A recent Morningstar article shares highlights and insights from an interview with Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger in which the investing legend drew parallels between investing and evolutionary biology.
Here are some key takeaways:
Think biologically when it comes to investing. Over the long term, American companies behave like biology, Munger argued—that is, they will eventually die as new things emerge. “That is what the long-term investment climate is,” he said, citing department stores and newspapers as examples. “They have their time, and then they get clobbered.” Munger explained that rapid technological advances like we are experiencing in today’s environment creates what he calls “competitive destruction”— “You have the finest buggy whip factory and all of a sudden in comes this little horseless carriage. And before too many years go by, your buggy whip business is dead. You either get into a different business or you’re dead—you’re destroyed. It happens again and again and again.”
Successful investing involves buying something that is worth more than you’re paying. Munger noted that you can accomplish this by either being on the cutting edge of change (i.e. Apple and Google) or by avoiding change, citing Berkshire’s ownership of Burlington Northern railroad— “who is going to create another trunk railroad?” he quipped.
Retail “is not going to go away,” but is a difficult place to make money because of “what the internet has done.” New technology and e-commerce will continue to be disruptive and destructive to many retail businesses, Munger said. “It is changing the world. It will hurt a lot of people.”
Technology can increase efficiency without necessarily increasing profitability. “All of the advantages from great improvements are going to flow through to the customers. It’s such a simple idea. It’s so basic. And yet it’s so often forgotten,” Munger asserted.