The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Results: Should You Kill Yourself?
Well… that was quite a surprise, wasn’t it?
I have to admit that I struggled to describe this year’s U.S. presidential election.
What could I say that hasn’t already been said in dozens of other articles?
But then I stumbled upon the answer.
It came from a serial killer in New Jersey who kidnaps hookers, eats pizza rolls, and kills his wives.
He has a lot in common with this year’s candidates.
I’m referring to Mr. Plinkett, who became famous for his exceptional reviews of the Star Wars and Star Trek movies.
I thought of him because of a quote from his review of Star Wars Episode 3, where he explained why it was better than Episodes 1 and 2:
“The first film obviously had a kid. A kid that made you wanna sterilize the human race! It also had other kids that @*@#(& talked too! The second film had even MORE kids that talk!
Finally, the only kid in this film [Episode 3] that talks DIES, and all of them die. These are positive changes.”
While all the Star Wars prequels were terrible, Episode 3 was the least bad because all the children DIE.
Like many others, I thought about this election in the same way: Which candidate was the least bad?
And would all the children die?
But Brian, Who Did You Vote For?
Let’s answer that one right away: I did not vote.
In fact, I never vote in elections because I don’t believe in democracy.
Since I am a resident of Washington State, my vote never impacts the results, so don’t blame me for the apocalypse.
Even if I had participated, though, I would not have voted for anyone running – not Hillary, not Trump, not Gary Johnson, not Jill Stein, and not even Evan McMullin.
No, This is Not the Apocalypse… Calm Down
Originally, I was going to describe why I hated all the candidates, but that seems like a boring topic now.
So, instead, I’ll explain why you should probably not commit suicide (Emphasis on “probably”).
Reason #1: The President Has Less Power Than You Think
Trump cannot just “build a wall” by himself; the U.S. political system greatly limits the power of Presidents, especially in domestic affairs.
For a realistic take on what a President can and cannot accomplish, please see this article.
Even putting aside Trump’s craziness, remember that most of his own party does not like him and does not support his policies.
The President has the most power over foreign policy and Supreme Court nominations, but those are both less likely to impact you directly.
So, no, Trump is not going to rescind your job offer or your visa, banks are not going to rescind internship or job offers, and you should worry about things you can control.
Reason #2: Candidates and Elections Like This Have Precedent
This was the “ugliest election ever”?
The process was “rigged”?
One candidate was crazy, corrupt, or didn’t have the “right temperament” to lead?
I laughed at all these claims because they indicate that the person doesn’t know anything about history.
Dozens of crazier or nearly-as-crazy things have happened in the past: The ugly campaign between Adams and Jefferson in 1800, the campaigns in 1824 and 1828 and “the corrupt bargain,” Millard Fillmore in the 1850s, the chaos of 1968, and more (see one list here).
By contrast, this year’s election was a rather tame affair.
No one was even assassinated!
And plenty of “outsider” candidates have run, done well, and even won in the past: Perot, Eisenhower, Willkie, Hoover, and Grant at the national level, and Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the state level.
In none of these cases, except for, arguably, Hoover, did disaster follow the election.
Reason #3: People Predicted This Outcome a Long Time Ago
Michael Moore’s essay on 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win was dead-on:
“Mitt Romney lost by 64 electoral votes. The total votes of [Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania]… 64,” Moore told Maher. “All he has to do is win those four states.”
And then Nassim Taleb pointed out all the reasons why forecasts from the “pundits” were flawed (Hint: High polling volatility implies high uncertainty).
Finally, have you been watching the world this year?
Then, they were very far off in the Colombia peace referendum; before this year, they were also off in the elections in Argentina and Brazil.
Polling is increasingly unreliable, and there has been a massive turn against the globalist elites in the past 1-2 years.
Reason #4: Are You Sure Finance is the Right Industry for You?
A big part of successful investing is staying calm under pressure and not getting emotional.
You have a plan; you stick to it, and you exit your position when your plan calls for it.
If you lose money, then you cut your losses as your plan dictated.
If you make money, then you take your gains as your plan dictated.
If a shocking geopolitical event strikes, you don’t get flustered.
It’s part of your plan, and you should have already accounted for the possibility when thinking about the downside risk.
If you get extremely emotional over these types of “Black Swan” (or “Orange Swan”?) events, then you will probably not do well as an investor.
But it’s good to find this out early on: As I’ve said before, you should probably just forget about finance and go into the tech industry.
So, How Will the Economy and Finance Industry Change?
In my report from 4 years ago, I pointed out various fiscal problems with the country.
They still exist, but I’ve grown more apathetic about them.
Also, as long as the USD remains the world’s reserve currency, I’m not sure how serious these issues are; the world seems to have bigger problems now.
It’s almost impossible to assess what Trump will do and what Clinton would have done.
First off, most of the policy “debates” revolved around issues that are not directly related to finance, such as free trade and immigration.
Second, Trump did not express a coherent or consistent position on anything.
