Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. Five Charts That Show We Are on the Brink of an Unthinkable Financial Crisis- John_Mauldin
2.Bitcoin Parabolic Mania - Zeal_LLC
3.Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2 - Raul_I_Meijer
4.Best Time / Month of Year to BUY a USED Car is DECEMBER, UK Analysis - Nadeem_Walayat
5.Labour Sheffield City Council Election Panic Could Prompt Suspension of Tree Felling's Private Security - N_Walayat
6.War on Gold Intensifies: It Betrays the Elitists’ Panic and Augurs Their Coming Defeat Part2 - Stewart_Dougherty
7.How High Will Gold Go? - Harry_Dent
8.Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – Forks and Mad Max - Raul_I_Meijer
9.UK Stagflation Risk As Inflation Hits 3.1% and House Prices Fall - GoldCore
10.New EU Rules For Cross-Border Cash, Gold Bullion Movements - GoldCore
Last 7 days
Government Shutdown Ends – Markets Ignore Looming Debt and Bond Market Threat - 23rd Jan 18
Stock Risks to Watch: Choose Your Bear Market Dashboard - 23rd Jan 18
Worse than Watergate - Release the Memo - Investigate Uranium One - 23rd Jan 18
CAT Stock Bouncing after JPM Upgrade How High and How Long Can This CAT Jump? - 23rd Jan 18
Why Banks Will Be Slammed In The Next Crisis—And That May Be Good News - 23rd Jan 18
Medicare Premiums Are A Shared Pool - Coming Changes That Will Transform Retirement - 23rd Jan 18
Charged Atmosphere of Heavy Police and Security Presence at Sheffield Street Tree Felling Protests - 23rd Jan 18
Pension Crisis And Deficit of £2.6 Billion At Carillion To Impact UK - 22nd Jan 18
Two Factors for Gold That You Don’t Want to Miss - 22nd Jan 18
Why You Must Own Silver in 2018 - 22nd Jan 18
This Could Be The Hottest Mining Stock Of 2018 - 22nd Jan 18
Stock Index Trend Trade Setups for the SP500 & NASDAQ - 22nd Jan 18
Stock Market Deceleration / Distribution - 22nd Jan 18
US Markets vs Govt Shutdown: Stock Markets at all time highs - 22nd Jan 18
Land Rover Discovery Sport - 1 Month Driving Test Review - 22nd Jan 18
Why should you use high-quality YouTube to mp3 converter? - 22nd Jan 18
Silver As Strategic Metal: Why Its Price Will Soar - 21st Jan 18
Stocks, Gold and Interest Rates Three Amigos Ride On - 21st Jan 18
Why Sometimes, "Beating the S&P 500" Isn't Good Enough - 21st Jan 18
Bunnies and Geckos of Sheffield Street Tree Fellings Protests Explained - 21st Jan 18
Jim Rickards: Next Financial Panic Will Be the Biggest of All, with Only One Place to Turn… - 20th Jan 18
Macro Trend Changes for Gold in 2018 and Beyond - Empire Club of Canada - 20th Jan 18
Top 5 Trader Information Sources for Timely, Successful Investing - 20th Jan 18
Bond Market Bear Creating Gold Bull Market - 19th Jan 18
Gold Stocks GDX $25 Breakout on Earnings - 19th Jan 18
SPX is Higher But No Breakout - 19th Jan 18
Game Changer for Bitcoin - 19th Jan 18
Upside Risk for Gold in 2018 - 19th Jan 18
Money Minute - A 60-second snapshot of the UK Economy - 19th Jan 18
Discovery Sport Real MPG Fuel Economy Vs Land Rover 53.3 MPG Sales Pitch - 19th Jan 18
For Americans Buying Gold and Silver: Still a Big U.S. Pricing Advantage - 19th Jan 18
5 Maps And Charts That Predict Geopolitical Trends In 2018 - 19th Jan 18
North Korean Quagmire: Part 2. Bombing, Nuclear Threats, and Resolution - 19th Jan 18
Complete Guide On Forex Trading Market - 19th Jan 18
Bitcoin Crash Sees Flight To Physical Gold Coins and Bars - 18th Jan 18
The Interest Rates Are What Matter In This Market - 18th Jan 18
Crude Oil Sweat, Blood and Tears - 18th Jan 18
Land Rover Discovery Sport - Week 3 HSE Black Test Review - 18th Jan 18
The North Korea Quagmire: Part 1, A Contest of Colonialism and Communism - 18th Jan 18
Understand Currency Trade and Make Plenty of Money - 18th Jan 18
Bitcoin Price Crash Below $10,000. What's Next? We have answers… - 18th Jan 18
How to Trade Gold During Second Half of January, Daily Cycle Prediction - 18th Jan 18
More U.S. States Are Knocking Down Gold & Silver Barriers - 18th Jan 18
5 Economic Predictions for 2018 - 18th Jan 18
Land Rover Discovery Sport - What You Need to Know Before Buying - Owning Week 2 - 17th Jan 18
Bitcoin and Stock Prices, Both Symptoms of Speculative Extremes! - 17th Jan 18
So That’s What Stock Market Volatility Looks Like - 17th Jan 18
Tips On Choosing the Right Forex Dealer - 17th Jan 18
Crude Oil is Starting 2018 Strong but there's Undeniable Risk to the Downside - 16th Jan 18
SPX, NDX, INDU and RUT Stock Indices all at Resistance Levels - 16th Jan 18
Silver Prices To Surge – JP Morgan Has Acquired A “Massive Quantity of Physical Silver” - 16th Jan 18
Carillion Bankruptcy and the PFI Sector Spiraling Costs Crisis, Amey, G4S, Balfour Beatty, Serco.... - 16th Jan 18
Artificial Intelligence - Extermination of Humanity - 16th Jan 18
Carillion Goes Bust, as Government Refuses to Bailout PFI Contractors Debt and Pensions Liabilities - 15th Jan 18
What Really Happens in Iran?  - 15th Jan 18
Stock Market Near an Intermediate Top? - 15th Jan 18
The Key Economic Indicator You Should Watch in 2018 - 15th Jan 18
London Property Market Crash Looms As Prices Drop To 2 1/2 Year Low - 15th Jan 18
Some Fascinating Stock Market Fibonacci Relationships... - 15th Jan 18

