Government at its Best

A little over two months ago I wrote a long and ponderous post on the administration’s scheme to help homeowners in trouble and cure the housing crisis.  I wasn’t very nice about it.  I cruelly suggested that it might not help the 1 in 9 homeowners that the Treasury suggested might be helped.  I feel bad about  that.  I even implied that the strong moral leadership provided by the Treasury’s guidelines would not be enough, that actual legislation would be required.Obama Geithner

You must understand, this was in early March, back when things were really grim.  Unemployment was rising and house prices seemed to be falling every month.  I let my despair overcome my natural American optimism about all the good that government can do if we all chant “Yes, we can!”

Now that May has brought warmer weather and a buoyant stock market, let’s revisit the administration’s housing effort with all the optimism and cheerfulness that it deserves.  So two months into it, how is it going?  Great.  Well, pretty good. Not bad. To be honest, fair. A little less than expected, but it’s still early days.  Okay, really crappy, but we’re working on it.

A “senior administration official” quoted by the New York Times tells us that “about 55,000 homeowners have been extended loan modification offers” thus far.  And I am sure that when he says “about 55,000” he means “at least 55,000” and that practically all those homeowners will joyously accept the offer, which is no doubt a great help to them.  Assuming that the government can keep up this pace, this wonderful program will help 825,000 homeowners before it expires at the end of 2012.  That’s “about” the 3 to 4 million the program was meant to help, isn’t it?

Okay, so that’s a little short of the pace originally expected, but the notoriously anti-Obama NYT didn’t need to pile on by pointing out that there were 342,000 foreclosure filings in April alone.  Nor did it need to mention that some of those 55,000 could only get into the program with the help of a lawyer.  And there was no reason to suggest, as they did, that the legislation now in Congress to “protect mortgage servicers from potential lawsuits” was really necessary.

That sort of coverage is totally unfair because it takes a while for these high-profile emergency programs to get going.  Take, for example, the Hope for Homeowners Act, signed into law last summer.  It was a $300 Billion plan to help 400,000 homeowners.  By October 1 the government had it up and running and it has been building steam ever since.  Sure, that rabidly right-wing outfit NPR did report that six months later it had only helped a single homeowner, but more were in the pipeline.  51 had been “finalized to some degree by lenders” and a whopping 868 applications for the program had been received and were in process.  Also, I bet that one homeowner who got help was really really deserving.  (Can you imagine the thrill at being the only guy helped by a $300 Billion program? Now that’s something to tell the grandkids about.)

And these homeowner bailout plans are just one of the many effective programs that our leaders in Washington have enacted to get us out of the Great Recession.   Who can forget the $787 Billion stimulus package, expertly engineered to jump-start the economy with a sudden and massive injection of cash?  Only three months since passage, the government has already paid out $46 Billion, or nearly 6% of the money.  And it will start moving even faster soon. “The Obama administration has committed to spending 70 percent of the money, or $550.9 billion, within the first two years.”

The ever-eloquent Vice President summed it up in one of his brilliant sports analogies.

“In baseball terms, I think there’s going to be real pace on the ball here,” Mr. Biden said in the interview. “I think that what you’re going to see happen here is the velocity of this will increase not just arithmetically, but geometrically here. At least, we’ve got to make that happen.”

Yes, we can!

26 Comments

  • By Dangerman, May 15, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

    I agree.

  • By SJ, May 15, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

    hahahahahahaha…. ::sobs sobs sobs:: haha… oh man….

    I wonder how effective this would be compared to a giant blimp releasing bags of bills… if we ignore the temporary rioting…

  • By Rick Francis, May 15, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

    Frank,

    Do you realize that you are criticizing the government for NOT spending money fast enough?

  • By Rob Bennett, May 15, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

    I don’t believe that the government spending is going to help much.

    But I also don’t believe that the politicians could get away with doing nothing. They are doing what they are doing because we are demanding action and spending money is the action that they know how to take.

    My view is that we need to demand a different sort of action. I believe that we need to be frank with ourselves as to the true cause of the economic crisis (I think the true cause was the out-of-control bull of the 1990s, which made a huge price crash inevitable). Until we do that, how fair is it to expect the politicians to consider effective solutions to our problems?

