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Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
color me purple

It’s the political season, and to help our score keeping, somewhere back in time we ended up with red states and blue states on the map of the good ol’ USA.  While political invective has been around since the dawn of man (I suppose we could argue about the nature of that dawn too while we’re at it), the parties are doing their best these days to show why they don’t deserve our votes.

The television is full of commercials featuring ogreish photos of those on the other side and laughably-distorted characterizations of their positions.  This is what passes for political discourse these days, and it’s bound to get worse with the changes in campaign finance rules.  It’s all part of the sport of putting party above country (and, of course, contributors above citizens).  Political calculus trumps all.

Here in Minnesota, we’re known to be a bit goofy when it comes to politics.  You’ll recall the election of Jesse Ventura as our governor, and we cover the entire range from Michele Bachmann to Al Franken in our congressional delegation.  This year there’s a three-way race for governor, and the Independence Party candidate is siphoning votes from both sides, but he appears to be hurting the Republican candidate the most — and he has been endorsed by a number of former Republican officeholders who think that the party nominated a candidate that is too far to the right.  In response to which the state GOP chair said, “There’s a special place in Hell for these quislings.”

And there you have it.

So what does this have to do with investments?  First, market participants are forced to deal with the repercussions of the political process and you are best off if you figure out a way to check your biases at the door.  You likely know from experience someone who can’t see past their own ideology to take a balanced look at the positives and negatives of a situation because they are too invested in one set of political answers and completely convinced that they are right.  A tip-off is that they can’t have a discussion about any topic, lighthearted or serious, without getting into political territory.  Sorry, but solutions to problems aren’t that easy and markets aren’t that easy and, despite what you hear, there’s no monopoly on the truth.

More importantly, you can look at the political scrum for hints of the decision errors that are made every day in the world of investments.  Replace red and blue with “bulls” and “bears” and you have the makings of a similar landscape.  If you are in the habit of putting yourself defiantly on one side of the fence or the other, what are the chances that realism will come into play?  If your goal is to demean and deny the validity of the other perspective instead of coolly analyzing the merits of any given idea, you won’t know when your construct needs to change, because you are unwilling to see beyond your beliefs.

Another consideration for professionals who toil in investment organizations:  Often ones that are dominated by an individual suffer badly from enforced uniformity.  Don’t like the big guy’s favorite stock?  Wonder whether the investment process needs a bit of tweaking?  Concerned that voices are being shut out because of old grudges?  Well, are you willing to give up your career to challenge the orthodoxy?  If you step away from the party line, you may be branded a quisling and ostracized, or you may just be out the door.

Call me a member of the radical middle, be it the political debate or the market debate or damn near anything else.  If it looks like I am choosing sides, it’s only temporary, because I want to be able to see when something has been taken too far because of the dynamics of the crowd rather than the quality of the ideas.

Yes, you can color me purple.  I have no fetters to bind me, other than the desire to observe and understand and make the best choices I can.