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

6 Critical Money Making Rules

Market Bubbles and the Titanic Betrayal of Public Trust

Stock-Markets / Liquidity Bubble Jul 29, 2012 - 05:56 AM GMT

By: Raul_I_Meijer

Stock-Markets

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleRobert Shiller, co-creator of the Case-Shiller index for US housing and author of Irrational Exuberance, has an interesting perspective on markets. Unlike the vast majority of economists, he recognizes both the role of speculative fervour in driving prices to over-reach themselves as a bubble develops and the fact that bubbles and their aftermath are swings of positive feedback inherently grounded in ponzi dynamics. As such, his position has considerable overlap with ours at The Automatic Earth:


Markets and the Lemming Factor (2008)

Some trends are persistent enough that they eventually attract a very wide pool of participants, as apparent gains amongst one's peers eventually overcome the caution even of many inherently skeptical people. When they last long enough to overcome the caution of bankers, the result is easy credit to fuel the fire, and a blatant disregard for systemic risk. This is how the largest speculative bandwagons are formed - the ones that become manias and eventually lead to ruin for a large percentage of the population.

Prices are continually pushed up, irrespective of any reasonable objective measure of value, by those who think that it does not matter how much they pay for something if there will always be a Greater Fool who will pay even more. The evidence of pyramid dynamics where insiders and early movers benefit at the expense of later generations destined to become empty-bag holders - should be abundantly clear. The pool of Greater Fools is not limitless.

In our view, major bubbles, of which there are many examples in history, represent a highly contagious collective taking leave of the senses. Over time, as they develop, the largest bubbles come to encompass and to drive much of the way in which a given society functions. The trend that takes hold, and which is destined to over-reach itself, becomes the defining the zeitgeist of an era, before reversing sharply with devastating effect.

The best known examples can be clearly seen in financial charts that allow the progression of the phenomenon to be quantified. This is possible when the infectious idea manifests as a parabolic increase, and subsequent implosion, in value of something that has become a focus of speculation.

However, speculative bubbles that manifest financially, and therefore lend themselves to quantification, represent only a subset of socioeconomic or sociopolitical swings that can spread exponentially within societies and come to define certain periods of their history. This broader category of transformative social movements that come to capture the collective imagination, and often later deliver the reigns of power into the hands of extremists, is also subject to over-reach and reversal.

The fundamental point is that Ponzi dynamics do not have to be quantifiable for their essential nature to drive cycles of expansion and retrenchment. Mr Shiller recognizes this point, and recently wrote a piece comparing what he calls "social epidemics" that occur within the context of market economies with those that do not.

Bubbles Without Markets

A speculative bubble is a social epidemic whose contagion is mediated by price movements. News of price increase enriches the early investors, creating word-of-mouth stories about their successes, which stir envy and interest. The excitement then lures more and more people into the market, which causes prices to increase further, attracting yet more people and fuelling “new era” stories, and so on, in successive feedback loops as the bubble grows. After the bubble bursts, the same contagion fuels a precipitous collapse, as falling prices cause more and more people to exit the market, and to magnify negative stories about the economy.

