The psychology of the bagholder

Saturday, 29 March, Year 6 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

This article must absolutely open with the following Christos Ballas quote :

And here I have to go back over something. The harder part of the psychology is that the demo[graphic] doesn't want to become full time traders, either at home all day or on Wall Street -- that part must remain a fantasy -- because then it would be a job and it wouldn't count; it has to be a side gig, then their success wasn't their "work self" but their "real" self; no one else can claim a sliver of that success -- not the liberals with their "'entrepreneurs' just pretend they don't benefit from public services!" or the wives with their "behind every good man...!" or the echoes of their father yelling, "you need to apply to Sperry Rand, now there's a company you can put in forty years with!" It all happened in their head, no one else can share the credit, it is 100% a consequence of their personal value. Bonus: if they fail, it can be quickly discounted as merely a hobby -- that wasn't, after all, their real self.

The mistake is in thinking this has anything to do with the money. It's said that most at home traders fail, but this is incorrect: they fail at making money, but they are successful at feeling like a trader. That is the goal; the money is secondary, which is why they fail at making it. The buy/hold/reinvest the dividends strategy of Buffet is totally opposite to what's desired, because the strategy does not involve market timing or status updates, it is on autopilot, and there's no "i" in autopilot. Well, there's one, but it doesn't stand out.

I say it must because people, by which I mean actual people - sentient beings, mammals in charge of their own software stack - ofteni wonder how an entire class of behaviours is even possible in the first place. There you have it.

And now in practical terms : there once existed this thing called NeoBee. It pretended to be a Bitcoin business, but inasmuch as its purported CEO was not in #bitcoin-assets, it never stood a chance. This is a point oft neglected, but by far the best predictor of success or failure in the Bitcoin space : that channel is where the industry meets. If a purported business is not well represented in there, it is not well represented in the future, either.

Many thought they knew better (or simply did not have a clue), from Karpeles and Gibson to whatever random two bit nobody with delusions of grandeur. It shall never work, not for as long as I live but for as long as there's a Bitcoin. You're either there or you don't exist. You may still think you do exist, you may yet operate under the delusional notion that you still exist, but in point of fact you do not, a point of fact obvious to anyone but yourself, and a point of fact which will be soon forced upon yourself, too, once you run out of denial resources. Which never takes all that long.

Contrary to what Kaplin saysii, it's neither of those. It's simply this : some kid with nary a clue and the complete tableau of Kramer statsiii but a lot of self-confidence and a whole stack of manuals on how The Power of Affirmation works found out about Bitcoin, decided that Bitcoin is good (which is right) and that's all. That is all, a complete rehash of the vanity problemiv described earlier.

So what was the plan ? Why, allow me to quote Graham, he knows the plan. Like so :

By 1998, Yahoo was the beneficiary of a de facto Ponzi scheme. Investors were excited about the Internet. One reason they were excited was Yahoo's revenue growth. So they invested in new Internet startups. The startups then used the money to buy ads on Yahoo to get traffic. Which caused yet more revenue growth for Yahoo, and further convinced investors the Internet was worth investing in. When I realized this one day, sitting in my cubicle, I jumped up like Archimedes in his bathtub, except instead of "Eureka!" I was shouting "Sell!"

He's not selling now, in fact he's doing the exact opposite, much to his undying, indelible shame. Nevertheless, this is the story of NeoBee, in its entirety : kid thought that since Bitcoin is good he can just go ahead and buy half the ROP lines available during one day in one particular island, and then everything will fall into place. This was "the plan".

You don't need me to tell you how lulzy this plan is, anyone with a modicum of life experience can say the same thing. You may perhaps need me to see through what you're actually saying and reduce it to this, something "polite" people in the castrated part of the world may not be able to do. Nevertheless, this kid, like any other kid, like all the other pretend-CEOs and power-of-attraction "businessmen" and whatnot out there do not want - DO NOT WANT - to be told this. That's why they're not in #bitcoin-assets : not because they've not heard of it, they have, not because they consider it impotent, they do not. Quite on the contrary : the fresh air there is much, much too potent for their needs. Rat better stick to sewer, he figures.

