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Weekend reading: Money and the meaning of life

Weekend reading

Some musings, then the weekly reading links.

I am a sucker for academic papers on happiness and money, and whether watching The Apprentice every Wednesday can do much for either.

True, I’m not sure they’re of much practical use. I’ve got a hangover this morning, making me question exactly where I’m going with my life, and making me feel rotten. It’s severely skewing my personal data set.

On a society-wide level, however, they do provide an interesting challenge to the direction that markets and mainstream capitalism is taking us – which let’s face it is determined more by the invisible hand making come hither gestures than by any 20th Century-style grand plan.

Don’t worry, be a believer in an expensive dress

In their recent paper Happiness, Meaning of Life, and Income, Lois Duff and Artjoms Ivlevs of the University of the West of England pitted these three variables against each other in a cockfight:

The paper explores the non-material determinants of happiness. We go beyond the well-established result that individual ‘religiousness’ is positively correlated with happiness and look at a broader spiritual activity – time spent thinking about the meaning and purpose of life (MPL).

We […] find that the educated, the religious, females and the middle aged are more likely to spend time thinking about the MPL.

The correlation between happiness and thinking about the MPL depends on a country’s income: it is negative in high income countries and positive in low income countries.

You can download the whole paper via the link above, but here’s my summary: If you want to be happy, then be a well-off female in a poor country and believe in God, or if not spend a lot of time wondering whether you should.

Alas, that’s a lifestyle change that few of us can make. And anyway, if you’re a middle-aged man in the UK who believes in evolution (I do) and has decided to bow down before Richard Dawkin instead (I definitely don’t) then a sex-change and a relocation to Burkina Faso isn’t going to cut it.

You can’t forget where you came from because you can’t forget what it taught you.

Nothing else for it but to keep recklessly living below our means, irresponsibly saving and investing the resultant spare cash, and having faith in the stock market over the long-term, I guess.

From the investing and money blogs

Mainstream media money sites

  • If Greece goes… – The Economist
  • The locavore’s dilemma – The Boston Globe
  • Vanguard launches cheap ‘life strategy’ index funds – Motley Fool
  • What’s better: High yield or dividend growth? – Motley Fool
  • Bonus buyers return to London property market – FT
  • Small cap funds have big returns – FT
  • Great private investor stories from John Lee’s readers – FT
  • Solar panel companies using ‘dodgy sales tactics’ – Telegraph
  • The banknotes that could return if Euro falls – Telegraph
  • London can be cheap and cheerful – Independent
  • Update on the FirstBuy homebuyers scheme – The Guardian
  • Change career by going green – The Guardian

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{ 7 comments… add one and remember nothing here is personal advice }
  • 1 Alex June 25, 2011, 1:07 pm

    1. Those new Vanguard funds: I think they’re funds of index funds, aren’t they? Well, that’s the impression I get from the Vanguard UK website.

    2. We’re still waiting for their ETFs here [UK]…

  • 2 The Investor June 25, 2011, 2:11 pm

    @Alex — Thanks, yes, slip of the keyboard. Have corrected above.

  • 3 Jonny June 25, 2011, 5:38 pm

    I thought it was just me who wonders “where I’m going with my life” when suffering from a hangover.

    Glad to finally hear I’m not alone in doing so!

  • 4 Steve B July 1, 2011, 7:34 am

    I have been using ETF / Investment Trusts to create an income portfolio which takes into account inflation. With one of the justifications being that both investment types have lower TER’s.
    However, with some of IT’s the word ‘performance fee’ appears to have become more prominent. I have avoided selecting any IT with such a fee as I feel that this along with the TER will significantly decrease any capital growth in my portfolio.
    I do not feel that such a fee benefits the customer.
    Is the ‘performance fee’ a capital growth inhibitor and should we as investors always avoid such funds unless they are significantly outperforming their peers?

  • 5 Steve B July 1, 2011, 7:39 am

    Looks like I ‘suffering’ as well. My comment on TER costs should have been in ‘This is not the UK small cap index tracker you are looking for’……..ooops

  • 6 The Accumulator July 2, 2011, 12:14 pm

    Hi Steve B,

    I guess this is getting increasingly off-topic 😉 Performance fees are going to affect the return you see, assuming they’re triggered and you can get similar market results elsewhere from a lower cost vehicle. Ultimately, inventions like this are designed to transfer wealth from you to the industry and performance fees are a big part of the reason why hedge funds aren’t the route to riches. As costs are a strong indicator of peer group performance among funds I avoid ’em wherever possible.

  • 7 Steve B July 5, 2011, 1:39 pm

    Thanks for feedback. This confirms my own view that these are costs to be avoided wherever possible.
    It would be nice to think that if all investors avoided such funds then these costs would start to be constrained. However, investor lethargy will probably mean that this will not happen.

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