Set forth below is the text of a comment that I recently posted to the discussion thread for another blog entry at this site:
Rob, can you give us a sense of how many hours per week you work on investing matters? Any new books in the works?
I’ve talked about the book before. I have a draft of a book about investing (“Investing for Humans: How to Get What Works on Paper to Work in Real Life”) completed. I will finish the book when the story it tells is complete. That is when the Ban on Honest Posting is lifted at every site on the internet and we all feel free to say exactly what we believe about how stock investing works and when we all are enjoying an amazing learning experience as we integrate what we have learned from the last 36 years of peer-reviewed research into what we knew about stock investing in the years before 1981 (at that time it appeared that Buy-and-Hold might well be the answer). My belief today is that we probably will not see the big turn until we experience the next price crash. I hope it comes sooner. I hope it comes before the close of business today. But given what I have seen during the first 15 years of our discussions about whether or not to permit honest posting re the last 36 years of peer-reviewed research, my expectation today is that we are not going to see big moves forward until we experience another price crash and people get worried enough about the future of our country that their fears about what will happen to them if they stand up to you Goons become inconsequential in comparison.
In haven’t counted the number of hours that I devote to investing stuff each week. It’s not anything close to what I would like it to be. I think that I should be putting in a minimum of 50 hours. I would estimate that perhaps I put in 20 writing the column and responding to your Goon comments and handling a few similar matters, matters that are time-sensitive and that cannot be put off. So, on an objective basis, my record has been bad in recent years.
It was not at all bad in earlier years. Every human being who has tried to do honest work in this field over the past 36 years had been subjected to a hurricane of hate if he or she made efforts to have his or her work brought before the eyes of a good cross-section of the American people. We were talking just yesterday morning about how this is so of Robert Shiller himself. Shiller has done work so important that he has been awarded a Nobel prize for it. But Shiller shies away from addressing the how-to questions that follow from his “revolutionary” (Shiller’s word) findings of 1981. I don’t doubt that Shiller is putting in more hours than me. But he is avoiding the most important work. The most important work is spreading the word far and wide. We need to have every single human being alive today feeling free to post honestly re these matters so that we all benefit from input coming from thousands and thousands of different perspectives. Shiller is not helping with that when he draws back from stating in clear and firm and simple and bold terms to what extent investors should be changing their stock allocations in response to big valuation shifts. That’s the work that I do. It is very, very, very, very, very hard work.
It’s not hard physically. It’s hard emotionally. You Goons know the story. Your knowledge of what keeps people from doing this hard but important work comes through in all your abusive comments. The thing that has kept Buy-and-Hold alive for 36 years since the peer-reviewed research showed that there is precisely zero chance that it could ever work for a single long-term investor is the fear that as a society we have put in people who dare to “cross” all those who believe in the Buy-and-Hold fantasies by pointing out the realities as revealed by the peer-reviewed research. People don’t want to see their loved ones placed in danger of attacks of physical violence by you Goons. People don’t want to see their careers destroyed. People don’t want to see their reputations destroyed. People do not want to hear words of hate directed at them. People do not want to be removed from communities where they have established friendships with many people. People do not want to feel isolated from their fellow humans. People do not want to bring “bad news” to friends of theirs whose entire lives are riding on a belief in the accuracy of the Buy-and-Hold claims.
This phenomenon — the fear that we Normals feel over offending our Goon friends (please remember that ALL humans have goonishness inside them — it is our inner Goon that leaves us vulnerable to Get Rich Quick schemes in the first place) is the core of our story, Anonymous. You Goons are cartoon figures. You take abusiveness to places that it has never been taken before. The vast majority of the population would never in a million years engage in the tactics that you engage in on a daily basis. So how is it that you Goons always prevail in getting honest posting re the peer-reviewed research suppressed? You prevail because the Normals who are not personally willing to engage in Goon behavior do have enough goonishness in them to TOLERATE Goon behavior engaged in by others in what they see as a good cause (the suppression of effective challenges to Buy-and-Hold). If we took a vote at any of the boards as to whether death threats should be permitted, you Goons would lose by a vote of 90 percent to 10 percent. But you always win the vote that counts. When death threats appear, the Normals keep quiet about it (usually after filing an objection or two that goes nowhere). As a people, our official position is that your tactics are unacceptable. But the practical reality is that an exception applies in the case of Buy-and-Hold. Get Rich Quick strategies are so dear to us that we tolerate behavior that we would otherwise not tolerate to see that the promotion of them can continue.
You noted the other day that you have never seen a case like mine. There is no other case like mine. I have touched the Third Rail of Personal Finance. You can do a lot of things in this world but you cannot ever, ever, ever make an effective case in public that Buy-and-Hold is a big pile of smelly garbage that was 100 percent discredited by the peer-reviewed research in this field 36 years ago. That truth must remain unspoken. The fact that the Buy-and-Hold retirement studies get the numbers wildly wrong must remain unsaid. I have broken a social Taboo. I didn’t know that I was doing it. I had no idea on the morning of May 13, 2002, what lay ahead for me and for our communities. I know today. I have violated a Social Taboo that MUST be violated if our economic system is to survive and I have paid the price for doing so.
It’s a big price that must be paid and that I have indeed paid. It hurts to be separated from one’s friends, to be isolated and humiliated and to have none of one’s peers stand up and say “Enough!” That’s all well documented at the site. What is not always documented as well as we might like it to be is that pain that follows from the employment of the tactics that you Goons make use of to suppress the discussions that as a society we very much need to have if out economic system is to survive. It would be good if we could document that pain. Then I could give you clearer answers when you ask whether Shiller or Pfau or Bogle or whoever will be going to prison along with you Goons. Most of us work very hard to do honest work and find that things get to a point where we just cannot take it any longer and then we start pulling back and advancing half truths and word games and all the other garbage that we see appear before our eyes so often when the subject of what the last 36 years of peer-reviewed research tells us about Buy-and-Hold comes up.
