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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Misunderstanding Mac, Mae and Murphy

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I’m getting hammered for my fatalistic attitude about the credit and housing crunch. One reader called me a fatalist and a narcissist (of course; that’s why I blog). I understand the perception of the media by the general public; that we sensationalize bad news for ratings and readership. But I always justify a snarky attitude as a way to illustrate the absurdity of a particularly absurd action taken by government, business, whomever.

Now Aline van Duyn of the Financial Times has joined the chorus of fatalism critics. And the academic and completely rational way she takes us apart – for instance , for our views on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – is difficult to dispute. She does it using a deconstruction of Murphy’s Law and explains why it’s so often misapplied. A sample:

The financial fireworks that keep going off are not, however, just some unfortunate twist of fate. Indeed, a fatalistic acceptance of ever worsening outcomes is a common misreading of Murphy’s Law. The maxim was apparently named after Edward Murphy, who worked on a rockets project in the late 1940s on an Air Force base testing human responses to g-forces.

“Murphy’s Law is often misinterpreted,” Nick Spark, the author of A History of Murphy’s Law, told me. “The point is to look ahead and predict what could go wrong, and then work to prevent these outcomes.”

Obviously, fatalists like myself focus too hard on the former and not enough on the latter.

Anyway, read the whole thing at


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