Strong opinions, weakly held

The trouble with giving advice

Joel Lovell writes about the trouble with giving investment advice (professionally):

I mention this less as a confession of my own incompetence than as an example of how difficult it is to say anything with genuine authority these days, at least when it comes to financial advice. Should you jump into the market now and buy low? Should you keep everything in cash for the next year or two or five? Should you invest in China or natural gas or gold? Beats me. I’ve been writing this column for about a year and a half, so I’ve done my research, talked to a bunch of investment analysts and made an effort to understand what’s going on now and where we might be headed. But really, I can’t begin to claim to know. And when I think back on the advice I’ve given and realize that my readers would have been far better off if each month I’d said, “You know what, let’s stick with Plan A and just stuff our money into a satchel and bury it beneath the swing set” — well, it makes me feel like a bit of a fraud.

The trouble is that advice is almost always overvalued. I have an unwritten blog post in me about my general loathing of advice across the board. You’re usually better off without it, and giving advice is almost never a good idea.


  1. “…advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.”

  2. It’s hard to have an absolute rule about advice. There are times when you do generally have a mastery of a system, and your advice is valid, but there are other times/spheres in which mastery is simply not possible, and your advice is simply unlikely to compensate for all the factors that you’re incapable of knowing. In general, this is true of economics. In stable times, the way in which your knowledge correlates with the “general consensus” may make you appear to be a savant, but in times of flux, one would be very lucky to have one’s basic assumptions about an inhumanely complex system actually match the reality of such a system.

    One must know their limits. In economics and finance, at least amongst the most vocal in those fields, this is a rare trait. Of course this is so for a reason. Risk and reward (for the advisors) are quite asymmetrical.

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