The Top 4 Charlie Munger Speeches, Interviews and Documentaries

Charlie Munger died this week. He was 99 (his 100th birthday would have been January 1, 2024).

I was bummed.

But I knew Charlie would have said “just move on…you can’t control it, kid.”

So, my moving on is to summarize my favorite Charlie Munger speeches/interviews/documentaries.

You’ll see plenty of Charlie Munger quotes, mental models and tips.

I’ll add to it each time I finish absorbing new Charlie wisdom.

The 4 videos below are ranked in order of the value I received from them.

Here ya go!

1) Charlie Munger Interview by Becky Quick at University of Michigan Ross School

Watch the 2010 Charlie Munger interview for free at YouTube by clicking the embed above or going to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pph3Bg8Pihg

Here is my summary of the interview:

In March 2010, Becky Quick interviewed Charlie Munger at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business

This interview starts slow but picks up big time. It’s packed with Munger goodies (quotes, quips, stories, mental models, etc.).

You can skip the intros and head right to the 8 minute mark.

Becky starts off with questions about macro economics which Charlie says Warren don’t worry too much about.

Here are my favorite nuggets (including quotes, mental models and true stories):

You Get What You Deserve — At the 11:40 mark, he brings up a favorite piece of advice:

“The way to get what you want is to deserve what you want” and that’s a quote”.

Never Feel Sorry for Yourself — At 14:24 he says “never feel sorry for yourself… and if your child is dying of cancer, don’t feel sorry for yourself… never ever feel sorry for yourself.”

Envy — “And the other thing you never ever want to have is envy. That’s the only one of the deadly sins that you’re never gonna have any fun at at all. Take one of the others.”

Easy Money — “Easy money corrupts and really easy money tends to corrupt absolutely.” At 21: 30, Charlie shares the story of Enron:

“Imagine when Enron comes down to the SEC and says we wanna write a little contract with A and little contract with B…and take all the profit we’re gonna make from these complicated contracts over the next 20 years in earnings immediately…and put an asset on the balance sheet of $28 million by signing two pieces of paper.

And the SEC, led by wonderful accountants who had studied at great places, said ‘why of course you should have that accounting.’

What the hell were they thinking?…You can’t give the average Wall Street CEO really lenient standards of accounting, and expect the figures to be good

Tax Rate of the Rich — At 30:40, Charlie says “ my tax rates are too low.” And: “I don’t think a head fund managers should pay lower tax rates then the taxi drivers”

The Main Problem of Mankind is Energy

“The main problem of mankind…is energy. With energy there is no shortage of water. With enough energy there is never any shortage of water.” “The cost [of energy] considering that is not that great.”

Incentives — At 47 min, Charlie answers a question about how the US can move away from short term incentives/thinking. He says:

“A system is perverse when good people go bad…because of the way the system is structured”

For example he says that directors should be paid very little because of the bad ripple effect:

“The more you pay the directors, the more they’ll pay the CEO. The ordinary rules of social psychology require that result”

Career Advice — At 56:30, Charlie shares:

“If you figure out the people you really want to be with and work for, and you tell them why, it’s likely to cause a favorable result.”

The Years 1900 to 2000 were “Simply Awesome” — At 58:43, Charlie shares what amazing century we had:

“The 1900 to 2000…living standard [gains]…were simply awesome when you take the big picture view instead of the short picture view…” Charlie gives as examples:

  • Widely distribute electric power
  • Tlevision and Radio
  • The ability to get in your own car move around where you wanted
  • Cheap travel by jet all over the world
  • Air conditioning (making many places finally endurable in the summer)
  • Widely distributed information.

“It’s just unbelievable what happened [from 1900 to 2000]. In no previous hundred years did anything remotely comparable happen.”

Gold — At 1:05:00, Charlie says:

“I don’t have the slightest interest in gold. I like working and understanding what works in human systems. To me, that’s not optional.

That’s a moral obligation. If you’re capable of understanding the world you have a moral obligation to become rational.

I don’t see how you become rational hoarding gold. Even if it works you’re a jerk. I advise you to get concerned with equities.”

Social Security – At 1:10:00 Charlie says he supports Social Security for providing “dignity” in old age.

Capitalism versus Social/Chairtable Causes – At 1:16:00, Charlie says:

“Personally, I believe Costco has done more for civilization than the Rockefeller Foundation.”

