Over the past few weeks, I have posted on an eclectic assortment of items. That is keeping with the blog’s sub-title: Macro Perspectives on Capital Markets, Economy, Technology, and Digital Media. A few of you have commented (here and here) or emailed about this recently.

I want to take a few moments to explain the thought process behind what appears to be a random collection of posts, but actually, is not. Instead, it is part of a broader process that ranges across a variety of disciplines, interests, methodologies.

The broader mission of what I try to do is seek the Truth.

I define “the Truth” as being in accord with objective reality. Philosophers have argued we can never achieve that degree of perfection, so to me it means getting as close as possible to the Truth as any slightly cleverer, pants-wearing monkey can.

I do this for three reasons: The first is that I am interested in it intellectually. I am aware that our individual universes are mere constructs of a sophisticated cognitive process, the evolutionary apex of this planet. I am also all too aware it is filled with flaws and biases and error. So few people seem to understand what objective reality is that it is a rarified space to even get near, much less inhabit.

This means venturing far and wide in search of “enlightenment.” No one discipline has a monopoly on the Truth, and very often a brilliant insight from one field can be applied in another. Hence, Behavioral economics, music, neurophysiology, methods of data-depiction (aka chart porn), market history, even automotive innovations all part of the cross-discipline process.

The second reason is professional: Fund managers whose universe deviate from reality eventually come to major losses, under-performance, and professional ruin. The most public version of this was Bill Miller: His failure to understand the derivative situation, creaky Housing edifice, and the artifice of the 2002-07 finance rally led his fund to load up on banks, GSEs, investment houses — and ruined an incredible record. There are many other examples, but this one is the most acute. Note there is a distinction between those who play probabilities that do not play out, and those whose world view is so flawed as to make losses all but inevitable.

I believe in Variant Perspective as an investment thesis: Identify where most of the investing public is objectively wrong; determine what the best approximation to reality is; factor in timing, and invest accordingly. Value investors do this when they buy undervalued stocks; they are saying the public is wrong (the variance) about the lack of worth of an issue; short sellers do this as well, explicitly stating the opposite — that the variance is the public overvaluing a stock, and making their bets.

One of the surprising things this blog has taught me is how long it takes Reality to go viral. There are entrenched interests opposed to the Truth; they release their grip on their subjective fantasies very, very slowly.

When people said that Housing never falls in price, that is an example of entrenched interests pushing their false view of the world. Some argued that sub-prime mortgages were such a small part of the economy, they could never have much of an impact. That was not an error, or a difference of opinion, mind you, but a cognitive failure on their part to hypothesize a probable or likely outcome. Years passed before the Truth became known.

The inverted Yield Curve as an omen of impending recession? Dismissed as different this time (inviting our criticism). Erroneous discussions of how cheap home builders were, how expensive tech stocks were, how low inflation was, and how high employment were all subjects of discussions here as alt.universe fantasies. It took years before the Truth became widely accepted — and even that required a massive global crisis.

There are 100s of such examples. Some people claim that nobody forecast a possible housing/derivative/market collapse (a blatant lie to obscure their own failures). When the CRA or Fannie/Freddie are blamed for the economic crisis, I recognize this as false, a blatant attempt to obscure, rather than reveal the Truth. Arguments talking up or down the economy usually have a specific agenda apart from the objective reality of the situation.

Which leads us to our headline: Seeking the Truth — Or Obscuring It?

I have explained my motivations as a truth seeker. It is intellectually stimulating, and it can be profitable. The major investment houses have, for the most part, abandoned it as part of their model. I should be thankful they left that market niche open to smaller, nimble firms (like mine).

But what motivates people to pursue a narrative that is blatantly false, misleading or intellectually dishonest? Typically, it meets a powerful group’s specific agenda. There is a embedded interest amongst the entrenched to preserve the status quo. The thought process seems to be “Hey, its working for us, let’s not mess up a good thing.

Said another way, look at what it is they are selling.

We see this in a variety of areas: Politics are notorious for disregarding the Truth. Political objectives are to win votes, control public monies, amass power and influence. The Truth is an obvious casualty in this process.

Amongst corporate interests, the Truth can get in the way of sales, earnings reports, and profitability, impacting careers, stocks prices and of course bonuses. Regulation reduced profits. Impacting the debate to achieve a desired outcome is worth billions, even if the consequences to society costs trillions.

Even academia is suffers from this error prone tendency to obscure the Truth when it contradicts a long held theory or belief system. Look no further than the Efficient Market Hypothesis, and the way it was applied in real world discussions of policy, and self-regulation. Then consider the tortured route it took to go from the intellectual standard of academic capital market explanations to a partially discredited, somewhat outmoded belief system.

I initially mentioned three reasons. The third is simply that we live in a society where decision-making takes place with less and less reverence for the Truth, with terrible consequences. Those people who seek to obscure the Truth for personal gain do an enormous disservice to our nation. Public policy is made based on false pronouncements, monies are allocated based upon misleading arguments, laws are made, taxes levied, policy executed. The lives of 100s of millions of people is significantly impacted by our public policy.

When the entire edifice rests on falsehoods, mistruths, faulty assumptions, false premises, future  outcomes, as we have seen over the past few years, can be horrific. History teaches us that eventually, the Truth will reveal itself. When that happens, there can be terrible consequences: Economies collapse, wars occur, empires crumble, millions die.

Whenever I read a major policy piece, newspaper article, or OpEd, I ask the following question: Is this person a truth seeker, or a truth obscurer? When you see nasty posts that dissect/shred/fisk these, it is because I was not happy with the answer to that question.

Are you a truth seeker, or a truth obscurer?

Category: Apprenticed Investor, Investing, Psychology, Weblogs

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

117 Responses to “Seeking the Truth — Or Obscuring It?”

  1. [...] Barry: Reality takes a long time to go viral.  (TBP) [...]

  2. dead hobo says:

    BR inquired

    Are you a truth seeker, or a truth obscurer?

    Neither or both, but mostly ‘a’ . Sometimes I just like fucking with people. I’m really more of a listener who uses what he hears for fun and profit. Tell me, if you find a mob of liars and follow them because you know it will lead to profit, which side of the line are you on?