    I don’t believe that things are better now than they were a few months ago in any but a surface sense. Time is passing. The more time passes without us taking effective steps. the worse are our long-term prospects. The more things that happen to encourage us to believe that the crisis has passed, the greater the risk that it is going to end up getting much worse. My take is that we have been blessed with numerous opportunities to pull back from the cliff and so far have been happy to let them pass on by without us taking action on them.

    Rob

  • By IndependentOperator, May 15, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

    @Rick, I certainly didn’t see it that way. I see Frank questioning why this ‘emergency spending’ was indeed such an emergency, if we aren’t even spending it with any pace.

    Great post, Frank. The sarcasm is entertaining and refreshing.

  • By LHM, May 15, 2009 @ 9:10 pm

    Bob Bennet
    “My view is that we need to demand a different sort of action.” “The more time passes without us taking effective steps, the worse are our long-term prospects.”
    Can you elaborate on what steps you think they should be taking. And how we would ‘demand’ that they be taken.

    From my reading of the 1929 crash most of the “steps taken” made things worse.

    Frank: You pointed out refreshingly what the government is not doing (despite what they say) but what in your opinion, if anything, should the government be doing?

  • By LHM, May 15, 2009 @ 9:21 pm

    And, oh by the way, I questioned your $300 billion to help 400,000 homeowners but I checked the NPR site and it uses those same figures. I flunked calculus so maybe my math is off when I calculate that to be $750,000 per homeowner. At least it is better than your projected $300 billion for one homeowner! Must be for jumbo morgages in Hawaii.

  • By Four Pillars, May 16, 2009 @ 12:59 am

    Correct me if I’m wrong – but the “$300 quadrillion” dollar plan means that the money is budgeted only if enough people qualify. If only 1 homeowner gets relief then the plan will cost much less…like $100 mill? :)

  • By Rob Bennett, May 16, 2009 @ 6:17 am

    Can you elaborate on what steps you think they should be taking. And how we would ‘demand’ that they be taken.

    I don’t want to sidetrack this thread with a long explanation of the evils of Passive Investing, LHM. But if you ask me about this at my blog (there’s a link at my name), I will be happy to work through it step by step with you.

    The short version is that the entire economic crisis was caused by our willingness to believe the silly claim that “timing never works.” The only discipline there is on stock prices is the unwillingness of investors to permit prices to get too out of hand. When most come to believe that there is no need to sell stocks when prices get insane, that discipline is gone and prices go so high that a crash becomes inevitable. When a crash causes millions of middle-class investors to lose much of their retirement money, they cut back on spending dramatically. That collapses the entire economy.

    The solution is for us all to buy stocks in the same way we buy everything else, with price as an important consideration. I call that approach “Rational Investing.” It is the opposite of Passive Investing (which encourages us to ignore price) in every way.

    The means by which we bring about the transition from Passive Investing to Rational Investing is by exploring the realities for ourselves and by engaging in conversations about what we learn with our friends and neighbors and co-workers. People are afraid to talk about the realities of stock investing because it is painful to acknowledge that we have caused so much financial misery for ourselves and others. We need to get over that. There’s lots of wonderful stuff on the other side of the mountain that we placed in front of our hopes for financial freedom when we created the Passive Investing Monster.

    Most of the stuff that the politicians are focused on is a sideshow, in my assessment. But what can we reasonably expect the politicians to do? Nothing? They need to do something and the thing that they should be doing is political death today because of the way we would react to it. So they spend money instead. Politicians do what politicians have to do. That’s how they are made. When we make clear that we want them to do different, they will do different.

    Rob

  • By JBC, May 16, 2009 @ 8:14 am

    “The short version is that the entire economic crisis was caused by our willingness to believe the silly claim that “timing never works.””

    This is the silliest thing I’ve ever read.

  • By Rob Bennett, May 16, 2009 @ 8:56 am

    You’re not the first person who has said that, JBC.

