I wish I had noticed this article when it first came out in the Wall Street Journal a week ago: “Polishing the Dimon Principle” by Jason Zweig (the online article doesn’t seem to require a subscription and also includes a video, which I have not seen).
In the article, Mr. Zweig notes his opinion that the investment problems roiling J.P. Morgan Chase are rooted in ignoring the advice/warning of famed physicist Richard Feynman: “You must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Reading this, I could not help but think of Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (The answer, by the way, is given in v.10, and how thankful we should be that there is an answer!) I frequently refer to the principle there and what I call our natural “Jeremiah 17:9 heart” in my sermons and such, because the truth of this verse has so impressed me over time. Our capacity for self-deception is seemingly boundless, and I see it so frequently in play that it makes me wary of it in myself, noting that I’m just as human as the next fellow.
But the correspondence to biblical principles in the article didn’t end there. Later, Mr. Zweig — who writes a regular WSJ feature “The Intelligent Investor” — also quotes (or paraphrases) economist Peter Bernstein as saying “[T]he riskiest moment is when you are right.”
What Scripture does this remind you of? Possibly the same as what it reminded me of: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). I could see some others in there, but this one seemed the most natural to me.
As Mr. Bernstein noted, the moment when you are right–or, actually, when you believe you are right, since, in your mind, there is no difference–is a time fraught with peril… Because, unless you are God, you actually might be wrong, and your conviction that you are right is one of the insurmountable obstacles to learning that you are not.
This thought frequently crosses my mind when I read 1 Corinthians 10:12, and it strikes me that Paul’s words there are an interesting warning: They are meant to warn those who feel they are in no need of warning. In fact, they are a warning to those who are, perhaps, among the least likely to listen to it and heed it.
On this thought further, Mr. Zweig points out that studies have shown those who actually make a bet on, say, the outcome of a horse race become up to three times more confident that it will actually turn out the way they gambled than they would have believed if they had not bet on it at all. The choice to take the stand, in and of itself, affects the belief that the stand is correct. (We could push our theme in the post and mention Christ’s teaching that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, I suppose.)
On one hand, some of this we all recognize as true. We see it in action in others, and we know the human capacity for such self-deception.
But rarely do we apply the knowledge to ourselves. Like the hypothetical individual of James 1:23-24, we see the capacity of self-deception in humanity, recognize that we are human, and then fail to make the connection — at least to the point that it impacts action. It should provide us with a healthy self-doubt — not so much self-doubt that we take no action at all, but enough self-doubt that we are open to hearing (truly hearing) the opinions of others who disagree with us and evaluating them on the merits.
Anyway, I have other things to do, but I thought it was nice to see these biblical principles in play in Mr. Zweig’s article. And it’s a reminder to me of something I know to be true but which is still neat to see: The Bible really does offer insight on a surprising range of topics. However, that advice isn’t always in the most obvious places — after all, a concordance search on “economics” isn’t going to yield Jeremiah 17:9. Yet, as J.P. Morgan Chase sure could have used that advice…