  3. call me ahab says:

    Barry Ritholtz—–> Truth Seeker

    you and John Lennon it appears

  4. John Lennon ?

    That’s a comparison I’ll take any day

  5. dead hobo says:

    BR inquired

    Are you a truth seeker, or a truth obscurer?

    I don’t think it matters. A lot of people are idiots and couldn’t care less about either. Others are sociopaths who can’t relate to anything but self interest. Some are right for the wrong reasons. A lot of people lie so well, it doesn’t pay to trust anyone for some things.

    Anyway, my favorite question to ask people is “Are You A Turtle?”

  6. Van Mo says:


    This post finally got me to register.


  7. bulfinch says:

    Beautifully elucidated, BR.

    Somewhat similar to discerning the truth seeker from the truth obscurer, I usually find that most people fall into one or two camps — Homer Bannon or Hud Bannon. I get the sense you’re somewhat more in the former camp.


  8. alpha_bet says:

    Great article BR. I think a lot of people yearn to be a truth seeker, but in a world of information overload, truth obfuscation is just too rampant. It takes a keen mind to narrow your focus onto the truth and put all else aside. Keep up the great posts.

  9. wally says:

    Are you a truth seeker, or a truth obscurer?

    I’m here for the entertainment, mostly. And the occasional nuggets of insight. The thing is, you don’t always know what and where the insight will come from so you have to be wide-ranging.

    Excellent blog.

  10. Wes Schott says:

    nice piece…

    truth seeker, of course…

    Have y’all read Harry G. Frankfurt – “On Bullshit” and “On Truth”?…

  11. tagyoureit says:

    Every passing moment brings me closer to the one Truth, everything that has a beginning has an end.

  12. [...] Reality may not go viral quickly because it’s expensive, dammit. Move along, nothing to see here. Well, except the price of your house going up. For real! (The Big Picture) [...]

  13. TrendWatcher says:

    Brilliant, Barry. Thanks.
    answer: Truth Seeker as best as I am able.
    This is why you are a must read for me every day.

  14. Expat says:

    A big problem with truth is that many people are incapable of recognizing it when it deviates from their preconceived ideas and beliefs. I am not accusing you of this, but it goes a long to explaining why what appears to be “true” to one person appears to be lying, bullshit propaganda to another.

    People are not comfortable with most truths since they tend to shatter their cozy little worlds. Human are, after all, tribal and genetically unadapted to larger scale reality. Belief in God, in ghosts, in George Bush, in Obama, or the inherent goodness of man are safety nets which comfort parochial beings from things they don’t understand or which used to be well beyond their everyday lives.

    Keats was probably right when he said beauty was truth and truth, beauty. Of course, what is beautiful is not necessarily what it really true, but life is more pleasant that way.


    BR: Which is why we must be cognizant of our biases, flaws, and tendencies towards error . . .

  15. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    “Are you a truth seeker, or a truth obscurer?”

    Current trends in ethics require me to ask which pays more, and then to put everything I can muster behind the truth that pays me more.

    Speaking of ethics, the current intellectual dishonesty from the right (contrived as an excuse for the blatant dishonesty of Bushco), is to claim that a lie is not a lie if you truly believe it (the Neverland principle, I’ll call it). Intentional ignorance of fact is essential to support this idiocy.

  16. glenn_in_MA says:

    Truly one of your best posts ever! Thanks Barry…you sum up very nicely what I’ve been trying to explain to some of the people around me who now more than ever have started accepting some of the most bizarre things (IMO) as the truth.

  17. Transor Z says:

    Great post.

    Privately/anonymously, Truth seeker out of my own selfish/intellectually curious desire to try to understand the angles. Professionally, only as forthcoming with the Truth as it is in my clients’ interests for me to be or as may be required by law.

  18. b_thunder says:

    Can WE handle the truth?
    The power brokers in DC and NYC decided that we can not.
    What was that in the news yesterday? 75% of BP oil spill is still “out there”, under water in a suspended state? Just a few days ago the Gov’t beat themselves on the chest claiming that 75% of the oil from the spill is gone!
    What is the truth here: that if the true scope of the oil spill is known, the fines will force BP into Ch. 11 bankruptcy? Or the truth is that the Administration decided to “take” $20 billion, call it “victory” for the (using BP chairman’s terminology) “little people”, and then assist with the cover up? IMHO, both statements are “truths”, but how do you make investment decision about BP based on them?
    And the same goes for the state of the economy in general, for the banks, real unemployment, CRE, Fannie/Freddie, Soc Sec fraud (Boskin commission) etc etc etc. Knowing “the Truth” often doesn’t help you make money. What helps is having a “red line” to people who decide what will become “the truth”, a “red line” to Bens, Hanks, Timmys, Rahms, Lloyds, Alans, and other turds (and sometimes blossoms) of our time.

  19. whskyjack says:

    It depends, am I buying the car or am I selling it?

    On a personal level it is important to me to get as close to the truth as I am able and on those things where I am clueless to have workable BS filters that can warn me.

    BTW great post, I’m passing it along.


  20. Mike in Nola says:

    “Identify where most of the investing public is objectively wrong; determine what the best approximation to reality is; factor in timing, and invest accordingly. ”

    OK, BR, you’ve thrown out chum to get blood in the water, but have never said if you think the investing public is objectively wrong on treasuries. What’s YOUR opinion?

    BTW, excellent post. Your knock on academia is correct and that problem may be the single worst influence on policy at the moment, Bernanke being the best example. I’ve never seen people as narrow minded as academics on their pet theories. It matters little to them if they have been proven wrong repeatedly. And there is no market discipline to punish them when they are provably wrong; Wall Street economists keep collecting big salaries for being wrong and high officials just get reappointed.

  21. Transor Z says:

    Mike said:
    “And there is no market discipline to punish [academics] when they are provably wrong.”

    Hugh Hendry is the master of confronting academic economists with this take-down.

  22. Cdale_dog says:

    b_Thunder –

    Great line…

    “Knowing “the Truth” often doesn’t help you make money. What helps is having a “red line” to people who decide what will become “the truth”, a “red line” to Bens, Hanks, Timmys, Rahms, Lloyds, Alans, and other turds (and sometimes blossoms) of our time”.

    Man, aint that the TRUTH! The truth is 95% “perception” and 5% reality. The sooner you learn and accept this fact, the better off you will be in life.

