Wade says that I “desperately” want to hear researchers and other experts in this field say that the Old School safe-withdrawal-rate studies need to be corrected. The suggestion is that I place too much importance on this matter. Others have said similar things. My ten-year effort to get the errors in the retirement studies corrected has been referred to as my “obsession.” I have been told that I am on a “crusade.” It has been said that my passion re this matter causes me to suffer “death by verbosity.”
I don’t buy it.
When I gain the right to post honestly on the internet re SWRs and many other critically important investment-related topics, it won’t be only Rob Bennett who gains that right. Robert Shiller (the author of Irrational Exuberance) will gain that right. Vanguard Founder John Bogle will gain that right. William Bernstein (author of The Four Pillars of Investing) will gain that right. And on and on and on.
When I gain the right to post honestly, we ALL gain the right to post honestly. There’s huge leverage in that. We have denied ourselves the right to speak openly and plainly and honestly and realistically about how stock investing works for 30 years now. Behind the scenes, we have achieved huge advances in our understanding of the realities during those three decades. When we give ourselves permission to talk about what we have learned (and thus for the first time to fully understand it — we humans take in knowledge by talking it over), we will shoot ahead at an amazing pace. Can you imagine where we would be today in the electronics field if a law had been passed in 1981 saying that advances in that field had to cease because it would hurt the feelings of the people who didn’t know everything there was to know about electronics in 1974 for us to continue to move ahead? There’s huge leverage to be had by permitting thousands of smart and good people to use their brains again and help us all learn how stock investing really works even when telling that story means pointing out that there was a time decades ago when we didn’t know it all perfectly.
The Buy-and-Holders did something potentially wonderful back in the early 1970s. They developed an investing strategy rooted not in vague and subjective impressions and opinions but in the hard stuff, academic research based on an examination of the historical return data. It’s that breakthrough that has permitted us to make so much progress. There would be no Valuation-Informed Indexing today had it not been for work the Buy-and-Holders did in earlier times arguing that we should research investing questions rather than just offer off-the-cuff subjective opinions about them. What we didn’t see in the early 1970s was how the power of research could be used to hold us back rather than to push us forward. It is the claim that Buy-and-Hold is rooted in research that has made it so influential a strategy. But, because the Buy-and-Holders got it wrong, all that influence has been used to steer investors in the wrong direction. The road out of this economic crisis is to permit the researchers to report honestly and accurately what they learn when they study the data. It’s not putting numbers into tables that is the purpose of investment research. It’s discovering truths about investing that is the purpose. To discover truths, we need to become able to acknowledge errors when we make them.
That’s why this is such a big deal. That’s why I am “desperate” to see the Old School SWR studies corrected. Causing millions of people to suffer failed retirements is a big deal. The Buy-and-Holders want to avoid acknowledging the errors they made in the studies in the worst way. The Old Boys Club has sent down the word — you spill the beans re this one and you’ll never be able to get work in this field again. But what happens if the economic crisis grows so terrible that even people in the investing field begin to feel the need to take action to bring it to an end? I believe that we will then see forward movement. And it won’t be a little bit of forward movement. Valuation-Informed Indexing is close to its Tipping Point as a breakthrough idea. Once we get a few of the big names in this field developing the courage to stand up to the Goons, we will see an avalanche of investing insights. We will as a society experience the benefits of 30 years of insights over the course of about six months of time. It will be something else!
We need to get to that Tipping Point. There’s nothing intellectually we need to do. We have the data that shows that Valuation-Informed Indexing is superior. We have the research that shows that Valuation-Informed Indexing is superior. We have the expert statements showing that Valuation-Informed Indexing is superior. What we need is a means to spread the word to the millions of middle-class investors crying out for a more sensible and effective way to invest. There’s a sense in which we even have that. The internet is a powerful communications medium. We could spread the word quickly if those who knew what works were not afraid of what will be done to their careers if they dare to speak up. And we even have rules in place at all our boards and blogs protecting those people from the brutal tactics of the Buy-and-Hold Goons. We are on the 99-yard line. All we really need today is effective enforcement of the rules that in theory already are in place at the web sites where we need to be spreading the word.
Set forth below are 10 examples of experts who would love to be able to tell the truth about stock investing, if only as a society we were willing to do what we need to do to make them feel safe doing so.