    Rob

  • By Frank Curmudgeon, May 16, 2009 @ 8:58 am

    LHM: I’d first echo your observation that government action post-1929 made things much much worse, and arguably made Great Depression great. (It was worse in the US than in other countries, a fact that is not mentioned often enough.) Government has a bad batting average on these things. To be clear, I’m not anti-government, I just think that, like Dave Ramsey, it should stay within its own areas of expertise.

    In principle, I would like to see a workable plan to extract the “toxic” mortgage bonds from the balance sheets of our major financial institutions. I have almost no optimism that this will happen.

    JBC: That was the silliest thing you ever read? You don’t spend much time on blogs, do you?

    An electrical problem causes a fire in a warehouse full of fireworks with a faulty sprinkler system. What was the cause of the ensuing disaster? The electrical problem (a housing bubble), the fireworks (a fragile savings/investment system), or the sprinklers (the government’s unforgivable failure to backstop the credit system last fall)? In any case, we’ve got a smoldering crater to deal with.

  • By Dove, May 16, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

    “The solution is for us all to buy stocks in the same way we buy everything else, with price as an important consideration.”

    Fortunately, these guys do exactly that, and their activities drive the prices. In effect, passive investments take advantage of prices already negotiated by professionals.

  • By ryan, May 16, 2009 @ 11:02 pm

    Frank,

    I’m eagerly awaiting your take on Brett Arends’ recent WSJ column about using put index options as portfolio insurance.

    My gut instinct tells me that a cheaper form of “insurance” would be putting less money in stocks in the first place, higher proportion into CD’s or whatever. Obviously, it depends on just how badly the market tanks; but long term, really, what is this doing?

    I’m coming to the uneducated conclusion that alot of the folks who eagerly participate in this type of investing enjoy the smoke and mirrors of it, and get a kick out of the fancy terminology at the expense of not only simplicity but long term returns. In the book “House Lust” the author accused real estate agents of enjoying their mildly-complex lingo and employing it as an asset that gives the appearance of expertise and indispensability. I think the same judgment could be passed on alot of these financial folks.

    That being said, as I’ve earned more and more money to invest, I myself have become fascinated with alot of the inner-workings of the system, and the ideas behind all the various derivatives, and yet all my investing money goes to index funds.

  • By Rob Bennett, May 17, 2009 @ 4:53 am

    passive investments take advantage of prices already negotiated by professionals.

    Then how did prices get to three times fair value?

    If these “professionals” are so smart, why didn’t they lower their stock allocations when prices went to the moon? If stock investing were a rational endeavor, prices would self-regulate. In an efficient market, overvaluation would be a logical impossibility. Yet we recently saw in the real world that stocks remained insanely overpriced for 13 years running.

    I’m beginning to wonder if maybe some of these “professionals” are human like the rest of us of us and capable of permitting emotions to influence their “professional” opinions.

    If that’s so, then all bets are of course off. If that’s so, then it could well be a good idea to consider price in setting your stock allocation. The price is what tells you how much emotion is present in the market at any given time and knowing that tells you the extent to which you want to participate at that particular time.

    I understand that there are lots of smart people who believe that the market is efficient. What I want to know is whether the theory is true. I have never seen any evidence that it is true that persuades me even a tiny bit. Nothing. All that I have ever seen in this regard is an assumption.

    If that assumption turns out to have been wrong (I am 99 percent certain that this is indeed the case), then more human misery has been caused by this one particular bad assumption than by any earlier bad assumption ever made in the history of personal finance.

    I don’t fault people for saying that they personally believe that the market is efficient. It is clear that many smart people sincerely believe this. But I have a big problem with the dogmatism with which I have often seen this assumption advanced. It’s one thing to say that it’s possible that the market is efficient. It’s something very different to advocate that people put their retirement money at risk on a belief that this assumption is ultimately going to check out. That’s especially so when there are also lots of smart people (and more and more all the time are moving to this camp) saying that the assumption is pure gibberish.

    Rob

  • By Rob Bennett, May 17, 2009 @ 5:03 am

    I’m coming to the uneducated conclusion that alot of the folks who eagerly participate in this type of investing enjoy the smoke and mirrors of it, and get a kick out of the fancy terminology at the expense of not only simplicity but long term returns.

    Amen.

