Morning Jog

Finland and Nihilism

The news earlier this week was largely of the distressing and depressing kind, but one headline stood out – Sanna Marin, Finland’s 34-year-old prime minister is proposing a four-day workweek!

European media was all over the story and evidently it made such a splash as to jump across the Atlantic. The same day it showed up in my inbox, there was discussion of this proposal on a popular morning show of a popular business news channel, where a certain curmudgeonly co-host reported on the story, with the perfunctory snide remarks about millennials (prime minister position? not impressed!) and French* labor laws. *Finland being the famous wine region in France, that’s why.

[Well, actually: The French work more hours than workers in Austria, Sweden and Holland. And French worker productivity, is on par with Germany and the United States. It’s just that when the French decide to “spend more time with family” they mean exactly that and not as a euphemism for getting canned because of an HR scandal. A baffling concept to us hard working Americans, so the snide remarks about 35-hour work weeks are bound to continue.]

Such potentially significant change for Finnish workers certainly deserved the media attention and discussion. One issue: there was no hint of the four-day workweek proposal in the government’s policy program. A day after the story reverberated across numerous media outlets, Finland’s government had to issue an official statement setting the record straight.

The story is rooted in a brief comment Ms. Marin made on a panel discussion in August, prior to assuming the prime minister post. It bounced around the internet for a few months, but exactly why it surfaced now, in the shape of a concrete proposal, is a “complete mystery” to the Finnish government’s communications director.

A rather inconsequential episode. But as we close the books on the last decade, it got me thinking about the biggest challenge investors will face in the next. More important than any tangible change impacting the economy and markets – monetary and trade policy, demographics, automation, you name it – is the ability to zoom out and not get tripped up in the noise.

Thinking long-term and ‘tuning out the television’ is not groundbreaking investment advice. But with today’s quantity and velocity of information, it requires extra discipline, humility and a dose of skepticism.

How much of our mental and literal bandwidth was consumed by stories seemingly impactful to investing in the last decade, that turned out to be anything but?

Noise is everywhere, not confined to fringe corners of the internet. How many economic statistics that make headlines and move markets when released, are routinely revised a few months later?

And while its highly probable to get a contradictory read on the economy when looking at its different components, it is also possible when looking at the same one. Right now, US manufacturing is either in expansion or contraction mode, depending on the index of your choosing.

I’m not saying that blissful oblivion is the answer. We could just as easily be here 10 years from now, looking at the mirror image of the first chart, where each “Reason to Buy” was ill-timed. But the ability to slow down and think, will be more important than ever as the noise grows exponentially. Borrowing a page from these guys, will help maintain sanity and portfolios.

Could not resist. Mr. Evans, for the win this week…

Enjoy your week.