1) I learned about the errors in the Old School safe-withdrawal-rate studies by reading John Bogle’s book. Bogle explained that Reversion to the Mean is an “Iron Law” of stock investing. If high prices always lead to low prices, the safe withdrawal rate obviously cannot be the same when prices are high as it is when prices are low. Bogle would love to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing, as revealed by the last 30 years of academic research. We should let him.
2) Years before all of the major publications in this field acknowledged the errors in the Old School studies, one of the Goons asked William Bernstein whether he agreed with my claim that the Old School studies employed an invalid methodology. Bernstein said that “of course” the methodology used was valid but that anyone who was giving thought to making use of one of the Old School studies to plan a retirement would be well-advised to “FuhGedDaBouDit!” The second part of his statement is obviously just a down-to-earth way of saying that the methodology used in the studies was analytically invalid (if a valid methodology had been used, the numbers generated by the studies would not have been so wildly off the mark). Bernstein would love to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing, as revealed by the last 30 years of academic research. We should let him.
3) Yale Economics Professor Robert Shiller described the theory behind the Valuation-Informed Indexing concept in his bestselling book Irrational Exuberance. But Shiller held back from including even one paragraph in the book telling investors how they should invest now that we know that Buy-and-Hold strategies can never work in the long run. Shiller told us why in an interview in which he said that he has never dared to go public with all he knows about how stock investing works because he would be smeared as “unprofessional” if he did so (I have a funny hunch that I might know what investing strategy it would be that would inspire its followers to do something like that). I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Shiller has already written Irrational Exuberance II, the book that describes what it is that investors need to do now that they know how dangerous it is not to practice long-term timing. Shiller would love to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing, as revealed by the last 30 years of academic research. We should let him.
4) Philip Taylor is a blogger who organizes the annual Financial Blogger Conferences. I submitted an article on Valuation-Informed Indexing for inclusion in the conference magazine. Phil rejected the article not because he does not see merit in the investing strategy but solely because he knows that bloggers don’t today know enough about the dangers of Buy-and-Hold and the benefits of Valuation-Informed Indexing to appreciate how much they would be helping their readers to lead the transition to the new strategy. He told me: “I assure you, my rejection of your article has nothing to do with my opinion on your particular strategy. I don’t need convincing of anything. Your way is perfect as far as I am concerned. Go preach it to the nations. #FinCon12, though, is not the right pulpit for this topic. The bloggers just don’t care. They have shown time and time again in the surveys that these types of topics are not of interest. Please respect that I know my audience.” Phil is right in what he says about out fellow bloggers. I have experienced this indifference to the new strategy on hundreds of occasions. But what if Bogle and all the others came out with public statements saying that Buy-and-Hold is the past and Valuation-Informed Indexing is the future? Would financial bloggers not be thrilled to lead the effort to get accurate and honest and realistic information about how to invest in stocks out to their readers? The question answers itself. Taylor and all other financial bloggers would love to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing. We should let him.
5) Mike Piper is the author of the Oblivious Investor blog. I had a long talk with him at last year’s Financial Bloggers Conference about the ban on honest posting in place today at his site and in place today at a good number of other sites. Mike told me that “there is nothing I would like more” than to see a lifting of the ban. But Mike has a problem. He permitted honest posting at his site for a time and my daily comments pointing out the dangers of Buy-and-Hold enraged his readers, most of whom follow the Buy-and-Hold strategy. If Mike were to permit honest posting, would he be able to retain his readership? If Bogle and all the others spoke out, he sure could. If Mike were giving honest and accurate and research-supported investing advice, his readership would skyrocket and all those Buy-and-Hold readers who are upset today to read the truth about stock investing would be thrilled to do so. But Mike needs our help. He needs Bogle and lots of others to give him “cover.” Mike would love to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing. We should let him.
6) Financial Planner Michael Kitces wrote at his blog that: “There are time-periods where stocks are a terrible addition to that portfolio. Yet inexplicably, we as planners STILL tend to suggest that it is ‘risky’ to not own stocks when in reality the only material risk is to our business and ability to keep clients, NOT to the clients’ goal.” I think it would be fair to say that Michael very much looks forward to the day when he can tell his clients the truth about stock investing. He has told me in e-mail correspondence that he knows of numerous financial planners who were in the days following the 2008 crash discussing the possibility of starting to let their clients in on some of the stuff that all those who work in this field today know about but dare not give voice to in public comments. Michael would love to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing. We should let him.
