What’s Normal?

People often talk about things returning to normal after the pandemic. Most of the people who have suffered fundamental change in their life, offer a different view.

The old normal is not recoverable. You have to create a new normal and adapt to it. There is no going back.

What is the old normal you think you would like to recreate?

It could be the old normal was merely a comfortable habit, and not necessarily desirable. Ellen Goodman is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Her thought:

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”

That’s pretty cynical. But it does contain some truth.

An option you have in making the decision about returning to normal is to know what you value. Know what you would choose if you had a clean slate. The dream solution. Question what parts of old normal cost things you want and what things it includes you could do without.

You should consider what a personal reset would look like if you could do it. There will be obstacles. You will need to make decisions about whether the payback for change is worth the price.

Consider H.L. Hunt’s approach:

  1. Decide what you want,
  2. Decide what you are willing to exchange for it.
  3. Establish your priorities, and
  4. Go to work

Some questions:

  1. Can you decide objectively what you want? Dreams are nice, but they won’t survive the second question. Life is about tradeoffs. Be sure you have sought something that you can trade for?
  2. Could you develop several options for what you want? That’s how tradeoffs work. A somewhat imperfect dream is better than fumbling around to no effect. If you must have the support of others, spouse usually, it will help to have options. There will be a fit somewhere. Options also identify ways of moving pieces from dream to another.
  3. How long do you have to put it together? Immediate is too risky. You cannot be sure of your wants and how the allocation of resources should work. Allow evolution to work on your behalf. It is common to discover a fine solution that is not included in your initial assessment.
  4. Are you aware that most of old normal was the result of habits and default decisions. Part of your new normal should contain a continuing re-evaluation module. The idea is to prune things that aren’t working early on.

How much of the current situation must be retained for external reasons. What do people expect of you? Do you or shuld you be concerned about that.

William Least Heat-Moon wrote about traveling and he found something important if you want to change normal.

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s mind. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”

It is not just about how the future will be. There are connections from the past you must address. How much of your past are you willing to carry forward and how much not.

The takeaway

This is a very complex circumstance. Frightening even. Work it through using Hunt’s approach. You may find the old normal is not so bad and minor amendments appear and allow you to perfect it.

Another Least Heat-Moon thought, “The past is for the present, the present for the future”  Take care to notice the past does  not commit you to the future. Avoid that trap.

You might enjoy the book, “Blue Highways.”  An Amazon comment, “Blue Highways is like a mug of hot coffee on a chilly morning. It is warm, reassuring, and thoroughly optimistic. A sense of freedom, of curious exploration”

That’s not such a bad foundation for rebuilding your normal.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com 

Economics In 5 Minutes

Most people think Economics is inscrutable. To some extent it is. All those equations with Greek symbols lying on the side. It is easy enough to miss the reality when caught up in the details.

If we try to understand economics without the equations we come up with three things:

  1. Scarcity
  2. Incentives
  3. Trade-offs


Economics is about how we allocate goods and services. There is no good in such supply as everyone can have as much of it as they want, nor is there way to guarantee someone will want whatever we produce. We need a way to allocate.

There are many ways to do it. One way is by fiat, another by price, yet another by theft.

Fiat. One form of this is socialism. In general goods are supplied and allocated by some authority, usually the government. The allocation tends to be more arbitrary than it would be if the people had some other way to get what they want or need. Two packs of cigarettes a month is not especially attractive if you are not a smoker. It tends to create a market system though. The unwanted cigarettes can be traded for some desired good. A fiat system always has a market system internal to it. It is an inefficient market system though because absent a medium of exchange, there is no certainty the barter can be carried out as and when needed.

Price is the fundamental of a market economy. In this system you may have as much of a good as you wish so long as you have enough money to pay for them. The price will tend to fluctuate with demand. As you buy up the inventory the price will tend to rise because others want some of it too and will pay as much as it is worth to them.

When you notice that, you will find an interesting outcome. Price is a range. The lowest sustainable price is the price that covers the cost of production. The highest sustainable price is the most anyone would pay for what you are selling. That may eb a variable. A liter of cold water in the desert is worth more than a liter from the tap. Between the two prices both producer and buy win. If a cup of coffee at Starbucks costs them $2.00 to produce and you are willing to pay $4.00, the in between price of $2.75 will please both and we can expect trades of money for coffee to happen often.

