Here are more FAQs from the last few weeks.
Subject: Fidelity Investor Special Hotline – September 17, 2008
At first I was going to say great writing…but it wound up as pure hogwash! You didn’t even make a political statement that was understandable. Please clarify.
JIM: Thanks for your honesty! In my view, hogwash and political statements tend to be one and the same. I was trying more to strike a chord than compose a chorus line anyone could dance to. Sounds like I failed on both counts!
Subject: Re: Fidelity Investor Hotline – September 25, 2008
Hey, Jim! My suggestions–if you wish to retain me at your current, pricey subscription charges–are two:
1. Cut the crap. To say re: your "regular, weekly hotline" is a "Thursday tradition that makes our whole week" is so silly as to insult most of your subscribers' intelligences. Then to claim that your decision to switch to a 5% move vs. your 3% standard for "Hotlines" is an attempt to help subscribers not stupidly to fail to recognize the significance of hotlines is an additional insult to our intelligence. Clearly, to put out said hotlines costs you money and that is the reason for your "temporarily" discontinuing them.
2. Apologize to your readers for your error in prediction that the market likely would turn around the fourth quarter of this year. You never miss an opportunity to remind subscribers of your brilliance and prescience, but I never can remember a time you've confessed to an error. It's OK, Jim, to admit that you’re human. To pretend otherwise leads to a view of you as either grandiose or a huckster. Very Sincerely, KS
JIM: Ken, noted. The move was meant to get us out of breaking noise and focus on breaking news in order to help our members manage the stressful times better. Literally speaking, I doubt that our Hotlines make your whole week — that was tongue in cheek. As for price, you can make your own decision regarding whether or not you're getting what you pay for versus what others offer for more or less; that's your business. In terms of being fair and balanced, I’d argue that unlike anyone else in this business, we make a point of noting our missteps as much if not more than our successes, and as often let members point them out in our FAQs. We know we make mistakes. We know we continue to successfully navigate the markets waters. That's part and parcel of any investor's passage, and we're happy to have you on board.
Subject: Response to Hotlines
Jim, Warning: This is a "Taking Jim to the Tool shed" message. It contains unsolicited advice. In some ways it's humble advice, but in others, it is firm and, in my judgment, urgent.
I have subscribed to your newsletter for over a decade now and appreciate your counsel on investment matters. Everything I say here is in that context.
However, during this unusually heated political period, you have ventured into political punditry. I believe that doing so can only hurt you and work against your own best interests.
Although I could write on and on about my reasons, I'll limit myself.
First, subscribers to your newsletter and weekly hotlines are paying you to play the narrow, specific role of financial investment advisor. The wisest readers neither expect nor want you to expand that role. Please confine and discipline yourself to focus on the role you contracted with your subscribers to play.
Second, any political comments you make (if you feel so compelled to take that risk) should be absolutely reportorial, unemotional, and truly balanced. The moment you show your political hand, you alienate many of your subscribers (those who plan to vote otherwise) and you sabotage your authority as an objective analyst for all the rest. Your loss of objectivity on the political front bleeds over into the area of your real expertise: investment. Even those who agree with you in the short run will ultimately experience distrust of your capacity to consider all options when you advise them on the investment matters in their lives.
Third, you make the fundamental logical error that your view of the world and the world economic order is absolutely right, to the exclusion of views that contradict in part or in whole your own. That is delusional. Both political parties have made major shifts over the last century in several key areas. Protectionism and civil rights serve as two huge examples of that. I know of no intellectually vital and honest person who has not changed positions on important issues in all aspects of his/her life. That is what intellectually and emotionally balanced people do as effective problem-solvers. Therefore, any positions you hold now should be held with a modicum of modesty, even humility. You may actually learn some things through this current crisis that would cause you to modify your presuppositions to some extent. By rejecting the stubborn and unworkable certainty principle and embracing the possibility that uncertainties loom in all human experience, you are keeping yourself alive and adaptable. Furthermore, crow is easier to eat under those circumstances later on if you must. It's easier to admit partial error than to be forced to (lie about / confess) your whole-cloth errors in judgment.
