We got a great question asked recently on the RB Beginners board, beautiful in its simplicity: "I'm sure this answer is somewhere, but I'm just not finding it, so I figured I would just see if someone could answer it for me," wrote Nesheq. "I'm trying to understand precisely what it means to say that I own a share of stock."
I wish more people asked that question. If we did, and then went on to get an answer (the right answer), we would realize how important that word "own" is.
Your own. You own.
Given that the average mutual fund trades 70% of its assets in and out of the market in a given year, the very Wise in the financial services industry don't really own. They trade... off target prices, hunches, institutional research (as opposed to personal experience), and allocation requirements. Am I claiming this of everyone in the financial services industry? All mutual fund managers? Fortunately, no. I'm writing here of the very Wise... of which there are, unfortunately, many.
And given this example set by the mutual fund industry and by the glorification of "chief market strategist" pundits, it's no wonder that the perception that "this must be the way to invest" spills out from the maws of Wall Street like so many extra crumbs, to be gobbled up by the media. The media chews these like the mother bird, in order to provide softened palatable food for her brood -- here, you and me, the consumers of the media.
We, many of us, eat these up. Yes, by quoting these Wise guys flipping stocks, predicting the market's moves, ascribing reductionistic reasons to explain what happened today on Wall Street, our media wind up conferring this abnormal approach as the "normal" viewpoint about what investing is, to the consumers of the media. For this reason, many people not reading tonight's recap, I submit, do not know "own." They do not associate "own" with the stock market. The stock market is flighty, speculative. You need an "insider tip." And always watch out for "the crash."
Nesheq, what it means to say you "own a share" begins with the word "own." Common stock equals part ownership of a franchise, and this is what capitalism is. A stock-market-loving nation is a nation of owners, people with money remaining over and above their spending (a.k.a. savings, or the "capital" in "capitalism") who are sufficiently comfortable and optimistic about the business of their society to risk it in becoming part owners of the best ones.
Tocqueville, as we have pointed out in the past, highlighted this in his reflections on his American tour in the mid-19th century. He was amazed by how much of the society was privately owned, as opposed to a property of the state. Give people ownership, he said, and you give them freedom, you give them happiness.
In contrast, even today as we embark upon a new 1000 years, many of our fellow earthlings do NOT live in such a society, do NOT have capital in many cases, and live under repressive conditions that emphasize government domination and dictatorship over broad-based ownership.
I did not cry when I heard of Hafez el-Assad's death this week. I love Syria. I spent some lovely weeks there that I shall never forget, and I admired the Syrian people whom I met. But I have no respect for most of the so-called "rulers" in this world whose power is maintained or increased by denying others freedom, opportunity, capital... these words are synonymous. Assad was just one -- there are still many others. They wipe out of others' vocabularies that wonderful three-letter word: OWN.
Thus, my fellow Rule-Breaking Fool, let us continue to celebrate not our investments -- but our opportunity to invest. And let us remember that playing any short-term game is just that: short-term. If you're focused on the short term, you're missing something eleven times more important: the long term. As an investor, even as a Rule Breaker who is consciously taking well above average risk, you are much better served in investing, not speculating. You are all about "own."
Have a Foolish weekend,
P.S. Join us this weekend as we interview the CEO of Ballard Power on The Motley Fool Radio Show. You can find more information on the show's main page (bookmark it!).