stupid versus ignorant

First let's define our terms.
Ignorant is lacking knowledge. Learn some, and you cease to be ignorant.
Stupid is lacking the ability to escape your ignorance. Dumb is dumb.

I remember a long time ago, when I was a wee tot, my dad gave me one of the many random Dad Talks one gets as a child that, whether intentional or not, molded my general outlook on life. I can't remember what I was complaining about, but it was something. Or more likely someone. He said: "Don't blame the average person for being average. It's not his fault: he's average. Remember what average is: in school a C is average. Think about the guy who gets all C's in school, and is probably pretty content with that. That's average, and that's pretty dumb."
This sent shock waves through my little monkey brain. C's! Good lord if I ever got anything less than an A- minus I'd have conniptions and my mom would have to use chocolate chip cookie dough to coax me out of my bedroom where I had retreated to bury myself in tears.

So for the past few weeks I've been studying up on FIEL. The Financial Instruments Exchange Law is a massive rewrite of the securities and related financial laws and cabinet orders in Japan. Massive is an understatement. And being legal text, it is written in the most impenetrable legalese mumbo-jumbo Japanese that I have ever written. And it's a bunch of cross-referencing articles and sub-paragraphs and follow-on ordinances and guidelines and framework nightmare.
Past couple of nights I've been leaving work early (8pm-ish), walking up to the Starbucks-Tsutaya (Japan's version of Borders or Barnes & Noble crossed with a Blockbuster crossed with an HMV music store) on the corner of Roppongi Hills, and reading various FIEL books.
Last night a read a flimsy little paperback written by the politician who basically devised and architected the entire FIEL framework. It was good to get the perspective for all these confusing laws and directives. The basic concept is: evil financial and other companies take advantage of people and rip them off. Companies, especially securities firms, must be severely regulated. People, mom and pop investors, must be protected. And by protected we mean: ripping them off carries stiff financial penalties and jail time. Everything must be disclosed: when marketing, when selling, before signing a contract, when signing a contract, after signing a contract (cooling off), etc. And everything a company wants to do must be regulated, registered, administrated, approved, allowed, condoned, reported, documented, and verified.
The author throws in many key anecdotes from the go-go times of the early 21st century: Livedoor stock getting pummeled as the president gets arrested, the TSE freezes up because it can't handle the trading volume, Mizuho mis-trades a huge order and sends the market into chaos, Murakami makes a bundle with his fund on insider trading, promises of huge gains by punting foreign exchange only to be cheated and swindled by back alley hoodlums...scandal, deception, criminality.
The poor people! They bought Livedoor stock in good faith, and lost money! They must be protected! The poor people! They bought New Zealand Dollars and Prussian Thaler and Tibetan Srang, and lost money! Even though the guy on the phone said they would probably make money! Oh, the poor, common man!
Granted, there has always been and always will be criminal element who will explicitly deceive people. Con artists and swindlers abound, especially when a badly written law makes what they do technically legal yet massively amoral. So kudos to the politicians for closing loopholes and making things that look, act, trade, and feel like a security, a security.
BUT, and here's the real problem: people are stupid. Not ignorant; stupid.
If you didn't know anything about Livedoor; had no idea about the company, didn't read any research or have a view on the sector, let alone a coherent, diversified investment plan, if you simply bought it because everyone else was buying it and it just kept going up...and then you lost money? Well then you're a stupid investor and you get what you deserve. You don't need protection from a lying company president or colluding securities firms or falsified documents. You need protection from yourself and you should probably cede control of your bank account to the nearest pachinko parlor for gambling, because that's all you're doing.
The sad, sad part of the this whole ordeal is that whilst the government pursues this fatalistic FIEL policy of "disclosure" and "transparency" and "investor protection", from the other side of the proverbial mouth we hear lip service about internationalization and what Japan can do to open itself up to compete with Singapore and Hong Kong let alone London and New York.
For starters: stop making it so damn hard for professionals to do their job in this country. In this day and age teh internets and Virgin Airlines, WHY would anyone trade Japanese stocks in Japan, where all off-market transactions have to be reported and publicly disclosed within five minutes of trading, when the exact same stock can be traded via Singapore, with no disclosure, negligible fees, and no tax?
What hedge fund, institution, or otherwise pro is going to put up with arcane bureaucracy of regulatory filing, xenophobic hostility to any and all attempted direct investment via LBO, and totally opaque regulators who are free to impose (or not) punishments as they see fit, with zero appeal?
The government has a grand plan for turning Tokyo into a 21st Century International City of Finance. The members of the requisite committee are mainly from the construction industry, and not surprisingly, their plan is based on massive building projects of modern high-rise offices, swanky apartments, and first-class hotels.
Never mind the complete lack of requisite lawyers and accountants, and don't even mention Japan's complete inability to come to grips with the pressing need for increasing immigration to bolster a rapidly shrinking workforce. And let's not forget tax law reform and some legitimate personal information protection laws. Trivia fact: a stack of business cards on your desk is considered a "personal information database" and must be stored safely under lock and key. And yet every year the national government publically releases a list of the top tax payers for the year, including such personal information as name, address, assets, income, and tax liability.
That's just stupid.


Fluffy said...

You always tell me, "Dude, when you hit that 10 year mark, you just stop caring about all of Japan's idiosyncratic bullshit." And I always say, "This country is fucked up. How is me getting used to it being fucked up going to make it right?" So I say to you now, "HA!" See? You still have trouble handeling the xynophobic, hierarchical, isolated and excluding customs of this stinking rat hole island too!

Ren said...

Only when it affects my ability to make money.

Myron said...

They say that a country gets the government they deserve. Actually, people keep the culture they're comfortable with.

The U.S., Italy, Sweden, etc. are incapable of solving basic problems despite the fact that other countries have already solved them. The Italians don't want to be organized ("we're not German"), etc.

If you live in a country and can VOTE - at least you have that puny power to hold on to.


Guzilla said...

ah Japanese regulatory fever... FIEL it!