  23. dimm says:

    Great post as always.
    But I think the problem is a step further than that. Even the “truth obscurer” needs to know the truth to be able to misrepresent it.
    I analyze the people i meet in a slightly different way. Those that do what is right and those that do what is beneficial. I do my best to do what is right, which is not the way to prosper in this society, but I can sleep well at night.

  24. destor23 says:

    One of the many things I like about you, Barry, is that you’re gracious with people who come to the wrong conclusions for the right reasons.

  25. WFTA says:

    Very well said. Take the rest of the day off. You’ve earned it.

  26. CJBob says:

    Sometimes the best way to see the answer is to look at the problem from the side, from a distance, not straight on. Great blog that makes me think. I’m trying to be less wrong.

  27. ACS says:

    Truth is such an outdated concept. It interferes with so many nice things people want to believe. We live in Plato’s cave now. Truth is the shadows on the wall we can see; not what is actually making them behind us.

  28. MorticiaA says:

    Best. Barry. Blog. Ever.

    I am a Truth Seeker which is why you’re a part of my daily readings.

    A wholesaler recently came through my office with the portfolio manager of a high yield muni fund. This PM — who I guess we were supposed to bow down b/c he took time out of his busy PM-ing schedule to talk to us little folks — was maybe 30 years old. No gray hair. He came a-touting his product that was absolutely LOADED with crap I wouldn’t sell to my worst enemy. But his bio (how much “bio” can a 30 year old with perfect nails really have?) said he was an expert in this crap with which he loaded his fund.

    My guess: he’s a truth obscurer.

  29. drewburn says:


  30. Bomber Girl says:

    I view myself as a Truth Seeker. I enjoy your blog for the in-depth analysis and variety of topics, although I disagree with some of your conclusions (notably, I don’t view Fannie/Freddie as just another “crappy bank”; I think their role in the crisis was bigger than you believe, but let’s NOT go there again).

    That said, when someone does disagree with you I don’t understand how you jump to the conclusion that they are “politically motivated” or other similar statements. Where do you get your data for that conclusion, you checking voter registrations or donations? I would venture a guess that most of your readers are reasonably financially savvy analysts, investors, economists, – and sometimes we might just disagree, not because of some nefarious motivations but because we view “the Truth” differently.


    BR: I don’t care if people disagree with me; I do care when people push false statements, and do so for a nefarious purposes.

  31. disconnect says:

    This is why I’ve been coming to this blog for the last 5+ years and why I will continue to.

    Keep it up Barry. Insights like this and the pursuit of truth will only become more valuable as our society veers away from truth and logic towards what’s politically and emotionally expedient.

  32. RW says:

    Truth is a rare and slippery fish, neither fixed in place nor time, which is probably why Václav Havel advised all and sundry to “Keep the company of those who seek the truth, and run from those who have found it.”

    Which is why I visit this blog right after Paul Krugman’s, not necessarily in the hope of finding truth (although the process is always worthwhile) but in the belief it gets some respect here.

  33. tt says:

    great post barry,

    you have a fantastic blog. being a truth seeker is unique quality. most don’t want to go there in religion, economics,political, war, love………..

    once one has crossed over into the truth seeker’s world, though, it is very liberating, and makes life full. and i don’t think it is possible to go back to the dark side.

    keep up the truth seeking in all topics

  34. I like to think I am a “radical objectivist” in the same vein as my philosophical hero, Baruch Spinoza. To every inquiry we bring our own emotional biases that obscure our ability to reason objectively. It is our challenge in seeking truth to gain understanding and thereby control of the emotional biases that lead us astray. For Spinoza, understanding and controlling the emotions, freeing ourselves from bondage to them, is the means to walking closest with God and thereby achieve a “blessed” life. (God and the universe were interchangeable for Spinoza).

    I think The Big Picture/BR does a good job at understanding and controlling its emotional biases such that reason is allowed to flourish, providing an occasional glimpse (all we can ever really hope for) of the universe from a God-like, purely objective view. It’s why I keep coming back.

  35. riverrat says:

    On a blog where excellent posts are commonplace, this is one of the very best I’ve read and illuminates a critical issue.

    In a trend that greatly accelerated during the Bushco years, facts are coming to be seen by many as just things used by educated liberals to confuse “regular” Americans. Fox “News” increasingly exploits the sad fact that if you say something loud and long enough and people will start to believe it, no matter how outrageous and false. Science and critical thinking are dismissed by more and more people as nothing more than tools of socialist elites. Anti-intellectualism, hot-button distractions, lies and propaganda rule increasingly dominate the media airwaves, with less and less common ground on where the objective truth lies.

    These are extremely dangerous trends, and threaten to unravel the fabric of civil society in march backward that is undoing progress that began during the Enlightenment. I sincerely hope I am overstating the case, but I fear I am not.

    The philosophy espoused in this post is why I rely on Big Picture for a significant part of my news coverage, not just investing advice.

  36. louis says:

    The thing I sense from you BR is integrity and that leads to respect. In the end you might be as corrupt as the rest of them but I will follow my gut and assume you’re not until proven otherwise. Keep it up.

    Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes. In western ethics, integrity is regarded as the quality of having an intuitive sense of honesty and truthfulness in regard to the motivations for one’s actions. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy, in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.

  37. louis

    I don’t ask for much — I’m a simple man with simple needs
    Just a 600 HP V12, and the ability to fly anywhere i want on a private jet.

  38. wally says:

    I notice that nobody posted to say they were a truth obscurer.

    But if they were, they would post the opposite, wouldn’t they?

  39. Init4good says:

    As usual a good post, but Barry, I think you are putting a bit too much pressure on yourself. In the long run, there are universal truths and individual truths. The universal truths are usually very simple, but not easy. The individual truth varies depending on the person. Anyone who complains about off-topic subject on your blog ought to cancel their subscriptions. As I said before I am willing to pay a dollar a month to read you. Ask those folks what are they willing to pay?

  40. IS_LM says:

    Great blog post, BR. Joe Stiglitz is also a truth-seeker.