But, before we conclude that we should now, after the crisis, pursue policies to rein in the markets, we need to consider the alternative. In fact, speculative bubbles are just one example of social epidemics, which can be even worse in the absence of financial markets. In a speculative bubble, the contagion is amplified by people’s reaction to price movements, but social epidemics do not need markets or prices to get public attention and spread quickly.

Some examples of social epidemics unsupported by any speculative markets can be found in Charles MacKay’s 1841 best seller Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. The book made some historical bubbles famous: the Mississippi bubble 1719-20, the South Sea Company Bubble 1711-20, and the tulip mania of the 1630’s. But the book contained other, non-market, examples as well.

MacKay gave examples, over the centuries, of social epidemics involving belief in alchemists, prophets of Judgment Day, fortune tellers, astrologers, physicians employing magnets, witch hunters, and crusaders. Some of these epidemics had profound economic consequences.

Mr Shiller asserts that, in the absence of quantitative feedback mechanisms, "social epidemics" can carry further into over-reach and therefore lead to worse consequences when the trend reverses.

There was no way, of course, for anyone either to invest in or to bet against the success of any of the activities promoted by the social epidemics – no professional opinion or outlet for analysts’ reports on these activities. So there was nothing to stop these social epidemics from attaining ridiculous proportions …

… China’s Great Leap Forward in 1958-61 was a market-less investment bubble. The plan involved both agricultural collectivization and aggressive promotion of industry. There were no market prices, no published profit-and-loss statements, and no independent analyses. At first, there was a lot of uninformed enthusiasm for the new plan. Steel production was promoted by primitive backyard furnaces that industry analysts would consider laughable, but people who understood that had no influence in China then. Of course, there was no way to short the Great Leap Forward. The result was that agricultural labor and resources were rapidly diverted to industry, resulting in a famine that killed tens of millions.

The Great Leap Forward had aspects of a Ponzi scheme, an investment fraud which attempts to draw in successive rounds of investors through word-of-mouth tales of outsize returns. Ponzi schemes have managed to produce great profits for their promoters, at least for a while, by encouraging a social contagion of enthusiasm.

Mao Zedong, on visiting and talking to experts at a modern steel plant in Manchuria, is reported to have lost confidence that the backyard furnaces were a good idea after all, but feared the effects of a loss of momentum. He appears to have been worried, like the manager of a Ponzi scheme, that any hint of doubt could cause the whole movement to crash. The Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution that followed it, was a calculated effort to create a social contagion of ideas.

There are many similar historical examples. While they are often known as periods of top down control, this is misleading, as Mr Shiller points out in relation to the Maoist example.

Some might object that these events were not really social epidemics like speculative bubbles, because a totalitarian government ordered them, and the resulting deaths reflect government mismanagement more than investment error. Still, they do have aspects of bubbles: collectivization was indeed a plan for prosperity with a contagion of popular excitement, however misguided it looks in retrospect.

Societal transformation is much more comprehensive when galvanizing change catches on from the bottom up, delivering an effective mandate for consolidating power around an idea into the hands of whomever can give a mass movement a focus that fits the collective mood. The personality cult of Mao Zedong was a very clear example of an idea that gripped, and temporally consumed, the social fabric of a nation (for a superb description of the era and its underpinnings in social mood contagion see Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang).

Witness, for an additional historical example, the Stakhanovite movement in the early days of the former Soviet Union (1935), which celebrated heroic (and mythical) achievements in worker productivity. This initiative spread across many industries and initially inspired greater (and greater) effort over longer (and longer) working hours, leading to substantial productivity improvements 'for the glory of the socialist workers' paradise' that people felt they were engaged in building.

Unfortunately, bottom-up idealism did not deliver any such thing. Instead, people's commitment was used to set ever higher quotas that everyone was then expected to live up to, codifying these at a societal level in national five year plans. Effort initially freely given was later institutionalized as formal expectation to which bonuses and penalties were attached.

Given that the foundational claims of superhuman productivity were almost certainly fictitious, and that subsequent 'achievements' became more exaggerated over time, the burden on ordinary people increased substantially. Unachievable goals combined with strong incentives led to major divisions and resentment within the workplace, particularly between workers and managers.

This destabilization of relationships in the factory environment facilitated a divide and rule approach from the top down that played a role in the consolidation of central power under Stalin. As with Mao's China, an economic initiative for expanding prosperity based on a popular movement backfired as empowerment morphed into disempowerment, and very unpleasant consequences followed.

