We challenge the academic consensus that estimation error makes mean–variance portfolio strategies inferior to passive equal-weighted approaches. We demonstrate analytically, via simulation, and empirically that investors endowed with modest forecasting ability benefit substantially from a mean–variance approach. An investor with some forecasting ability improves expected utility by increasing the number of assets considered. We frame our study realistically using budget constraints, transaction costs, and out-of-sample testing for a wide range of investments. We derive practical decision rules to choose between passive and mean–variance optimization and generate results consistent with much financial market practice and the original Markowitz formulation.