  41. DeDude says:

    One thing that keeps puzzling me is that even smart people often seem unable to understand that reality always will bite you in the rear, even if you manage to obfuscate it for yourself and others. No matter how much you believe that gravity doesn’t exists, if you drop that vase, it will fall to the floor. Yet people will act according to illogical and discredited ideas again and again. I am not just talking about discredited ideas like trickle down, where an individual may have a personal benefit from sucking others into believe. As you mentioned, even when its about investing their own money to their own personal detriment, people will ignore reality for their investment “ideology”. Is it perhaps that we have such a strong need to feel that we got it figured out and understand the world, that we are willing to take a big loss later rather than having this constant small nagging of not knowing what the heck is going on or will happen later. Is that perhaps also why Glen Beck and similar bloated idiots have such a following – they may be dead wrong half the time, but at least they serve unwavering certainty.

  42. @DeDude:

    Politics are meant to feed our emotional biases, not overcome them. Hence Glenn Beck, et al. There is no way to the truth through politics from either side of the political spectrum.

  43. dead hobo says:

    wally Says: August 20th, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I notice that nobody posted to say they were a truth obscurer. But if they were, they would post the opposite, wouldn’t they?

    Assume a person with preconceived ideas about something. Are they seeking truth when they seek affirmation for their ideas? What if that person truly believes that your evil is their good and you are wrong and you need to be convinced otherwise.

    This is a nice question, but is based on a false premise that you are capable of knowing the truth and/or interested in knowing it. Or that there is one truth for a given subject or one truth fits all. For example, if a short run fix creates long run problems, but people will feel really good about the short term fix, which is the truth?

    A question like this one is a little like “are you still beating your wife?”, but more subtle. Without context, it ranges from meaningless to manipulative. Are you seeking or selling? If I know TA = magical thinking in many common applications but BR thinks I’m full of crap, or if BR stands up for Doug Kass and I post a reply in Kass’ own words that support my original assertion who is telling the truth?


    BR: “are you still beating your wife?”

    That is a perfect example of obscuring rhetoric . . . It sheds no new light on the issue, compares a legitimate inquiry into the nature of truth with an inherently misleading question with either answer leading to a conclusion of wife beating.

    I am going to say that — at least as far as that part of your comment — you are an obscurer!

  44. Raleighwood says:

    Your site offers the truth, depth and clarity I desire. Intelligence and knowledge are common enough but wisdom is hard to find.

    Thank you – I’ll be passing this along.

  45. dead hobo says:

    OR, as Spock said to the alien invader on the Enterprise … Everything I Say Is A Lie.

  46. Thor says:

    DH – Nail —-> Head

  47. ptm says:

    There are those who look ahead, seeking the truth for guidance, and those who look back, seeking confirmation for what they’ve done. BR is definitely good at pointing us, his faithful readers, forward. Thank you.

  48. ubnutsagain says:

    BR said it well:

    “The third is simply that we live in a society where decision-making takes place with less and less reverence for the Truth, with terrible consequences. Those people who seek to obscure the Truth for personal gain do an enormous disservice to our nation. Public policy is made based on false pronouncements, monies are allocated based upon misleading arguments, laws are made, taxes levied, policy executed. The lives of 100s of millions of people is significantly impacted by our public policy.”

    Which summarizes very well the reasons why those who believe that anthropogenic increases in atmospheric CO2 is driving the global temperature up have met with such resistance.

    The misnamed “skeptics” in the scientific community are, in fact, simply looking for Truth.

  49. AHodge says:

    heres to the search and the searchers, we should all be humble about how close we get.

    truth in financial markets slippery to say the least.

    a false premise can drive markets for years. and be most of the volatility. Be a shame to pass on most of the market movement.
    just follow soros and others.
    be thinking ahead when those bubbles might collapse. And how?

  50. MoeB says:

    The Bubble:

    You may think it’s a lie but, the majority are buying the lie.
    All economic cycles are built on a lie, play the lie, and play the trend.
    Then you have to step-off before the lie comes to fruition,
    before this economic theory is discredited.
    Therefore, as long as the trend or thinking continues, play the lie.
    A bubble at some point will burst, try to step-off before it’s discredited.

    Victor Sperandeo (trader vic) talking about Soros bubble plays
    Soros a truth seeker?

  51. dad29 says:

    No one discipline has a monopoly on the Truth, and very often a brilliant insight from one field can be applied in another.

    Careful, Barry—this has implications…

    Long ago I read an essay by a very good thinker (IIRC, a PolySci prof at Georgetown) who flatly stated that “the Catholic Mind seeks synthesis [in pursuit of the truth]…”

    Have you met Abp. Dolan?

  52. krice2001 says:

    Interesting post BR. I think most people I’ve met believe they are “Truth Seekers” and that allows all of us to proclaim it. You might be surprised (as I’ve been – probably naiive of me) that some people with diametrically opposed ideas and political leanings from are often quite convinced that they are seeking and seeing the truth (just as I am or “we” are).

    Seeking the “Truth” is hard. What does it mean? Is is like moral relativism? Is there an absolute truth? Is it situational? Truth for one class of person or one situation for a person can make it different than for someone else. Clearly, a red colored card is in fact red, (unless your color blind) but most things I “see” have lots of shades of gray. Maybe part of “Truth” is just being right or correct for the right reasons. Somehow drawing the correct conclusions from real unobstructed data?

    Otherwise I have come to see “Truth” even the ideas I cling strongly to, as subject to scrutiny and sometimes adjustment. And that makes “Truth” elusive. The openness to continually seeking it, I suppose, and the openness to hearing counterarguments, I suppose, is what maybe we all respect as the important factor.

  53. Bokolis says:

    That was the long way of saying the “…entrenched interests opposed to the truth…” are the ones operating the steamrollers?

    Seeking the truth saves us from nihilism. Obscuring the truth, while it may pay, is a life of negative energy.

    Like Transor Z, I’m in it for the angles. As Carlito said, if you can’t see the angles no more, you’re in trouble.

    Seeing this angle coming for sure from 2005 (being the dead hobo version of a cynic was enough to see me through) didn’t make me millions, but it did get me out of (piker) debt and, through the proverbial stepping in $hit, allowed me to hold on to an asset whose value popped in the face of this mess. That’s to say nothing of what it did for me in the wage-slave version of my existence.

