Archive for March, 2009
Once upon a time, there was a man who lived nearby a casino. On his way to work everyday he passed through the casino floor and put a quarter in one of the slot machines. He always played the same machine and he always played a single quarter. By chance, he won every single day! He would put his quarter in, pull the handle, and the machine paid out five dollars. He would collect his winnings and then head off to work, confident that he would be able to pay for lunch that day.
This amazing streak of luck continued. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. Every day he won five dollars, and every day he bought lunch with the money. It went on for so long that he became accustomed to his daily winnings. He came to consider them a reliable part of his income. So reliable, in fact, that he eventually began to feel entitled to his daily winnings.
Then one day, he dropped his quarter into the slot and nothing happened. No bells, no flashing lights, and most importantly, no five dollars! He was stunned. What happened? Someone was obviously cheating him out of his rightful earnings. That was *his* five dollars, after all. How could people be so selfish and heartless? How would he afford lunch today? He couldn’t believe that he was going to go hungry because of someone else’s greed!
He went to complain to the owners of the casino. He explained that he was counting on that money to live on, and they had no right to take it away from him! When he demanded that they turn over to him what was rightfully his, the casino owners just laughed. They told him he was welcome to continue playing games in their casino, but expecting to win every time he played was very foolish indeed.
So the moral of this story is, if you are going to gamble on the stock market, be willing to accept the risk of loss. There are a lot of people complaining right now about the current meltdown in the financial sector. Some of them are complaining about the fact that a few crooked bankers and hedge fund managers have poisoned the well. That’s fine. The people guilty of committing fraud, in any of its myriad manifestations, should be held accountable. But fraud is already against the law. There is no need for additional government oversight or regulation of the markets.
What is needed is a little bit of education. Just because the stock market has traditionally returned eight percent does not mean that everyone who puts money into the market is going to get an eight percent return on their investment. Many people will get no money back at all. That is the risk you take. Historically, the stock market has been more reliable than a slot machine, but that does not mean that there isn’t still some risk involved. Caveat emptor.
What we are witnessing today is simply that risk playing out in reality. It hasn’t been this bad in 80+ years, but does anyone truly think we can fix the system in such a way that this type of thing will never happen again? Does anyone believe that we can eliminate the risk? Even if we could, a risk-free market is not going to return eight percent, I can guarantee you that. So be careful what you wish for: fixing the broken market just might turn it into a slot machine.
Last summer when I wrote about our solar water heater installation, I was anxious to see how it would function during the winter. As an example, right now it is 10am, and 29 degrees outside, and the temperature sensor on the panels currently says 111 degrees. Overall, I have been surprised at the number of days that the system has come on, and it consistently pumps out water in excess of 100 degrees when it does run.