The Sunk Cost Trap
We all try to make rational decisions based on the future value of objects, investments and experiences. But the truth is that our decisions can sometimes be tainted by the emotional investments we have put into them over time. The more we are invested in something, the harder it becomes to abandon it. This is known as the sunk cost fallacy.
It’s what a lot of gamblers do. They throw good money after bad, thinking they can turn their luck around. But it usually doesn’t work out for them. Whenever we buy stocks there’s a chance that our investments will drop in the future because the business has fundamentally changed. This is especially true for tech companies like Nortel or Nokia. Both companies fell from grace for different reasons. When investments don’t work out some investors pull out, while others continue to hold on hoping their shares will bounce back some day. Knowing which is the wiser decision can make all the difference.
In dilemmas such as this, it’s best to consider the current circumstances and opportunities. And then make a decision based on forward looking expectations. 🙂 By estimating the economic consequences of holding or selling an investment at the present time we can eliminate our emotional biases accumulated from the past.
Similarly in economics and business, a sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Some business owners will mistakenly refuse to mark down their older inventory because they don’t want to sell it for less than what they paid for themselves. But the original cost of the goods is now a sunk cost, which means the money has already been paid and is irrelevant to making present decisions. Instead of focusing on selling the inventory at a loss, they should think about the opportunities cost and the best alternative strategy going forward. 😉
Some people even double down on their investments or ideologies when faced with evidence that goes against their previous actions or beliefs. This can be very self destructive if they don’t realize what they’re doing.
Sunk cost applies to many other aspects of society as well. For example, some unhappy couples feel like they’re stuck in a bad situation because they’ve already invested so much time into their relationships. But if they’ve already tried and can’t make things work then similar to investing, maybe it’s better to cut their losses and bail. As the comedian Louis CK once said, “One day one of your friends is gonna get divorced. Don’t go ‘Oh, I’m sorry!’…No good marriage has ever ended in divorce. If your friend got divorced, it means things were bad. And now, they’re better.” 😀
Random Useless Fact: