Matthew Lekushoff |


Regular readers of this letter will know I've read a lot about evolution, anthropology, and the biology of behaviour over the last few years. They are fascinating fields, especially at the points in which they intersect. 

One observation I've made from my research is the predominance of social signalling to gain status in the animal kingdom -----  especially among primates -----  of which humans are the most prime of all. Naturally, as a wealth manager, this line of thinking led me to consider the relationship between money and our imbedded need for status. 

Humans shouldn't need a lot to live a happy life. Good health, family, friends, a sense of purpose, and some accomplishments along the way likely cover most of it. Why, then, do the clothes we wear, beverages we drink, jobs we have, vacations we take, cars we drive, and houses we buy matter so much?

In part, these items create the image of ourselves that we want projected onto the world. Of course, you can signal without the use of money, having a great body or 100,000 followers on Instagram, for example, but in a capitalist society, much of our status signalling is facilitated through the use of money.

As a young advisor, the disparity of my clients' financial behaviour puzzled me. Some clients seemed logical and driven by their goals and values, while others...not so much. Part of this difference can be attributed to aptitude and interest -----  the wealthiest people I know analyze their investments and net worth regularly.

But, besides aptitude and interest, the variance in behaviour can be attributed to the different values and methods people have and use to seek status. This becomes interesting when we don't even realize we are doing it. Keeping up with the Joneses is real -----  I've seen it happen time and again. And, unfortunately, I fall prey to it too. 

You'll note this theme runs through most of the readings below, either directly or indirectly. It's a fascinating topic that is easy to spot in others, but usually remains opaque to ourselves. I hope you get a chance to go through some of the links below.


Markets experienced little change from two weeks ago and most remain close to their January 1, 2018 prices, with the exception of the U.S. market to the upside, and emerging markets and gold to the downside.
Surprisingly, with it being August, markets began the week more active than one would expect for this time of year. However, I suspect the next few weeks will be relatively quiet...unless a political curveball is thrown into the mix.


Elephant in the Brain  by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson: A fascinating book that argues humans are not only capable of acting on hidden motives, but we are actually designed to do so. Our brains are wired in such a way to keep ourselves in the dark regarding our own motives. As preposterous as this may sound, Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson effectively argue this point through scientific studies and real world examples from the animal kingdom to our most cherish institutions. This book is well written and contains a vast amount of information. It's one of the best books I've read in the last year and already warrants a second read.
Status Anxiety  by Alain de Botton: Alain de Botton conveniently divides his book into two clear sections: the causes of status anxiety (lovelessness, expectations, meritocracy, snobbery, and dependence), and the cure to status anxiety (philosophy, art, politics, religion, bohemia). The first part of the book was thoroughly enjoyable and opened my eyes to a number of ways status seeking can lead to anxiety and unhappiness. However, the second section felt less enlightening and seemed to lose its way. That being said, it's still a book worth reading.
Akimbo (Status Roles)  by Seth Godin: A short podcast about our fight for status within groups and the important role shame plays in that struggle.
The Psychology of Money  by Morgan Housel: I've read a lot of books and articles on the psychology of money, none have captured the reality of the topic quite like Morgan Housel does in this great post.
The Big Man Can't Shoot  by Revisionist History: Malcolm Gladwell takes a fascinating look into why professional basketball players and NFL teams willingly choose suboptimal strategies. This episode can be paired with Getting Better by Being Wrong below.
Getting Better by Being Wrong  by Farnam Street: An enlightening two-hour conversation with former poker star Annie Duke. The conversation covers many bases, but really focuses on how individuals and organizations can dramatically improve their decision-making. (Pair with  The Big Man Can't Shoot )
12 Brand Archetypes That Marketers Use to Get Your Attention  by Visual Capitalist:  It's a marketer's job to learn what various groups and tribes value. Once that is known, they try to make the products and companies they work for appealing to their target market. This infographic illustrates 12 of the main archetypes (and sub-groups) marketers focus on and the values associated with them. Interestingly, what is considered appealing to one group, may repel another. 
How to win at carnival games, really entertaining :  I can't believe it, but the CNE (in Toronto) and the PNE (in Vancouver) will be starting soon. If you fancy a try at some carnival games this video can help you improve your odds of winning. It has nothing to do with status...unless you value winning huge stuffed animals.


"The point isn't to abandon the pursuit of wealth, of course. Or even fancy cars-----  I like both. It's recognizing that people generally aspire to be respected by others, and humility, graciousness, intelligence, and empathy tend to generate more respect than fast cars."
----  Morgan Housel
"Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories. The first-----the story of our quest for sexual love-----is well known and well charted, its vagaries from the staple of music and literature, it is social accepted and celebrated. The second----  the story of our quest for love from the world-----  is a more secret and shameful tale."
-----  Alain de Botton
"The point is, we act on hidden motives together, in public, just as often as we do by ourselves, in private. And when enough of our hidden motives harmonize, we end up constructing stable, long-lived institutions-----  like schools, hospitals, churches, and democracies-----  that are designed, at least partially, to accommodate such motives."
-----   Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson
"Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins."
----- Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Social Signalling Gone Awry: In keeping with our theme of social signalling and keeping up with the Joneses, check out how NFL players are arriving to their training camps in style :)
  • But if you're looking for a little perspective, cast your gaze to the stars this weekend, and enjoy the Perseid Meteor Shower!

Matthew Lekushoff

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