I Want it Yesterday: The Dangers of Our Obsessive Focus on the Short Term

We are a society consistently in search of a quick fix – from diets to energy, we want the quick and easy solution, and we want it today, to hell with what tomorrow brings.

One would hope that those whom we trust to invest our money would be wiser, yet, we know how unlikely that is if you’ve see the balances in your 401K plunge over the past three years.

Research conducted by Andrew Haldane and Richard Davies of the Bank of England and PriceWaterhouseCoopers on “short-termism” in the investment arena provided results that most of us would find shocking.

They found that the majority of FTSE-100 and 250 executives (those running the largest companies in the world) would choose an investment with a low return option if they could get it sooner (£250,000 tomorrow) rather than waiting for a high return later (£450,000 in three years). That means that your investment advisor might give up £200,000 of profit if they had to wait three years to get it.

When you extend this logic out over a longer time period, the result is that investments, or projects with long-term payback beyond the 30- to 35-year timeframe, are treated as having no value at all!

China is much more willing to make long-term investments than capitalist economies, as evidenced by how they manage alternative energy and water purification. No wonder we don’e fund basic science, infrastructure or climate change-related projects.

It’s time to recalibrate our lens to see the value in the long-term, and not be blinded by a myopic focus on only the here and now.

2 comments

  1. I agree with this, but it’s worth asking *why* business tends to the short term. In general it’s publicly held companies subject to the pressure of quarterly wall-street reports. It’s our financial system. It’s also our tax structure: when corporate income taxes were lowered after the 50′s, there was less incentive to build a company (reaping capital gains) and more to take money out in profit.

  2. Ah, we’ve forgotten Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ant. While we can explain away the various pressures that drive us to enjoy the moment, whether it’s quarterly numbers or GMO food, we’re headed for long-term starvation on every front unless we temper our short-term thinking–and acting.

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