Sunday, June 24, 2018

Portnoy, The Geometry of Wealth

Brian Portnoy, director of investment education at Virtus Investment Partners, has written a personal finance book that goes beyond mere finance. The Geometry of Wealth: How to Shape a Life of Money and Meaning (Harriman House, 2018) approaches the subject by way of three shapes: the circle, purpose; the triangle, priorities; and the square, tactics. The circle exemplifies how we navigate life’s ups and downs, through the back-and-forth of defining and then adapting. Portnoy imagines two triangles. The first one has risk management at its base, spending and saving decisions in the middle, and big dreams at the top. The second triangle is intended to be a bridge between planning priorities and investment decisions. At its base is behavior, then comes portfolio management, and finally individual parts of portfolios at the apex. As for tactics, the four corners of the square represent the growth we hope to achieve, the emotional pain of achieving those gains, fit (“how additional decisions improve or undermine what you already own”), and flexibility.

Portnoy addresses the sources of a joyful life because, as he writes, “if wealth is defined as funded contentment, then we need to know what we’re supposed to be funding.” He suggests four such sources: the need to belong, the need to direct one’s own destiny, the need to be good at something worthwhile, and the need for a purpose outside of one’s self.

But can we afford a meaningful life? “Purpose and prosperity,” he acknowledges, “aren’t necessarily a match for each other.” We need the wherewithal to “underwrite meaning and become truly wealthy.” And so we have to set priorities—priorities such as being less wrong rather than being more right, immunizing our liabilities before maximizing our assets, and addressing psychological vagaries.

Tactics is “the part where we strive for decent outcomes.” And where Portnoy looks at how to be a successful investor, with particular reference to returns, volatility, correlation, and liquidity.

In his final chapter, “Shapeless,” Portnoy turns to the tug-and-pull between now and later, between enough and more. “At any moment in life we have to decide whether we want, as Hunter S. Thompson once framed it, ‘to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal.’ We harbor an urge to do both, to appreciate the moment, to cherish where we are, but then also to push out for that next thing, to get to that next Great Place.”

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