    Investing involves putting your money at risk.

    That’s scary.

    A typical human response to something that causes fear is to intellectualize it, to develop all sorts of magical incantations that they use to convince themselves that they have mastered the matter.

    The more the evidence piles us that the incantations have no power in the real world, the greater the fury with which they dance the steps that are presumed to give the incantations their power.

    How is Passive Investing ever going to be disproven? If it is all the product of one wild-eyed assumption and if the assumption is beyond questioning, how is this “strategy” ever going to be disproven?

    If it can not be disproven, what kind of “science” is it anyway? What good is generating tables of numbers when you have no idea whether any of the numbers are accurate because you dare not scrutinize the root assumption giving birth to them?

    It is magical thinking dressed up as science.

    Or at least that’s my sincere take re the matter. I am not a believer.

    Rob

  • By Frank Curmudgeon, May 17, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    It seems to me that there are three separate active vs. passive controversies floating around here. The first, which my post that was linked to by Dove discusses, is the classic pick stocks vs. buy funds one. Then there is the active funds vs. passive funds debate. And the third is the one that Rob is (I think) talking about, whether you should use a static allocation between asset classes, based on a some kind of a long-run average return expectation, or dynamically allocate based on a changing return expectation.

    I think it is Rob’s burden that not only is he in the minority on the third question, most people don’t even acknowledge it as an issue for debate.

    There is a big difference between stock picking and asset picking. It’s hard to justify stock picking, because that market is fairly efficient and populated by professionals in intense competition. Asset picking, on the other hand, is not typically done by professionals, or in any case not dominated by them to nearly the same extent. What really drives the relative value of stocks vs. other assets is not sharp traders on Wall Street but millions of ordinary folks shifting their money in IRAs and 401(k)s. I’m not saying that Rob is right, but the efficient market argument is much weaker in the arena in which he is primarily concerned.

  • By Rob Bennett, May 18, 2009 @ 6:00 am

    most people don’t even acknowledge it as an issue for debate.

    That one stopped me in my tracks for a bit, Frank.

    After sleeping on it, my take is that you are right about this. I challenge not some particular aspect of the Efficient Market Theory/Passive Investing Model, but the entire theory/model. It is indeed hard to get people to acknowledge that the entire model could be wrong because to do so puts under question everything we once thought we knew about stock investing. It’s scary to re-examine the fundamentals.

    But what if the entire model really is gravely flawed? Do you see the huge opportunity with which we are presented if that is indeed so? It means that we are living in a time in which all of the rules of investing are going to be rewritten and in real time and on the internet. Could anything be more exciting for people with an interest in personal finance?

    My hope is that there will soon come a day when some smart people will be able to stop seeing this questioning process as a threat and start seeing it as an opportunity. If it turns out that the model withstands scrutiny, fine. That would be just great. If it turns out that the model fails (as I obviously expect will be the case), we’ve got our work cut out for us. But it will be tremendously exciting and rewarding and fulfilling work, no? Could there be any more important work for people interested in personal finance than rewriting from the ground up the model used for understanding how stock investing works?

    If I and all the others who are today questioning the Efficient Market Theory/Passive Investing Model (and I have seen about three or four articles per week questioning these things during the post-crash era) are right, the crisis we are living through today was the inevitable result of our too easy acceptance of a gravely flawed model a few decades back. If we are right, the problem is not going away until we face the problems that we have been ducking for close to 30 years now.

    It’s true that the fact that the implications of what I am saying are too big for many to swallow. Yes, this causes people to throw obstacles in the way of our progress. But — holy moly! — consider what can be done if we figure out a way around the obstacles. John Walter Russell and I are seven years into a project of rewriting the world’s understanding of how stock investing works in the real world. We’re not reporting on someone else’s articulation of the rules. We’re writing the rules. That’s the project.

    I didn’t ask for this job. It was forced on me. Should I be cursing my bad luck? Or should I be thanking my lucky stars?

    I do not know the answer to the question. I know that I cannot say “no” when something like this is put into my hands. It’s like what happened in Rocky. A neighborhood bum is given a chance to fight for the title of heavyweight champion of the world. What’s he gonna do — say “no thanks, I’m busy that weekend”? I cannot say “no thanks” in these circumstances.