But anyway : eventually the bubble ran out of steam, and the share price dropped abruptly. The bagholder reaction ? Typified by this anon derp :

The suspicious trading is all the dumping do the FUD being spread around on the internet. People think that anything goes on the internet, but if Neobee was a legit stock under the jurisdiction of the SEC, all the FUD spreaders on the internet would be locked up VERY QUICKLY for the crap they have been pulling recently. It's scum like this that are ruining bitcoin because they have a grudge. Or they just want to make easy money.

Neobee is doing the right thing. Freeze trading and let the panic settle down. And when they get the chance they will publish some real information (not baseless FUD) about the state of the company and we get back to investing like sane people.

The comment I made at the time read

Mar 28 22:49:33 mircea_popescu kids wanna accounting-fraud their own books (which they don't keep anyway) and woe unto anyone getting in their way.

Let's try and explain it. "Investing like sane people", what does that mean ? It means investing into things that go up, not into things that go down. Like sane people, amirite ? Because it'd be insane to invest into stocks that go down. The problem with this approach is that it reverses causality. A move in the past is viewed as sane or not sane function of a result in the future. Whom is such anti-thinking typical of ? Why, of course, Mr. Ballas' typical patient. This is psychosis, not reason at work here.

And the psychosis is reinforced, as usually is the case. Reinforcing pillar #1 is a quite plain rewriting of reality. Nobody ever heard of the SEC prosecuting whistle blowers, and in fact yahoo finance boards, to say nothing of a myriad others, are rife with the most insane nonsense. The claims made by our patient (for investor he is not) are quite trivially falsified, and quite patently false. But he doesn't care about that, because he has a need, he must support his psychosis, and so...

Reinforcing pillar #2 is at least as outlandish as #1. The suggestion is simply that halting trading in a depreciating stock is a rational move on this basis. Meanwhile, the function of exchanges is to facilitate price discovery, not to reinforce the bias of self-selected participants. In this sense, halting the trading of a stock that's depreciating is in no way different from halting the trading of a stock that's appreciating (not to mention that whenever derivatives are involved any appreciating symbol corresponds to depreciation in other symbols and vice-versa). The proposition that it's rational for an exchange to halt trading as a response to change is mind boggling, until you consider how it came to be.

You see, the psychotic patient has serious problems with reality. On one hand he has to somehow manage incredible feats of mental contortionism to reconcile his mental impactions with some subset of observable reality, and ignore the rest. On the other hand, he has to prevent change, of all kinds and types. If you will, he who is balancing a selection of items on his nose needs to a) be very good with balancing things and b) make sure nobody is pulling the rug, causing earthquakes and so on. Difficult tasks, each of these, but definitely in keeping with the opening quote.

And if you think this nuttery is in any way particular to the young, or to the poor, or to the mentally deficient, you are very much mistaken. Quoth Greenspun :

Reporters were making it sound like this was a dispute about ego and control. In a way that was true; Allen, Chip [Hazard], and Peter did not like being characterized as fools whose ignorance was costing the company $millions. But as far as Jin and I were concerned, the reporters' spin was not true. We'd have been delighted to be passive shareholders in a successful profitable company. What we didn't like was being passive shareholders in a company bleeding cash.


At this point you might ask "Hey, weren't you still on the Board?" Sure. But for most of this year Chip, Peter, and Allen didn't want to listen to me. They even developed a theory for why they didn't have to listen to me: I'd hurt their feelings by criticizing their performance and capabilities; self-esteem was the most important thing in running a business; ergo, because I was injuring their self-esteem it was better if they just turned a deaf ear. I'm not sure how much time these three guys had ever spent with engineers. Chuck Vest, the president of MIT, in a private communication to some faculty, once described MIT as "a no-praise zone". My first week as an electrical engineering and computer science graduate student I asked a professor for help with a problem. He talked to me for a bit and then said "You're having trouble with this problem because you don't know anything and you're not working very hard."


