As a voracious reader across a variety of materials ranging from company press releases and financial filings to third party research and surveys,
I relish the time I do get to read a fantastic piece of fiction or a compelling work of non-fiction. Ed Brodow’s In Lies We Trust is one of those works.
In it, Brodow’s looks to foster the return of critical thinking, a skillset that if one were to examine the last presidential race and the media circus that covered it one would quickly see it has atrophied.
Brodow sees this as the first step to returning to an open and civil debate of the issues through which the optimal course for the country can be better determined. It may sound somewhat simple, but often times the best advice is and in this case it sounds an awful lot like “pay attention and do your homework,” which is something smart investors tend to do.
Brodow does explain why Americans are, as he puts it, so gullible when it comes to be swayed by both politicians and the media – the vast majority “lack the capacity to understand the nuances of politics and public policy. More than half the population of American adults cannot make sense of the complex information patterns that shape public policy.”
With that premise established, the author lays out the case that many of the major ills that we as a people have faced, from racial conflict to runaway government bureaucracy, could have been thwarted with critical thinking. Brodow includes the economic decline of the country, but I as an investor and watcher of the global macro economy, would argue that critical thinking may have helped us identify some of the issues facing today’s economy, but odds are it would not address the issues associated with our slowing population growth, dwindling productivity and the aging demographic shift that will at least shift if not crimp consumer spending. But that’s being a tad nitpicky on my part given my day job.
Brodow also realizes that there are other forces at work, one of which includes the replacement of “just the facts” journalism with the far more sensational infotainment. There was no better example than the last presidential election by one of the key downsides of our increasingly connected and content driven society – people assuming that just because something is published on the internet it is accurate and “has to be true.”
What’s one part interesting and one part scary about this is The New York Times has opted to eliminate its public editor position, which was “established to receive reader complaints and question Times journalists on how they make decisions.” Per Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the Times, the public editor’s role had become outdated because as he saw it, “Our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be.” Perhaps Mr. Sulzberger is hoping most of these folks have critical thinking skills, but then he probably didn’t read the more than 3,000 comments it received on President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. To be fair, the New York Times is not alone in removing its public editor position in fact few national news organizations still have one given the accelerating shift toward digital advertising that has led walloped print media advertising.
While some may scoff at the “gullibility” revelation, like a good doctor Barrow offers a remedy for this ill toward the end of the book where he breaks down the key steps to decision making, critical thinking and employing what he describes as a “negotiation consciousness.” Certainly a must read section by all, including the license given by Brodow to question the assumptions of what one is being told. All in all, Chapter 11 of In Lies We Trust is one that any person that hopes to one day be called a smart investor should read.
The bottom line is this, whether a person is a new investor or a person looking to get a better handle on how to think about issues presented by politicians, the media or any other party, Brodow’s book is an enjoyable read, with some fascinated anecdotes that makes for a very digestible tome. Just the kind of book, most would enjoy as we gear up for the summer reading list.
Christopher (Chris) Versace is the Chief Investment Officer at Tematica Research, editor of the newsletter Tematica Investing, co-host of the Cocktail Investing Podcast and is a featured columnist to The Street.com as well as a contributor to Business Insider and Forbes.com
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