A student recently recommended the site of motivational speaker Mark Matteson. In his April e-zine “What If You Didn’t Know?” Matteson begins:
One of my favorite stories is about the architect who finally got his first big job. He decided to have a giant party to celebrate and went to a neighborhood bar to make arrangements. He noticed a Newspaper headline that read, “Hard Times Coming!” He changed his mind. No party. “Haven’t you heard?” he told the owner, “hard times coming.” He called his wife, “You know that dress you ordered for the party, cancel it. Hard times coming.” The wife called the dressmaker and cancelled the new dress. Hard times coming. The dressmaker called the new building where she was going to open her new space. Cancel the space. Hard times coming. The developer called the architect. Tenants are bailing out. I can’t hire you after all. Hard times coming. The architect went back to the same bar to drown his sorrows. He spotted the paper across the room. The headline looked five times larger now. He got up for a closer look. The paper lay wrinkled in a corner. It had been used to wrap glasses and dishes. Upon closer inspection, the paper was 20 years old!
I am not without sympathy to Matteson’s ideas. We can be hypnotized by what we hear on the news—a sort of societal contagion, if you will. Equally true, if we sit around complaining and bemoaning our fate, that tends to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
Although Matteson’s type of thinking is becoming pop wisdom in society—just witness the phenomenon of The Secret—popularity is not enough to establish the truth of what he argues.
Does our thinking control real world events? Matteson ends his essay by writing: “Do you think ‘Hard Times Are Coming?’ If you do, they will. If you don’t and they won’t. We become what we think about. What if you didn’t know?”
While it is clear that our thinking does influences our experience of events, our thinking does not control events. And thank goodness it doesn’t. Reflect for just a moment on your thinking over the past hour—like most of us, your mind probably flitted from topic to topic. Many of your thoughts were fragmentary; and very likely, there were more than a few of your thoughts that you would be embarrassed to share.
Let’s take it a step further. Can you tell me what your next thought is going to be? Interestingly enough, as you begin to watch your thoughts, that next thought will be elusive—at least for a while. And when your thinking resumes, you will see that thoughts appear; but you are not controlling them.
You do have some control. You control whether or not you ruminate over a thought, and you control whether or not you identify with a thought. Indeed, it is important to understand that you do have these choices to make. If you don’t have this understanding, you are likely to find that your thinking is completely dominated by thoughts coming from your ego. Nevertheless, having this understanding and exercising choices over your thoughts will not allow you to control the world.
There is yet another important implication of Matteson’s essay to reconsider—an implication that no doubt we will hear from many commentators as the current recession worsens. That implication is that if we think positive thoughts, keep believing, and keep spending, the economy will be just fine.
This is about as true as claiming that if we all got up at 2 a.m., the sun would begin to rise at 2 a.m. as well. Day and night cycle according to universal laws; and while the regularity of economies is not as exact, economies are subject to similar cycles.
The causes of these cycles include, as we have been covering in this blog, the artificial creation of bubbles that cannot be sustained by the Fed and governmental policies. But even if the Fed was not interfering in the economy, the economy would still be subject to boom and bust cycles.
Why? All human beings are subject to moods. Some days you simply don’t feel as good as others. For some, these moods may have daily, weekly, monthly, and even longer cyclical components—cycles within cycles.
Societies have collective mood swings too. As the mood of the public ranges from bullishness to bearishness, these moods influence the financial markets. Sometimes these moods become extreme, as shown first in the late 90s by the irrational belief that tech stocks would always go up by 30% a year and then later by the equally irrational belief that housing would always go up by 30% a year. Those who held these irrational beliefs had many arguments why their irrational beliefs were actually quite thoughtful and well-reasoned. When presented with counter-arguments, their rallying cry was “this time it is different.”
It is never different. We leave in a dualistic world—night will always follow day, winter will always follow summer. Economic hard times will always follow irrational economic bubbles—and thinking all the “good” or “positive” thoughts in the world will not prevent that.