We will all look back in 100 years and wonder why people ever invested in the stock market.  It will seem like such an obviously misguided and colossally bad idea; how did we ever think that could work out?

I admit that I do not understand the stock market.  It isn’t that I don’t understand how to pick stocks (I don’t but that is beside the point); it is that I don’t understand the CONCEPT of the stock market: Why pay money for stocks?  Why use a second hand swap meet of useless company baseball cards as a vehicle to save for retirement?  It is silly.

Point 1:  As in poker, you need to know which table to play at.  Put another way, inside information is the only way to consistently beat the market.

Regular folks investing in stocks is like you trying to win at the World Series of Poker.  We are like a toy boat on the ocean;  it would just be luck if we ended up where we wanted.

Along this same line, I disagree with making it illegal to trade on inside information.

Publicly the industry needs to say it is illegal to trade on inside information.  Why?  Because no idiot (meaning us) would invest in the stock market if they knew the game was rigged to benefit those with special information.  That is the democratic draw of the stock market; average people can participate and win…after all, the information is all out there, right?  WRONG.

Funds or people that beat the market consistently and trade frequently are likely cheating with inside information…period.  Mathematically it wouldn’t be hard to target any group/fund/person with consistent market beating returns that are outside a normal range….and assume they are cheating.  Start investigating them.

The reason I am for making insider trading legal instead of investigating everyone is that if you made it legal, people would hopefully stop thinking of the stock market as a vehicle for savings and start thinking about it for what it is:  A cutthroat gambling casino for the ultra-rich where the buy in is OUR money.

I don’t have a problem with the ultra-rich betting against themselves all day with their own money; if they wreck that stock market it only wrecks them.  The problem is that we give them OUR money and then they wreck that stock market and get bailed out.  In that scenario, they win if they win, and they win if we lose.  Seems like a pretty good deal for the finance folks, huh?

Point 2: How can stocks go up faster than inflation + growth?

No asset class can consistently outpace inflation + real growth over time.  People say Social Security doesn’t appreciate like stocks do; your rate of return would be better with stocks.  WRONG.  It might be better over time...but just wait until the first generation of people try to retire who have seen negative stock returns over their period of savings.  That will be the end of stocks as a retirement savings vehicle, and those people will eat potatoes and live by the wood fireplace in the winter.

It will also make us, as a nation, forever chained to the fortunes of the stock market (a very bad idea).  The government will always have to intervene if the stock market tanks because so much is tied up in it. This is a moral hazard for traders, since they know they will always be bailed out.  Additionally, their speculation is at the expense of our retirement.

This scenario of negative stock returns for retirees over the period of their career simply hasn’t happened yet. 100 years ago there was no retirement.  It is a modern concept.  Then there were pension plans (and Social Security), which were ponzi-like schemes where you always needed a larger portion of workers paying in than old people taking out to maintain them.  401K plans didn’t exist until the 1978, so basically no generation has yet retired depending on stocks.  Using stocks as a vehicle for normal people to save is a new and unproven concept.

If stocks cannot consistently outpace inflation + growth, then putting your money in the stock market is little more than gambling…and gambling against people who know a lot more about it than you.

Point 3: The miracle of compound interest only works if everyone doesn’t employ it. If stocks worked their magic for us and multiplied our money through investing, and then everyone was able to do that, would we all be rich? NO. Compounding interest can create money on paper no doubt; but it will only ever be able to buy what is available in the real world.  It would simply create inflation. I repeat:  No asset class can consistently compound faster than inflation + growth for everyone.

Point 4: Stocks don’t produce anything.  We can’t all be rent seekers.

If we were all, every single one of us, able to use stocks as a retirement vehicle to compound our money while doing nothing, then what would we be able to buy?  Other people’s stocks perhaps, but there would be nothing else to spend our money on.  In short, wealth is produced by improving stuff, by working…not by shuffling paper in a second hand market.  You can’t eat a stock certificate.

Point 5:  Traders and computers (HFT) will ruin the stock market.

The primary players (traders and computers) are not looking to invest; they are looking for arbitrage.  They don’t care about investments, or the health of the underlying economy; they are simply looking for the next trade, whether it is in pork bellies or Swiss Francs.  The larger the market gets, the more tempting it is to try to rent seek from it.  They are extracting profits from doing nothing.

~70% of trades are computers trading against other computers.  Why would we agree to participate in this?  The stock market has devolved into a computer game, and we are the losers.

As we look back in 100 years (probably less), we will realize that it was a rigged game, whose main benefit was to extract money from the dupes (us) and funnel it to the rule makers (traders).  We supplied the fuel; they extracted the profits.  In the end very little was ever financed; very little was returned, and all the financiers got rich.

I took a religion class in college and always thought it was odd that nearly all major religions single out usury/banking as evil.  Why single out one profession above others?  What is so insidious about banking that it gets a special mention above other professions?  Well, it is because they have a tendency to end up with all the money, when they don’t really do anything; it is simply fancy theft.

The stock market is the crowning achievement of fancy theft.  We will look back in 100 years and wonder how we could’ve ever thought buying stocks was a good idea…just like no one could’ve thought smoking was good idea, right?

One Response to “Of course the Earth isn’t flat. Of course smoking is bad for you. What does this have to do with the stock market?”
  1. Russ says:

    This is interesting. I will admit to not knowing much about economics, but I have always had similar thoughts about the stock market. Even without a solid understanding of the concepts you’ve written, I’ve always thought the stock market seemed a doomed idea. As with the economy in general, expecting continual increased growth year after year seems a foolish concept. Conceptually you can make some sense of the market and how it functions, but as you noted with computers trading against computers, and how the stability of it can be affected a negative press release by a single company or a group of corrupt bankers, it really does seem like a foolish idea to be putting your future (ie retirement) there. It’s drilled into our heads all the time that if we want to retire then we need to put our money there, and very few of us actually question that.

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