The Grandad Syndrome

Ten years ago, asked about gay marriage, I would have shrugged.

A random American would have done the same; thought it a bit too odd to consider seriously; or if pushed and they had to take it seriously would have thought it an insult to their religion.

Now supporters of anti-Gay marriage laws are becoming a minority. The new norm of Gay marriage has been more or less settled in the US. Woe to any opponent.

State by state, marriage open to all.

Those who have not been swept up in the revolution have become bigots. It's hard not to feel sorry for some of them.

Your grandad might have said nasty things about minorities, but he was essentially a time traveller about to run out of time, and you had a soft spot for him.

The grandad syndrome. Anachronists which you can't help have a soft spot for. In spite of yourself.

Over a handful of years, gay marriage norms have done a 180. Can you blame some for being slow on the uptake?

Societal norms are moving faster than ever.

The further you go back, there are fewer grandads to soften the lines, just a lot more unease. Nevertheless there are interesting inflection points.

People before, of and after their time.

Keynes' anti-semitic slur of Hary Dexter White as he realised he was losing in negotiations over the new financial world order.

Hearing the taunt makes your eyes pop out of your head.

Par for the course in '40s Britain.

The 'meteor' of the American civil war, John Brown, repeatedly failed at everything he put his mind to throughout his life; including his final act.

He was a leader in the militant abolititionist movement before the war.

His raid to free slaves at Harpers Ferry quickly became a bloody farce. The slaves he tried to free and arm refused to cooperate and his militants were cornered quickly.

He ended up being captured and hung by the federal army.

His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine—it was as the burning sun to my taper light—mine was bounded by time, his stretched away to the boundless shores of eternity. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.

Frederick Douglas.

In spite of John Brown's haphazard raid, it became a wedge. Southern slave owners thought there were hundreds of abolutionists about to terrorise them. Northern abolutionists saw him as a martyr.

The raid was a forewarning of the vicious war to come; and of Americans suddenly willing to spill blood over slavery. The Union saw the Confederates as a demonic evil to be utterly destroyed; just as John Brown swore to do years earlier. The confederates faced with an existential struggle.

Societal norms are moving quicker; but market sentiment moves at light speed.

As Spiegelhalter's first rule of risk states:

Stuff happens.

I.e. we cannot predict events precisely.

However much we would like to make a quick prescient buck, and be before our time; even the smartest of us are doomed to be Keynes-like.

Stick with tried and trusted broad based index investing. Sometimes you will have embarrassingly bad losses. For better or worse we are myopic, bounded by our times.

Lastly, it's wise to move with the times. You may have a grandad around that you still have some sympathy for, don't become one!

Last year's smart beta fad was probably just that, no need to linger on it any longer than necessary.