Monday, May 2, 2011

Disclaimers - Legally Important, Practically Useless

I recently saw a bunch of ads for Fidelity Investments. At the bottom, in small print, they included this terribly useful advice:
"Investing involves risks, including risk of loss."
You don't say! I personally thought that investing involved no risk at all - if we've learnt only one thing in finance from the past five years, it's that the housing market can only go up.

The second half is even more puzzling - 'including the risk of loss'. What other risks are their in investing? The risk of profit? The risk that you'll make lots of money and your kids will turn into brats? The risk that you'll waste lots of time clicking 'refresh' on Yahoo Finance to see how your portfolio is doing? Beats me.

Honestly, if you didn't know this to begin with, how on earth did you earn enough money to require Fidelity's services?

It's all a charade, of course. Doubt not that absolutely nobody's investing behaviour will be changed one jot by these nonsensical disclaimers. They are just part of the kabuki theatre that modern torts law demands, where the world is littered with useless warnings undertaken merely to deter unscrupulous lawyers and their gold-digging clients. Every now and again, you stop and reflect how bizarre it is that your coffee cup is warning you that coffee is hot, but then you go back to accepting it as part of the landscape.

Somewhere, Lord Buckmaster is looking down on us and laughing his head off.

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