The question of having money is a political thing not an economic thing. Money is what you receive when you trade some good or service for someone else’s money. If you want more money you need to provide more or better products, or services. That limit becomes political when the idea of taking from some with more and giving to others with less becomes viable. A thought for another day.

Theft. In some circumstances theft is the order of the day. While it may be unlike armed robbery, it exists. Sometimes people can organize the rules so they have an advantage others must submit to. Eminent domain is one such. The price offered for the taking is usually some estimate of fair market value for real estate, but is often zero, when a person or business is required to do or pay something for continuing use. Many environmental regulations fit here.

The ultimate example is from Collis Huntington, one of the four American railroad barons in the 19th century.

“Whatever is not nailed down is mine. What I can pry loose is not nailed down.”

If we think of theft as deprivation of value, it will come more clear. Over charging because you have been granted a monopoly is an example. The idea of a fair price is also a topic for another day. Fair is situational and we seldom agree on the meaning of the word.


People do the things that they are motivated to do. If dish washer pellets go on sale $5 off, people tend to buy more or sooner. If the price rises they see that as a disincentive and buy less or wait. Government actions leading to inflation or scarcity tend to confuse the buyers. The signal is not sending the right message.

When we address how economic factors provide incentives and disincentives, we can better understand how we and the system of supply and demand come together.

Every system, even a family has incentives and disincentives within it. That’s how behaviour is guided. You might enjoy this article that deals with how people can manipulate the game once they have an incentive to do so. Ship platinum, receive gold It makes a valuable point. The incentives need not be in a single system. Understand what incentives exist and be sure you know how they will be gamed. Every incentive and disincentive will be.


Once we catch on to the idea of scarcity we immediately grasp the idea of tradeoffs. Within your resource limit you must make many choices. A little less car and a little more vacation.

Under scarcity you must learn to optimize your personal position both now and in the future. It is error prone so you must pay attention. If you need a simple guiding principle to apply, try this. You can spend a dollar only once. The method of doing it doesn’t matter. Credit card, line of credit, mortgage, savings, or the money in your pocket. It’s all the same. If you send it one it’s gone.

Be very cautious with tradeoffs that appear in time. They will confuse you. When you borrow money and spend it now, you have committed some future dollar to the purchase. Just because you cannot see that future dollar just now does not mean you have not spent it.

Connect to your life

Economics and its principles are fundamental to your life. Once you know you cannot have everything, you can begin to learn about tradeoffs. Budgeting and planning will help with that. If you stay inside your capacity life is easier.

When you recognize the incentives built in, you will behave differently. The easiest to see is how education and experience can enhance your ability to have more money.

Watch for the disincentives too. Divorce will give you some idea of the cost of misunderstanding relationships. Business partnerships can serve in the place of divorce if that feels better.

Incentives and disincentives are our behavioural guides.

The takeaway

You don’t have to be an economist to use economics usefully. We are all intuitive about it to some extent. We do better if we clarify some ideas and then apply them constructively.

Pay attention to what is rewarded and punished.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com 

How Are Power And Control Connected?

Power and control are not tightly connected although many people seem to think they are.

A story

Decades ago I did some work with the Cree in northern Quebec. I found the way the social fabric in the village worked and when talking to the Chief one day, the conversation came around to the idea of his power.

He told me that culturally his power was absolute. He could order someone to be killed if it came to it. But he added a caveat.

“The power is real, but it is hard to use. It’s like in your world. The man is the head of the house and the pedestrian has the right of way and they are both safe if they don’t try to assert that power.”

In the Cree culture, the Chief exerts his power by persuasion. By seeking counsel from other experienced members of his band. By offering help.

What’s happening now.

Many western leaders have made an error. They believe, the power of persuasion takes too long, so instead they have reverted to the persuasion of power. That is ultimately a failing tactic. Only the inexperienced can believe it will both work and last.

I found a thought that summarizes the situation and puts it into the Cree Chief context, I would like to know who to attribute it to if anyone knows.

