How to invest?

What to do with your money in the post-attack world.

I heard about September 11th from my best friend’s girlfriend, who called at about 8:00 Pacific time to tell me. I had been asleep, and she said something along the lines of, ‚They’ve knocked down the World Trade Center.’ I made my way to my computer and brought up a news site, which was leading with the picture of the fireball coming from the north tower at the point of impact. There was a period of considerable length, perhaps thirty seconds, in which I felt nothing at all; it was so inconceivable that, well, I couldn’t conceptualize it.

I mention it because those were the very last moments of life before, for me. I know almost every single one of our hundreds of millions of fellow citizens has a similar transition moment burned into his memory: an instant in which everything changed for him. I needn’t delve into the lifestyle changes we may face, nor the continuing threats under which we may live, nor the dramatically changed world stage on which we will play. They are as yet inestimable but they loom gargantuan on the immediate horizon; and every American is aware of all of this, too, and knows that in these respects as well her life has changed. Is it reasonable, in such a situation, to evaluate anything with the old standards?

Of course not. Then how do we propose to make a judgement about the financial markets? It is by no means universal among analysts that this period represents a buying opportunity. This doubt springs from several sources: there is, of course, the stark contrast between Goldman Sachs’ (in)famous Abby Joseph Cohen, who today adjusted her model portfolio to have a more than 7% higher weighting in stocks, and MSNBC’s Chris Byron, who has opined that we are heading into another ‚guns and butter’ 60’s scenario that will ignite a protracted, decade-long era of combined economic misery and loss of life overseas. But there are subtler shades of gray than this; if seeking informed answers to questions about the specific direction of the economy or a particular industry, be prepared to find as many responses as there are analysts. The problem is that the answers we believe for these important questions should be the guiding force in our decisions about investment allocations.

Because the reaction of the American populace, and indeed the population of all the world, is completely uncertain in both the near and long terms, it is patently impossible to answer any significant economic questions with anything better than statistical interpolation. The actions of those citizens are crucial in and of themselves, since they represent the consumer base that drives so much of the nation’s economy. And every business, too, has as its primary concern predicting the motion of that consumer base in the future; and the people that these businesses employ to that end are themselves faced with great personal uncertainty. And the actions of these businesses in turn affect the sentiments of the citizenry. It takes very little thought to see that the complexity of predicting this country’s future in even the broadest terms explodes out of all reason.

So having established that we can predict nothing, I still wish to make a proposal as to how we may best conduct ourselves in terms of investments, because these decisions must still be made. The answer is absolutely not to pick the most reasonable-sounding of the professional opinions and use it as a base; they are all equivalently unreasonable. Rather, now more than ever, the time calls for introspection. In the manner of Zen, or of Buddhism more generally, turn your attention inward, and find every investment avenue about which you sense any significant twinge of fear in yourself. Don’t enter these. But do buy every other investment option you find, those that you are convinced you can handle emotionally, and do it now. If you are not so convinced, then stay away. If your analysis guides you into the money market with every dime you have, don’t shy away from that answer; now is not the time to be embarrassed that you don’t have a sufficiently aggressive portfolio.

Then sit and turn your attention to your friends or family and to the vast political and international decisions facing the country, and live your life. History unfolds around us, and even if you don’t count the enormity of our situation, there’s still a tremendous amount that is productive and enjoyable you can do with yourself. Let your investments ride, and someday the country will find an equilibrium and you will, I hope and believe, find yourself a little better positioned than you had expected.

By David Schumann, UC San Diego


to knock down burzyć, zwalać
inconceivable niewyobrażalny
transition przejście, zmiana
instant moment
to delve into wgłębiać się
to loom zarysowywać się, wyłaniać
to spring from pochodzić, wynikać
to ignite zapalać się
misery nieszczęście, nędza
subtler subtelniejszy
patently bezspornie, oczywiście
motion of ruch, wniosek
to face with napotkać, zetknąć się
in terms of z punktu widzenia
inward do wewnątrz
twinge of fear poczucie strachu
convinced przekonany
to stay away trzymać się z dala
dime dziesięciocentówka
equilibrium równowaga
enormity ogrom
to conduct oneself zachowywać się