Charlie Munger’s Ten Commandments

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The internet brims with the “wit and wisdom” of Charles T. (Charlie) Munger, Sage of Omaha, who will celebrate his 100th birthday on January 1, 2024.

His magnum opus, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, will be reissued in abridged print and digital editions in November, 2023.

For decades Charlie has brought us insight, advice and philosophy, compounded and distilled over a near-century of observation, learning and thought.

And when Charlie has seen fit, because the matter is so clear, the need so great, the insight so simple and yet inobvious to the many, he has granted us what one might rightfully term “commandments,” which readers and listeners ignore at their peril.

Once absorbed and applied Charlie’s commandments can literally transform a life for, not unlike the Bible’s Ten Commandments, they guard and protect us from, as Charlie often says, “sin and folly.”

1. Thou Shalt Read

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time…none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren [Buffett] reads – at how much I read.  My children laugh at me.  They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”

“I am a biography nut myself and I think when you’re trying to teach the great concepts that work, it helps to tie them to the lives and personalities of the people who developed them.  That sounds funny, making friends among the eminent dead, but if you go through life making friends among the eminent dead who had the right ideas, I think it will work better for you in life and work better in education.  It’s way better than just giving the basic concepts.”

2. Thou Shalt Be Honest and Earnest in Thy Dealings

“Hard work, honesty, if you keep at it, will get you almost anything.”

“The most celebrated passage in de Senectitude is probably the following grand summary:

‘The best Armour of Old Age is a well-spent life preceding it; a Life employed in the Pursuit of useful Knowledge, in honorable Actions and the Practice of Virtue; in which he who labors to improve himself from his Youth, will in Age reap the happiest Fruits of them; not only because these never leave a Man, nor even in the extremist Old Age; but because a Conscience bearing Witness that our Life was well-spent, together with the Remembrance of past good Actions, yields an unspeakable Comfort to the Soul.’”

3. Thou Shalt Every Day Grow Wiser

“Spend each day getting a little wiser than you were when you woke up.  Discharge your duties faithfully and well.  Step by step you get ahead but not necessarily in fast spurts.  But you build discipline by preparing for the fast spurt.  Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day.  At the end of the day—if you live long enough—most people get what they deserve.”

4. Thou Shalt E’er Be Rational

“Recognize reality even when you don’t like it—especially when you don’t like it.”

“Recognize and adapt to the true nature of the world around you; don’t expect it to adapt to you.”

“If you can get really good at destroying your own wrong ideas, that is a great gift.”

“Better roughly right than precisely wrong.”

“The safest way to try to get what you want is to try to deserve what you want.”

5.  Thou Shalt Not Overspend Thine Income

“You think that your ‘little me’ is entitled to do what it wants and for instance why shouldn’t the true ‘little me’ overspend my income.  Well there once was a man who became the most famous composer in the world but he was utterly miserable most of the time.  One of the reasons was he always overspent his income—that was Mozart.  If Mozart can’t get by with this kind of asinine conduct I don’t think you should try.”

6. Thou Shalt Not By Thine Own Mind Be Fooled

7. Thou Shalt Early Gather $100,000 Though Thy Task Be Fraught

“The first $100,000 is a bitch.  But you gotta do it.  I don’t care what you have to do – if it means walking everywhere and not eating anything that wasn’t purchased with a coupon, find a way to get your hands on $100,000.  After that, you can ease off on the gas a little bit.”

[$100,000 compounded at 10%, without further contribution, in a tax-free account in the S&P 500 index over 40 years, grows to $5,197,786.61.  As Charlie often says, “It’s all so simple.”]

8. Thou Shalt Not Yield to Self-Pity

“Life will have blows, terrible blows, horrible blows, unfair blows.  It doesn’t matter.  Some people recover and others don’t.  There I think the attitude of Epictetus is the best.  He thought that every mischance in life was an opportunity to learn something and that your duty was not to be submerged in self-pity.  But instead to utilize the blow in a constructive fashion.  That is a very good idea.”

9. Thou Shalt Invert

“It is not enough to think problems through forward.  You must also think in reverse, much like the rustic who wanted to know where he was going to die so that he’d never go there.”

10. Thou Shalt Seek What Works and Repeat It

See: Munger: “Repeat what works”

See also, Charlie Munger and the Fundamental Algorithm of Life

Happy Centenary Charlie Munger

Bis 120! – Genesis 6:3