    I would not be raising these points if the “experts” had been able to come up with any reasonable answers to the questions I have put to them. If the big names are not able to make sense of their ideas, it seems to me that it falls to some little names to step forward and take on the job. Someone has to figure out the true reasons why we are in this economic crisis and explain what we need to do to make sure it never happens again. No matter how much respect and affection I feel for many of them, the stunning reality is that the people who by all rights should be doing this work just flat-out do not have the courage to take on the job.

    So this Hobbit Reporter has ended up doing it for them. I didn’t take on the job because I enjoy getting bricks thrown at my head. I did it because I was placed in circumstances in which it became clear that it is a job that very much needs doing and that no one else is doing it. Yes, it’s a challenge. But not just in the bad sense of the word. In the good sense of the word too.

    Rob

  • By Rob Bennett, May 18, 2009 @ 6:14 am

    I’m not saying that Rob is right

    If someone as smart as you isn’t absolutely sure about a question so basic (I’m questioning the entire model!), there’s something deeply, deeply, deeply wrong with this model.

    This shouldn’t be a hard question. When someone makes claims as bold as the claims that I have advanced, those who understand the model should be able immediately to point with specificity to the flaws in those claims. You are certainly not the first smart person who has not been able to do this. In seven years, I have not been able to find one Passive Investing advocate who could respond effectively to my claims that the model is gravely flawed.

    I am prepared today to stand on a stage with John Bogle and debate these questions. I’ve contacted John Bogle. He is not able to say whether I am right or not either.

    Yowsa!

    Rob

  • By Frank Curmudgeon, May 18, 2009 @ 8:45 am

    Rob:

    My radical view is that there is no such thing as Efficient Market Theory. When I was in college we were taught about the Efficient Market Hypothesis, or EMH, that held that stock prices reflected all available information and that therefore you couldn’t make money picking stocks. I am quite certain that when EMH was formulated in the 1950s nobody thought it was true. It was a null hypothesis against which theories of stock prices could be tested.

    But it turned out to be very hard to break EMH. (It wasn’t until the work of Andy Lo in the 1980s that anybody had generated conclusive proof that it could be done.) But that doesn’t mean that EMH is true. In fact, it can’t be; it is internally inconsistent. As any intellegent thinker can work out, in order for prices to reflect all information, a group of traders have to buy and sell the stocks to discover the correct prices. And those traders don’t work for free. Some of them, at least, need to be regularly making money, which means that for some market participants, EMH cannot be true.

    The train of thought from EMH generated, in my opinion, the first of several great and sublime theoretical insights in finance discovered in the twenty five years that followed. But like many such things, it was over-simplified, misunderstood and misused. People started saying that nobody could make money in the market, that it was all random chance, that the winners were merely lucky, not talented, etc.

    I’ve never met John Bogle, but I have a passing acquaintance with his son, John Bogle Jr., who is a successful long-short hedge fund manager. I understand that Senior has always been supportive of Junior’s career, which suggests to me that Senior is not a believer in an Efficient Market Theory as such. I understand his position to be not that nobody can make money picking stocks, but that you, the ordinary individual, are very unlikely to do so. (Nor can you successfully pick active managers who can pick stocks.)

    Personally, I am an agnostic on active/passive questions. I don’t for a moment doubt that it is possible to make money on the active side, I just need to have it demonstrated that a given scheme will work. And when I say that I am not saying you are right, I mean only that I am not yet convinced you have a powerful enough equity market prediction model.

  • By Rob Bennett, May 18, 2009 @ 10:26 am

    And when I say that I am not saying you are right, I mean only that I am not yet convinced you have a powerful enough equity market prediction model.

    Your skepticism over how healthy the prediction model is is a healthy thing. I don’t object to that even a tiny bit (to some extent I even share in that skepticism).

    My biggest criticism of the Passive Investing model is not that I think that higher returns can be obtained with less risk by making use of a long-term return prediction model. My biggest criticism is that Passive Investing is a closed system. The logic behind it is circular. For those who believe, the very idea of questioning the model is an outrage. The idea that “timing never works” has become in the eyes of many a dogma, a matter of blind faith.

