Tribalism

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Since I started publishing my own musings on this blog, one thing that has increasingly struck me, is that I may just be preaching to the choir.

When reading comments on posts that I’ve written, I’ve detected a pattern.

People who are already savers, are often attracted to the ideas of early retirement theory.

Likewise, people who are not afraid to bend the rules, and love a good bargain, are attracted to posts about travel hacking.

It’s as if the savers have a Neurochemical antenna that allows them to receive the message about saving more and investing as a down payment for freedom, while The freethinking iconoclasts have an extra fold in their temporal lobe that allows them to seemlessly latch on to the angles of travel hacking in order to leverage their creativity for outsized rewards.

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The U shaped fold underlying the “ral” of temporal is also known as the “miles game gyrus.”

It’s just that sometimes it feels a little bit like an echo chamber.

Not unlike a ninety-year-old arch-conservative caucasian male living in Iowa who turns into Fox news each night to hear his own thoughts disembodied and magically broadcast through the lips of a leggy Blond, or a 30 something New York metrosexual turning into the Rachel Maddow Show for similar affirmation.

Which is not to negate the transformative power broadcasting one’s own thoughts.

Blogs can be powerful agents of change.

After all my focus was altered palpably after happening upon millionmilesecrets.com and beginning to dig into the world of travel hacking.

Even more dramatically, my philosophy of living was transformed by the discovery of the simple math behind early retirement on mrmoneymustache.com.

If I’m honest though, I can see that I was already primed for these messages by my essential nature, values, and experience.

Which brings me to tribalism.

One of our blind spots as humans is our readiness to identify with those who are most like us, and our inability to identify with those who are not.

It is this atavistic, and tribal instinct that allows us to root passionately for hometown sports teams, to be taken advantage of by the divisive messages of politicians, and occasionally to commit unspeakable acts towards our fellow humans whom we perceive of as “different.”

And believe me, I am no exception. Witness the sidenote in my last post about the Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.

I hate that dude.

I’d like to tell you that his chief crime in my eyes was being a classless douche bag. The truth though is that his real crime was being a classless douche bag employed by the other team ,who dared to make a great play which directly resulted in my team not going to the Super Bowl.

Granted that judgment has little bearing on my happiness, or anyone else’s.

But that is not always the case with tribalism.

If we’re not careful, our impulse to like those most similar to ourselves, can readily be used against us.

Don’t most con artists prey upon their own, leveraging this unearned trust for their own benefit? Witness Bernie Madoff recruiting fellow upper class jewish society players to take part in his Ponzi scheme. (For that fact we could include Charles Ponzi himself, who began raising money from his fellow Italian immigrant friends for his now infamous securities scheme.)

But it’s not just con artists. It affects everything. Look over to the left at my blog roll. You’ll see there that my favorite investing writer is Larry Swedroe. (And I do think he’s great.)  But from what I can gather he’s an Ashkenazi Jew like me. So I’d wager I subconsciously give him just a few points extra just because he speaks in my vernacular. (If I were more of a waspy military academy graduate type, I would probably prefer Rick Ferri ((who I also like, a lot)) to Swedroe.)

Which is one of the bonuses of subscribing to a passive investing philosophy.

You decide on your philosophy at the start, and you stick to it.

The first step is acceptance. You basically admit you’re just a dumb schmuck no better than the market. And that acts as vital insulation against your own inescapable biases and irrationality.

So when cousin Morty comes up to you at a barbecue and tells you about his latest can’t miss investment angle, you’ll reluctantly have to resist changing your stock positions. (Even though his features are somehow comforting, and he’s got a great sense of humor.)

And let’s face it, odd’s are that’s a good thing.

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3 Responses to “Tribalism”

  1. Robert January 26, 2014 at 5:27 am #

    Alright. I’ll bite, just so you don’t hear an echo! I agree that passive investing is probably best for most private investors, but that doesn’t mean I think one can’t time the markets successfully. Like Lake Wobegon’s children, most investors believe they are above average. But when you have another investor on the other side of every trade, clearly someone is not going to be above average. So, research has found most trading strategies to underperform long-term, actively managed mutual funds underperform passive funds, and most retail investors underperform the market due to active trading. But, that said, I also note that one of the 2013 Nobel Prize winners in Economics was Robert Shiller on the basis of his work on market valuation. And, from what I’ve read, market timing based on valuation (i.e., buy when P/E is low and sell when P/E is high) does outperform passive index investing over long time horizons. I have found some of the work by Ed Eastman at Crestmont Research helpful in this regard (his books are great but much of the research is freely available on his website). It helped me minimize the damage in this last major downturn.

  2. Robert January 26, 2014 at 5:29 am #

    Correction…that was Ed Easterling.

  3. Miles Dividend M.D. January 26, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    Robert,

    I actually agree with you completely on this.

    I have not written about strategic asset allocation yet, but I do believe there is merit in paying attention to valuations.

    I like William Bernstein’s description of strategic asset allocation, as “over rebalancing” because it requires the investor to do exactly what it is he least wishes to do, namely sell more stocks and buy more bonds when stocks are hot, and sell more bonds and buy more stocks when stocks are tanking.

    I use a form of strategic asset allocation in my bond portfolio, shifting from tips to investment grade corporate bonds based on current tip yields.

    Thanks for the author reference. I’ll check him out.

    AZ

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