You’ll Only Get a Few Great Opportunities – At 1:21:00, Charlie shares that Berkshire only made 20 great investments.

“If you take the whole history of Berkshire Hathaway…if you take out the twenty best transactions, our record is a joke. Twenty best transactions over forty years. And we work at it all the time. Life is not just bathing you in unlimited opportunities, even if you work at being able to find them and seize them.”

Without them, our returns would be a joke. So only get one great opportunity every two years despite hard work.

The Importance of Asian Youth in the U.S.

At 1:28:00 “I see a lot of Asian faces in this room and I think you’re in for rapid change of a world where the Asians get way more important and we become less important.”

At 1:32:00 “The Berkeley engineering school I think is more than 75% Asian. It is just amazing how California is rising on the backs of these talented Asians.”

Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew

At 1:59:12, Charlie says:

“My favorite political system in terms of being adapted to its particular circumstances successfully is Singapore. I think Singapore is the single most successful governmental system that exists in the world. They’ve taken a small swamp from nothing to a very creditable place.”

At 1:59:44: “Singapore’s habit of stepping hard on things that will grow like cancer is the correct way to govern.”

At 2:00:08: on Drug Problems — “In Singapore everybody will pee in a bottle instantly on demand…and if they flunk they go immediately to a tough compulsory rehab. Away went the drug problem…just time after time after time he made these winning decisions.”

At 2:00:30:

“If you will make a study of the life and work of Lee Kuan Yew you will find one of the most interesting and instructive political stories written in the history of mankind. This is better than Athens…this is an unbelievable history. And you will learn a lot that will be useful in your old life.”

2) Charlie Munger Psychology of Human Misjudgement Speech

Watch the Charlie Munger speech from Harvard (June 1995) for free on YouTube by clicking the embed above or going to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqzcCfUglws

Charlie opens up by mentioning the book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini. “That filled a lot of holes in my crude system,” Charlie says.

“And when those holes were filled in I thought I had a system that was a good-working tool.”

Charlie then goes on to list out 24 Standard Causes of Human Misjudgement. Here they are (roughly in order of how he covered them):