They were reluctant to get involved, saying that normally everything should be piped through the Greylock employee actually sitting on a portfolio company's board, in this case Chip Hazard, the very person whose lack of engineering experience was contributing to ArsDigita's bleed. Kaiser agreed to meet me, however, after a couple of weeks. We walked around the MIT campus for 30 minutes. When I explained the problems with the product and the financials, Kaiser said "Isn't it possible that this is just your opinion, that Allen and Chip would see it differently?"

Relativism. It was impressive in a way to see Protagoras's sophism alive and well after 2500 years. But the "all points of view are equally valid and supported only by someone's opinion" ignores the fact that it is easy to measure the correctness of business beliefs: some people are losing money and some are making money; some companies are gaining market share while others are losing market share.

It is safe to believe that if a clueless yet arrogant, incompetent yet vain, unable yet pretentious twit can make it as a partner with Greylock, such a clueless yet arrogant, incompetent yet vain, unable yet pretentious twit can make it anywhere. They won't deliver anything, of course, they won't perform worth a damn, bien sur, but somehow, magically, through the power of attraction or make-believe or stupidity or sucking cock or whatever the hell it is, they do manage to make it into almost any categorical position. They may not make it - ever - in company X run by someone competent, but they can sure as hell make it in "a company like X" or "in the market of X" and they definitely, absolutely and all too commonly can somehow make it as the boss of the competent guy.

Which brings us full circle : the crap these people believe, the mystical nonsense about self esteem and affirmation and attraction and whatnot does not promise performance in the sense of performance. It promises performance in the sense of the appearance of performance. And, what's more : that, it delivers! It may not be doing a damn for you, the bagholding "investor" that saw your participation devaluated by the market from 3 to 1.5 within a day and then the entire thing delisted, probably permanently. It may not be doing a damn thing for you, the customary bagholder for all these toy exchanges listing pseudo-assets that have, for the past three years, delivered a resounding 50% loss over half a year, across the board. But for them, for the goats of this world, it's working just fine.

The only question is, what are you going to do about it ? Are you going to join them, hiding from us ? Are you going to join us, pointing and laughing at them ? Or are you going to go back to work and let the Sun evaporate you for another go on the funatron ?


  1. Here's a shout-out to Stan. Does it make sense now ?

    It never runs out for the exact reason hydroelectric resources never run out : while apparently the operator of the plant is extracting "free energy" from the "foolishness" of water, nevertheless water is having fun during the entire ordeal. Painful, humiliating, abject as it may be, water does not care. Because water isn't a person, it's not sentient, it's not in control of the software stack it runs (which mostly reduces to gravity). And so the light of the Sun burns it into vapor, and the Coriolis winds settle it into precipitation, and then gravity forces it through the turbines and then the Sun and so on.

    Hydro plants are really solar plants, and scammers are psychiatrists, in exactly the manner cars are conveyances. The difference between that guy with an office and this guy with an office is purely a matter of fashion. []

  2. "NeoBee are either, depending on the people you ask either a giant scam looking to raise as much BTC as they can on the scam exchanges a la CaVirtEx before doing a runner with the cash or a totally legitimate operation who are going to protect Europeans and Cypriot citizens from further haircuts by using Bitcoin." []
  3. "No resources, no skill, no talent, no ability, no brains." []
  4. Problem 4 : Permeating all the foregoing and sufficiently so to become a problem in its own right is the incredible arrogance of the recently liberated corporate slavebois working as independent coders. Seriously, start working on the BTC securities trade system of the future without ever having worked for MPEx, without having humbly presented your inept ideas to the most grandiose master Mircea Popescu (ie, me), without anything like that ? O, why, because you’re a special little trainflake of brilliance and genius who can ? Really ?

    Reality doesn’t work that way. Not because I give a shit either way, but because the foregoing paragraph raised your blood pressure to the degree that it did. A sore ego, meanwhile festered problems of social integration, difficulties with internalizing one’s own place in the world make for very unstable individuals who then “cope with stress” in unstable ways. None of this contributes positively to credibility, and it is credibility alone upon which all of finance is built. []

Category: 3 ani experienta
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19 Responses

  1. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 30 March 2014


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