After putting up a chart of the Dimson, Marsh and Staunton very thorough enumeration of buying every stock in the US, from 1899 to date showing that $1 grew rather steadily to 25507  (the 1929 and 2008 declines look like blips), my college roommate Jim Wynne, in the audience, who recently won the equivalent of the Nobel prize in engineering for inventing laser surgery asked, "how could you say buy and hold" which was sung beautifully by Tamra Paselk (to the tune of "Night and Day"), is great when stocks like Kodak and Xerox have fallen on such hard times or gone bust and so few of the Dow stocks of 1899 are here today.

the chart

the table

 I explained that the complete enumeration of the triumphal trio covers all bad and all good (they even take account of the total zero of Russian stocks in 1914 and China in 1944), and there are many bad and many good that make up the totality. But on the spot, I couldn't think of a physical example to show that taking one instance of an experiment, an anecdotal approach, the flash of one outlying proton in a collider, did not determine the average results, and that diversification of 12 stocks would give a correlation of 95% or so with the results of the trio.

What physical analogy should I have used to educate my erudite former roommate who is now working on a cure for skin cancer with the same lasers he used to create laser surgery.

Shane James writes: 

What about the growth a Sequoia Tree. More generally the Allometry involved. The tree grows out & up even though some branches fall by the wayside and die.

Pitt T. Maner adds: 

I would imagine that there are some biological curves under certain restrained conditions that could be overlain for effect and be quite memorable.

Bacterial growth curve

Or groundwater testing where pumps are turned on and off over intervals and cause drawdowns that quickly rebound once the pumps are turned off.

Victor Niederhoffer adds: 

As to the reason that it goes up 30,000 a century, I attribute it to the power of compounding along with the required rate of return on investments, and the amount that the entrepreneurs must pay the investor to obtain risk capital, with the spillover effect to publicly traded issues. Amazing a 9 % compounding leads to 200 times as much as a 5% compounding (from memory) after 100 years. That's why Asian stocks are so much better values than ours. 

Steve Ellison adds: 

An event that is vivid, such as the failure of a once-giant company, may not be at all representative. Consider airplane crashes, for example, which cause many to fear flying. At one moment in 2011, for example, over 5000 airplanes were airborne over the US. How many of them crashed? Probably none.

Similarly, 20 times as many people are killed by falling coconuts as by sharks. I'm still waiting for the movie Return of the Killer Coconuts.

Gary Rogan writes: 

The simplest, albeit imperfect, analogy seems to be the number of species on earth. It is estimated that over 98% of all known species are extinct and it's likely that well over 99% of all species that ever existed are extinct.

In addition to the constant relatively steady elimination of species there are mass extinctions:

"In the past 540 million years there have been five major events when over 50% of animal species died."

And yet, will all of that biodiversity has increased over time:

"Based on analyses of fossils, scientists estimate that marine biodiversity today is about twice the average level that existed over the past 600 million years, and that biodiversity among terrestrial organisms is about twice the average since life adapted to land about 440 million years ago. Fossil records also indicate that on average species exist for about 5 to 10 million years, which corresponds to an extinction rate of 0.1 to 1 species per million."





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