    In addition to the weight its content carries, the value of this taco stand is shown in the output generated by the readership. Whatever angles BR doesn’t cover, the readers will get for him.

  54. wally says:

    “This is a nice question, but is based on a false premise that you are capable of knowing the truth and/or interested in knowing it.”

    Surely, dead hobo, there are people who are deliberate liars. In fact, their are lots of them. True, they may, by accident, occasionally utter a truthful thing.
    But if you think that everyone thinks they are truthful ,then you have to agree that a large swath of this society is so far over the edge of delusion and paranoia that there is a mortal danger to the rest of us.

  55. Casual Observer says:

    ’nuff said!

    Cannot comment on perfect logic/perspective!!

    Well-done!! The MAIN reason why I (among millions) flock to this site. FOR THE TRUTH!!!

  56. obsvr-1 says:

    truth seeking allows for an open mind to consider many viewpoints and information sources as a continuous process to try to pin down what the truth is – sometimes easy to uncover, other times it takes on a life of its own to find it, which may be fun, enlightening or just outright frustrating.

    truth obscuring or obfuscation is a narrow activity to hide something that a reasonable mind would say is wrong — the degree of ‘wrongness’ and context of behavior is a determinant of black & white (truth or lie) v. gray areas.

    TBP is one of the sources that allows for a thoughtful (most of the time) discussion and sharing of ideas.

  57. Arequipa01 says:

    This brief treatment of the potential inquirer may be of interest to some:

    “The correct interpretation of Wright’s position, rather, can be seen in the following thought experiment. Imagine a potential inquirer, originally in isolation from any practices, who wishes to discover truths about the world. The potential inquirer has only two alternatives: he can either be a sceptic, and not adopt any practices at all; or he can adopt a method of inquiry, and in doing so must adopt certain propositions that, of necessity, will remain groundless during the inquiry. If he takes the former option then he is guaranteed not to form any true beliefs about the world. If he takes the latter option then it becomes at least possible that he may form true beliefs about the world. In this way we can explain why, as a rational agent, he ought to adopt a method of inquiry.
    The correct attitude, then, is one of epistemic responsibility: we don’t need evidence for a presupposition of inquiry as long as there is no extant evidence against it.”

    From: http://www.eden.rutgers.edu/~journal/papers/crouch.pdf

    It is an essay on Wittgenstein’s ‘On Certainty’.

    “he [or she] can adopt a method of inquiry”- Ah, there’s the rub.

  58. NormanB says:

    Our society is victimized by the Media who are truth obscurers in league with politicians who are the grand truth obscurers. As Bill Clinton infamously said at a press conference when Wolf Blitzer queried him on false Medicare statements and why he kept repeating them: ‘Cause y’all let me do it”.

    Its not so much that the media allows lies to presist is that it denies truth and facts from being widely known. The latter is their greatest shame.

  59. cranker says:

    Pride, humility, and envy.

    I could be wrong, so I search out for opposing arguments and best them or be bested by them, in the quest to overcome my errors.

    I can’t be wrong, so I search out for opposing arguments and obfuscate and deny them , in the quest to be proven right.

    I must be better than those losers, so I don’t have to hear anything which could make them look better than me.

  60. MelJ says:

    The problem is that knowing the “truth” is separate from making money, since as is attributed to Keynes “markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent”.

    I long for the days of Louis Rukeyser when market pundits made specific predictions that weren’t all over the place; for example, what the high, low and year end price of the DOW or gold, or whatever would be. A wide variety of posts is fun reading, but how can I evaluate a market commentator without specific predictions with dates or a publicly available track record (ala kaching.com).

  61. DeDude says:


    I agree that thanks to people like Glen Beck a lot of politics has been diverted from issues of policy (where the truth is essential) and now are focused on manipulating perceptions (where truth get in the way). But besides all the sideshows to get elected, in the end the elected politicians are faced with having to make successful policy. If they do that based on false ideology (such as trickle down or efficient markets/deregulation) the real results in the real world is not pretty.

    Questions such as “will letting the taxcuts for +200K income group expire help or hurt the economy are highly political and have a true answer. Although the political process and media will mostly try to obfuscate the true answer, we as voters should demand that the final decision is based on an attempt to find the truth.

  62. VennData says:

    Are large economic entities (corporations) more or less likely to innovate? Why? Take Google, who has rolled out a number of innovative products. They are mocked for their mistake in “Nexus One…”


    …but was it really a failure? A request to a hungry Taiwanese company to build a phone showed them, and the world, the potential of their new OS. Likewise, Google’s attempt to obtain a wireless license…


    …and outfit a city with ultra-high-speed broadband…


    … are not investments in an old fashion sense of the word, nor are they research in the old sense of the world, but a new kind of R&D, “research and d’vestement.”

    Large economic entities stifle new ideas because of the nature of people in organizations. Luke Johnson recently attempted to address this with a, typically, innovative idea…

    The Perfect Partner to Provide a New Spark


    … the implant entrepreneur, different from the old intraprenuer.


    Another good referenced in BR’s blog post are the political marketers, using a formula the GOPtrepreneurs and their “astroturf” inventions. Take the “Ground Zero Mosque Controversy” Here’s info the Iman behind the Cordoba House who helps the FBI with counter terror efforts…


    …but the “grass-roots movement” and the GOPtrepreneurs behind the “controversy…”


    …have created a marketing spin worthy of the best ad agencies. Like the GOPtrepreneurs “Birther” pseudo movement of Orly Taitz…


    …that has morphed into a fifth of Americans believing that Obama is a Mulsim, via their unsigned, unattributed, large font email network…


    …like the “Death Tax” GOPtrepreneur, tax accountant, Patricia Soldano…


    …and the Astroturf Big Daddy of them all, the Tea Party “movement” who have so cleverly covered the original tracks….


    …is about the power of organizations who replicate ideas, and market them, to satisfy their funders like Koch…


    The Wyly brothers, of the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” nonsense…


    …along with Perry and Nixon-supporter Pickens…


    …to the money man behind the Anti-Clinton daily screeds, Richard Mellon Scaife…


    … is the powers behind the “movements, and their motives, low taxes for themselves.

  63. Jon Knight says:

    Barry, you rock. Like others here today, this one made me (argh) register here, just to tell you so.