The vast majority of people who work in this field are obviously good people, they want to help others with the work they do. They have found that as a practical reality this is impossible today. And so they have retreated into silence on the most important questions (such as the true cause of our economic crisis). And of course each time someone retreats into silence, it makes things that much harder for those who are struggling not to retreat into silence, to continue doing the good, honest work that must be done if as a people we are to survive this crisis. Each time one more good person elects to self-censor, the trap gets tighter for every one of us and the damage that we are doing to our economic system and even to our political system grows even greater.
I have stood firm. Former than anyone else alive. I am the world’s #1 expert on the abusive tactics employed by Buy-and-Holders to block effective, research-based challenges to their “strategy.” And I have taken the hits that follow when anyone elects to go against the herd and say the things that must be said if as a society we are to expose this massive act of financial fraud. I have taken a lot of hits. It hurts.
I offer this preface to set up my next point. I said above that I put in perhaps 20 hours of work each week on these matters. It embarrasses me to say that. I should certainly be putting in 40 hours. Given the importance of the matter, it should shame me to put in less than 60. To put in only 20 hours of work re these matters is to put forward a feeble amount of effort. I should feel ashamed to say that and I do feel ashamed to say that.
Except for the fact that I have done more than anyone else. I have done more than Shiller. I have done more than Bogle. I have done more than Pfau. These are great men. If I have done more than these three great men (and thousands of others), is shame really appropriate? That’s a question that I ponder a lot.
I think that the answer is that emotional work is work too. When I say that I only put in 20 hours per week, I am only counting the time that I am typing on a computer keyboard composing a column or responding to a Goon comment or whatever. That’s not the only work that I do. I think about this stuff every waking moment. I wake up very early in the morning many days because my brain is telling me that I need to think about some aspect of the question some more. If you count all that time as time that I am grappling with the emotional questions that are at the core of our economic crisis, then I am putting in a lot more than 20 hours per week. It’s more like 60 hours or perhaps 120 hours. It’s a lot of work that I put in if you count the emotional side of the story. And the emotional side of the story is of course the side that we have ignored for so long and that has thus gotten us all in so much trouble. So ignoring the emotional side of the story is not something that we should be doing.
I have taken the lead role on the emotional side. I am proud of that. For years, I hardly let all the attacks slow me down too much. I used to put in full 40- and 50-hour weeks. That stopped after Wade Pfau flipped to the Goon side. That one was hard to take because it was so obvious an act of outrageous financial fraud. After that, my feelings of isolation grew, my hopes that we could avoid the next price crash diminished and my ability to put in a full work day disappeared. So today I do the 20-hour thing and spend the remaining hours trying to figure out what more I can do to turn this situation in a more positive direction.
A little over a year ago I began attending meetings of the Al Anon 12-step program. I attend two meetings each week. You may recall that I used to have a section of the site called “Stock Drunk.” Get Rich Quick investing is an addiction. The real problem that we are facing is that millions of middle-class Americans are today addicted to Buy-and-Hold. The reason why we do not see discussions of the last 36 years of peer-reviewed research at every investing discussion board and blog on the internet is that addicts do not take kindly to hearing their addictions questioned. In extreme cases (and a P/E10 level of 44 is as extreme as it gets), they become violent when their addictions are questioned. Al Anon is not for alcoholics, it is for family members affected by the disease of alcoholism. I attend these meetings to gain a deeper appreciation of the pain of the addict with the aim of developing skills to help me get over the feelings of isolation that hold back all of us seeking to do good work in this field.
I am seeking to “recover” from the feelings of isolation that keep me from putting in 60-hour weeks not just on the emotional side but on the physical side as well. I have made progress in the 14 months that I have been attending meetings. My goal for this year is to get to a point where I am sending out one e-mail each day telling someone who does not know about this story what is really going on. I believe that this is a numbers game. To get someone to visit the site and learn the entire story, I might need to contact 1,000 people with an e-mail. It’s hard to do because being rejected 999 times is an emotionally painful thing to experience. But that is the way forward. I need to develop a tough enough armor that I don’t care about the 999 rejections but only about the one e-mail that is going to achieve the result intended for all of them, the one that will produce the buzz on the internet that will get this story written up on the front page of the New York Times and bring this economic crisis (this Buy-and-Hold crisis!) to a full and complete stop.
So I am working it. I don’t count the time that I spend in meetings or preparing for meetings in the 20-hour estimate. But I expect that it is those hours that are ultimately going to be the difference makers. We are as a nation Stock Drunk. We are addicted to Get Rich Quick investing strategies. We are not bad people. We are suffering from a DISEASE. Those of us who care about our fellow humans naturally want to help all of our friends and neighbors and co-workers and fellow community members overcome this disease. To do so, we must gain the ability to speak to them about the very serious dangers of Buy-and-Hold. To gain the ability to speak, we must overcome the feelings of isolation and shame that you Goons have instilled in us with your abusive tactics.
I make progress re these efforts every day. I am not where I want to be. But I am working this harder than any other human being alive. I tell myself that that is the most that I can expect of myself and that there is no cause here for me to beat myself up just because I don’t like it that the direct and simple and concise answer to your question is “about 20 hours per week.” I am putting in the most time that I am today able to put in. I have good reason to believe that that number will be increasing in the days to come. I believe that we will all find our way together to the other side of the Big Black Mountain and that the day will come when honest posting on safe withdrawal rates and scores of other critically important investment-related topics will be permitted (and encouraged!) at every investing site on the internet.
I hope that helps a small bit, my long-time Goon friend.