“Control eventually leads to resistance and resistance to rebellion. The more you try to control people, the less control you get.”

Converting power into control is a difficult task and handled poorly works against the person doing it.

Rebellious 4-year-olds come to my mind. There are better ways than mandates and bullying.

The takeaway

It does not take armed insurrection to cause people to back away from their controlling inclinations. Dissidents everywhere have shown the near powerless in large numbers are in fact persuasive. It takes an honourable position and many people who hold it.

I am reminded of a comment Stalin purportedly made when people pointed out the Russian army was poorly trained and worse equipped. His thought has application to our current situation. “Quantity has a quality all its own.”  The question is simple enough. “How many people does it take to change the direction of society? If we look at changes ongoing, we can likely decide that 10% can influence society and 20% can make changes. People pay attention repetition and urgency.

Be part of a movement to reduce tyranny and increase liberty. You may need to ask old people about liberty. Someone who understands how society worked be for political correctness was a thing. Someone who can smile at this cartoon.

It will take years, but it will be worth the resistance. For inspiration remember things that don’t work, don’t last. and tyranny is a thing that does not work for the people.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com 

Why Governments Get So Much Wrong

We all make mistakes.

One of the ones we make regularly is expecting too much from others. Especially politicians and governments in general.

How we respond to a situation is frequently not action after complete assessment. There is not yet enough information at hand to make a better decision. That is the normal situation and it ranges from knowing near nothing to near everything. As you would expect, decisions based on little information tend to be weaker than those with near complete information and meaning.

Objectively, you never know everything and you certainly don’t know complete meaning.

The Question

Should you make decisions while you are still unclear on the facts, the circumstances, the possible harms or benefits, and the effect it may have on others?

The answer, of course, is a resounding “Yes!”. Conditionally.

If the answer was instead “No”, there would never be a decision. Decisions are always made on incomplete information and assessments. For a simple reason. You can never know everything that might be useful in making the decisions.

Decision Making Under Uncertainty

The field of play. If you make a decision too soon and it eventually fails, you must pay several times.

  1. To  implement your first decision,
  2. To implement a better decision later, and
  3. To clean up the mess the first decision created.

Only three is unnecessary. One and two are required.

The condition required for early “Yes” is the decision maker knows it is a proto-decision. One that is made to learn more, not necessarily to be right. People know enough to quit these once the information ahs been found.

Overview Of The Process

  1. There is risk to the extent you don’t understand the problem
  2. There is a point where you make a good enough decision
  3. You make small proto-decisions early on. The purpose is to learn.
  4. You cannot know everything you need in the beginning. “Fog of War”
  5. You never will know everything because your perspective is limited.

You must make decisions as soon as you have a line of attack that has hope of solving the problem or adding to your information inventory. Even an inept, in retrospect, decision can limit harm. We each learn from mistakes and we should make a point of making decisions that will be wrong. Learn from them. Being right is not a necessity to advance.

When Wrong Is Not An Option

People who make proto-decisions know most will turn out wrong. They need an important virtue – Humility. People with a high need to be right tend to make permanent decisions too early. The risk space is very large. When you’re humble you can make a decision you know will turn out to be inadequate. You look for the information that can help with the next one. It becomes a  process. Evolving a good answer.

The sad reality is one must be patient as well as humble. Few of us hold both those virtues in high quantity. That’s why politicians appear to be inept.

Politicians have little latitude in making humble, patient decisions. They must sell their answers as being thoughtful and wise. They must employ urgency as a tool. They must be seen to be doing something or lose their career.

Penn Jillette offers a summary.

“No institution, no church, no king, no power structure in history has ever said, I don’t know”

When you don’t know, saying you don’t know is wise. The key is the idea – We don’t know, YET, but we are learning.

A required change

How can politicians back away from poor decisions made too early? The answer is the people, the media, and social media must stop being adversarial. When problems are complex and include previously unknown factors, every early decision will be wrong. When early decisions are made with a view of gathering helpful knowledge, they are necessary.

When the early decision is meant to be “the answer” we all have a problem.

What to do

People have two choices.

