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All About the plan

Better Than Average

My wife was going through old pictures recently and texted me photos of her at 19 and me in my late 20s. “What on earth happened to us?” I texted back. “50+ years of life”, came the reply. Yeah, that’ll do it.

Today’s “there’s nothing new under the sun” reminder comes from the Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography by Eric Metaxas. Man, it is a slog. Did I really need to know which fruits the Bonhoeffer children ate for snacks in 190X?  No, I did not, but I am interested in the state of German politics and society in the 1930s. That’s fascinating to me. While I have read a fair amount of WWII history, I never understood how that Austrian corporal rose to power. It’s more than a little sobering to read – my Cliffs notes version for you – after losing WWI, the German people were angry & embittered over economics and politics, so they drifted into “us vs. them” camps and then became increasingly dogmatic while they looked for someone who would fix the mess they perceived. Sound familiar?   I thought so too…

But the quote from Bonhoeffer that I most want to share with you came from 1930, when he spent a year in the US teaching at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

He wrote home to a colleague, “There is no [rigorous theological thinking] here…They [the students] talk a blue streak without the slightest substantiative foundation and with no evidence of any criteria. The students – on the average twenty-five to thirty years old – are completely clueless concerning what [logical thinking and deductive reasoning] are all about.”

Images of the interviews of recent college protesters sprang to my mind. Yet another opportunity for you and me to tell folks who say with a breathless panicked voice, “IT’S NEVER BEEN LIKE THIS BEFORE” to go read a book. Please remember that the added bonus for this comment is that it will reduce the number of people speaking to you in the future. (Note to Microsoft Word grammar police: Yes, I know added bonus is redundant, but my friends and I are having a conversation here, so just go the heck away.)

Another note to a friend from Bonhoeffer while in America reflects his shock and distaste for the Jim Crow society he witnessed first-hand.

It was (or so he thought) completely new to him and totally outside his experience. He wrote something to the effect of how grateful he was that racism of the sort he witnessed in America did not and could not exist in an enlightened Germany. His comments are a good reminder for me that mirrors are often opaque. In The Boxer, Paul Simon wrote and sings, “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” Yet another good reminder for me. This one telling me that it is not nearly enough to be a man, but one needs to be a better man.

I am not recommending Bonhoeffer’s bio to you unless you have waaaaaay too much time on your hands and believe that anything worth reading has a fair amount of suffering associated with getting through it. But there are some real pearls there. I was the same way reading William Manchester’s “American Caesar” when I was a teen. “There is some great American history in this book, but can we pllleeeeasssse get to the part where ‘old soldiers just fade away’?”

Sheesh, where was I?

Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be talking about investments and investment planning here. I continue to read as much as I can, while still allowing for the periodic detective novel, about the optimal investment strategy(s). You will be pleased to know (at least I hope you will) that not only am I trying to be a better man, but also a better investor. The hope is that you and I will both profit from these measures. We will see when we get to the end.

For now, here’s a fun exercise. In any group of size, ask who considers themselves to be an above-average automobile driver. I’ve read about studies which are buttressed by my own anecdotal evidence showing that about 70% of American drivers consider themselves to be above average in their driving skills set.

I think I can get you to agree, even without a written proof, that having 70% of anything fall into an “above average” classification within its category is a non-starter of an idea. This, however, should not, does not, and will not, deter me from working every day to be better than the average bear (“come on Booboo. Let’s get a pic-a-nic basket.”) in my efforts on your behalf. My current portfolio construction process includes, (1) Sing along with Paul Simon about a man hearing what he wants to hear and disregarding the rest & avoid that path, (2) Remember that previous performance does not predict the future, but the past is the best road map to the future. Think this paradox through carefully and act accordingly. (3) Does our plan fit our needs? If so, stick to the plan. What, we got off the plan?  Get back on it!   The plan no long looks like it works?   Update the plan!   (4) Pick the assets that fit the plan. (5)  Keep reading. Sharp tools enhance the probability of success.

Do I sound like a broken record or what?

This steady-state approach should bring you comfort. The hope is that it will also bring us above-average results. It’s my life plan; I’ll stay on it. Here’s my thought: “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Okay, I probably went too far there, but I do amuse myself.

To close all open loops in this blog, I will admit that my driving, however, remains suspect and will not likely get better as time goes by. Please exert extra caution when approaching blue Dodge trucks or Green two-door Jeeps. Caution is often good in lots of the matters we talk about.

PS: Tell me the truth: Did you talk like Yogi Bear for a second? Not a completely horrible role model. He was after all, smarter than the average bear!

July 2024

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.


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