Forget emotions, crunch the numbers

I had a conversation late last week with a representative of a firm in LA that invests about $40 billion on behalf of large institutions and pension funds. He described his firm’s investing philosophy as “quantitative”, employing as they do a bunch of PhD scientists and mathematicians who examine financial, numerical and measurable data to determine value. “We take the emotion out of investing,” this young guy told me proudly. “Is that a good thing?,” I asked.

Although my sarcastic retort was meant to tease him a bit, it was a genuine question. Virtually every individual and institutional investor is looking for the greatest possible ROI. We recognize that humans can fall prey to their emotions when choosing where to invest their money. Haven’t we all experienced this in our own lives?

Emotions are messy things, often leading us astray. Perhaps it is better to have cold-blooded algorithmic efficiency when it comes to our financial decisions. But why stop there? In this digital era, why not reduce all of our emotional lives to ones and zeros that can be manipulated on a computer screen? How convenient it would be if we weren’t distressed by emotional decisions such as who to marry, who to hire or fire, where to spend the holidays, which homeless person to help, whether to have children and how to tell an elderly parent he shouldn’t be driving anymore. Just tap the digital oracle icon on your iPhone screen and, voila, there’s the recommended decision and the expected benefit you will receive from making it. Easy. Efficient. Productive.

In fact, I can see the oracle’s slogan now: “We take the emotion out of life.”

I’ll crunch some numbers and get back to you on its investment value.

December 10th, 2007

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