Friday, October 21, 2011

VOR’s Turn: The Illusion of Skill Is Deeply Ingrained In the Culture Of The Financial Sector.

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I like to keep myself reasonably well informed, and to that end, spend a couple of hours each day checking out a wide variety of sources with as open a mind as I can muster.

The latter is not always easy, but I have found it helps if – as a minimum – one is aware of one’s prejudices; and is prepared to think holistically (to assess one’s findings in context, to look at both the big picture and the specific situation, and to join the dots).

Also, I’m blessed with friends, who don’t necessarily agree with me politically, so I’m constantly being forced to question my own judgment. Indeed, let me admit this confidentially (because it is decidedly un-American) I’m even prepared to do something truly shocking: To change my mind.

Quite why I don’t rely on watching TV in the evening for my news, like roughly three-quarters of the U.S. population is a good question, but I don’t. I guess I’m after vastly more perspective, depth, rigor, and subtlety of mind; and nobody could accuse TV news of boastings such virtues. Further, there are some truly marvelous alternatives  around if you are are prepared to dig, so I find my efforts, generally speaking, are well rewarded. And I try, where possible, to incorporate what I learn in my writing. Or so I like to believe .

Let me re-emphasize that there are some truly terrific thinkers, analysts, commentators and writers out there; and I have a suspicion that if our movers and shakers consulted them more, this Great Nation would be in vastly better shape. However, anti-intellectualism seems to be a regrettable, yet widespread feature of American life, and certainly the behavior of our politicians seems to illustrate that point. Would that it stopped there. It is rife in the business community, in the military, and in academia. Instead, the focus, all too often, is on preserving the status quo; on enhancing one’s own image; and, all too often, on blocking innovation.

It is a tragedy, because the answers to many of our problems are out there – frequently in plain sight – yet there seems to be a reluctance to look, let alone listen. Instead, energy is applied to the politics of the situation rather than searching for a solution. And ideology rather than reason dominates. Since ideology is another word for blind belief, and ignorance is a close relation, that is not an encouraging situation. As for facts, they seem to be held in scant regard. I get the feeling that soon they are likely to be regarded as un-American.

To appreciate the significance of what I am endeavoring to communicate, It might be helpful to examine how so many other countries have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps while we have been preening ourselves, and muttering about American Exceptionalism, while the pay of most working Americans has stagnated for nearly 40 years.

A reasonable person, faced with such appalling evidence, might conclude that we should be out there in the streets, engaging in massive civil disobedience, and arguing for more enlightened policies. Instead, the vast majority of us are doing nothing while the buying power of both our earnings and our savings is eroded.

Are we dumb or delusional or both? Or just plain lazy.

PhotoThe good news is that where American talent shines, it can, indeed, be exceptional. One such example is Barry Ritholtz’s financially oriented blog THE BIG PICTURE, which, apart from being consistently witty, contains a veritable cornucopia of data, from charts to articles to quotes to Ritholtz’s own thoroughly entertaining writing.

I salute the man.  His URL is or Google THE BIG PCTURE. Either way, have a look. His huge following speaks for himself. This guy is good.

The following is his QOTD of October 21st 2011

Our quote of the day comes from an article in this Sunday’s NYT magazine, Don’t Blink! The Hazards of Confidence by Daniel Kahneman:

“The illusion of skill is not only an individual aberration; it is deeply ingrained in the culture of the [financial] industry. Facts that challenge such basic assumptions — and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem — are simply not absorbed. The mind does not digest them. This is particularly true of statistical studies of performance, which provide general facts that people will ignore if they conflict with their personal experience.”

I find that, unfortunately, to be terribly true.

Daniel_KAHNEMAN[1]For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Kahneman, he is a professor at Princeton and Nobel laureate. He is notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, and behavioral economics.









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