Finally, Clinton’s positions changed over time: She was against tougher bank regulation before she was for it, she was for trade deals (NAFTA) before she was against them (TPP), and so on.
As far as I can tell, Trump may have expressed partial thoughts on the following:
- Immigration – Less of it, both legal and illegal (or just illegal?). And The Wall. He may need Jon Snow’s help with that one.
- Dodd-Frank – He wants to repeal it.
- Taxes – He wants to reduce taxes across the board, but especially for high earners.
Clinton seemed to take the opposite position on all of those, but I’m only about 20% certain of that.
If my understanding is correct, then Clinton’s positions might have made it easier to get into the industry, especially if you’re an international student. But you would also earn less money once you’re in it.
Trump’s positions might do the opposite: It will be harder to get in, but your earnings potential will be higher once you’re in.
The Real Takeaways from This Election
Rather than speculating on what happens next – which no one knows – I want to focus on the useful takeaways from the process instead.
While we ended up with terrible candidates and a depressing outcome, the campaigns can provide useful insights into your career:
1) Product/Market Fit Always Wins
While Trump made crazy/racist/sexist comments that offended large portions of the population, he did one thing very well: He achieved product/market fit.
Unlike the Republican candidates in 2008 and 2012, he listened to what voters were saying and gave it to them.
It turns out that no one cares about entitlement spending, but people care a LOT about jobs and policies that hurt their employment prospects.
To win the election, Trump did what any successful startup does:
- He found an underserved and misunderstood market – the “Rust Belt” states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
- Then, he determined his customers’ (voters’) problems by listening to them.
- And then he used that knowledge to win by playing the market (the Electoral College) better than his opponent.
In the job search process, you should leave out the crazy/racist/sexist comments.
But you can learn a lot from his targeting: You’re almost always better off focusing on very specific firms that match your background.
Exceptions might apply for career changers and very young undergraduates.
2) Overmarketing Can Kill You
If every single person in your life tells you to do something, would you be more or less likely to do it?
I would be far less likely to do it.
Mark Twain’s quote comes to mind:
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Virtually every mainstream newspaper, media source, celebrity, and billionaire endorsed Clinton and warned of an apocalyptic meltdown if Trump won.
And yet, Clinton performed worse than Obama, doing better mostly in states that didn’t matter.
A big part of it, I think, is that people got tired of the media telling them what to think, how to act, and who to vote for.
The same phenomenon often comes up in interviews: Trying too hard can hurt you.
I hear many stories of students sending “Thank You” notes to every single person they spoke with at a bank.
Or “networking” by emailing everyone in the same group in the same week.
These are all bad ideas because your eagerness could come across as desperation.
3) Don’t Fear the Intellectual Yet Idiot (IYI)
If you haven’t already read it, you should check out Taleb’s seminal article on The Intellectual Yet Idiot.
It lines up with something I’ve been saying for a long time: Ivy League/Oxbridge students are not necessarily that impressive.
I’d say that 90% of my classmates from Stanford have done nothing impressive in the 10-15 years following graduation: Many bounced around from one tech startup to the next, spent long stretches unemployed, or… just don’t do much of anything.
There are some geniuses in this crowd, but the average is lower than commonly thought – and the standard deviation is high.
In this election, the IYIs made a common IYI mistake: They assumed that knowledge in one area automatically transfers to others.
Let’s say that you’re a top venture capitalist who’s good at spotting promising mobile startups…
How, exactly, does that make you a political science expert?
Or enable you to understand the motivations of factory workers in Michigan?
You might say that overconfidence plays a small role.
And if you don’t have the Ivy League degree, you can take advantage of this overconfidence in many ways, such as by going into fields like sales where results trump pedigree.
Banks and finance firms still obsess over prestige, but there are ways to overcome that, as we’ve detailed before.
4) “Logic and Facts” Don’t Affect Decisions; Emotions Do
You now have firsthand evidence that logic and facts are far less important than emotions.
It is no coincidence that the main arguments of both sides in this election hinged on emotions rather than logic:
- Clinton: Trump is a crazy racist/sexist who doesn’t have the temperament to serve. Also, he will destroy the world and kill everyone.
- Trump: Immigrants are going to take away your job and murder everyone, and all establishment politicians are corrupt and out to screw you over.
Whether or not something is true is irrelevant; all that matters is its emotional appeal.
Many students waste time memorizing responses to heaps of technical and “fit” questions, but you are judged mostly based on first impressions.
Your “story” really is the most important part of any interview because it’s your best chance to make an emotional impact.
And if you think that’s crazy, take a look at some of the interviews on the site where that made a difference.
In all seriousness, don’t kill yourself or do anything drastic.
Your job offer won’t be rescinded, your visa won’t be canceled, and you’ll be fine regardless of what happens in the macro environment.
Just as previous elections and geopolitical events such as Brexit have generated panic that later turns out to be nothing, the same is probably true here.
And if the world does end, don’t worry: You could always become a serial killer in New Jersey.
You can kidnap the hookers, and I’ll supply the pizza rolls.
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