- A clear-eyed view of our nation and the world is essential for successful investors.
- Today, Alexander Green explains how you can filter out constant media negativity and focus on achieving a rich life.
Being a good investor starts with having a clear-eyed view of our nation and the world.
For example, those with an overly pessimistic outlook have spent years holding precious metals or cash, earning meager returns and missing the phenomenal gains available in equities.
Those with rose-tinted glasses, on the other hand, went into the Great Recession without portfolio diversification or risk mitigation – like asset allocation and trailing stops – and came out years later, battered and scarred.
(And that’s only if they didn’t panic and sell somewhere near the bottom.)
Your outlook for the future is almost certainly reflected in your investment portfolio.
Yet most people’s take on the world is largely unconscious.
Few of us are taught how to see the world. (Indeed, most adults would bridle at the prospect.)
To a great extent, our understanding of it is shaped by our personal background, experiences and relationships.
But that takes us only so far.
We all rely on news reports, editorials, magazine articles, television broadcasts, websites, podcasts and/or books to stay informed and develop a perspective about what is happening around the country and across the globe.
And that’s where the problem generally starts.
No human being – or group of people – is completely objective.
Biases – both conscious and unconscious – exist in every media outlet, including this one.
I’m not talking here about political biases, although those are prevalent too.
I’m referring to widespread negativity bias.
Turn on the television or pick up the paper and you will see stories about war, crime, terrorism, corruption, natural disasters, political dysfunction and environmental destruction.
I’m not suggesting that these aren’t accurate. I’m only saying that they don’t tell the whole story.
Most news reports and editorials deliver the world through a dark lens of tragedy and loss that leads to a distorted perspective, namely that we live in a horrible world at a terrible time – and the country is rapidly going to hell in a handbasket.
“Well it is!” a neighbor implored recently.
If you could be magically transported back into another time and place, what would it be?
You might think back to your childhood or young adulthood when things seemed simpler, easier, better.
But nothing is more responsible for “the good old days” than a bad memory.
Yes, we were younger and probably healthier and slimmer. We had fewer wrinkles and more hair. (Or at least it wasn’t gray.)
Most of us have fond recollections of our early days.
But was society itself better? Not if you were a woman… or black… or gay… or handicapped.
Not if you were drafted to serve in a distant war… or needed a drug, medical device or surgical procedure that hadn’t been invented.
Nor was life necessarily better if you didn’t have running water, central heat and air, health insurance, instant communications, safe transportation, a personal computer, a smartphone, internet connection, a flat-panel TV with all today’s entertainment options, or the thousands of other modern conveniences – electronic and otherwise – that make our lives more comfortable today.
Standards of living have never been higher. Educational attainment has never been greater. U.S. household income and net worth – adjusted for inflation – are at all-time records.
Terrorist attacks, violent crime, divorce and abortions are all down in recent years.
There has been no war between the world’s great powers since 1945.
Advances in medicine and technology have eliminated most of history’s plagues, including polio, smallpox, measles and rickets.
There has been a stunning reduction in infectious diseases. Heart disease and stroke incidence are in decline. The annual rate of new cancer diagnoses has dropped steadily since the mid-1990s.
We complain about the rising cost of health care. But that’s only because we routinely live long enough to depend on it.
The average American life span has almost doubled over the past century.
That’s partly because we’re living longer but also because childhood and infant deaths – formerly a depressing part of everyday life – are now so rare.
Maybe life in today’s world isn’t so abominable after all.
I encourage investors to approach everything they read and hear with a deep sense of skepticism – and a few basic questions like these:
- Is this story based on facts or opinions?
- Does it include counterbalancing facts or just cherry-picked, one-sided ones?
- Does the journalist make a reasonable effort to tell multiple sides of the story?
- And – most importantly – could this narrative be overly pessimistic?
If you’re going to invest money that you’ve earned, paid taxes on and saved instead of spent, you need to feel some sense of optimism about the future.
That’s a tall order for the folks who consume the daily litany of all the sad, tragic or unfortunate events happening – or that could happen – around the world.
Studies show that even highly educated individuals who watch cable news or read national newspapers hold worldviews that are unduly pessimistic.
If you’re kicking yourself because you’ve been underinvested in a stock market that has more than quadrupled over the last decade, recognize that your failure to take advantage of these opportunities is probably due, at least in part, to saturation news coverage that is not just negative but perversely so.
Given that investors need to know what is happening in the world and the media is unlikely to change, what should you do?
My answer is threefold:
- Recognize that “the daily news” is negatively biased.
- Watch and read less of it to avoid becoming unduly anxious or fearful.
- And, most importantly, follow the trend lines – not the headlines.