  1. Allow politicians to make decisions and learn from their experience with those. Usually wrong answers, but useful. Be patient in respect to the final decision, or
  2. Accept a permanent, difficult to change, solution far too soon. That’s the one that creates the cost of cleaning up the mess.

The single requirement is everyone must be humble. Know-it-alls and demand-it-alls won’t survive long in an experimental environment.

Politicians must be willing to say, I don’t know. Politicians must make flexible decisions. The bureaucracy thrives on bad decisions, so they must be brought into the exploring decision space.

An example

If you examine how the Covid-19 problem has been addressed you will get the idea. There is no shortage of suppressed information, rhetoric, urgency, demonization of contrary thought, and refusal to experiment. That’s to make the early decisions look more right than they are.

Covering-up adverse outcomes means it will take longer for the information to become available to others still making decisions in that space. If you go back to the graphic, risk increases as information is less available. Intentionally making it less available is – {I can’t think of the right word} – wrong seems so inadequate.

The Takeaway

When making decisions in your own life, be patient and be humble.

Learn to experiment to gain knowledge. Like the military uses scouts and minor skirmishes to gather information about the enemy’s readiness and ability.

Cut some slack to the political decision makers. If they know flexibility is permitted, even expected, they make better decisions. The interim ones have little ongoing cost.

Think of every situation as having an engagement period before the final decision is cast.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com 

The Pursuit of Happiness

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Words to live by. We have a fair idea about life, not much understanding of what liberty means, especially the duties that arise because of it, and nearly nothing about pursuing happiness.

I think if the happiness idea was carried out well, life and liberty would follow.

Where do we begin?

Fifteen years ago, I read an intriguing book. “Stumbling On Happiness” by Harvard psychology professor, Dan Gilbert.

If I may be so bold as to offer a short precis of a very complex work by a brilliant author, this would be it.

We cannot be happy by pursuing happiness but instead must stumble upon it. The reason – we have weak cognitive skills that might help us in the pursuit.

The book will address those defects and offer methods to deal with them.

A quicker fix

Not everyone enjoys reading and not everyone will buy the book. As an alternative A TEDTalk by Dr. Gilbert will go deeper than my precis. You can see it here. “The Surprising Science of Happiness.” Twenty minutes well spent.

Once you get the Dan Gilbert idea, you will find a half dozen or so more talks to watch. They deal with happiness, but also decision making. We are not especially good at that either.

The idea is not new

An idea from American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, is enarly 175 years old and shows the idea that “pursuing” happiness may in fact be futile.

“Happiness is a butterfly, which  when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” 

More recently, a hundred years ago, Carl Jung offered advice too.

“Nobody can achieve happiness through preconceived ideas, one should rather call it a gift of the gods. It comes and goes, and what has made you happy once does not necessarily do so at another time.”

“The more you deliberately seek happiness the more sure you are not to find it. It is therefore far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity”

As you can see, stumbling on happiness may be the only way we find it.

An option

As I have grown older, i Have found gratitude to be a leader to happiness. The difference between the pursuit and gratitude is that gratitude can be found all around us. We need only notice it and appreciate it, when we do.

Rather like Harold Hook’s idea “Diamonds in your own back yard.”

The takeaway

Maybe happiness has come to you already but you have been so busy pursuing it, you didn’t notice. Take a look around.

Watch the TedTalk and then decide if you should invest in the book. The book is deeper, but I will be amazed if you get nothing from it.

Happiness is easier if you know what it is and where it might be.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com 

An Investment Primer

Investing has several dimensions and people often look only at stocks, the businesses, the market index, and many statistical measures.  They are sufficiently deep to seem important. But they are not the important part of investing. They are the raw material for investing. The process of investing and the people making decisions matter more.

There is a question that you should consider. It is offered by Indian Fund executive, Yamini Sood.

“You will measure your mutual fund’s under /over performance. How will you measure your own behaviour gap?”

Despite her perfectly reasonable question, most of us have never asked it. Worse yet, we not only don’t know how to measure, we usually don’t know we should. Much of the literature on investing suggests that investors make mistakes that are easy to remedy if they are knowledgeable and at least a little disciplined.


Every skilled investor is patient. It is not like it’s optional. Buffett preaches it like a commandment. Ms. Sood does too. Again a question.

