Think Twice before Listening to the Pessimists

During these post-Brexit days when hanging crepe seems to be the favorite pastime, one has to wonder why so many folks default to gloom-and-doom scenarios. Morgan Housel of The Motley Fool explains it this way: “Pessimism isn’t just more common than optimism, it also sounds smarter.”

When it comes to investing, Housel differentiates between perceptions of those that are bullish and those that are bearish. He argues that a bull sounds like a “reckless cheerleader” while a bearish investor sounds like a “sharp mind who has dug past the headlines, despite the record of the S&P rising 18,000-fold over the last century.”

He cites some possible reasons:

  • Optimists, Housel says, are often perceived as oblivious to risk, but this isn’t so. They are aware of downsides, but simply have a disposition that allows them to endure the dips.
  • Pessimism helps people rationalize their own shortcomings.
  • While optimism is slanted toward staying the course, pessimism grabs attention because it suggests taking immediate action on something. You’d better do this or that, or else.
  • Pessimism, Housel says, sounds like someone is trying to help you, while optimism sounds like a sales pitch. But the opposite is closer to reality, especially around emotional topics like money and politics.
  • Finally, pessimists extrapolate present trends without factoring in how markets adapt to negative events. Since their views are born of logical foundations (current figures and analysis), the warning appears reasonable.

Housel argues that while you should consider the views of pessimists, it should be because “they’re the best indication of what’s unsustainable, and therefore the soil of what’s to be optimistic about.”