The Battle for Our Attention

By Geoff Schaefer

Geoff is a Wealth Advisor with Intergy Private Wealth. He writes for The Steadfast Fiduciary to help people live with an abundant heart, open mind, and boundless generosity.

June 12, 2023

How can we go through life staying informed, while avoiding news and narratives that, while informative, can have detrimental effects on our happiness and well being?

Lets start with a few quotes about the debt limit “crisis” we find ourselves in the midst of.

  1. “In his Saturday address, the President called on Congress to stop playing politics on the issue. The consequences of default, he said, are grave.”
  2. The Treasury had said that it would run out of cash Tuesday night without immediate action to raise the debt ceiling by at least a small amount. It said it would either have to order banks not to honor Government checks, or make ”unprecedented and questionable” use of the Federal Financing Bank, which arranges borrowing for a number of small agencies, to avoid default. 
  3. The President told Congress not to play politics with the debt limit because doing so could inject uncertainty into the bond and stock markets at a time when the U.S. economy is showing signs of recovering.
  4. The Secretary insists the administration will not negotiate over the debt limit. “We have made it clear that we are not going to let the debt ceiling be used as a way to extract commitments that otherwise would be unacceptable.”

Those all sounds pretty dire. This problem is perhaps insurmountable, unique, unchartered territory.  Maybe… except for the fact that excerpt number one was from President Clinton in 1996.  Number two was issued in 1985 by the Treasury Department. The President statement three is referring to was George W. Bush in 2002. By now you get the point, and the final statement was made by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew of the Obama administration in 2015. So this crisis is not new, as a matter of fact, the debt limit has changed 78 times since 1917 and the government has shut down 22 times since 1976. I do not want to get hung up on this particular issue, but simply use it as an example of the broader media as a whole. The news media is a for profit business and what sells is not based and level headed information sharing. Rather it is a hysterical narrative with endless twist, turns and surprises. Fox, CNN, Newsmax, the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, **insert news media outlet here** can turn a simple midterm election into a twelve hour special that attempts to replicate the excitement of a Mission Impossible movie.  Please, tell me honestly, do we actually think elections of a representative in New Hampshire are more exciting than Tom Cruise jumping off the world’s tallest building? 

Hartford Funds have done a great job collecting some time Time magazine covers dating as far back as 1971.  As you look them over, none seem too optimistic on the outlook of society in general, and definitely not the stock market.    

Now look at this wonderful chart from Capital Group( you may have to zoom in to see it in detail).

Most of us have seen a chart like this at some point.  The growth of $10,000 over a period of time, in this case, 1934. What Capital Group does so well here is build on the idea of collecting Time magazine covers. Every year, they list what negative narrative existed in the news.

1935- The Great Depression

1941- Pearl Harbor

1953- The Soviets successfully detonate a hydrogen bomb

1962- The Cuban Missile Crisis

1974- Nixon resigns

1990- Iraq invades Kuwait

1999- Y2K!!!!

2008- The Great Recession and Financial Crisis

On and on it goes. Through it all, this very simple large company stock fund averaged a return of 11.8% growing the $10k to over $208 million.

So what is my point?  We need to be aware of where we spend our energy and focus. All of the Time covers had some legitimacy to them.  All of the events on the chart were and are significant world news.  However, none of them stopped a financial plan or an investment strategy from working. None of them attended your daughter’s first ballet recital or were there for your son’s first start on the varsity basketball team.  None of them celebrated 30 years of marriage or spoke beautiful remarks of remembrance at your father’s funeral. The news media wasn’t there when you earned a promotion, when you were laid off, when you gave a speech at your retirement party. The news is important, and events that occur daily shape our reality in some way.  Please, read the paper, watch the news, be aware, but also do not allow that news to take your day, your time, and your joy.

Here is a final chart from Our World in Data. This shows the minutes per day that we spend with key groups of people throughout our lifetime.

As you can see, time with your family and children, even friends to some extent is fleeting. This chart is why we do financial planning. This chart lists everything that is important to each and every one of us. Notice it does not mention car make and model, 401(k) balance, house square footage, political affiliation or what Apple News thought relevant to notify you of today. The objective of this note is not to tear apart the news media (even if it may deserve it). It is to be a six minute reminder that the news does not get to take away from what really matters. Let’s be mindful to take in the news and not let it take you.

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