Four Dangerous Words: “It’s Different This Time”
Years ago, I heard “The Parable of the Turkey.” It goes something like this.
Once there was a turkey that hatched in the middle of winter. He lived in a nice shelter, had plenty of food to eat, and no predators to worry about. He spent his time playing with other turkeys. He didn’t have to worry about bad weather. There were nice people that kept his coop clean.
He lived the best possible life. All he had to worry about was eating and having fun. Then, one Thanksgiving his entire world changed forever. It was a day that wasn’t like any other that came before.
The lesson here is that sometimes we can get too comfortable, and then comes a shock that changes our lives forever. That brings me to the stock market.
My first bear market was in 1987, not too terribly long after I started investing. As stocks melted down, I started to hear some commenters explain why stocks may never recover. They laid out the reasons that the era of stock market investing was over.
Of course, that didn’t happen. The bear market ended, and another bull market ensued. But one thing I noticed is that every time there was a bear market, a similar cast of characters popped up on TV to explain why “It’s going to be different this time.” In other words, again and again there were arguments that the current bear market would implode the global financial system.
After last week’s article on surviving a bear market, I heard from some of the usual suspects. “It really is different this time”, one person told me. “The global financial system simply can’t continue to expand. You can’t have infinite growth with finite resources.”
I reminded one of these people that she made essentially the same arguments during the 2008-2009 bear market. She advised people to exit the market, and keep money in cash. “It’s different this time,” she assured readers. “The global financial system is out of options for keeping the economy growing.”
Except it wasn’t. I told her that if I had listened to her, I would have missed out on the longest-running bull market in U.S. history. The S&P 500 quadrupled during those years. She said “Well, I didn’t know that the Fed was going to print money and just keep showering money on the economy. But they can’t do that forever.”
It all reminds me of another situation that played out from about 2005. A number of people began to predict that global oil production had peaked, and that we would soon be in the dark ages because there wouldn’t be enough energy to power civilization.
Of course, that didn’t happen either, but that hasn’t stopped the same cast of characters from making that prediction again and again. When you ask them why they were wrong in 2005, they say “Well, we didn’t know fracking would extend oil production” or “It’s only unconventional oil, and that can’t keep expanding.”
In other words, in both of those situations, people were wrong, but they learned nothing about why they were wrong. They didn’t stop and think “Well, there were some things that maybe I didn’t take into consideration, and that may also be the case today.” Instead, the rationalized their failed prediction, and just made the same prediction later on.
Here is my point. We don’t know what the future holds, but there will always be fearmongers who try to scare you out of the market. If I had listened to them back in 1987, I would have missed out on an incredible wealth-building vehicle that has given financial security to many Americans.
Just like in 2008, global governments are going to pull out all the stops to keep the economy expanding. Who knows, maybe some day they will run out of tricks, and indeed 100+ years of stock market gains may come to an end. But, I think it is as unlikely now as it was in 1987, 2001, or 2008. Each time people tried to scare people out of the market, and each time they missed out on massive gains — while the people who scared them away had no accountability.
If the time comes that the global financial system does collapse, then there won’t be any place to hide. You should certainly diversify your assets to help protect against such a long-shot event, but don’t let the naysayers scare you away. They have cost many people enormous long-term gains.
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