    I’d like to persuade you that at least that much is a very bad thing. If I could get you on my side re that much, the issue of whether the prediction model works or not would just not be a concern for me. Because my primary goal is to open these ideas up to discussion on the internet. Once people feel safe discussing these questions, people will figure things out for themselves one way or the other. If people cannot even ask questions, there is no hope.

    Here is a thread that went up last week at the Get Rich Slowly blog:

    http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2009/05/13/how-to-build-wealth-ignore-wall-street-and-get-on-with-your-life/

    The blog entry is a guest posting by Bill Schultheis, author of “The New CoffeeHouse Investor.” I question what he says in Comment #9. He responds in Comment #20. I say in Comment #21 that I am going to send him a follow-up e-mail. I did that and that caused him to look at my site and to send me an e-mail saying: “Holy toledo, this is great stuff!” and to express a desire to talk more. Then I followed with Comment #24 and Bill followed with Comment #26. At that point J.D. Roth (the owner of the blog) blocked me from posting to the site. I have let Bill know about this and he has said that he would like to see my comments but it does not appear to me that he has done anything to try to persuade J.D. to permit further posting on the anti-Passive Investing side of the discussion.

    What do you make of this? I find it absolutely amazing.

    I believe that both J.D. and Bill would like to learn (at least in a theoretical sense). But both are shutting off the only means by which they can learn. How can you learn if you do not permit questioning of your ideas? This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. There’s a ban on honest posting on these questions in effect today at Bogleheads.org. There’s a ban at Morningstar.com. There’s a ban at IndexUniverse.com. There’s a ban at Motley Fool. There’s a ban at the Early Retirement Forum.

    Is it not fair to conclude that many Passive Investing advocates do not want to explore whether they have gotten things wrong or not? Given the influence of this model, is that not a terribly scary thing for anyone concerned about the future of the U.S. economy?

    If a discussion proceeds, there will be lots of people from lots of different perspectives sharing thoughts on the long-term timing prediction model. Some will decide that it is a good prediction model and some will decide that it is not. That’s all normal and healthy and to be expected. But how do we even get to a point where intelligent people can make a reasoned assessment if discussions of the flaws of the Passive model are not permitted? I don’t ever expect you to go just by what I say and I don’t expect most others to do so. How can all of the people that need to be informed about this stuff learn what they need to learn if those who advocate the Passive model are using their considerable influence to shut down discussions of the flaws of the model every place they come up?

    That’s the real issue, Frank. Many Passives are exceedingly defensive. They lack confidence in their ideas. But there have been hundreds of millions of dollars directed to the promotion of those ideas. Millions of people today believe in these ideas solely because they have heard them advocated so many times and have never heard the other side of the story (because the strongest advocates of the ideas are exceedingly hostile to any discussion of them and have the influence needed to shut such discussions down).

    I can understand you saying that you are not sure about the long-term timing prediction model. That’s fine. But it’s not a safer stance to just stick with the same stock allocation at all times. There are risks involved in following that approach too. Are you sure that the idea that predictions do not work is right? Shouldn’t you be just as skeptical of claims that long-term timing doesn’t work as you are of claims that it does (there has never been a single study showing that long-term timing doesn’t work and there are many showing that it does)?

    My primary point is that we need a national debate on these questions. If the long-term prediction model does work, that’s huge. That changes the history of investing. And I cannot help wondering why there are a good number of Passive Investing advocates who appear to be scared to death of the idea of hearing these questions raised and discussed. Does that aspect of this thing concern you?

    Rob

  • By Rob Bennett, May 18, 2009 @ 10:41 am

    The train of thought from EMH generated, in my opinion, the first of several great and sublime theoretical insights in finance discovered in the twenty five years that followed.

    I think it is worth pointing out that I agree with this sentence. Passive Investing did indeed generate many powerful insights. Then at some point the idea that timing never works became a dogma. And then the academic research appeared showing that long-term timing ALWAYS works. And now we have a situation in which the blind and dogmatic belief in Passive is not generating insights but BLOCKING the development of insights.

    I believe that the primary reason why Passive was able to generate so many valuable insights is that it offered a scientific approach to investing analysis. It was more objective than the models that had come before. All of that was lost with the shift to dogmatism, which has grown increasingly intense as the academic research showing that there are flaws in the model has grown more compelling.

    My take is that Passive started out as a huge step forward but that success went to the heads of many of the Passive Investing advocates and that this model has now become a huge step backward. We have in recent decades lost more because of the Passive Investing dogmatism than we gained in the decades before that as a result of the introduction of a scientific approach.

    True scientists always remain open to new discoveries. Passive Investing is today 70 percent dangerous marketing pitches and only 30 percent discredited science, in my assessment. By failing to apply the scientific method to itself once holes in the theory revealed themselves, this model has sacrificed its claim to offer a scientific approach to investing. I reject the Passive model today for the very reasons for which I would have supported it at any earlier time.

    Rob

  • By Carl Plant, May 19, 2009 @ 11:52 am

    Bennett claimed: “There’s a ban on honest posting on these questions in effect today at Bogleheads.org.

    There’s a ban at Morningstar.com.

    There’s a ban at IndexUniverse.com.

    There’s a ban at Motley Fool.

    There’s a ban at the Early Retirement Forum.”

    Rob, I don’t know what you mean. I see no prohibition on speech or any topic within the terms of use at those sites. Are you trying to say that because you were banned for some reason, there is a ban on speech? Surely you must see that the two do not follow, right?

  • By Rob Bennett, May 19, 2009 @ 2:49 pm

    Are you trying to say that because you were banned for some reason, there is a ban on speech?

    I am not the only person who has been banned at these sites, Carl. Many of the most popular and most effective posters in the history of the sites have been banned. And all who post at these boards know that they will be banned too if they point out in an effective way the holes in the Passive Investing concept.

    I’ll give you a specific illustration of how the bans work. I have a calculator at my site called “The Stock-Return Predictor.” It employs a regression analysis on the historical stock-return data to tell investors the likely long-term return on an investment in a broad U.S. stock index made at the various valuation levels. The calculator warned investors buying stocks in 2000 that the most likely long-term return for stock purchases made then was a negative number. This information is obviously of huge value to stock investors. Those who knew what the historical data says re the effect of valuations on long-term returns could have avoided the bone-crushing losses that many suffered in the big stock crash.

    Felix Salmon posted a favorable (but not entirely unskeptical) review of the Return Predictor at the popular Market Movers blog. A community member at Bogleheads.org posted a link so that posters in that community could learn about the tool and about what Salmon (who has obviously never violated any rules at that site) thinks about it. The thread was immediately taken down.

    Why? Because the “leaders” of the board do not see any way to “defend” the Passive Investing model once community members are able to find out what the historical data says about the effect of valuations on long-term returns.

    If Passive Investing advocates can offer reasoned arguments for their case, that’s all to the good. That keeps those of us who are not believers honest.

    If they cannot, they should just acknowledge this and get about the business of discovering or building a better model for understanding how stock investing works.

    Bans on honest posting are degrading to every member of a posting community. That very much includes the “leaders” who seek or enforce these bans. The very fact that they impose bans shows that they themselves do not have confidence in their ideas. If the Passive Investing dogmatists do not have confidence, why should any of the rest of us have confidence?

    The academic research has shown that Passive Investing cannot work long-term for close to 30 years now. It is time to tell the world the news.

    We can do better. A lot better.

    Rob

  • By Rob Bennett, May 20, 2009 @ 8:41 am

    I received an e-mail late yesterday from J.D. Roth at the “Get Rich Slowly” blog. He said that there is no ban in effect at the blog, that he has in fact never banned anyone. I am still not able to post my comments to the guest blog entry posted by Bill Schultheis. J.D. is out of town and not able to fix the technical problem immediately. But he had indicated that he will take care of it on his return.

    Rob

Other Links to this Post

  1. “Holy Toledo! This Is Great Stuff!” — The New Coffeehouse Investor Author Bill Schultheis | A Rich Life — May 19, 2009 @ 8:07 am

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