  1. Incentives/Reinforcement  — One of the best examples of incentive power is the Federal Express case. The success of their system hinged on quickly shifting all packages at a central location nightly. Initially struggling with efficiency, FedEx tried various strategies without success. The breakthrough came when they shifted from hourly pay to shift-based pay for their workers. This simple change in incentives dramatically improved the system’s efficiency.
  2. Denial — A family friend’s super athlete and student son tragically disappeared from a carrier in the North Atlantic. His mother, despite being very sane, couldn’t accept his death. This reflects a broader psychological trend where people deny harsh realities. It’s also seen in mothers of convicted criminals who insist on their innocence. It’s a defense mechanism against unbearable pain, distorting reality to make it tolerable.
  3. Incentive-Caused Bias — This causes “Agency Cost”. Charlie gives the example of “cost-plus” ” charging by service firms. E.g. Most law firms still charge this way…and that incentivizes the service firm to artificially inflate the costs. This causes “terrible abuse” by humans.
  4. Man with a Hammer Syndrome — “To the man with a hammer, every problem tends to look pretty much like a nail.” Here, Charlie gives the example of Psychologist Burrhus Frederic “B.F.” Skinner. Munger argues that Skinner took worthwhile concepts like operant conditioning and reinforcement based on his animal research, but then tried to inappropriately extend them to broadly explain all facets of human psychology and behavior. he scorned opponents who had any different way of thinking or thought anything else was important…It’s not the right way to make a lasting reputation.” There are “a lot of things that Skinner didn’t know.” Munger argues for a multidisciplinary, broader view.
  5. Consistency & Commitment Bias (47:00) — The human mind is like the human egg. It shuts down once the sperm is inside. The human brain is the same — it doesn’t easily let in new inputs. Munger uses this anecdote from the history of physics and Max Planck’s observation about how scientists cling to and defend their pre-existing conclusions. Charlie also describes how John Gutfreund of Solomon Brothers failed to properly discipline an employee who submitted false bids in Treasury security auctions. Munger argues Gutfreund fell prey to consistency bias in his desire to stand by his colleague rather than punish him, likely distorted by personal sympathy and unconscious rationalization. He suggests considering the situation more objectively, without bias.
  6. Bias from Pavlovian Association — “Three quarters of advertising works on pure Pavlov,” Charlie says. Coca-Cola Company, for instance, only wants to be associated with “wonderful image heroics and the Olympics, wonderful music, you name it…” Association really works…on a subconscious level. Munger also calls this “Association-Caused Misjudgment  at the 17 minute mark of the speech when he talks about the superstitious pigeon tests.
  7. Persian Messenger Syndrome – Charlie gives the example of Bill Baley of CBS. “Nobody wants to bring Bill Paley things he didn’t want to hear.”
  8. Envy/Jealousy Bias – “Anyone with siblings…or who’ve run a law firm or investment bank or a faculty” knows about this one. Charlie says: ” I’ve heard Warren say a half-dozen times: ‘It’s not greed that drives the world, but envy.'”
  9. Contrast-Caused Distortions — “Takes the three buckets of water, one’s hot ones cold…gets the students to put one hand in the hot, one in the cold…contrast causes misjudgments.”
  10. Authority Overinfluence — Milgram experiment showing danger of authority.
  11. Deprival Super Reaction – New Coke example – “They get this huge deprival super reaction syndrome Pepsi was within weeks of coming out with old coke in a Pepsi bottle.”
  12. Liking Tendency – People tend to get mislded by someone “like” them.
  13. Disliking Tendency –This is the inverse of “Liking Tendency”. Charlie says this our “tendency not to learn appropriately from someone disliked” (e.g. this could be us not listening as closely to someone different than us). Advice: Listen to people from all walks of life. Not just yours.
  14. Social Proof Influence – Auto companies all rushed to replicate after one bought a fertilizer company; catastrophe. Another example is the case of Kitty Genovese (50+ people watched her get murdered and did nothing about it (because they thought the other people would call the police).
  15. Lose Ability through Disuse — Charlie gives himself as the example: “I was a whiz at calculus until age twenty, after which the skill was soon obliterated by total nonuse.”
  16. Say Something Syndrome – Mental confusion. The honey bee goes out and does a dance when it finds it (to tell others where the honey is). Some scientist moved the honey and the bee still did the “honey dance” (even though it didn’t find the honey). Charlie says humans are similar — they often feel the need to “Say Something”.
  17. Stress-Endused Mental Changes – Pavlov’s dogs with breakdowns. The great Leningrad flood came and the dogs in Pavlov’s cages had all their conditions reversed (from their stress).
  18. Chemical dependency – “It always causes moral breakdown… and always involves massive denial.”
  19. Gambling Addiction – This one is obvious. But Charlie explains that Gambling crosses with other biases such as commitment bias (if a lottery player picks a number then they are more committed to the outcome).
  20. Miscognition from Overweighing Extra Evidence –stock example – vivid CEO peculiarity causes poor decision.
  21. Tendency to Misjudge Combinations – McDonnell-Douglas evacuation test combining multiple biases to keep repeating.
  22. Reciprocation Tendency — Charlie admits that he has paid severance pay to someone he once fired who had taken a mistress on a foreign trip (because Charlie knew the man’s wife and family). Munger also touches on reciprocation as just one of many tendencies/biases that occur in bad situations (such as John Gutfreund of Solomon Brothers looking the other way when people on his team did misdeeds (because he felt the need to reciprocate all the favors team members had given him).
  23. Role Theory — Where you tend to act in the way other people expect. A guy named Zimbardo had students play the roles of guards and prisoners…and it got into . “It was awesome”, Charlie thought that. There’s a bit of a Consistency and Commitment Tendency in here too. “What you think may change what you do. But perhaps even more important what you do will change what you think.”
  24. Lollapalooza Effect— The effect of multiple tendencies above (usually 4+) at once.

Charlie explains that the most effective organizations use the Lollapalooza Effect with powerful results. Examples:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (e.g. an astounding 50% success rate)
  • Tupperware Parties (uses a few of these “tricks”)
  • Mooney Conversion
  • Milgram Experiment

If you love psychology, you might find my ranking of The Top 12 Psychology Documentaries of interest.

3) Charlie Munger’s USC Commencement Speech

Watch the Charlie Munger USC commencement speech for free on YouTube by clicking the embed above or going here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U0TE4oqj24

Charlie shares a number of tips and mental models with his usual great stories (this is his backyard afterall (Charlie lived in Pasadena).