    Truthseeking is not simply an honorable journey. It is The honorable journey.

    We walk a similar path.

  64. ACS says:

    Perhaps the name should be changed to The Believable Picture?

  65. auden5 says:

    Mr. Ritholtz: thank you for the excellent post. You might get a kick out out of my blog’s “About Me” statement, which coincides with your truth-seeking philosophy:

    “Bottom line about the way I think: we are born the same, but create patterns over time based on our lives that make an open mind less of a possibility. The key is to try to place yourself in different situations as much as possible to shock your system and force it to think differently; otherwise, the brain’s natural course will be to calcify the patterns it picks up from limited local experience and the media, instead of reality.”

    Human beings seem hard-wired to believe their fellow human beings, which makes reality and truth-seeking difficult to achieve. We can’t all be like Spock, but we should be doing a better job training ourselves and our children to reject emotion-based arguments and theories.

    On a less serious note, Futurama just had a fascinating/hilarious episode on evolution called “A Clockwork Origin.” It’s definitely worth viewing, especially because the episode explores humanity’s never-ending attempt to arrive at reality and truth.

  66. Casual Onlooker says:

    I come here regularly to try and understand. The truth is a slippery thing, those that yell at the top of their lungs that they -know- “The Truth” rarely do.

    The problem nowadays is in trying to separate fact from fiction, truths from lies, objective scepticism from dogmatic denial-ism, and constructive viewpoints from idealogical agendas. For any particular viewpoint held, and “truth” presented, it doesn’t take much to find someone out there on the nets that can be used as an “expert” to support whatever it is you want to support.

    Outgoing CTO of Sun, Eric Schmidt called the Internet “the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”

    This blog serves as an anchor in this rough sea of anarchy, a place we can go to try to understand. I appreciate that, even if I don’t understand many of the arcane concepts bandied around here. I’ll continue to try and understand, and tease out the truth.

  67. ToNYC says:

    Standing on the shoulders of Giants like B. Spinoza (great name for a classy DJ) I find that the Truth is that which when a piece breaks off, soon regrows and looks the same. A Sustainable organic system has neither the space or time to lie.

  68. Sayitisntso says:

    I am a truth obscurer.

    I do it all the time. I’m doing it right now.

    You do to, or you should. It is a necessary part of survival, always has been. If you don’t do it, I guarantee you will be a victim (e.g., identity theft).

    I am also a truth seeker. Thank you for your efforts BR. Isn’t it one of the saddest things of all, when blatant truth is ignored.

    A good Einstein quote for seeking truth:

    “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

  69. Pampana says:

    I agree that in the past an inverted yield curve has been a reliable indicator of a recession ahead. But what happens when rates are close to zero (ZIRP)? Japan had recessions over the past 20 years with a positive yield curve. It flattened but was still slightly positive. Is that what we can expect? Your thoughts please Barry, this is really important to understand. Thank you.

  70. Imspartacus says:

    I was blown away by this post. This is something I have printed and will reread over and over especially in times of great emotion both Fear and Greed, Thanks

    Also I am reading a book called “Drive” it basically skewers the idea (With various facts, examples etc) that human beings are driven by extrinsic motivation such as quarterly bonus’. It basically says what most people need are autonomy, means to express their creativity, and a desire to do something good.

    It also makes the point that short term extrinsic motivation could actually destroy companies and people, Cheating, stealing, Lying etc. to get the prize set three months out Sound Familiar???
    Anyway I was wondering if you read the book and if you did if you could post something on it. I really think it explains why the banksters and others do what they do and gives some pretty good alternative ways to get more out of people which not only would enrich their lifes but also those around them. This is not some New Age Granola Head manifesto, it is good stuff. A mere mortal like myself would not be able to analyze in away that you would…

  71. @DeDude:

    I doubt you’ll ever be able to conclusively determine the answer to a question such as “Would letting tax-cuts expire for those making over $200k help or hurt the economy?” There are simply too many variables. Too many vaguely-defined words, like “help” or “hurt”, which are relative terms, but in relation to what? What if the tax-cuts were allowed to expire, and the economy tanked. Could it ever be conclusively proved that tax-cut expiration caused it, or perhaps, ameliorated it? Politicians would claim they understand the cause and effect relationship of such things, but in a chaotic, churning system such as an economy, how much of cause and effect can really anyone know?

  72. mbelardes says:

    This was one for the comment choir…

    I think for the most part you can say you legitimately seek the truth and that is why I read this blog fairly often. There are other times when you let your own perspective get the best of you. So maybe it’s more “Are you a truth seeker relative to the average bloke?”

  73. Z says:

    I work for a small investment management firm. First and foremost I want to thank you for providing such a great forum for information & insight from some of the brightest minds in the business.

    Second, I wanted to comment on this post. I’m a relatively young professional who began managing equity mutual funds at the beginning of 2007. Since the majority of my experience is during a time period where extreme volatility and uncertainty is the norm I’ve found my self being more of a truth seeker than the majority of my co-workers that are considered “seasoned professionals”. I believe the damage from the last 20 – 30 years goes deeper than just an over levered society that needs to reduce its debt burden.

    As you mentioned, “We live in a society where decision-making takes place with less & less reverence for the Truth” –> elaborating on that, I believe there is an inherent lazyness built into financal professionals who came into their own during this BS time period. This really hits close to home for me because, as I mentioned above, I work for a firm that is filled with these “professionals” that try obscur the truth on a daily basis. Hopefully, this crisis will breed a new type of individual, and not just in the finance field, that consistently seeks the truth on a daily basis and acts accordingly based on facts rather than an ideological point of view that does not exist anymore.

    All in all, this is a long winded “Thank You” for writing a post that summarizes my frustration in a much better manner than the large “F – you” I’ve been planning on giving some of my co-workers.

  74. Renting in Mass says:

    Hear, hear! Great post!

  75. Uchicagoman says:

    To thoughts:

    To quote David Lynch:

    “We live in a field of relativity.”

