architect and Newfound Research.


Off The Lake

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Camp Kotok—which is sort of the same takeaway every year—is that it’s so important to surround yourself with people who think differently. That can be making sure you have coffee once in a while with that one friend you argue with, or forcing yourself to network at a conference when you really just want to sleep, or engaging the other parents on the sidelines of the soccer game.

Everyone out there knows something you don’t know. Go out there and listen.

Contact Dave Nadig at [email protected]

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