It's a bad news week ... again!
“What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention….” Herbert Simon, American Economist
“In my whole life I have known no wise people, over a broad subject matter area who didn’t read all the time- none zero” Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s right-hand man
“New books are full of sex appeal, marketing and empty promises. While a few might prove to be valuable, the vast majority of them will be forgotten in months. Reading time is limited. It should be directed at knowledge that lasts. The opportunity cost of reading something new is re-reading the best books you’ve ever read. Read old books. Read the best ones twice.” Shane Parrish, Farnam Street
“Never forget that experts quoted in the media are the experts that they chose to give credence to the angle that they already decided to take” JK Galbraith, a ‘Calls a spade a shovel’ economist . Advisor to President Kennedy
“To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week’s newspapers” Nassim Taleb World famous miserable guru
“To the doubters, the panic-stricken and the nervous Nellies who have been selling indiscriminately, why have value investors like Carl Icahn, Seth Klarman, Bill Miller and Warren Buffett buying? If the world will end why would these folks be buying?” Leon Tuey, retired (optimistic) Canadian stockmarket analyst, 2009.
When I was young, deep into last century when the Dead Sea was just seriously ill, we had a radio that was roughly double the size of today’s microwave ovens, with only a few boring radio stations, mostly on something called Long Wave. The newspapers were boring too. My grannie used to get the ‘Weekly News’, a ‘paper handed down by richer neighbours which was recycled again and used by the local chippie. Not that I paid much attention to all this, because I was treated weekly to The Beano, bought for me by my Aunt Margaret.
Much later when I was 16, radio stations had evolved to include ‘popular’ music programmes like Radio Luxembourg and we bought a TV the size of a sideboard, a Bush, which boasted 1 channel, BBC, in black and white, and which only broadcast programmes for a few hours a day. Maybe 5 minutes of ‘News’ twice a day. Bliss. We got it just in time to watch a ten-man Scotland actually win at Wembley. Ta daaa.
That Christmas my Aunt Irene in Canada sent me a pressie of a wee rocket radio that could easily fit into one hand. The nose cone was an aerial which you moved up and down to locate radio stations on a new-fangled Medium Wave. You could only hear the programmes through earphones. My dad who was expert in confusing me with technicalities about stuff like how internal combustion engines worked -(thanks to his tendency to break into malapropism he called them infernal condustion engines. He also called banknotes ‘lethal tender’ but I digress) - tried to explain the principles of radio waves. He said it wasn’t rocket science. Ha.
According to him, instead of relying on valves for power, this wee rocket used ‘crystals’ which were really tiny. I didn’t understand it either but it worked and thanks to it I got into cerebral programmes like ‘The Clitheroe Kid’, ‘The Billy Cotton Band Show’, ‘Round The Horne’ and Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter From America’, which I loved so much it was the inspiration many years later for these ‘Letters from Linlithgow’. And it was Alistair Cooke who together with my old Latin teacher Jimmy Grieve who inspired me to read to seek the truth instead of just accepting the consensus view increasingly driven by propaganda and fake news. Please remember ‘Nullius in Verba’
As cynics like Shane Parrish and Swiss Philosopher, Rolf Dobelli remind us, we are spending hours glued to ‘news’ because we think we’re being informed. But the problem is ‘news’ doesn’t do that. It’s been proved that the more ‘news’ we consume the more misinformed we are. Even newspapers that once were revered for their quality such as the FT, has sunk the depths. Here’s a front page from earlier this month…The top 3 stories outlined included “Economists can’t predict the future- policy should reflect that” and immediately below that the Headline read - “Economists predict at least two US interest rate rises by end of 2023” I’d ask you to remember that most economists will tell you tomorrow why what they predicted yesterday didn’t happen today. Research by Ned Davis shows that most economic forecasters, including those at Central Banks are less accurate than simply tossing a coin. So not a bunch of tossers after all?
News is (they say) by definition something that doesn’t last. It exists for a moment before it changes to the next big worry. And as it has become easier to distribute thanks to technology and stuff they call Apps, the quality has plummeted and the quantity of drivel has exploded, making it nigh impossible to find the signal in the noise. Which reminds me of the Short Wave band on our old radio.
Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves when judging the media’s opinion -“Is this good for me?” “Is this important?” “Is this going to stand the test of time?” “Is the journalist really an expert on this, and is this a balanced piece?” Do remember the wisdom of Grannie McKay… “Always remember that there are two sides to every story” So true.
We have come to a time when “the News” is free, but they still need to pay people. And these days who’s paying? Well with the exception of the BBC which has morphed into a Government propaganda machine, advertisers are paying the wages. And if advertisers are in charge, incentives change. Page views on t’internet becomes their objective. More page views , more revenue. And the more outrageous the content, the more you share, which creates even more shares and more profit.
Here’s what Rolf Dobelli wrote in 2010- “News is toxic. It triggers the Limbic System. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of cortisol. This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High cortisol levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth in cells, nervousness and susceptibility to infections. Other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitisation”.
Think for a moment of how many times over the years the key message on TV and in your newspaper has been that ‘things are so bad they are unlikely to get better any day soon’? And what’s the response by too many people? They panic or become depressed and rush to make poor decisions. I’ve watched this repeat over the last 50 years regarding investors panicking out of stockmarket investments at precisely the wrong time then sitting in Cash, missing out on ‘surprise’ dramatic recoveries. Just like they did in 2009 and again last March.
Does anybody know what the level of the Dow Jones Index was at the bottom of The Great Depression in the late 1920s? Ninety three years later it has risen about 1,200 times by the way (stats thanks to our good friend Mike Williams over in Florida). If you are good at division or had a calculator App handy you will have worked out the that Dow Jones was 27 back in the dark days of the Depression. It was almost 35,000 yesterday despite almost constant ‘reports’ that the baw’s burst. (Apologies for being too technical there)
Last March when the world held its breath as millions globally panicked (somehow), emptying shelves of toilet rolls and spaghetti (Spaghetti Bogrollnese anybody?) the last thing most experts expected was the dramatic recovery in almost all stockmarkets and the spectacular performances of quality investment funds, especially in the UK. Fortunately we did our best to stop you from joining the outrushing herd. And we’re delighted that you kept the faith. .
So instead of believing what the media propaganda ‘experts’ are now trying to push , why not just stop paying attention to them if you haven’t already. If you must buy a newspaper , read the sports pages and use the rest to wrap around your chips, then sit down in the garden and read my favourite old books. Here’s a few you may recognise - “The Art of Thinking Clearly” , Rolf Dobelli. “Alchemy”, Rory Sutherland, and “Black Box Thinking” Matthew Syed . And here’s a new one that’s blowing my mind and it’s about Health for a change - “Timeless Secrets of Health and Rejuvenation”, Andreas Moritz (Highly recommended)
When you finish them, do let me know. There are plenty of others. Enjoy the weather and keep away from airports too. Thanks for reading.