Feb

28

I always liked this post by Brett Steenbarger under the Letters Prize category. Maybe all of us should remember this before posting something:


I wanted to comment on how some old men grow old gracefully whilst others grow old grotesquely, and to look at how this effects their take on the markets. I believe that those who age worse often exhibit worse trading symptoms!

Ayn Rand used to talk of second-handers: those who derive their self esteem from the perceptions of others, not from objective achievements.One virulent form of second-handedness masquerades as virtue: the need to be needed. I suspect it’s behind the overly chivalrous and boastful demeanor, but also behind the pessimism.

The doomsayer needs followers who feel endangered and vulnerable. The forecasts of doom make the prophet needed to get through the pending calamity. No one needs a savior if the forecast is for sunny times ahead. By undercutting the sense of security of others, the doomsayer carves out a niche for himself: I will get you through the market panic, the economic collapse, etc. The same dynamic is at work with the seemingly solicitous and chivalrous man who wants his woman dependent upon him.

I’m thinking of a couple I once saw in counseling. He refused to let her work outside the home, insisting that he must be the breadwinner. She was bright and talented and, now that the children were older, wanted to work. She took up a hobby (quilting) and became quite expert at it. Eventually her quilts became collector items and she was a hot item on the art festival circuit. He was increasingly threatened by her success and tried to derail it by belittling its importance — all the while maintaining his love for her and his willingness to provide for her.

He needed to be needed: his greatest threat was an independent woman. The doomsayer similarly needs to be needed. The confident, optimistic investor is his greatest threat. To become needed, they must make others needy. Such is their benevolence.

She divorced him, by the way, and went on to become a successful instructor of quilting and crafts, owning her own business.

And 20 years after 1987, we stand at new highs and the doomsayers continue to beat their drum. Odd how we excoriate those who encouraged people to buy stock in 2000, but say nothing about those who counseled against equity ownership for the last 10,000 Dow points. If a physician sickened his patients in order to have a steady stream of revenues, no one would hesitate to call it malpractice. But what of investment advisors who fill their clients with fear in order to sell them services and seminars?

“You need not examine a folly”, Rand once wrote; “you merely need to identify what it accomplishes”. Pessimism and negativity create dependency and a psychological crippling. The need to be needed is a need to undercut the certainty and security of others. That’s why it’s a “symptom of something worse”.


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