Finally, with all due respect, you're not very good at political punditry. When you venture into politics, your message is muddled in careless, unrevised, poorly structured, and mystifying text. It is like front-porch ranting and sounds like the kind of ideological vitriol that angry, powerless people spew when they think the only people listening are those who agree with them. It is like reading unedited, unrevised reader responses to op-ed pieces in the major dailies. Do you really want to join the ranks of the radio talk-show pundits — on either side? If you want to have a newsletter that addresses politics and the economy, then start another newsletter and hire some skillful word artists to copyedit your text and provide sounding boards for your thoughts. However, I think such a move would poison what you're good at: Fidelity Investor. CNBC, FOX, MSNBC, and CNN already flood the world with self-important entertainment-driven business commentators.
Look around you, currently and historically. The most enduring sages take on partisan tones only at rare and critical moments, and when they do so, their text is extraordinary and memorable. They do not resort to a loss of poise.
When you're heated emotionally, beware. Vent your feelings in a notebook, but lock yourself away from the Hotline keypad. Think about how your text sounds from a variety of points of view. Invite two or three critical thinkers to review your comments and tell you the truth. Contrary to the current mind-set at the extremes on both sides of the aisle, avoiding knee-jerk commentary and giving full ear to "forbidden" or other-party views is not dishonest. It is supremely honest. It is circumspect. It is taking into account the larger good and the importance of nurturing/respecting long-term relationships with your readers.
Now, a self-righteous personal note: I taught college for many, many years. I encouraged inquiry and full discussion in my classes. I certainly did not do it perfectly, but through all those years, I resisted revealing my positions on most of the issues we discussed in class. My core mission was not to tell people what to think, but to teach them how to think critically. I measured my success not by how many students agreed with me, but by how much more rational and inquisitive they became. I always rewarded them for the quality and quantity of their relevant questions and carefully reasoned supports. That was my job. They didn't know my politics, my religion, my views on domestic or foreign policy. They didn't need to. They were learning how to think better and less emotionally.
I taught that way because I learned very early in my career that the moment I expressed my position on an issue, a lot of students clammed up. They understood the power context and opted not to take the risk.
In your case, subscribers won't clam up. They'll just get angry and probably not re-subscribe. Moreover, they'll be all the more certain to cancel out your vote.
You have demonstrated again and again over the years that you have the ability to advise well and stay above the fray when you're disciplined, especially in the newsletter-proper. You can build on that talent. In topics and areas that do not have absolute answers, how can you teach and encourage your readers to engage in critical inquiry while still fulfilling your mission to give the kind of direct advice they want and expect from you? How can you use the questions, "What if . . .?" and "What are all the possible consequences . . .?" and "What should I do?" to help your readers personalize and adapt your sound investment advice to their own unique financial circumstances?
Those last comments are just suggestions. But the most important message I want to send you is embodied in three questions: What is your core mission? How can you focus fully on that core mission? What would sabotage that mission and, therefore, must be avoided?
Please restore your business to its core mission.
And, really finally, I understand if this letter angers you. I respect you enough to risk that response. RP
JIM: Noted and appreciated! (Additional note from 10/2 Hotline: “While I understand that many members object to any form of political opinion from yours truly, politics has interjected itself in the markets in an unprecedented way and I feel both compelled to (and justified in) at least weighing in.”)
Subject: Re: Fidelity Investor Special Market Update – September 29, 2008
I find it myopic that you write about Pelosi and the Congress, but seem not to be able to identify the President's role in this debacle. I suggest you do some thinking about the concept of the unitary executive and that the executive power of the Federal government rests in the hands of that one individual. Last spring George Will observed that come January, 2009 you are going to need tweezers to pick up what is left of the Republican Party in
JIM: My point is that there’s plenty of blame to go around and that Washington (both sides) had a unique opportunity to lift themselves up in their historically low ratings – and help raise the bar going forward. Bush bears at least as much responsibility for this recession as
Clinton did for the last one – but I view Congress’ role as the most lackluster when shining examples are most needed! No matter who ascends on November 5th, I’ll look forward to that date as the one when the markets (and I) can return to just the facts on the earnings- and economic-related grounds!