“Do not question 7 years as a timeframe for equity investing, question your need to churn in a year or two.” 

You might wonder why seven years. It actually makes some sense and is easier to cope with than Buffett’s idea of forever. Seven years is roughly two cycles in the market. You will probably see most of the things that can happen in two cycles. It all evens out eventually.

Fear and Greed

Fear, even emotion in general, is your enemy. Clear thinking and emotion seldom come in the same package. Fear arises from a condition in the market – volatility, coupled with unreasonable expectations. Volatility is easy enough to explain. The stock market is an auction market, and the participants are not equally informed, not equally wealthy,  and not equally motivated. It is a good thing they are not, otherwise if everybody knew exactly the value of a stock, who would you buy from or sell to?  Volatility is what makes the market possible.

What happens when more people believe the opposite of what you do? If they are optimistic, the price will seem recklessly high. If they are pessimistic prices will fall. Falling is fear-inducing. Rising is greed-inducing. Emotionally stable follows a Buffet idea. “Mr. Market is bipolar. When he is manic sell to him, when depressed buy from him.”

That only works when you are not influenced by emotion and know what a reasonable price for the stock should be.

Understanding risk

If you take a course in portfolio design or investing, you will hear volatility referred to as “Risk.” Is it really? How difficult would your investing task become if ivolatility really was not risk? When you misunderstand fundamentals, success is just luck.

Risk is an intuitive idea for many. The first thing to notice is that there is no loss if you don’t sell. You might be motivated to sell by fear or the need for the money when the market is down. Absent fear or need, what would the risk be? Volatility is just noise surrounding the signal. The signal is important, the noise is not.

Consider Ms. Sood again:

“If you can manage liquidity, Volatility is not Risk. If you cannot manage liquidity, Volatility is Risk “

“Knowledge is to know stocks are volatile. Wisdom is to know volatility is not risk”

If you don’t need the money today, you can wait for the cycle to pass. Fully invested is a risky practice. It is fear inducing.

A Defence

Being an investor is lonely. Lonely people tend to amplify emotions. Consider having others around you who can help you work through conflicts and emotions. Help you acquire knowledge and wisdom. Help you to manage patience.

Yamini Sood again.

“For medical ailments, we quickly take a second or a third opinion. In investing, self medication is perfectly fine!”

How sure are you it’s fine? Do-it-yourself is not always the best approach. There is a wise idea surrounding the cost reduction of doing things yourself. “Cheap is expensive.” Keep that in mind. We need to understand our circle of competence.

Dirty Harry Callahan in Magnum Force. “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

I suppose women do too, but the evidence suggests they are not so susceptible to the effects of volatility.

The takeaway

Managing yourself is harder than managing the money

“Technology Management is easy….People management is not” Yamini Sood

Work at that aspect a bit. It pays rewards.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com 

Critical Thinking Is Now More Crucial Than Ever

I recently was sent a video purporting to tell me how the Vanguard Group was controlling the world as we know it. I felt compelled to watch it. It would be astounding if true, or it would be a way for me to exercise my critical thinking skills.

As it turned out it was one of those things that only pass for information. It would need to be twice as good to make it to the bottom threshold of stupid.

The implied idea

The claim is Vanguard Group is a sinister dark operator controlling the world. The claim is slightly plausible if you are willing to ignore some logic gaps.

Yes, Vanguard is the largest shareholder in many companies. Apple, Google, Facebook, and more. The implication is they control them. I am not convinced that owning 7% of a public company will give you control, but who knows.

There is more talk about how Vanguard owns Costco and Walmart. Also true.

The impression the person wants to create is we are manipulated by forces operating in the dark.

What is more true.

Vanguard Group is a platform for passive investments. Active management involvement in their investments is outside their nature and skill set.

Vanguard is the manager of large investment funds. Most are “Index funds” which are a way to passively participate in the stock market as a whole. John Bogle created the idea decades ago so people could invest, widely diversified, without having to know much. While it is true Vanguard is a very large shareholder in many businesses, it is through their efforts to own stocks in proportion to the index itself. If any stock falls out of the index, their ownership of it would drop to zero. Given their size, $7.1 Trillion under management, they must necessarily own large positions.

