Over recorded time, things have generally gotten better for most people, most of the time. That applies across all of humanity and certainly to the vast majority of our clients. Despite a phenomenal track record of things getting better, an increasing number of people seem pessimistic. In a recent article in the New York Times, historian Deirdre McCloskey said, “For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell.”
There’s a lot of evidence to support this view and pessimism isn’t just more common than optimism, it actually sounds smarter. It’s intellectually stimulating and more people pay attention to it. In some ways, it makes the optimist look ignorant, even though the actual track record of history solidly favors the optimist!
Through most of time, history has admired not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope. If you say the world has been getting better, you’re at risk of being labeled as naïve or ignorant. If you predict it will continue to get better, you might even be called a lunatic. On the other hand, if you say we’re doomed, you might get a Nobel Prize!
This attitude also spills over into the investment world. A bullish investor sounds reckless while the bearish investor sounds like a sharp, well-researched intellect. This is true despite the S&P 500’s 18,000 fold increase over the last century; a century that saw more than its share of pandemics, depressions, wars and natural disasters!
The real question is, Why does pessimism sell? Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has shown that people respond more strongly to loss than to gain. In nature, if an organism treats threats as more urgent than opportunities, they have a better chance to survive and reproduce. It’s within these roots that pessimism becomes attractive and of course the media does everything humanly possible to fan these flames.
We’ve said on many occasions that fear is not an investment philosophy and you cannot build a successful long-term financial outcome based on fear. In truth and throughout history thus far, optimism is a much better strategy. But for optimism to work, you must have Faith, Patience and Discipline, and we do!
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