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Healthcare Irony

The news is out – Atul Gawande is to lead the new Berkshire/Amazon/JP Morgan health initiative.

I love most of what Buffett says, I’ve been to Omaha and read the books. A few years ago someone in the audience at the Berkshire meeting asked if they were aware how bad sugar was. The response from Buffett was something along the lines of how happy people were at DQ and how few smiles he sees at Whole Foods, and that he himself is 40% Coca-Cola by weight as he drinks so much of it.

Sitting in the audience I thought of how it would sound if you just replaced sugar with cigarettes, and if Buffett had said something like he “loves cigarettes because they make you smile and he’s 40% Marlboro by weight”. And, yes, Buffett is quoted in Barbarians at the Gate saying this:

I’ll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It cost a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It’s addictive. And there’s a fantastic brand loyalty.

Because this equally applies to sugar, it’s a wonderful investment. I was randomly thinking about the Berkshire sugar investments last night and came up with this:

 Room TemperatureCold
LiquidHeinzCoca-Cola
SolidSees CandyDQ

With my investment hat on I love this too, but knowing people who’ve had cancer or diabetes it’s horrendous. The leap from sugar to cancer or T2 diabetes may come as a shock, especially if you’re versed in the “calories and exercise” theory of obesity (which has no actual evidence behind it). So the irony is that perhaps the people who’ve most profited off of bad eating decisions is leading the charge to reduce costs of the fallout. By the way, Charlie Munger is losing eyesight in his remaining eye. I’d bet this is a result of diabetic retinopathy which is a direct result of diabetes/metabolic syndrome which is just sugar intake. Of course I could be wrong.

I was struck by a quote in The Magic Pill (which is on Netflix by the way). Two quotes actually. The first was that essentially all noncommunicable disease is caused by carbohydrates and primarily sugar. This turns out to be true from all the research I’ve done. The second was multiple people being quoted saying “it can’t be that simple!”

This resonates from my youth when I was sure the government was responsible for all my problems, and that more free money was the answer. All the smart people I knew read The Economist, which I hated. Every story in that thing talked about a problem, talked about how a market didn’t exist or was broken, and then how a market would fix it. I was absolutely certain it couldn’t possibly be that simple… until I figured out it usually was.

A friend of mine in psychology said once that she didn’t like working with smart people because they’d agree about whatever psychological problem they had and the remedy, but then having proved it to themselves never do anything about it or just argue about it every session. Whereas, those not as smart would do the work, and prove whether it worked or not via the results. I see exactly the same thing on sugar and many other topics, my smarter friends tend to put a lot of faith in doctors or “science” as a theoretical concept as opposed to how it actually gets done. They’ll agree or debate endlessly rather than do the research or try things themselves. For some reason I find this deeply troubling.

It’s the difference between investing in sugar (so making money), and writing blog posts about how bad it is. The same moral quandary that some people struggle with in The China Hustle. Some of these guys try to sound the alarm on fraud and some just try to make more money. I notice that Michael Crichton tended to sound the alarm once he had money too, and became a personal hero for writing Travels.

Incidentally, the magic pill documentary describes how aboriginal people in Australia died after we convinced them that Coca-Cola was a great breakfast for toddlers. This exactly parallels what Vilhjalmur Stefansson documented in his 1960 book, which details what happened to the Eskimo when we convinced them that eating fish was a bad idea (I’m not kidding).

In any case, don’t eat sugar.

 

Social Media

Scrolling social media, I’m reminded of this scene in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire:

She’s engaged. Make everything about that. What kind of dress is she gonna wear? – floggings. What’s the cake gonna look like? – executions. Whose gonna be there? – fear. Blanket coverage. Shove it in their faces.”

It’s startlingly accurate. As I scroll today, this is what I see:

  • Smiling faces at dinner
  • Government is going to kill you by taking away healthcare
  • Someone graduating college
  • Debt is at an all-time high
  • A beautiful picture of a morning sky
  • Buy this Bluetooth echocardiogram chest strap in case you have a heart attack

 

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