Greater emphasis on interpreting the historical record in terms of cycles, whether or not they can be quantified in market terms, makes greater sense of the rise and fall of imperial structures as well as the smaller scale cycles within cycles that these examples represent. Ponzi dynamics are the underlying commonality at all degrees of trend for a fractal system based on swings of positive feedback in both directions:

From the Top of the Great Pyramid (2008)

At the largest scale, empires are also grounded in pyramid dynamics, which is why they too have a limited lifespan. They grow by assuming control, either politically or economically, of new territories, positioning themselves to cream off surpluses from an ever-expanding geographical area in a form of involuntary buy-in ...

… Wealth conveyors in favour of the economic centre, at the expense of the hinterland, are the very heart of empire, but without continual expansion to feed rapidly developing central complexity, they eventually fail, leaving the centre unable to sustain its existing complexity level. As with economic bubbles, empires hollow out in the latter stages, consuming their own substance in a catabolic manner in order to compensate for the inability to strengthen wealth conveyors sufficiently quickly to keep pace with the expanding requirements of the centre.

Where The Automatic Earth parts company with the views of Mr Shiller is in his opinion of the prospects for the bursting of our current bubble. He believes that systems which do appear to be quantifiable through market mechanisms contain sufficient control mechanisms to limit the downside:

Bubbles Without Markets (cont’d)

Modern economies have free markets, along with business analysts with their recommendations, ratings agencies with their classifications of securities, and accountants with their balance sheets and income statements. And then, too, there are auditors, lawyers and regulators.

All of these groups have their respective professional associations, which hold regular meetings and establish certification standards that keep the information up-to-date and the practitioners ethical in their work. The full development of these institutions renders really serious economic catastrophes – the kind that dwarf the 2008 crisis – virtually impossible.

From our perspective this view seems incredibly naive, especially coming from someone who sees bubbles as Ponzi schemes and should therefore understand the implications. It appears that Mr Shiller lacks an appreciation of just how large a bubble we have actually blown in the era of globalization, not to mention an understanding of just how badly the putative control mechanisms have devolved into pervasive blindness and corruption. We need only look at the extremely permissive financial regulatory framework - a result of comprehensive regulatory capture - to see where the power lies in the financial world. Most of betrayals of public trust we have seen in recent years are legal.

In our era of catabolic casino capitalism, the financial system has been hollowed out. Huge risks have been taken with other people's money for short term private profit. Reserve requirements have been whittled away to almost nothing in an attempt to maintain monetary expansion, and now there is virtually no cushion against financial crisis. The lack of capital adequacy requirements in the derivatives market has left a large construct of virtual value with toxic levels of counterparty risk, and a built-in meltdown mechanism thanks to perverse incentives to burn things down for profit.

It has been legal in places to rehypothecate collateral infinitely, meaning it is permissible to employ a small amount of collateral to underpin a vast quantity of loans, again leaving no margin for error. We have seen complex financial instruments mis-sold to municipalities all over the world, and 'assets' sold to customers then shorted by the financial institutions that sold them.

We have seen loans made to people, companies and governments that could not possibly repay them, because the sellers were able to collect their fees upfront, while selling the huge risk on to investors through securitization. Due diligence was virtually non-existent for many years, while systemic risk grew unchecked. In the USA, the mortgage securitization process broke the chain of title for property, and the banking system attempted to cover this up through fraudulent reconstruction of paperwork after the fact. Naked shorting has been used to create artificial selling pressure.

The benchmark LIBOR rate has been fiddled since its inception, creating enormous private profits at public expense. As crisis has developed as a result of these, and many other, abuses, the response has been austerity for the masses while the insiders, who should have know better, have been able to walk away from the consequences of their recklessness. The public sector is being asset-stripped as the great collateral grab gets underway.

The formal 'control' mechanisms have done nothing of substance to reign in the development of a global Ponzi structure, in fact they have more often acted to facilitate it. In reality they do little beyond lulling us into a false sense of security. The existence of an institutional framework is no guarantee of effective function. The substance is long gone, and what we are left with is a shell. The appearance of a large, robust structure is an illusion, and the risk we are facing is one of implosion. This is how all bubbles come to an end.

By way of analogy, not only has the Titanic already hit the iceberg, but most of the regulatory response constitutes rearranging the deckchairs. Most of society is still obliviously listening to the band, while the few are busy locking the third class passengers below decks. There are not enough lifeboats .....

By Raul Ilargi Meijer
Website: http://theautomaticearth.com (provides unique analysis of economics, finance, politics and social dynamics in the context of Complexity Theory)

© 2012 Copyright Raul I Meijer - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2018 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules