Today I will create cognitive dissonance in about 25% of my readers, assuming past patterns hold. Please do not read further if you don’t like those odds.
While the title of today’s post sounds like nonsense, that question is one of the biggest debates in the country now because of Donald Trump. The wording is different everywhere, but the idea is the same: Smart people believe smart people are smart. Dumb people believe dumb people are the real smart ones.
They can’t both be right. I’ll help you sort it out.
On one side we have the self-described smart people. These folks will tell you that a rational person can learn about political issues, with a little effort, and thus make a meaningful contribution to the democratic process. All one must do is be open to all points of view and do some independent research to fact-check the professional media. You don’t need to be an expert because most issues boil down to a few key factors, and you can understand those few things.
That sounds smart to you, right?
The dumb people – who have been labelled such by the smart people – are the ones who vote for whoever says what the dumb people want to hear, or whoever makes them feel good. This group is more about emotion than reason.
Dumb, dumb, dumb. I am ashamed to be in the same country with people who refuse to use their brains. DUUUUMB!
You agree, right?
Good, because that’s the set-up for the cognitive dissonance. You just hardened your sense of identity as a smart, rational person who believes an informed citizen can make a meaningful contribution to the system.
Now let’s talk about investing. Same conversation, but changing from politics to finance. Which of these two people seems smarter to you?
1. A stock investor who does his own research so he can find great values,
2. An investor who buys a stock index fund and settles for an average return.
I am sad to say some of you will pick the first one. But it is a myth that individuals can sort through the lies and misinformation that companies produce as source data and convert all of that into good decisions. Every study on the topic tells us that individual investors are deluded idiots. And people who invest in managed mutual funds are only slightly better. (Okay, maybe worse.)
In the investment world, the person who understands that the available information is not credible is the smart one. That person plays the odds correctly and invests in an indexed mutual fund with low fees. Every study says that is the smart play.
Most of my readers already know that what I just said about investing is true. And unlike most topics, this one really does not have well-informed critics. All informed people hold the same view: Individuals should not do their own research and buy stocks based on that research.
But you still think smart people can research political policy options and come to reasonable and useful conclusions… even though you observe that half of the population disagrees with the other half no matter how much research anyone does.
Cognitive dissonance should be hitting some of you hard right now. If you feel unusually angry and determined to reply, that’s a tell. Or a false-positive. One can never be 100% sure.
The popular media is staffed mostly by writers and art majors and other people who tend to believe in magic. It is no surprise that they don’t see how absurd it is to expect citizens to have useful opinions based on the misinformation that that same media provides around the clock.
Seasoned investors, on the other hand, have learned to be more humble. They know there is no amount of research that can convert unreliable data into reliable decisions. My guess is that this group of professionals support Donald Trump in large numbers because they are smart enough to know the limits of their own reason when applied to inaccurate baseline assumptions and sketchy data.
My point is that if you find yourself mocking Trump supporters (or Republicans in general) because they have some distance from the issues, you are probably the dumb one in that conversation no matter how your education and IQ compares with your intended targets.
And if you believe you can make intelligent decisions on politics based on inaccurate information and lies, why aren’t you already rich from doing the same thing with stocks?
I’m a big fan of voting (when other people do it, not me) because it gives people a sense of ownership in the process. So please vote. But don’t confuse that with being psychic.
Top Tech Blog: Graphene seems like it will change everything. How do I invest in that stuff? (Answer: Index fund)
My book on systems versus goals will probably get more attention when people realize Trump is a systems thinker. He follows the odds without always having one specific goal in mind. Recently Trump made his brand so powerful that a lot of folks thought he should be their leader, just because, well, Trump. Under the “goal” view of the world, Trump failed three times to become president, so you assume he will fail again. But the “systems” view says Trump failed toward better odds each time, largely on purpose. And here we are.