    And to quote 311:

    “From chaos comes clarity…”

  76. BR,

    really, along with the, many, others, above, Nice Post~

    though, w/this: “I am a truth obscurer.” from, Sayitisntso @14:42, above

    We may do well to wonder..How much *Truth We, actually, are seeking..

    esp., in light of this, following, idea:

    “Most people prefer to believe that their leaders are just and fair, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, because once a citizen acknowledges that the government under which he lives is lying and corrupt, the citizen has to choose what he or she will do about it. To take action in the face of corrupt government entails risks of harm to life and loved ones. To choose to do nothing is to surrender one’s self-image of standing for principles. Most people do not have the courage to face that choice. Hence, most propaganda is not designed to fool the critical thinker but only to give moral cowards an excuse not to think at all.”
    – Michael Rivero

  77. hoosierdjb says:

    What a great, great post.

    Not all obscurers are ne’er-do-wells that would seek to do us harm and profit from it, though. I’m in flyover country, far from Wall Street, and work in marketing research, not in investments. What I see all to often is people – consumers, managers, executives – making decisions based not on any real or imagined truths, but rather on:

    * Ego and fragile self-esteem that are not equipped to handle evidence that their previous logic and decisions could have been wrong. It’s beyond me how anyone can acquire true critical thinking skills without learning from their own previous errors in judgment. These are people that have reached the self-esteem level on the hierarchy of needs, decided they liked the view from there, and have no intention of wading into self-actualization.

    * The blatant hubris of people that have been breathing their own oxygen for so long – and have surrounded themselves with corporate minions that serve as their personal army of mini-mes – that they are too far gone to ever return to reality. They’ve created their own reality, really, and they bend or misuse new data as necessary to reinforce it. I think the logic is something like “if I got this far/made this much $ then I must have been right, and if i was right then i can’t be wrong now so i must be right now.” Out here in The Land Between the Coasts we call these people “bankers.”

    * The shifting of an agenda from truth-finding to just keeping up. The old belief that you are somehow not at fault for your poor logic if (mostly) everyone else made the same mistake. So yes, it’s Barry’s point about preserving the status quo, but I don’t think it’s always a profit motive that spurs this – it’s also about that mistake, that error in judgment, being more acceptable for them if it’s the same mistake that everyone made. The rule of the mob.

    Thanks again for the great post Barry.

  78. mathman says:

    But of course there’s always this:


  79. red_shoes says:

    Nice post(s), as others have mentioned.

    It seems to me that we have a couple of concerns here. Setting aside the philosophical ramifications of “objective” truth as a construct, the main problem we seem to have is differentiating between issues that can be objectively quantified/examined (and therefore capable of being truthful or not), and those that are at their core a simple matter of opinion. Some ideas are not capable of being proved–religion comes to mind.

    My biggest fear for my kids is that we are abandoning the distinction between the two; we assert personal truths in subjects that clearly are only closely held opinions, and we denigrate and dismiss the scientific method in fields where there clearly is a universal objective truth to be discovered (usually because the truth steps on the toes of our personal/collective self-interest).

    I can hardly wait for the Dark Ages 2.0 (this time with more Twitter!).

  80. farmera1 says:

    The blatant disregard for truth is what makes me feel very uneasy about the future of this country. To make it clear, it isn’t only the government/politicians that have these socialpathic traits. Politicians reflect the general populace (and the media), with those trying to deal in truth drowned out by the shouters on the air waves. I’ve said before that this country is ungovernable, and is becoming more so. You can not govern a country which has no regard for facts or truth. Emotions, biases and prejudices rule the day. It will inevitably lead to war, demagogues and crashing economies and all kinds of bad things for society. I’m afraid we are at the precipice.

    The frightening thing is that to a large extent, I think the final outcome is now fixed. I’ve pretty much given up and am now spending my time on how to prepare for the inevitable; the die is cast. . I no longer think it is possible to influence the final outcome. The only remaining question is can my family survive. I am taking what steps I can to do the best with truly nasty possibilities.

    Truth is lost, and a worthless coin to be thrown in the street and tramped on. Facts are no longer important. The “BIG LIE” has won. The populace has let the emotions rule and will get the rogue rulers they deserve. The consequences won’t be pretty.

  81. DeDude says:


    I don’t think you can get a “scientific” truth (with probabilities of 95% or better) for most of the questions asked when making policy. You just don’t have the ability to conduct repeated experiments with just one variable and all other factors constant. But if you can get to a 60% chance of “the truth” you are still doing better than a coin toss. So you have to actually seek the truth, not the political advantage. You have to look at all the relevant data, evaluate how solid that data is, and then evaluate what is more likely to be true and what is less likely to be true. Instead we often see cherry-picking and blind trust in data that supports already drawn conclusions, and extremely critical attitudes towards the data that does not support these conclusions. That is a sure way to underperform the coin-toss regardless of which type of ideologogs are doing it.

    You are absolutely right that a question has to be addressed in more dept than a simple taxcut “good or bad” context. Yes it will likely be good for something and bad for something else, so the truth-seeking process would not really fit into a 30 second sound-bite of a campaign add. But in a careful and honest process you can analyze each hypothesized effect of an action (or lack of action) and get to an estimate of the size of such effects. You can then build a model of all the effects and predict the most likely overall outcome. If the overall outcome is more likely to be positive than negative then you do it – even if it’s a 55/45 probability.

  82. comet52 says:

    A good summation of who you are and what you believe, BR. I admire your insistence on ethical standards and intellectual precision, whilst you float around the sea of swill merchants who constitute big finance these days.

    As for truth seeker vs. obscurer, no obscurer would likely know that he/she is that unless they were cynical, grifter types, etc. That sort would only answer if there was an angle. The rest of us would presume we seek truth even if in fact, we were deeply confused or self-deluded. It would simply be part of said delusion. At least we could identify the desire for truth in most of us, even if our methodologies were half-baked or half-witted.

    Relative truths in the world of material phenomena are just that. The spiritual truth we seek lies in the heart and doesn’t pay well, but rewards well. It’s the answer to all the various addictions of to physical phenomena and sensation. That is my particular truth, but may not be for others.

    For answers to questions of and insight about finance and the world of Wall Street, I come here among other places, because you provide us with an ongoing quality experience, at no charge to boot! Truly a gift from the heart–many thanks.


    BUT, i’m still patently waiting for The Truth to come out with respect to “The Present” proclaimed and promised in http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/03/wiley-to-publish-bailout-nation/

    Mary, because of your transgressions against the Truth, I have a very special present planned for you and McGraw Hill. But, you are going to have to wait for when the book comes out to see it. ..

