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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, oh my...

Do you have the ability to hold opposing ideas and discuss them rationally in order to come to a more educated debated result? Or, are you one that will debate only with opposing viewpoints in order to maintain your position to learn, or try to convince? F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

I have read the book "Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets" a couple of times, and recommend it highly. But you must be able to transcend your singular mindset. The authors run both sides of the fence on nearly every issue they bring up. This can be trying for some as they will be reading some chapters that run the liberal viewpoints to which, if you agreed with, would make one feel good. Then they bring in the contrarian viewpoint using the same examples as the liberal points in order to make their case. What this does is show that anything and everything will always have both views at the same time due to human nature. It is human nature that is the premise of the book in relation to crowd or mob mentality, religion and economics.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I originally read the 400 odd pages in just a few days. Basically the premise is that we don't seem to see just how difficult and complex things really are. We want to be able to understand and have context to things that we may not be able to fully comprehend. Yet, despite this we get involved in speculation on so many levels in an attempt to gain some ground. Does this all revert to the simplistic relations to the opposite sex? Can we be that simple in such a complex world? It seems to be written in our DNA. Now, add this type of behavior to the mass public and you begin to understand why we get some of societies stupid behavior.

We like to think that we have free will. We like to think that we think for ourselves and are able to act freely. Studies show that people are more likely to accept the opinion of a confident con man than the cautious view of someone who actually knows what he is talking about. This is much of why we have found ourselves in the delicate economic situation we have today. Match this action with such an interconnected world and we have exponential problems. Match this with the uneducated masses dealing with some of these delicate economic situations and the exponential problems get even worse. Many people think our elected officials actually know what they are talking about with this economic crisis. These Senators and Congresspersons are just like anyone else, as lawyers, doctors, chiropractors, union leaders, real estate developers, and soldiers. Yet, the masses seem to think because they are in these elected positions they know the ins and outs of hedge funds, derivatives, options, and the many other intricate financial tools that were created by the true .05% elitist select few while no one was watching.

Voltaire, a historically noted skeptic of the revealed truth of the Church, of the divine right of kings, of the wealth and position of the sovereign, and of the "wisdom" of the common man is noted as saying, "Doubt is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is an absurd one."

One would do well today to heed this gem and to be highly skeptical of the economic forecasters, market timers and other investment gurus. After all, these are the same people that put us all into this economic mess. It should be noted that the global markets greatest investors like Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Peter Lynch, and John Templeton all have confessed that they could never tell just what the market was going to be doing next. They understand the mindset of the mob mentality. They understand that the market is a living entity and is not subject to control. We like to think we can control it, but this, as Voltaire stated, is an absurd notion. So, these investors bought companies that were selling at a low P/E (Price to Earnings) and held them until it was time to sell when the market recognized their true value.

The Emergence Theory that I have discussed recently goes hand in hand with some of the ideas outlined in this book. In the mob mentality there is not leader. There is an energy to which all follow in their own little worlds much like the example of the flock of birds or shoal of fish. They act in unison without a leader. When the markets, or real estate, or election results come in we see how the mob or lemming mentality can be detrimental to our society. If people do not begin to stop and think prior to making such delicate decisions for themselves and rationally think using both sides of an argument to come to an educated result we will find our typical patterns, the imprinted DNA to which we have "free will", continue to emerge.

Authors Bill Bonner and Lila Rajiva tear this theory at the root. Sure, everyone is self-interested… but rational? Their book, "Mobs, Messias, and Markets", has just received the prestigious "GetAbstract Book Award" for 2008.

(c)Copyright 2008 Doug Boggs

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