Understanding Capitalism Part V: Evolution of the American Economy By - March 15, When the United States of America was founded in it was the most egalitarian Western nation in the world for citizens of European descent, indeed one of the most egalitarian major societies in all of human history. It was the relative equality of white American society that made America such an attractive place for European immigrants and a "land of opportunity". Understanding capitalism, its impact on economies in general, and its impact on America in particular, requires both a knowledge of American economic history and an understanding of economic theory.
Executives have started to use its insights to shape strategy and tactics, as evidenced by the work of an investment firm, a nonprofit university and a public pension agency.
Frank Inwhen he was a year-old analyst working at a London merchant bank, Peter Drucker attended a seminar in Cambridge with John Maynard Keynes. It was there that he had an epiphany—one that led him away from studying economic theory in a traditional manner.
It is the quest to understand such predictably irrational responses—to discern how people react to economic choices in practice rather than in theory—that undergirds the field now known as behavioral economics. Thirty years ago, behavioral economics was a fringe area of study that had yet to be given a name.
Today, it is approaching the status of a household term. Businesses use it to seduce customers into more purchases. Nonprofits use it to increase donations.
What follows are the stories of three organizations—an investment firm, a nonprofit university and a public pension agency—in which executives employed behavioral economics and got especially good results.
So he pulled out a yellow pad and began to prepare a letter to the provost about how he would use his time. What he proposed was a project to familiarize himself with some compelling new research into a fresh field: At the same time, an investment firm called Concord Capital was looking for a chief researcher.
Concord had been founded in with the aim of becoming the first in the industry to systematically employ the insights of behavioral finance.
Portfolio managers at the firm would come up with themes for their investments—an international spike in enthusiasm for gold jewelry, say—but they lacked any real foundation in behavioral economics.
I need you to give me the bias.
The firm placed advertisements in scholarly journals, an unusual outlet for this sort of listing, and one them wound up catching the eye of Fuller, who applied for the job.
To the brass at Concord Capital, Fuller stood out for several reasons: He had published a couple of papers that explored disjunctions between what markets ought to do and what they really do. He had once worked as a financial analyst in the private sector and had also run a small investment fund of his own while he was an academic.
And his research was practical. After that, Fuller struck out on his own, founding a company called RJF his initials that would offer genuinely behavioral-economics-based products. One offering played on the phenomenon of market under-reaction to increased earnings, which often happens when over-confident analysts become anchored to their estimates and are loath to accept that they might be wrong.
A good indication that this is going on is that insiders are buying up the stock. While RJF was offering decent returns to investors, growth in the early years was slow, and Fuller did not have a lot of money with which to hire.
Since the firm aims to be slightly smarter than the stock market but not wildly contrarian, the general peaks and valleys among equities are likewise reflected in its returns.
But the superiority of its performance to that of benchmarks, like the Russellhas been consistent. Russ is from Nebraska. In one instance, says Fuller, a company president was buying up a huge number of shares without the stock budging. A couple of calls revealed the real reason: The man was facing a sexual harassment lawsuit and was trying to protect his job by gaining majority control.
Not so many know how to do it. So the firm continues to have a niche. But that gets to a related problem: Organizations also fail to understand how the different principles of behavioral economics relate to one another. To take one example, the power of social norms often causes us to do what other people do, but we also have a need for uniqueness.
Sometimes, nonprofits try to copy and paste a formulaic behavioral-economic solution onto a complex problem.
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