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Most references to long-term thinking are just Marxist delusions

These days, we've heard the phrase "long-term thinking" from Elon Musk and his fans. But I am running – and many of you must be running – to various arguments where the opponents refer to the "long-term thinking" and "long-term visions" very often.

Just to be sure: I am not saying that there is a universal law or a logical argument that would imply that "long-term thinking" must always be an excuse for Marxist delusions. I am not even saying that I am avoiding references to "long-term thinking", "long-term perspective", "long-term visions", and so on. Each of us, including your humble correspondent, often has to distinguish the perspectives associated with short and long timescales.

But yes, I am saying that in more than 90% of the real-world situations in which "long-term thinking" is used as an argument or a slogan meant to settle a controversial issue, the users of that phrase are Marxists or very analogously deluded leftists who just don't have a clue how the world works (or who pretend not to have a clue) or people who suffer from a totalitarian megalomania or more ordinary people who simply want to justify their laziness.




The spectrum of examples is extremely diverse but the problems with the "long-term argumentation" are always analogous. The main problem is, of course, that the users of the "long-term phrases" want to abolish vital "short-term" check and balances – they want to make sure that people are funded without conditions, without limitations, without strings attached.




But every system on Earth that "works" for the people is like a D-brane: is has strings attached. The pressures, conditions, checks, and balances are absolutely critical to push (or motivate) the people to do things that are useful – in the case of business, things that are useful for the consumers and/or the rest of the mankind. When you abandon these pressures, conditions, checks, and balances, the system loses the power to improve itself and/or the immunity against the deterioration.

You know, one identity that the "long-term ideologues" don't seem to understand is that\[

\int_{0}^{\infty}\!\!\! f(x)\,dx = \sum_{n=0}^\infty \int_{n}^{n+1} \!\!\! f(x)\,dx.

\] You know, the integral of a smooth function \(f(x)\) over the whole semi-infinite future (real positive numbers \(x\)) – which is the "long-term quantity" – is the sum of the integrals over the intervals whose length is one – these are the "short-term contributions". I kindly ask the Internet users who don't understand the identity above to stop reading right now, in order to avoid unconstructive exchanges. Thank you very much! ;-)

Well, OK, I realize that some people who misunderstand the identity kept on reading, anyway. But I ask you to try to understand the identity or hide that you kept on reading or perfectly pretend that you are smarter or humbler, in order to reduce the avoidable waste of our time. Thank you very much once again.

The reason why I mentioned the identity is that if everything sucks in each short-term period, e.g. if \(f(x)\lt 0\) for every \(x\in (n,n+1)\) for every \(n\in\ZZ^{+0}\), then it sucks for all \(x\geq 0\): it sucks in the long run, too. So things should better not universally suck in the short run.

Now, despite the fact that the 10% Tesla price jump caused by his fraudulent tweet was erased in two days, Elon Musk sees himself – because his fans support him in this ludicrous picture – as God of a sort, the most important man in the world that is revolutionizing the life on Earth. So why should such a God be affected by some complaints by mortals? Such as the Tesla shareholders who expected the profit in the most recent quarter because that profit has been promised by Musk in several previous quarterly conferences?

Or why should such a genius be even affected by the pests known as the shortsellers who dare to say that Tesla Inc. is overvalued by more than one order of magnitude? Or even by the SEC that is probably going to complain that he just rightfully robbed the evil shortsellers of $1.3 billion by such a clever "420" tweet? This is so ludicrous, isn't it? Gods – and there is really just one God, Elon Musk – should stand above the laws and above everyone else, right? Even Gene Day says so. He should get $72 billion or $72 trillion to play with, there should be no strings attached, and no one should have any right to talk let alone distract him. That's how we build a better world.

You know, the funny thing is that Elon Musk has directly or indirectly collected tens of billions of dollars from some people – lenders and Tesla investors – and those happen to be the people on Earth who are maximally willing to believe Musk's claims that the most recent failures don't matter because one has to adopt the long-term thinking and Musk must be believed to improve the life on Earth in the long term.

So if even these people start to be impatient, you know, there could be a serious problem. Musk is pretty much guaranteed to face less patient people outside the set of the investors who are long Tesla – all of those could be classified as brainwashed Musk's fans. Well, of course, if there is a Saudi prince who just donates $72 billion to Musk and who is a more loyal fan than the average member of the current Musk cult, it would be even better for Musk! But if a Saudi National Fund bought Tesla, I am pretty sure that they would demand the right to crucify Musk as soon as they're dissatisfied with him in any way.

Musk complains that the quarterly conferences impose the short-term thinking on Musk and Tesla. Why does it matter that Tesla was unprofitable in a quarter? Why are pedo guys allowed to save children and why are analysts allowed to ask boring, boneheaded questions? You know, a fact that is being hidden in these rhetorical questions is that Tesla has produced a loss in every single fudging year in its 15-year-long existence.

