When enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation . . . [and] when the stock market takes on the attitude of a casino, the job [of capitalism] is likely to be ill-done.
—John Maynard Keynes
Throughout my long career, I’ve observed firsthand the crowding-out of the traditional and prudent culture of long-term investing by a new and aggressive culture of short-term speculation. But the personal experiences that I’ve outlined in the introduction to this book require deeper discussion—a broader view, an historical perspective, persuasive data—not only of the problems created by this change, but also of recommendations for fixing the nation’s financial system. Those are the subjects that I intend to pursue in this chapter.
Let’s begin by observing the consequences of the change in the culture of our financial system. When applied to the physical world, scientific techniques have been successfully used to determine cause and effect, helping us to predict and control our environment. This success has encouraged the idea that scientific techniques can be productively applied to all human endeavors, including investing. But investing is not a science. It is a human activity that involves both emotional as well as rational behavior.
Financial markets are far too complex to isolate any single variable with ease, as if conducting a scientific experiment. The record is utterly bereft of evidence that definitive predictions of short-term fluctuations ...