While people often talk about owning Costco, they mean they own stock in Costco. It does not have the common meaning as they own Costco in the same sense as they own their golf clubs. There is a long jump from owning stock and controlling management of that company. Have you ever seen a proxy fight lead by Vanguard?

The idea of control

The video wants me to believe in the idea of some international cabal controlling the world. It addresses the point that the fund participants in Vanguard own the Vanguard Group. That’s true!  The funds themselves own the Vanguard Group. The implied idea is if Justin Trudeau owned some units in a Vanguard managed fund, he would be an owner of Vanguard and somehow that would give him immense power.

Realistically, there is a step between those thoughts where magic must happen. It is difficult for me to imagine how a sane person could make that leap. Perhaps Mark Twain’s insight applies.

“You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.”

What’s happening

There are at least some people in the world who are both paranoid and feeling helpless. They assume that control is a zero sum game. If I have only a little, someone else must have a lot. Worse yet, most of them have a very narrow time horizon.

In longer time spans, most things work out.

Things change. I recently noticed that if I took the top 10 companies in the S&P 500 Index in 1980, I would find none of them were in the top 20 now.  Vanguard would have adjusted their holding to reflect the “weighting” within the index. All the control that would have accrued by owning EXXON, AT&T, Chevron, IBM, GE, and Schlumberger in 1980 would have dissipated.

You can assess things like this easily enough.

Develop critical thinking skills

Critical thinking is an acquired skill. It requires several sub-skills.

  1. How to collect evidence
  2. How to evaluate evidence
  3. How to connect the pieces
  4. How to estimate what’s missing. The dog that didn’t bark idea.
  5. How to update
  6. Critical thinking requires exercise.

The first step is learn to look for evidence. You will notice that most ideas being promoted today seldom include any. You can be sure if there were any, it would be front and center. If there is no evidence, why are you paying attention?

How do you process what you find? We each are a victim of  thinking flaws. A commonly noticed one is “reliance on experts.” If a politician tells you their panel of experts says whatever, you are very little further ahead. What the politician is telling you is their interpretation of their staff’s interpretation, of the expert’s interpretation of some objective fact. Without names to evaluate skill and bias, and the evidence they used to reach their conclusion, you have nothing,

We each accept things that support what we already believe. Confirmation bias. It is very difficult to recognize this in yourself. Be a little open minded and test new ideas that disagree with yours. Listen to those close to you.

The Takeaway

You can travel very far down the rabbit hole, if you don’t stop and think about facts and reasoning. It will save you a lot of time and trouble if you do a little research before starting down the hole.

How you connect the pieces of information you discover matters. Correlation and causation are not necessarily connected. Correlation is hint about a good place to start looking though.

Wet roads do not cause rain. You should apply reasonable methods to derive your personal beliefs.

Wrong thinking is punished and often quite quickly.

Crowd thinking is not thinking at all. It is reaction to other stimuli. Crowds, properly handled, will believe anything. “A group is extraordinarily credulous and open to influence; it has no critical faculty”  – Sigmund Freud. There are people who know how to manipulate crowds.

Learn how to defend yourself from the charlatans who manipulate you for their own benefit.

The rule: Immense claims require immense evidence.

Do not fear change. Expect change. Be prepared. You prepare by anticipating what’s possible.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com 

Communication Matters

Things have played out exactly as Tyler Cowan warned 20 months ago. I have added the emphasis.

Tyler Cowan, Bloomberg,

January 2020

“The very first problem the U.S. is likely to face is one of risk communication. Of course the correct message will depend on how the data evolve, but in general there is tension between warnings that get people to take notice, and those that scare them underground or into counterproductive forms of panic.

If you tell people how terrible things are, they feel a loss of control. Many will retreat into conspiracy theories, spread mistrust of health-care institutions, or withdraw altogether from social or professional activity. Those who are sick may be afraid to seek medical attention, for fear of having their movements constrained, driving the disease further underground and distorting the data. Again, trust is of paramount importance.”

I think it is safe to say the every government in every jurisdiction failed to manage the communication well enough and every one of the adverse outcomes from communication failure have appeared.

