Here are some interesting quotes from ‘Risk & Chance’ (Dowie and Lefrere) that have a relevance to trading and speculation more generally:
Henslin (1967) notes …dice players behave as if they are controlling the outcome of the toss. One of the ways they exert this is to toss the dice softly if they want a low number, or hard for a high number. Another is to concentrate and exert effort when tossing. These behaviours are quite rational if one believes that the game is a game of skill.
As a trader I wish I could figure out what portion of my trading results can be attributed to luck, and what portion to skill. The problem is that trading seems to be a game of both skill and luck, so we spend half our time figuring out just how hard we should be throwing the dice. Splitting skill from luck is a problem for all speculators, but high frequency traders can find out much sooner than low frequency macro traders, who only take a few positions each year. In the latter case, it may be close to impossible to look back to a macro trader’s career and make this determination with any reasonable level of certainty.
De Charms(1968) stated that “Man’s primary propensity is to be effective in producing changes in his environment. Man strives to be a causal agent, to be the primary locus of causation for, or the origin of, his behaviour; he strives for personal causation.
The polar opposite of mastery is helplessness.
In the markets, those with an ‘edge’ over the market can be thought of as masters, while those who don’t believe in outperformance of the averages can be thought of as helpless. Of course, in this case the helpless are not truly helpless; they may accept they have no influence on the outcome but provided they accept the proven long-term upward drift of the market, they can choose the path of the low-cost index fund, saving time and money against the perceived masters (on average, the indices outperform). This doesn’t apply to the foreign exchange market.
Lefcourt (1973)… concluded that “the sense of control, the illusion that one can exercise personal choice, has a definite and positive role in sustaining life.” Thus, people show a preference for controllable over uncontrollable events.The distinction between skill and chance situations is further complicated by the fact that positive outcomes are most often attributed to the actions that precede them.
Think of many of the individuals who have made big gains in the housing market, founders of certain successful businesses, and some flavour-of-the-month fund managers. Positive results, especially those associated with a large monetary gain, often imbue individuals with a false sense of superiority and foresight, or even control, over events that are actually largely outside of their control.