Sometimes we think that our motto should be something along the lines: “There’s always bullshit out there somewhere, and we promsie to try to find it for you.” We’d have fertile soil to sift through by just paying attention to the words of financial experts. Even in normal times, these folks are notoriously bad and all the “Top Stocks for This Year” lists have probably lost investors more money than any boiler room, pump and dump operation anywhere.
So it was nice to see one of the members of the chattering about stocks class confess in the Washington Post today. Joel Lovell, who writes the “Men+Money” column for GQ admits that his readers would have been far better off if each month he had said, “You know what, let’s stick with Plan A and just stuff our money into a satchel and bury it beneath the swing set.”
Then he launches into his fellow chatterers.
It’s weird and disconcerting that after all that has happened there are still so many experts out there willing to dispense wisdom with utter assuredness, day after day, despite having been so spectacularly wrong in the past. Their confidence saps my own. For those of us in the advice business — and this extends beyond just investment advice to everything else in our lives that now exists in the firm grip of uncertainty — the challenge is: How do I tell people what to do when prospects are so grim and outcomes so completely unpredictable? How do I acknowledge the limits of what I know while still maintaining credibility?
These are questions the Jim Cramers of the world, and the ubiquitous and somewhat frighteningly undaunted Suze Orman, don’t seem very interested in dealing with. (I should give Cramer credit for admitting he was wrong on Bear, though he wrapped his mea culpa in a blustery version of “I was actually mostly right.”) It’s not just a CNBC problem, of course. Really, this argument can be applied on almost any level, from personal-finance bloggers right up to the men running Treasury and the Fed. But Cramer’s nightly perch is a network devoted to money, and I’ve watched it a lot, and more than anything else it has come to represent an ongoing televised display of a culture in denial. The more terrifying and destabilizing the news, the more the financial-news sages seem to commit themselves to dispensing advice with unblinking certitude.