“Trust is of paramount importance” and many people have none. Will that change?

I don’t see how that changes.

The moral of the story is the politicians and their agencies have consistently misrepresented the facts they knew. Mask don’t mask. Isolate for two weeks, The vaccines will keep you from getting the disease. No other remedies work. The vaccines are safe for sure.

Good communication would have included what they did not know and it did not. Better communication would have included what they have learned along the way. So far there a few things that seem important, but are not subject to whatever class of study they need to move from from their ideology.

  • Obesity is a bad thing
  • Out of shape is a bad thing.
  • Vitamin D seems to help
  • Ivermectin, and other possibilities, as prevention or early treatment seem to work.
  • Rapid testing should be everywhere.
  • Standard testing may be over-cycled and possibly inaccurate.
  • Experience anywhere else is not to be considered useful

Worst communication is propaganda. That is pretty much all we hear anymore. The next time they offer you a pronouncement ask for the objective evidence that supports their claim. I will be shocked if you get any. Most likely some version of “our experts say.” Reliance on experts is a cognitive flaw. It is meaningless.

The takeaway

It will be hard for them to overcome the mistrust. Perhaps their best move is to say nothing they cannot support.

Why is there so little effort to discover treatment protocols better than, “You test positive. Go home and isolate until you need to go to the hospital.” I doubt there is a competent doctor anywhere would offer that treatment protocol unless they were being told what to say. Doctors should be free to use their best judgement.

Proof is a poor requirement in the early going. Fog of war, is a thing. Balance of probability is as good as you can get and more than you need to get started. You don’t learn anything practical doing nothing while waiting for academic studies.

Politicians like to have a crisis so they can gather new powers to themselves. “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

China has acted irresponsibly in the entire matter. They should be held to account.

I wonder why we have intelligence agencies at all. In May 2020, NBC News reported, “The report — obtained by the London-based NBC News Verification Unit — says there was no cellphone activity in a high-security portion of the Wuhan Institute of Virology from Oct. 7 through Oct. 24, 2019, and that there may have been a “hazardous event” sometime between Oct. 6 and Oct. 11.”  I wonder if that was to sterilize the lab after a breach. The intelligence agencies appear to have done nothing, certainly published nothing, because “they could not verify the data” I doubt that is true and I wonder why they chose this course.

Dragging meaning out of the material we have been shown is near impossible. Look for what might work and protect yourself. Perfection is not required.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com 





People and Government Relations

Sometimes I wonder how governments and the people should get along. In a perfect world the people have goals and the government works to achieve them. While that is intuitive, it is not very practical.

The people have different goals

Even in a family, it is likely the people do not agree on the social factors that matter most. Regional differences, rural versus urban, old versus young, gender, ethnic, or religious differences, and many more metrics make the point of goals difficult.

Taken as a whole we don’t have a collectively precise goal set.

Governments have a problem.

There are two parts to the problem.

  1. The government must decide on how to allocate resources to the problems and preferences the people have identified.
  2. The government has ideological preferences that can move their interest in addressing problems and opportunities.

There is a balancing act there. The government must get elected periodically. Their preference is to ideology first, but they must connect that to the people’s wishes so people may see that the government is acting in the people’s interests. Not an easy task.

The reality distortion trick

Every such trick relies on truth or a version of it. It is impossible to persuade people unless there is some element they can connect with. To make it motivational, the facts must be selected that match the purpose of the government and others must be suppressed. remember that governments have a larger list of facts than any of the people have. It is not so hard to select the ones they want and to make their case plausible. Those that are not interested in the point will ignore it as irrelevant anyway. so no harm there

Plausible is quite enough to support a course of action.

The government will present a course of action that addresses the point.

Even if they accept the idea of it being plausible, the people should ask three questions. Thomas Sowell offers guidance:

  1. Compared to what?
  2. At what cost?
  3. What hard evidence do you have?

If those questions are addressed objectively the “unintended consequences” will show up before implementing. A careful assessment of alternatives and costs will bring them out. Evidence is a ruthless master. Ideologically driven programs seldom have much of it.

Common ground

The result should be something both the people and the government can accept.

