Yesterday’s blog entry described an e-mail that I received on December 16, 2010, from academic researcher Wade Pfau. Set forth below are the words of my response.
Thanks for your response.
All is forgiven from my end. All of the points you make in your response make sense to me. There is no question that this is explosive stuff and it is hard at times to say things perfectly. I of course struggle with that same issue. So long as there is good intent, things work their way to a good place. I can assure you that there is good intent on my end. I am reassured by the words of your response that there is good intent on your end.
Differences on fine points are of course not a problem. Those sorts of differences are to be expected and are healthy.
There has been HUGE interest at that board in SWRs in the past. I believe that the reason why you did not see a response is that people there feel shame over how the board has handled this issue. Part of it is how they interacted with me and part of it is how they misled people re the issue (it is a reality that people were misled — the best interpretation that can be put on it is that the people putting forward the misleading stuff were suffering from cognitive dissonance).
The personality clash is with SOME Bogleheads, not all Bogleheads. There are some great people over there who would love to have me participate in the discussions held there. They are (understandably) afraid to speak up. When a segment of a board community fears stating its honest views, the board had lost its intellectual integrity; people are not hearing both sides. It doesn’t make me happy to say this. But it needs to be said.
I am grateful for you spelling out the cause of your concern by saying: “The thing that troubled me was how sure you were about your predictions.” I believe that there is a misunderstanding here. I am NOT dogmatic about the particular predictions. I do not believe that dogmatism re that aspect of the question is justified. I love it when someone like yourself puts forward a different reasonable take. That gets people thinking. We need more debate, and dogmatism will not get us that.
My guess is that the thing that I was being dogmatic about in the comments you have in mind was the idea that SOME adjustment must be made for valuations. I do see it as being irresponsible to make no adjustment for valuations whatsoever given the consequences that follow for retirees who place their confidence in SWR studies that get the numbers wrong. My view is that there is an INSANE level of dogmatism coming from some of the defenders of the Old School studies. If they could just acknowledge that there is more than one reasonable point of view, we could all be friends.
Anyway, I very much do NOT believe that dogmatism is justified re these matters. It does indeed sting for me to hear myself described as being dogmatic here because I have invested so much in the way of blood, sweat and tears into efforts to bring the dogmatism to an end and to get things pointed in a more positive direction.
There’s an awful lot of material at those links. I certainly don’t expect you to look at all of it. You probably would prefer to focus on materials that deal with substantive matters (most of those materials focus on the process questions). I will get some links on substantive matters to you within the next few days.
Still, you might want to spend a little bit of time looking at the links that focus on the process questions. I have spent an awful lot of time on the SWR matter and on related matters and I have come to believe that the full reality is that there ultimately is a great deal of overlap between the substance issues and the process issues. I am going to put forward one illustration of what I mean by this just to give you a sense of what I am getting at.
You mentioned that you were not aware of the SWR controversy until September of this year. That should not have been the case! Bill Bernstein does rough calculations in his book “The Four Pillars of Investing” showing that the SWR at the top of the bubble was somewhere near 2 percent. Unfortunately, even most people who have read the book are not aware of this because he wrote it up in such a way as to downplay the finding. And of course the finding was not front-page news in the major papers, as I very much believe it should have been.
There are all sorts of issues like this. We “know” all sorts of things about investing today that we do not want to acknowledge that we “know.” My aim is to harvest this unappreciated knowledge. I do not by any stretch of the imagination believe that I have all the answers. But I do believe strongly that we need to launch a debate. I had a reputation prior to my involvement in the SWR debate of being a “teddy bear” poster. I am likely one of the least confrontational people you know. My problem re this matter is that there are a good number who object violently even to the idea of having a discussion. And discussion boards at which critically important issues may not be discussed rarely achieve their full potential.
I regret that you have had to sort through all this drama. But I will direct a phrase to you that you have used in reference to me. There is something in you that saw an issue of some importance when you happened across the thread on SWRs. YOU are really on to something in seeing the significance there (many smart people have failed to see it). I hope that perhaps I will be able to point you to some things that perhaps will spark further fruitful investigations.
No dogmatism. That’s out! The aim here is exploration of potentially exciting new realities. It’s been my goal since the first day to bring out the positive in all this (which in my assessment is so far-reaching that it is scary) and to leave the boring, time-wasting stuff behind. That’s what I’ll be trying to pull off in future communications.
Thanks again for responding to a challenging e-mail in a warm and honest and frank and encouraging way. That gives me some hope (combined with a few other recent developments) that this saga may be taking a bit of a turn in a life-affirming direction.