  84. ACS says:

    I nominate “I Believe in You” from “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” as the blog’s theme song.

  85. philipat says:

    I was thinking of this recently when the American media on both sides, including Faux, got hold of the story about the 10 best countries in the to live in, not including the US.

  86. timoth3y says:

    Fantastic article.

    Sadly, I think nearly everyone considers themselves a truth-seeker and those with whom they disagree as truth-obscurers. The post reminded me of the explanation given by another truth-seeker.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

    – Upton Sinclair

  87. chris says:

    I am a truth seeker.Now Barry answer me this…Can America prosper with out manufacturing?

  88. donna says:

    I”m a wisdom seeker, and I enjoy yours. Been reading you here for a long, long time now, and really appreciate all you do. Thank you.

  89. constantnormal says:

    Get this man a lamp. And a tub to live in.

  90. DeDude says:


    think about it this way. It will take fewer and fewer hands to produce a Fridge and a Stove for every home. Just like what happened with agricultural products when that got automated. Not only America, but the world as a whole will have to find something else to do with its labor than manufacturing.

  91. davefromcarolina says:

    Great post. I would add only that while it may not be possible to get to the capital-T Truth, it is possible to uncover a lie, or as you so graciously put it, a statement that obscures the truth. Back in 1978, Sissela Bok published “Lying : Moral Choice In Public And Private Life.” Her basic premise is that any statement made with the intention to deceive is a lie. She discusses whether there are circumstances where it is morally permissable to lie. By her lights, there are fewer than we might think. Here’s a link to an interview. Again, great post and discussion.

  92. kurtwestphal says:

    thanks for this.. fantastic post.
    seeking Truth, requires discipline and the analytic strength to discover
    self contradictory thinking, erroneous premises, false assumptions
    it’s not easy to do and results require work, especially for ‘monkey’s in pants’.

    like other’s posit.. and one can profit handsomely without dealing with
    the Truth, for a while, … when the wheels come off.. everyone acts surprised
    and asks I thought someone serviced the car… seeking the Truth
    is doing the analytic maintenance required to execute great judgment!

  93. RoyS says:

    What I enjoy and read first thing in the morning (when I’m more mentally alert) is The Big Picture. Your statements on Truth now explain why I enjoy your blog. Knowledge of the facts at least provide an opportunity to do what’s correct. It does not assure that an imperfect human will do it, but at least in our democracy we can hope for the tendency to head in the right direction. Our markets/business have become impersonal and all about ‘winning’. What happened to sharing success? If our Suppliers/Customers make money, we make money and we establish committments to each other that don’t require contracts and offices full of lawyers. Standing side by side, rather than in front and tomorrow, rather than ‘I want it all right now’. Side by side relationships last. If we are to remain a great Nation (and I believe we have been), we need to return to Trust and initiatives that our fruitful to all participants. We need to produce products that people will buy, not just manipulate markets. Value of our outputs will produce value of our lives and our Nation.

    Keep up the seeking.


  94. FrancoisT says:

    “Which summarizes very well the reasons why those who believe that anthropogenic increases in atmospheric CO2 is driving the global temperature up have met with such resistance.

    The misnamed “skeptics” in the scientific community are, in fact, simply looking for Truth.”

    Houston! We have a Truth Obscurer!

  95. FrancoisT says:

    Truth seeking requires adaptation to objective reality.
    Objective reality will inevitably conflict with my ego.
    Since ego is the fuel of my self-image, which is embedded in my nervous system, truth seeking cannot be a comforting exercise.

    That is, until I experience the liberation that comes with the truth. But, only by repeating the process often enough, do I stand a fighting chance of becoming an habitual truth seeker.

  96. engineerd1 says:

    “I define truth as being in accord with objective reality”. 5000 years of human struggle with the meaning of truth and reality, made moot by the wizard of La Jolla. Do they even do philosophy in the schools anymore…? or is it all condoms and keynes? That is not to say you should fear to entrust your money to this man. A bank clerk does not need a philosophy. I feel like a lion loosed on a flock of new lambs, but let me just take one quick swipe… Given that objective reality has to be something more than a collection of sensory data, how is to be discovered? And does truth play any role during this discovery process, or is it only what pops out at the end? If it IS used anywhere in the process, your definition is the very essence of circular. Or as we used to say, you are begging the question young fella.
    That’s not to say I don’t know what you mean. Not a tool of the discredited idea of logical positivism, I have means of actually discovering what is true. Because you are angry and afraid, you hate God and all who sail with him. And this basic truth informs all of your tirades against conservative thought and principles.

  97. gbgasser says:

    Great post Barry

    I’m not sure anyone can admit to being a truth obscurer. If you dont know truth how can you know if you’re obscuring it or not? I’m not trying to be pedantic but I do think almost no one does anything they know or think to be “wrong”

    When I think of the Glen Beck types (he is who immediately came to mind along with Limbaugh) I really think he sacrifices present truths for what he thinks he knows to be bigger future truths. The ends justify the means. He isnt true to the journey. He thinks his destination is predetermined so it doesnt matter what he does.

    This is the problem with religious thinking. It supposes that its all been figured out and written in a code that needs special powers to decipher it. This is not to say that Beck even is truly religious (its mostly a show for political purposes) but the political purpose, a completely neutered govt and privatization of everything is the “truth” he knows and will sacrifice anything including his credibility to achieve it.

    This mode of thinking is absolutely religious in nature and it is rampant in many parts of our society and the world.

    A Buddhist, embrace the journey, type thinking is what is necessary to stop this butchering of the truth

  98. Carl Haelfing says:

    Excellent piece Barry.


  99. engineerd1 says:

    No gasser….
    Religious thinking doesn’t assume everything is figured out…recognizing that the universe was created does nothing to explain how it works. And how could this require a special code, since everyone for 5000 years has believed it, except a tiny (albeit growing) minority in a decadent and dying civilization (i.e. the West)? Think, please. The idea that that the world is a potential utopia held down by primitive religious thinking is an a-historical fantasy that has led to the butchery of more innocents in the 100-odd years since it gained acendancy than in all the ages previous.

    The piece if a bit of sophmoric BS.