Investing, everywhere and always, has been a social activity. Today it’s Reddit and Twitter. Before that, it was Yahoo Finance. Pre-Internet it was newsletters and newspapers.
Ever since traders met under the Buttonwood tree, and well before that, trades occurred face-to-face. Now they happen online with not another human in sight.
We humans are a restless bunch. There is some evidence that investor behavior has gotten better over time. That still leaves plenty of opportunity for mischief. Josh Brown at The Reformed Broker writes:
Nobody is happy with what they have and nobody can sit still. If there’s one human constant you could use, this is it. Ennui is an energy source that never runs out, it can power a thousand years of market activity and be harnessed on a daily basis. Get this right, and learn to turn it in your favor, and you will indeed become wealthy. The best part is, it will never change and we will never run out of this fuel.
We like to think there is some market code out there to crack. The market is a moving target, because humanity is a moving target. As Ben Carlson at A Wealth of Common Sense writes:
Studying market history can be helpful to provide a baseline when setting expectations about the future. But it’s important to remember there is no such thing as a normal market environment.
Predictable only in its unpredictability. That’s why the pandemic-birthed investing boom is confounding to onlookers.
As Talmon Joseph Smith in The Atlantic notes the new class of investors has different motivations. They communicate in novel ways. Neither good not bad, just different.
(S)ubcultures born out of America’s untamed investing boom are many and varied. They’re diverse, if not integrated; some silly, some assiduous—yet all infused with a quiet desperation to reach escape velocity and defeat the gravitational pull of class stagnation that’s lasted decades.
Investing trends don’t happen in a vacuum. They need social networks, both real and virtual, to thrive and grow. The next time you see something strange happening in the markets, pause. You can bet there is some social phenomenon happening you just can’t see.