7) New York Times Financial Blogger Carl Richards has said of my work: “I have read everything I can about Valuation-Informed Indexing. What you are doing has huge value.” But Carl too banned me from his site. Again the reason was the burning rage that my reports on what the academic research says about stock investing caused in many of his readers, people who were trying to maintain a belief in Buy-and-Hold principles three decades after the research showed that there is precisely zero chance that Buy-and-Hold can ever work in the long term. Carl would love to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing. We should let him.
8) In the wake of the onset of the economic crisis, a federal commission was formed to identify its cause. The effort bore no good fruit. Democrats on the commission blamed the policies of Republicans. Republicans on the commission blamed the policies of Democrats. No one paid any attention to what the commission said because we all hear Democrats yelling at Republicans and Republicans yelling at Democrats on a daily basis. I have a funny hunch that the members of the commission would have loved to have felt free to identify the obvious true cause of the crisis. Stocks were overpriced by $12 trillion in 2000. Even John Bogle, the King of Buy-and-Hold, acknowledges that stock prices always return to fair-value levels after the passage of 10 years or so. Bogle calls this an “Iron Law” of stock investing. So everyone paying attention knew in 2000 that roughly $12 trillion of consumer buying power would be disappearing from our economy by sometime near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. There’s your economic crisis! The members of the economic crisis commission would love to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing. We should let them.
9) Rajiv Sethie, a Professor of Economics at Columbia University, said of my work: “Rob Bennett makes the claim that market timing based on aggregate PE ratios can be a far more effective strategy. I can see how it could be true.” Rajiv would love to do the research proving it to be so and to win the Nobel prize that would follow from doing so. If he weren’t aware of what was done to Wade Pfau when he did this and what has happened to numerous others in this field who have dared to speak honestly about what the last 30 years of academic research shows us, Rahiv would have done that research a long time ago. If he hadn’t, hundreds of other fine academic researchers would have jumped at the chance to win that Nobel prize. Rajiv and hundreds of other fine academic researchers would love to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing We should let them.
10) The first two words in the February 2005 e-mail sent to me by Dallas Morning News Columnist Scott Burns in response to my e-mail pointing out the errors in the Old School SWR studies were: “You’re right!” Scott asked me in that e-mail for my telephone number so that he could interview me in preparation for an article letting his readers know of the dangers of following the Old School studies. He thought better of it. Scott later wrote an article pointing out that “some people” believe that the Old School studies are analytically invalid. But he was careful not to let his readers know of his personal viewpoint that these criticism are on the mark. And he was careful not to mention the name of the person who pointed out the errors in the studies to him. And he was careful not to include a link to my Retirement Risk Evaluator calculator (which reports the SWR numbers accurately) in his article. And he was careful to put forward numerous defamatory comments about me to keep himself in the favor of the Lindauerheads and the Greaney Goons. Scott would love to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing. We should let him.
We all want to feel free to tell the truth about stock investing. Why wouldn’t we? We all benefit from knowing how stock investing works. And we can only understand things that we feel free to discuss. Permitting honest posting on safe withdrawal rates and many other critically important investment-related topics is a win/win/win/win/win.
So why don’t we do it?
We don’t like to have death threats directed at us. We don’t like to have tens of thousands of acts of defamation directed at us. We don’t like to be banned from the internet sites we frequent. We don’t like to have internet Goons sending defamatory e-mails to our employers in efforts to get us fired from our jobs.
Once even a small number of influential people speak out in opposition to the Campaign of Terror, it’s all over. Buy-and-Hold is no more at that point. Valuation-Informed Indexing is the new dominant model at that point.
The Tipping Point is one price crash away. It is the next price crash that will change things in a way that will permit us to to begin work on bringing about the greatest period of economic growth ever seen in U.S. history. There is a reason why it’s darkest before the dawn. It often takes a whole big bunch of darkness to help the humans work up the courage to do what deep in their hearts they knew for many years very much needed to be done.