Now, let's ask: Is the critical evaluation of the profits of a company in a 15-year-long period an example of a short-term thinking, or a long-term thinking? Well, it might depend on the company. Some companies really produce mundane things, like bread, that shouldn't need more than 15 years to be settled, to produce the eternal profit after a temporary period of losses. Other companies may plan the colonization of Mars which could reasonably demand more or much more than 15 years. So again, it depends on the kind of the company.



But we're talking about a specific company, a company producing electric cars. For an electric car company, is 15 years a "short-term perspective" or a "long-term perspective"? I am sorry but almost like bread, electric cars are examples of a mundane product. Are electric cars a state-of-the-art, high-tech product resulting from the most recent technology?

Not really. The first electric motor – see the picture above – was built by Thomas Davenport in 1834 (the history was a bit more complex but this blog post isn't about these details). It is almost 200 years ago. Gradually, every year, there have been some improvements to the electric motors and their usage. Similar comments apply to batteries – they have been around for 200 years, too.

Luxurious electric cars have been mass-produced and sold for more than 100 years – watch a video about Jay Leno's Baker electric car, for example. They're really as old as cars with combustion engines. All the other parts that a modern electric car needs are old – comparable to a century or older – too.

You know, even electric cars that were the tools for virtue signalling – assets that millions of leftists have used to prove that they were environmentally friendly – have been mass-produced for decades, too. In particular, let me mention that Tesla Model S,X,3 aren't the first cars that are considered "the" car by the brainwashed masses of leftists. Toyota Prius has been produced since 1997 – that's the year when I came to the U.S. Californian and similar leftists simply needed to have it. Just a decade ago, Toyota Prius played a similar role in politicized discussions about cars as Tesla plays today. It's still being produced but it has become largely irrelevant – no one talks about Prius today, just like no one will talk about Tesla Models S,X,3 in 2025.

(In the long term, Toyota Prius and the Tesla models will be irrelevant, and so will be the Bitcoin. The discussion of the HODLers' irrational belief that "Bitcoin [or a particular current altcoin] is an investment in the extreme long run" could occupy a separate article. Many things would be analogous to the examples I discuss in this blog post.)

Now, relatively to Toyota Prius, the current Tesla cars are newer basically by two decades. Of course they can be a bit sexier or better performing. There has been a 20-year-long window for some improvements. But there exists absolutely no reason why you should be waiting for a very long time – time longer than 15 years – before the production of a similar car becomes profitable. It just makes no sense. And if Tesla really becomes profitable later in 2018, there's no reason why you should expect this outcome to continue for a decade or more. Of course a competitor may beat Tesla in 2019 or 2020 – simply because the optimization of a new model is a job for a year or two, not for a decade.

In other companies, proponents of new products would face big challenges if their pet ideas continued to produce billions in losses for several years. Musk's fans think that 15 years of losses have been just fine. And he's still dissatisfied with their average patience. They're not sufficiently patient, he thinks. It is just utterly insane. You're not colonizing Mars, Musk. Tesla Model 3 is just another generic model of an electric car. Something like bread. Or a chocolate bar.

The pressure to make a profit – and similarly, the pressure to write papers – is surely inconvenient for the person who is supposed to have "obligations". I surely enjoyed the three years in the Harvard Society of Fellows during which I had no formal duties at all, except for attending dinners and lunches where we had to chat with other fellows from many disciplines. It is a great setup, of course. More precisely, it was a great setup for us. The people who are chosen are supposed to be good and motivated enough not to abuse the setup, and they usually don't abuse it or don't turn themselves off.

But if you extended this setup from 3 years to 15 years or 50 years and offered it to everyone or almost everyone, of course you would get terrible results. What you would get would be equivalent to communism, a society where the natural pressures that motivate people to do good things have been erased. An overwhelming majority of the people would abuse the setup to do as little as possible. If a system allows the people to be parasites, be sure that almost all the people would behave as parasites. It's a sign of complete insanity to believe otherwise.

An intelligent person needs just pure thought to figure out that a parasitism-allowing system like communism will produce omnipresent parasitism. But even if you claimed that the pure thought isn't enough, well, we also have a huge amount of empirical evidence. Communism has erased some 90% of the HDPs of the countries that were being crippled by it, relatively to where they would be if they had avoided communism. That system just doesn't work. It's amazing that this rudimentary fact is still misunderstood by a sizable part of the Western civilization.

So the quarterly checks and balances are unpleasant – just like exams and tests are unpleasant for most schoolkids (they were mostly unpleasant for me, too, despite the fact that I did much better than the average pupils). But if someone proposes that the right way is to erase all tests, all checks and balances, all filters, all selection, he is an unhinged communist. Of course the system that he advocates will lead to a general deterioration.

At schools, from the kids' perspective, grades suck, testing sucks, exams suck, transcripts suck, the final exams suck, and all such things suck. But an essential point is that the system, if it is supposed to produce any good result, simply mustn't be designed to be maximally convenient for the kids. The kids are supposed to learn something, get somewhere, and they are naturally lazy and uncurious etc. in too many cases. Of course there must be pressures. The kids' convenience isn't quite the same thing as the desired result – in fact, they are negatively correlated. Education crackpots such as Mr Milan Hejný don't understand any of this. They really want to make all education optional and remove all (discriminating) grades and other pressures. Bad implications are guaranteed.