“An account of ideas and attitudes that worked well for me…I think many of them are pretty close to universal values and some are can’t fail ideas.”

There were at least 10 examples of models/concepts Charlie covered in the speech (which includes some great Munger quotes):

The Golden Rule — “The safest way to get what you want is to try and deserve what you want…it’s the “Golden Rule”. You want to deliver to the world what you’d if you were on the other end. There is no ethos that is better…for any lawyer or any other person to have. …the people who have this ethos win in life.”

Wisdom Acquisition is a Moral Duty — “Without lifetime learning, you people are not going to do very well.” “If you take Berkshire. Hathaway…the skill that got Berkshire through one decade would not suffice to get through the next decade. Without Warren Buffett being a continuous learning machine, the record would have been impossible”. ..go to bed a little wiser that when you woke up.”

Inversion – Turn Problems Upside Down — “What you should ask is not how to help India, but what is doing the most harm in India. What will automatically do the most damage, and how do I avoid that?” Invert problems and avoid pitfalls rather than direct problem solving.

Beware Extreme Ideologies — “Ideology cabbages up one’s mind…with political ideology, if you announce you’re a loyal member and start shouting the orthodox ideology out, what you’re doing is pounding it in.” Avoid extreme ideologies limiting thinking. Charlie sometimes calls folks who have extreme ideologies “The Idiot Fringe”.

Recognize Self-Serving Tendencies — “Generally resentment, revenge and self-pity are disastrous.” Fight self-pity and rationalization serving only yourself, not wider interests.

Maintain Rationality — “I think only when I can state the arguments against my position better than its supporters am I qualified to speak.” Retain rationality vs. foolish consistency or positions.

Preserve Objectivity – “Darwin paid special attention to disconfirming evidence.” Focus on contradicting data overcomes bias.

Choose Authorities Wisely – Maneuvered career “to work entirely under people I admired.” Follow those worthy of respect.

Avoid Perverse Incentives – Rigid billable hour quotas at law firms distort conduct. Identify distorted motivators.

Use Checklists for Decisions – Checklists reduce errors in complex tasks like surgery. Codify core steps.

4) Charlie Munger Interview (for Becoming Warren Buffett Documentary)

Watch the interview of Charlie for the “Becoming Warren Buffett” documentary for free by clicking the YouTube embed above or this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6s2HAzMeL0

While Charlie likely would have been a star (without Warren Buffett) in his own right , Charlie and Warren are forever linked.

This video clip is 35 minutes of just Charlie talking about Warren Buffett (for the “Becoming Warren Buffett” documentary). It’s a bit more dry than the usual Charlie (he’s more diplomatic when talking about Warren). But it’s still 100% Charlie!

Some highlights (including Charlie quotes):

Charlie and Warren’s Origins and Background

  • Charlie met Warren in Omaha in 1959 when he had to “wind up” his father Ernest Munger’s law practice. He “immediately” recognized Buffett’s “very high intelligence” and they shared the same “sense of humor” and “common experience.”

Investing Approach and Mindset

  • Warren learned from Ben Graham’s 1930s book Security Analysis and bought undervalued companies like Dempster Mill Manufacturing early on.
  • Warren chose investing in Omaha instead of joining father Howard Buffett’s congress career or working out of Wall Street where it was “less distracting.”

Personality and Resilience

  • Warren is “very competitive” by nature but doesn’t play games or things like golf where he isn’t as talented.
  • Warren appraises own past mistakes seriously like buying Berkshire Hathaway itself (when it was a textile biz). After Howard Buffett’s death in 1964, Warren “soldiers on” resiliently.

Leadership Growth

  • Warren transformed struggling textile maker Berkshire Hathaway into conglomerate through insurance companies like GEICO and National Indemnity…it took decades.
  • The Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting since early 1980s has become a powerful “teaching platform.”

Ethical Approach

  • Warren adopts a long-term ownership mindset, not stock flipping. Charlie credits their large wealth partly to ethical reputation that attracts partners.
  • Warren and Charlie invested in problematic situations like Salomon Brothers bonds trading scandals in 1987-1991 crisis. The Berkshire “reputation” helped stabilize it.

Munger’s Overall Observation

  • Despite traumatic events, Charlie has never heard Buffett complain or blame external factors. Buffet just “soldiers through” challenges “without too much fuss.”

Thanks for reading!

-Rob Kelly