From Memorial Day to Your Portfolio: Investing in Hope without Hubris

May 27, 2024

Memorial Day is a day to remember those who died in military service for the United States of America.

Remembering is one of the most significant things we do as humans. Without memory, we lose our sense of self and identity.

One of the problems we have in our country is a failure to remember the past. We are glued to the present. Social media and innovative technologies electrify our minds and bodies with novelty and anesthetize us to the past. We are shaped and formed by algorithms, sound bites, and short videos instead of books, embodied conversations, and patient thoughtfulness.

As historian David McCullough warned in 1995, before the rise of smartphones and social media: 

We, in our time, are raising a new generation of Americans who, to an alarming degree, are historically illiterate.

The situation is serious and sad. And it is quite real, let there be no mistake. It has been coming on for a long time, like a creeping disease, eating away at the national memory. While the clamorous popular culture races on, the American past is slipping away, out of sight and out of mind. We are losing our story, forgetting who we are and what it’s taken to come this far...

History shows us how to behave. History teaches, reinforces what we believe in, what we stand for, and what we ought to be willing to stand up for. History is-or should be-the bedrock of patriotism, not the chest-pounding kind of patriotism but the real thing, love of country…

Indifference to history isn’t just ignorant, it’s rude. It’s a form of ingratitude.

I’m convinced that history encourages, as nothing else does, a sense of proportion about life, gives us a sense of the relative scale of our own brief time on earth and how valuable that is.1

McCullough’s warning has only become more poignant over the last several decades.

We could use more gratitude and less rudeness in the civic sphere and toward one another.

This is not to say that we should not point out the wrongs of the past. The sins of American history are obvious and should be named. However, that is not enough. You cannot retain anything good (even if flawed) or build anything great that is carried by the fuel of hope only by focusing on what is wrong.

A skilled building contractor will do the work of demolition, but for the purpose of rebuilding, remodeling, and restoration. They rip out the asbestos, rotten wood, and other hazards, then bring in hammers, nails, and beams to make something useful and beautiful.

We could use fewer demolition experts and more skilled builders who do the work of removal and renovation within American society and institutions.

The importance of remembering history may seem like an odd topic for an investment blog, but the two are inextricably linked. And it can only be so because of the liberty I’ve inherited from others who have gone before me. Investing is a luxury that comes from economic prosperity. It’s a gift purchased by sacrifice for which I am grateful.

A skilled investor must learn from history too. Investing, by its very nature, cannot only look to the present. Good investors learn from the mistakes and achievements of the past.

And not merely the wider past of investing in America, but the narrower past of their own personal lives. Wise investors recognize the impact of narratives and stories on what and how they think about investing. They have inherited views of finances from their family, friends, and media that they consume.

What is the story you believe about investing? This can have a greater impact and influence on you than simply running the numbers and seeing a chart of the Dow crossing 40,000 through the horrors and heights of the last few centuries.

Wise investors will not abide ignorance of history, indifference toward the stories they inherit, inebriated with the dopamine induced Never-Ending Now, and eradication of the past, but will do their best to prudently and proactively plan for a hopeful future.

Let’s remember with hope without hubris.

Not just for our investment portfolios, but as citizens.

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Sources:

  1. National Book Foundation, “David McCullough Accepts the 1995 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters” (November 1995). Accessed online: https://www.nationalbook.org/david-mccullough-accepts-the-1995-medal-for-distinguished-contribution-to-american-letters/