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Global Economic Downturn Spurs Superstitious Behavior

November 28, 2008 03:55 PM
by Christopher Coats
As the housing and credit crisis continues to wreak havoc, people turn to superstition for comfort and reassurance.

Using Superstition to Improve Luck With Money

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From numbers to colors to whether you pass coins from your right hand to your left, or vice versa, worried investors and consumers are not taking any chances when it comes to keeping or possibly earning money in the coming months.

“For people in the grip of magical thinking (which is practically all of us at one time or another), lucky numbers or rituals help us to believe that we are overcoming (or at least gaining an edge over) the seemingly randomness of an uncertain world,” wrote Benjamin Radford in LiveScience.

Occasionally these individual efforts of superstition, chance and money create bursts of economic growth all their own. In Brazil, where donning yellow underwear at midnight on New Year’s Eve assures money in the coming year, there has been a run on such garments, leaving red (passion) and white (peace) for another year.

"People are desperate, they want to not lose their jobs and have some money in their pockets," Denise Areal, marketing director for Duloren, one of Brazil's biggest underwear manufacturers, told the Daily Telegraph. "We've sold out 100,000 pairs and we don't have time to make any more.”

Sometimes, superstitions can have a negative impact on one’s economic future. Last year, BloggingStocks commented on a Wall Street Journal article that reported a 416-point drop in the Dow, linking it to a 9 percent decline in the Shanghai Stock Market. The trend was traced to a run on stocks associated with the number 8—a number associated with wealth in China, especially if found together with another 8.

Background: Monetary superstitions around the world

Around the world, monetary luck can involve choice of color or where or how you place your furniture.

Though regional variations abound, in China wearing a jade ring—right hand for women, left hand for men—will bring money into one’s life, as will tying a green string five times around your little finger. Also try writing the Chinese symbol for money or a dollar sign on your right palm for fifteen consecutive days.

Russia’s approach reflects a number of countries’ by insisting that money follows money, so it is best to spread coins throughout your house. Conversely, whistling indoors and singing on an empty stomach will frighten the spirits and lead to further money woes.

In Japan, it’s a good idea to keep snakeskin in one’s wallet to invite fortune while in Trinidad and Tobago if you place your handbag or wallet on the ground, it will drive away good fortune.

In addition to clearing out clutter and fixing possessions that are broken, the art of Feng Shui requires a  dose of green and purple in places where money would usually be found for a bit of monetary luck.

Opinion & Analysis: In search of order

Despite widespread reliance on superstitious practices in times of trouble and economic turmoil, some insist that accepting the impact of superstitions is a sign of someone clearly out of control.

Testing the notion, Jennifer Whitson of the University of Texas, Austin, and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University, found that people tend to turn to superstitions and universal theories in order to compensate for feeling out of control or to explain things that seem beyond comprehension.

These practices, the scientists wrote, give “causes and motives to events that are more rationally seen as accidents ... [in order to] bring the disturbing vagaries of reality under ... control.”

Echoing the same idea of control, Jonathan Hoenig wrote on the SmartMoney blog that superstition and repetition were common and necessary components for those working in the financial sector, especially traders.

“Regardless if you're simply buying bonds or trading option volatility, investing comes down to dealing with the unknown,” wrote Hoenig. “Superstitions, the little rules we enact for ourselves, provide a sense of security and control in an environment where neither exist.”
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