If the program follows this mission outline people will accept it and if it does not work out they will understand.

  1. We are trying to accomplish
    1. this goal,
    2. with these resources
    3. by this date.
  2. Here is what we are relying on for this choice.
  3. We have not chosen specific other options because
  4. Here are possible other outcomes that could arise from our choice
  5. Here is what we will do when we identify adverse outcomes as happening.

If I buy into this program, I will give you credit for trying and will not hold you accountable if it does not work out.

IF YOU QUIT when you know it doesn’t work.

In the real world, managers know many things do not work out and they stop doing things that don’t work as soon as they know. If the strategic goal is valid they will try another approach. Doubling down on failure is not reasonable.

If there is a program that aims at outcomes instead of superficialities, we can understand a thought from George Saville, Marquis of Halifax. 1633-1696

“Power is so apt to be insolent and Liberty to be saucy, that they are very seldom on good terms.”

How like our current world. When the people and the governments are on good terms, the world becomes a better place very quickly.

Another thought

If you organize your own thinking around Sowell’s three questions, much of your planning will improve. Understand your vision, and the options you have to make it real.

Organized common sense minimizes the cost to achieve goals.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com 

This Post Will Appeal Most To Guitar-Playing Investors

I subscribe to an email from these folks. I find it useful as a study in how people behave,  and like today, some technical tips too. Click the logo to go to their site. This is the email from Tuesday the 14th. Enjoy


[Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!]

“It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.”   Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett has become a financial icon. Over his lifetime, he has amassed investments worth billions.

But he’s no wizard. He has no clever tricks. No superpowers.

The key to his long term success is this: He invests in companies with strong foundations. And then he stays with the investments for decades.

It’s said he makes perhaps three decisions a year. He’s not scrolling through YouTube looking for the next big idea. He’s not bouncing from this to that.

Instead, he finds something he believes in, and sticks with it.

In guitar, we can model this. We can do the same. And like Buffett, we’ll see massive returns.

For us as musicians this translates to fundamentals. How do we move our hands? What is our technique? How do we engage the string?

If we can find a trustworthy, safe, reliable strategy for right-hand technique, it’s all we need. We can practice this for a few minutes each day and know that we are laying the tracks for a lifetime of great playing.

In addition to this, we can build the skills that will serve us over the long haul. We can learn to sightread musical notation. We can learn the vocabulary and language of music. We can master rhythm. We can listen to varied styles of music – even if only to understand how it is different than other styles.

And besides focusing on fundamentals, we can identify what NOT to do. We can learn the common mistakes guitarists make. Then we can avoid them at all costs.

These include poor technique and unfocused practice. And bouncing from one thing to the next before seeing the desired results.

Perhaps the biggest mistake we can avoid is an erroneous concept of what guitar practice is. It’s not always entertainment. It’s intentional work toward a future result. It’s solving tough problems. It’s repetition under the microscope. It’s honing and polishing.

Warren Buffett does not jump ship on the days when it doesn’t go well. The days come and go. Some are up and some are down. Guitar practice may be the same in this respect. Some days everything comes together easily. Other days it feels like we’ve regressed.

Over time, the trend is up. And if we hold true to solid fundamentals, we break through all barriers. Obstacles eventually dissolve or detours present themselves.

And if we can continue to show up and sit down with the guitar, we reap the benefits of a life well-spent with music. We enjoy the fruits that only come from the compound interest of deliberate practice over time.

The message in the post applies to much more than investing and guitar playing.

How is life so different? It’s not.

The idea of building your skill is easier if you can see the general case. Foundation – refinement – play beautifully.

It’s easier if you address meaning early on. You need a vision before you build the foundation. Your ethics and standards serve a long time. Your relationship skills matter. Learn the skills for your career. Learn to teach others what you know. It clarifies it for you and often identifies voids and contradictions. Share. Build a network.

Build strong foundations and refine them as you go. As with a building, you don’t need more than one for any aspect of life. You should notice it is costly to change foundations later.

Review your life and see where it worked and what failures appeared when you tried something different.

Playing life beautifully is a stretch goal, but you get closer if you know what you are trying to do and work at it.


I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com 

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