The Missing Lead

big_butt_chairI’m a big fan of Jake Tapper.  I thought he was terrific at ABC News as the senior White House correspondent and I was disappointed when he wasn’t picked to host This Week both when George Stephanopoulos left in 2010 and when he came back in 2012.  As of 2013, Jake returned to CNN to become Chief Washington Correspondent and anchor of a new weekday television news show, The Lead with Jake TapperThe Lead, which debuted this week to generally good reviews, is the first CNN show to launch since Jeff Zucker took over as president of CNN Worldwide to revitalize the franchise.

I agree with the good reviews, but there’s a “big but” coming. 

I can’t watch a show that airs at 1pm here in SoCal, but I DVRed the first two episodes and found them very promising.  It helps that Tapper is smart, engaging, connected and glib. His show is fast-paced, interesting, informative and has featured excellent guests, including NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Marco Rubio, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, LeBron James, Jeffrey Goldberg, Nate Silver and Stephen Colbert.

But since my gig is money and the work wasn’t nearly as good in that area (even though the primary “Money Lead” features on the Cyprus crisis and taxpayers being stuck paying for the mistakes of Carnival Cruises were fine), I’ll note my quibbles in that area.

On both broadcasts Tapper repeated the claims of an annual publicity grab by an outplacement firm (that – surprise – is in the business of trying to increase employee productivity) its “study” demonstrates that the NCAA Tournament costs employers millions of dollars in lost productivity every March. It makes for a good story and provides a different angle on March Madness.  But it’s nonsense.

This year’s annual press release concedes that the “study” isn’t in any way legitimate or scientific and even allows that it’s probably a good idea for managers who have employees focusing on the tourney to “let it slide.”  These concessions make sense because back in 2010 Slate comprehensively crushed the entire premise of the argument. Jake should have made that point and not simply gone along for the press release ride.  But that’s a minor quibble.  The other problem I want to highlight is a much bigger one.

Tapper also commented on the results of EBRI’s annual Retirement Confidence Survey released yesterday. The segment accurately reported the data but, in conversation with two reporters on the subject, missed “the lead” entirely. It’s a big deal that retirement confidence is low and that workers have dealt with a sluggish economy by (foolishly) withdrawing money from retirement accounts.  It’s a very big deal that the public has suffered financially over the past few years and doesn’t see the current recovery as being nearly as strong as the numbers suggest. 

But to focus on the markets while ignoring human behavior profoundly misses the point. The reporting didn’t bury the lead; it missed it entirely.

I agree with EBRI that workers should carefully consider how much they need to save for retirement.  I agree that improvement in the housing market is a good thing, even though the strength of housing provided a false sense of security during the real estate bubble.  But I’d add (and the guests should have recognized) that we simply aren’t saving enough.

Savings Rates2Source:  St. Louis Fed

A 2.4 percent savings rate isn’t going to get it done.

Even worse, the discussion of investment performance (such as it was) in no way dealt with the most important issue of all – why we make such lousy investment decisions and how those lousy decisions impede and damage our financial health.  We routinely and as a matter of course buy high and sell low, refuse to implement or sustain it even when we have a good financial plan, blame everyone and everything else for our failures while taking credit for our (limited) successes (or even lying about them via “self-serving bias”), are unrealistic in our expectations (“optimism bias”), see only what we want or expect to see (“confirmation bias”), and suffer from choice paralysis, herding and loss aversion.

We also suffer from what Nobel laureate Dan Kahneman calls the “planning fallacy.” The planning fallacy is our tendency to underestimate the time, costs, and risks of future actions and at the same time overestimate the benefits thereof.  It’s at least partly why we underestimate bad results. It’s why we think it won’t take us as long to accomplish something as it does. It’s why projects tend to cost more than we expect.  It’s why the results we achieve aren’t as good as we expect. We simply and consistently exaggerate our ability to shape the future. 

Perhaps worst of all is the “bias blind spot,” our overarching problem.  We often readily recognize cognitive and behavioral biases such as those outlined above in other people.  We just don’t think they apply to ourselves.   If we believe something to be true, we quite naturally assume those who disagree have the problem.  Our beliefs are deemed merely to reflect the objective facts simply because we think they are true.   

Jake, the missing lead to the retirement planning story isn’t all the external stuff, it’s that we are our own worst enemy, time and time again.

One thought on “The Missing Lead

  1. Pingback: Retirement Confidence Still Minimal | Above the Market

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