3/7/2011 6:00 PM ET|
A market crash in 2011? Count on it
The bullish forecasts are dangerously wrong. Psychologically, it's hard for investors to ignore the happy talk and pull back from the market, but they should do so soon.
Politicians lie. Bankers lie. Yes, they're liars. But they're not bad; it's in their genes, inherited. Their brains are wired that way, say scientists. Like addicts, they can't help themselves. They want to sell stuff, get rich.
We want to believe they're telling the truth. Silly, huh? We're trapped in this eternal "dance of death," controlled by programs hidden deep in our brains, telling us what to do, telling us to ignore contrary facts -- until it's too late, until a new crisis crushes us.
Psychology offers a powerful lesson: Our collective brain is destined to trigger a crash before Christmas 2011. Why? We're gullible. We keep searching for truth-tellers in a world of liars. We let them manipulate us into acting against our best interests.
In fact, behavioral science tells us that bankers and politicians are lying to us 93% of the time. It's 13 times more likely that Wall Street is lying to you than telling you the truth. That's why they win, and why we lose. Our brains are programmed to cooperate in their con game.
One of America's behavioral finance gurus, Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago, explained it this way: "Think of the human brain as a personal computer with a very slow processor and a memory system that is small and unreliable."
Thaler is a quant who speaks mostly in cryptic algorithms. So if you really want to know how Wall Street's con works, listen to Barry Ritholtz, the financial genius who wrote the book "Bailout Nation."
Ritholtz summarized things in a Feb. 6 column in The Washington Post. "We humans make all the same mistakes, over and over again," he wrote. "It's how we are wired, the net result of evolution. That flight-or-fight response might have helped your ancestors deal with hungry saber-toothed tigers and territorial Cro Magnons, but it drives investors to make costly emotional decisions."
Humans have something "akin to brain damage," Ritholtz continued. "To neurophysiologists, who research cognitive functions, the emotionally driven appear to suffer from cognitive deficits that mimic certain types of brain injuries. . . . Anyone with an intense emotional interest in a subject loses the ability to observe it objectively: You selectively perceive events. You ignore data and facts that disagree with your main philosophy. Even your memory works to fool you, as you selectively retain what you believe in, and subtly mask any memories that might conflict."
Worse, there's no cure.
Examples: USA Today headline: "Average bull is 3.8 years: We're not at 2 yet." More upside. Wall Street loves it. And from The Wall Street Journal: "Stock recovery in high gear . . . S&P 500 now speeding toward its next landmark."
Other lies: Inflation and rising interest rates won't push China and America over the edge and into a new bear recession. That one is popular in Wall Street's echo chamber. Wall Street also cheers every time cable TV pundits and journalists repeat this favorite statistic: Stocks rally in the third year of a presidency, often more than 20%.
The biggest lie? Perennial bull Jeremy Siegel of "Stocks for the Long Run" fame recently told a TD Ameritrade conference, "There's nothing but upside to come (and) the next several years are going to be good for stocks."
Yes, one of Wall Street's favorite co-conspirators is hypnotizing thousands of our best money managers and advisers into believing the lie that this bull market will roar indefinitely. Worse, they in turn will use that message to sell naive investors on whatever junk Wall Street is selling.
Get the picture? A little conspiracy begins in your head, a conspiracy between your gullible brain and Wall Street's con men selling hype, hoopla and happy talk. Listen and lose.
Warning: This little conspiracy is a retirement killer. So listen to some highly respected contrarians. They're short-selling this conspiracy, betting that 2011 will hit headwinds before Christmas, turning a cyclical bull rally into a cyclical bear market.
Remember, we can't help it. Our brains are defective, biased, manipulated by unseen forces. So blame all the lies, lying and liars on our brain wiring. A perfect excuse. Sure, political dogma and insatiable greed factor into our bizarre mental equations.
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