Similarly, a typical manager of a company would generally love communism. He would only work (only) as much as he wants, and he would get all the money for his work that he wants, and no one would ever be giving him a hard time. If you established this "subsidized freedom", well, the result would be that almost all the managers would produce almost no good results and they would take the maximum amount of money they would be offered. Of course it can't work.

Every test or every conference about the financial results takes place on a particular day. A day is a rather short period of time – the conferences are usually even shorter than that – so such conferences may be dismissed as "short-term events". But if remove these "short-term events" in each day that has been reserved for these events, you remove them in the long term, too! Things will suck in the long term, too. Just look at the integral identity at the top again.

Now, exactly analogous comments hold for scientific research. You must have heard all these fifth-class "researchers" similar to Lee Smolin and Sabine Hossenfelder who complain about short-term pressures, the need to report some results after as little as 3 years (as postdocs or faculty), and stuff like that. Again, like Musk, they hide that that they have been doing these things for decades and they still haven't produced anything valuable. They have produced reviews (of not really good physics), incoherent speculations, crackpottery, and defenses of other crackpots. Nothing makes sense. There are no results there, for 15 or 40 years.

At serious places, a postdoc really is supposed to publish at least some papers during a 3-year period, papers that look interesting to others. Is that a requirement that eliminates most of the true geniuses? Give me a break. If someone really can't write anything that looks intelligent and interesting for 3 years, then it's rather unlikely that he or she will be able to write something stunningly good after 30 years.

The correlation between the results of the latest 3 years on one side – and the expected results of the subsequent 30 years on the other side – is certainly imperfect. They're not the same thing. But this correlation is very strong, anyway. If you are deciding how to invest your resources to build a better future – e.g. better scientific advances – you simply have to use some criteria to pick the right allocation. And the criteria based on the observations of similar quantities in recent 3 years are surely better – because the correlation is higher – than the criteria based on someone's self-promotion and his or her ability to repeat clichés about the evils of the short-term thinking.

Finally, as I said, the most relevant timescale depends on the context. The timescale needed to colonize Mars is much longer than the timescale to produce another model of an electric car. Should we work with all these timescales? Or are there cutoffs? Well, some people surely do work at a very short time-scale. They really produce some work a day after day. Most people also live from a salary to another salary. Every day, they are being verified that they have done enough work and this work may be repetitive.

Others – some bosses – may create long-term visions and they are being vetted less frequently. But can this timescale be sent to infinity?

I just don't think so. If anyone – or any company or society – does plan things in quite some detail, the planning shouldn't be much longer than some 20 years or so. Plans that attempt to outline the precise form of the company, society, nation, or the world in 2070 or 2120 (or even a more distant future) are fantasies. No one can know what the company, society, nation, or the world will look like in this distant future. Lots of companies will be gone or reorganized, nations may be gone, the priorities of the mankind may be completely different in 2070 or 2120 than they are today.

The most important cutoff is the human life expectancy. At the end, you may really plan your own life only. Other people who will live after you are unlikely to take your planning too seriously. Unless you are a big time sociopath, of course, like Karl Marx. In that case, millions of perverts will take your delusions seriously even 200 years after your birth.

In particular, people who want to plan the carbon emissions and similar things for the next 50 or 100 years are just extreme Marxist loons. Not even the old-fashioned Marxists – who controlled a third of the world for half a century – have suffered from such an insane megalomania. Those only followed 5-year plans (which were almost never fulfilled). Whether the people in 2040 or later will be emitting CO2, and how much, will clearly be up to them. Well, the outcome will depend on their free will as well as on tons of objective parameters describing the whole period of time between today and that future moment. A majority of the people who are currently alive will be dead in 2070. The society will be different. Even the current people who will still be around will probably have very different views than they have today.

They will find some rules "how much CO2 they should emit" written in 2018 to be absolutely irrelevant. Why should they listen to some mostly people from 2018? Or the opinions of the people who are alive from the time when they were less experienced by 50 long years? It makes absolute no sense. There's no point in making any detailed planning for 50 years in advance. Only really sensitive and deep advances, like the U.S. constitution, may be taken seriously for centuries. Technical details can't be.

I am not saying that one can't or shouldn't think about the long-term future, or about some projects that will really need a very long, centennial or longer, timescale to be completed. But one must understand that this thinking will always be a speculation of a sort – it will be at most a possible recipe that the future people may like and be inspired by; and the planned long-term outcome may materialize if several shorter-term periods will collaborate with each other and build on the previous results; or the thinking about the distant future may be a good prediction that observes how the mankind tends to behave and derives some accurate enough consequences. But you can't command the mankind of the future.

Again, there exist rare cases in which references to the long-term thinking are justifiable, useful, or wise. But a very large majority of the arguments using the "long-term thinking" as a weapon are just fancy incarnations of an unrealistic utopia, a Marxist megalomania, or the ordinary human convenience and laziness.

And that's the memo.

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