Last week the economist Richard Thaler won the Nobel Price in Economics for his work that explains that people behave irrationally. Well, duh, right? Anyone who has ever been to a frat party can tell you all about irrational behavior.
A few years ago I accompanied a very accomplished UK physician to testify before a legislative committee in Frankfort. At the meeting, a state senator asked a convoluted – and mostly off-topic – question. After several minutes of awkward back and forth, the physician finally said, “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t know the answer to your question. I’m just a lowly surgeon.” Lesson: Even very smart people don’t automatically know everything.
Intuitively, we realize we don’t know everything. So, sometimes I think our minds assume there is a system in place to protect us when we don’t have expertise in a specialty. Think about flying: We don’t know if the plane is mechanically safe or the weather is appropriate to take off. But, the airline and air traffic control do have the information and expertise to make those decisions for us. There is a system in place to keep us safe.
Maybe that’s why some people assume our employers select the right mix of investments within our 403(b)s and 401(k)s that are appropriate for our unique circumstances. If we don’t have the knowledge and expertise, there must be a system that takes care of us, right? Right? No, not really.