Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Four Simple Money Things For San Francisco Simpletons

Some people are just too stupid to be in finance.  I saw plenty of them in major investment firms and nowadays I also see them as solo practitioners.  I attended a Commonwealth Club event this week for a book touting the four most simplistic things one can do with money.  True to form, San Francisco coughed up plenty of simpletons to give this banal material their usual rapt attention.

Here's all you need to know about these four simple things, straight from my brain to yours.  We earn money from work (although most people hate their jobs).  We save money for future goals (although most people don't do it; they'd rather pine for entitlement programs funded by taxes on someone else's savings).  We spend money on our lifestyles (although most spending is wasteful, impulsive, and aspirational).  We give money away to feel generous (although many charities are inefficient and fraudulent).  There you have it.  Lesson concluded.

I have not read the book.  I will not ever read this book.  I am not interested in pop-culture rehashes of behavioral finance research.  I prefer to examine the original research itself.  This subject's simplistic appeal tells me everything about why most humans will never have control of their own financial situations.

Humans respond to simplistic emotional hooks.  The more manipulative sociopaths in our species convince their low-information peers to make harmful decisions.  Evolutionary biology reveals that humans have a natural talent for self-deception.  Susceptibility to myth helped us socialize into larger communities where the hunter-gather work could be shared.  The same susceptibility to myth keeps people gathering into temporary tribes that attend stupid lectures.  That's why simplistic "wisdom" in finance is so popular.

Linking money attitudes to people's recollections of their childhoods establishes an emotional hook.  People must somehow become exceptionally vulnerable to sales pitches when recalling some formative experience.  It's like grown adults become kids all over again.  Being led around by the nose is a pathetic lifestyle.  I outgrew the need for external validation long ago but I am amazed that adults with advanced educations fall for it every time.

There must be a Big Data solution for human stupidity.  Total persistent surveillance at the point of sale for anything, combined with facial recognition algorithms in video searches, should enable multinational corporations to finally identify the inflection point at which a consumer's mind turns to mush.  Locating that moment will ignite a new generation of startup fortunes.  It will also permanently cement the susceptibility of the mass consumer into our cultural DNA.  I suppose I should marvel at the ease of manipulating the masses.  It will come in handy.

I walk out of events that disappoint me.  I could not take more than twenty minutes of this Commonwealth Club seminar.  Twenty minutes is the upper bound on my attendance at something intolerable.  I attended this particular talk to identify four very simple things we all do with our money and that our attitudes toward such things are difficult to change.  That was evident in the event's single paragraph description.  I do not need some combination of Mister Rogers Neighborhood handholding and Jonathan Livingston Seagull transcendence to understand that financial security enables self-actualization.  Viewing money as some kind of "portal to self awareness" is terrific New Age drivel for the majority of Americans raised to be permanent children.