The right to the pursuit of happiness.

The American Declaration of Independence established the right to the pursuit of happiness alongside the right to life and liberty. This was not a guarantee of happiness, just the right of the individual to chase the concept. The state would not be held responsible for the achievement of this goal.

In the late 1700s the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham declared that the supreme good is “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” He concluded that the aim of the state, the market and the scientific community was to increase global happiness. Politicians should make peace, business people should foster prosperity, and scholars should study nature. This was not for the greater glory of king and country, but to enhance the happiness of the population.

At first glance one would think that there is not a lot of evidence to suggest that much progress has been made in achieving these aims, but a second glance suggests otherwise. Lifespan is now dramatically increased, poverty worldwide is hugely reduced, as are deaths from conflict. This progress continues and in the last few decades we have seen the right to pursue happiness morph into the right to happiness itself! Citizens now hold their governments responsible for whether they are satisfied or not, and by default, this means increasing the power and meddling of the state in all of our affairs, not the limiting of its interference as was the intention of Thomas Jefferson.

Happiness means different things to different people. Two thousand years ago Epicurus said that immoderate pursuit of pleasure is likely to make people miserable rather than content. The higher expectations are set, the more likelihood of failure and disappointment. Buddha taught that the pursuit of pleasure is the very root of suffering and by reducing this craving we would enhance our happiness. Now, at the start of the 21st century, the biochemical solution is to produce products that provide us with an unending stream of pleasant sensations. Science and technology are set up to provide ever more efficient painkillers, smart phones to remove boredom, more comfortable mattresses to sleep on, alongside a dumbing down of media information, all with the aim of keeping the masses happy. The capitalist juggernaut says that “happiness is pleasure”. Period!

The above is my attempt at a précis of the start of the book Homo Deus written by Yuval Noah Harari. I would heartily recommend it to you, because it is thought provoking and has made a contribution to my approach to life and also investment strategy. It is one of those books which you read three pages forward two pages back, and like his first book, Homo Sapiens, it is full of fascinating content.

Recently I have been attempting to control my desire for continuous investment gain by setting more realistic targets. This in order that I might achieve Yuval Noah Harari style happiness! Today this philosophy is under severe stress. I still have more than 30% of my investments in cash, and the rest is mainly in Dollar, American and Technology based sectors. Over the last few years this has been a really good place to be, that is until the last few weeks. Although the Dow and the Nasdaq indices have now moved to, or near to, their highest ever, the above sector prices have gone sideways and not up. This would seem to be a direct result of the currency relationship between the dollar and sterling. During the last month sterling has been as low as 1.281 and yet last week it temporarily peaked at just above 1.329, a gain of almost 4%. During this period a 100% dollar-based fund would have been knocked backwards by the same 4% when converting back to sterling prices. That is simple arithmetic.

What is not simple, is to sit on your hands whilst the diplomats, politicians and media commentators endlessly thrash the living daylights out of the Brexit negotiations. A successful conclusion to the trade and border discussions might see Sterling move back up to where it was before the referendum, when it was moving in the range of 1.40 to 1.50 £/$. A failure to reach agreement might see this range move down to 1.10 to 1.20 £/$. In the first case the above sectors would fall in sterling terms by around 10% and in the second case they would rise by around 13%.

pursuithappiness

Quite a conundrum.  Trying to forecast the end result is the job for mystics and people who read chicken bones. I do not fall into that category, so for the moment I intend to stay put, and only after the race is run, or the result is obvious, will I move either to increase or shed my holdings in these sectors. In the long term, when the dust settles, I still believe that the technology sector is the place to be invested in for the twenty first century.

Best wishes and good investing,

Douglas.