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I Don’t Know Means I Don’t Know

For a generation now, the women’s movement has engaged in a worthwhile and important campaign regarding sexual consent called “No Means No”.  What I want to touch on today is considerably less noble, but still part of what I believe is a systemic societal problem.  It involves people who know a little bit about something acting as if they know rather more.

 

Case in point is the Coronavirus and its impact on capital markets.  To my mind, the only truly reputable answer to any question about what it means or how it will end or what the ultimate impact will be is: “I don’t know”.  I don’t mind people offering opinions, as many people – especially those who give financial advice for a living – are apt to do.  I do, however, mind when those opinions are offered in a way that sounds authoritative and factual.

 

Specifically, I believe there’s plenty of evidence that shows that the financial services industry has a clear bias toward staying invested and calming fears.  I’m not saying it’s a bad bias; I’m just saying there is one.  Imagine if someone were to ask Neville Chamberlain in 1939 what it all means that Hitler had just invaded Poland and he responded with, “I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll all be fine”.  As this pertains to the COVID-19 pandemic:

 

  • The truth is that no one really knows for sure
  • Most stories seem to involve commentators saying everything will be fine

 

The problem is obvious.  If the first bullet holds, then the second cannot.  Basically, if you honestly admit that you don’t know, then you can’t honestly say that everything will be okay.  People are overreaching in their desire to sound credible and are misappropriating their voices along the way.

 

Allow me to offer a few related thoughts:

 

  • I don’t know when, where, why or how this will all end
  • Staying calm is good, but implying certitude where there is none is not
  • Too many commentators are equating a decision to sell with panic and knee-jerk reactions

 

Some people (read: me) take exception to being portrayed as reactive when they are, in fact, calm, considered and purposeful.  Just because you don’t agree with someone’s decision doesn’t make the decision ill-considered.  Therefore, if we’re all being honest with ourselves and with each other and we all admit that no one really knows for sure, will the ‘don’t sell’ faction within in the financial industry please get off their high horses when people express a legitimate and considered desire to sell?

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