Editor’s note: mind over matter

Okey Chigbo, Editor-in-chief of CPA Magazine, introduces the features in the January 2018 issue.

The existence of subterranean brain/mind processes that operate outside our conscious control have been known to psychology for centuries. In the late 19th century and early 20th, the so-called depth psychologists Freud, Jung and Adler made the unconscious mind (more popularly known as the subconscious mind) the focus of their theories of mind and behaviour. In this century, the neuroscientists joined the discussion, pointing out that their research shows that much of the mind operates independent of our will, sometimes — or most of the time — making us act in irrational ways that are contrary to our desires and interests.

 

Economists, on the other hand, seem to have been out of step with all this and have theorized as if humans are perfectly rational; 20th-century neoclassical economic theory is especially based on axioms that state baldly that “rational economic man maximizes his utility.” Of course this has come under severe criticism and recently economists have started to take a hard look at real human behaviour rather than their purportedly scientific theories. Today, we have behavioural economics that looks at the irrational things many humans persistently do, such as buying high and selling low.

 

In this special issue on financial planning, two of our features tackle the irrational actions that we exhibit with money and investing. In “Battling Investment Bias”, former managing editor Tamar Satov takes a look at the work of the behavioural economists as they examine how real people behave in financial planning. She shows how people can turn the irrational biases they have into positive results. She quotes University of Chicago behavioural economist and 2017 Nobel laureate Richard Thaler, “among the first to observe and study such behavioural phenomena”: “If we are going to have useful theories about how typical people shop, save for retirement, search for a job or cook dinner, those theories had better not assume that people behave as if they were experts.” This is a story that will challenge your expectations as well as delight and inform you.

 

In “Windfall”, writer Yan Barcelo gets expert advice on what to do in the event of a financial windfall. Here, again, no matter how rational you think you are, if $2 million drops into your lap either from a house sale, unexpected inheritance or something else, the brain tends to short-circuit, at least in the short term. This feature looks at how to handle such good fortune and come out the other side of euphoria with performing investments.

 

Three other stories complete the mix: there’s one on cryptocurrencies, another on controversial issues that parents and their children need to know — e.g., does my stepmom, to whom my father left his estate, owe me anything? — and a feature about useful financial apps. Yes, there’s one for that.