“I can’t stand it anymore. I have to say something. You act like you actually want a depression. What’s wrong with you?”
The above letter came from a dear reader who has missed the point. We are as generous and warm…as caring and sharing…as anyone outside a mental institution. We only want the best for our fellow countrymen…really.
But what is best? What’s best for the fellow who bought a house he can’t afford? Isn’t it to get out the house as soon as possible? What’s best for the fellow who didn’t save enough for his retirement? Shouldn’t he start saving as much as possible as soon as possible? And how about the banker who lent money to people who couldn’t pay it back…or the investor who put his money into projects that weren’t really very good investments? Shouldn’t they take their losses as soon as possible…and move on?
The period of time in which mistakes are recognized and corrected is called a depression. Best to get it over with.
You see, dear reader, we do not believe in the perfectibility of man and his institutions. Instead, we see material progress. Man’s machines and inventions get better. But man himself? He is what he always has been…prey to sin and folly…prone to error…and ready for a good time.
If he makes mistakes, he must correct them. If he spends more than he earns in the present, he must spend less than he earns in the future.
The Dow rose 78 points yesterday, but is still more than 200 points below its high for this rally. The euro is at $1.35 – down substantially, from its high…but still 50% above where it started. Immediately after the euro was introduced, it fell. It dropped to 88 cents. People thought it was weak and irresolute. They called it the “Esperanto currency” – referring to the artificial language invented in the 19th century and designed to unite the world. Esperanto never really caught on. People feared that the euro would never really catch on either.
But it seems to work as well as any other paper currency…at least for now. So, you see, some innovations work. Some don’t. But behind them is the old rag and bone shop of the heart… As far as we can tell, either progress of the human race is glacially slow…or there is none at all.
Even real material progress is slow. Over the last two centuries, real increases in human wealth – in the west – average out to only about 2% per year. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. Make a few big mistakes…such as those caused by miscues from the central banks…and you’re actually going backwards.
Are bankers really smarter, better, shrewder than they were 100 or 1,000 years ago? How about investors? Don’t they make exactly the same mistakes they always made…?
Not many humans have the luxury that we have. Here at Markets and Money headquarters, we’re paid to keep our eyes open…and to try to figure out what is going on.
Of course, we’re not paid very well. Still, what a luxury it is to be able to watch… Economists on Wall Street have to answer to the big banks that employ them. Naturally, they want to show that the world is always getting better. They want their customers to buy more stocks and bonds…which will become more and more valuable, forever and ever.
And then, there are the economists working for the government. They want to prove that they can control the economy…and improve it! Otherwise, why bother to hire them?
There are other economists working for universities and colleges. What do they want to do? They want to show that they are part of the elite classes…capable of leading the country…capable of making decisions. Capable of running things. You don’t get important posts in academia by being “negative.” You don’t win the Nobel Prize in economics by saying “hey…this is all very entertaining…this economics…but there’s not really very much you can do about it.”
Here at Markets and Money, on the other hand, we have no hope of getting tenure…a Nobel…or even a raise. We have no boss and no one to flatter or mislead. We answer to no one but our Dear Readers. And we don’t even pay any attention to them!
Do we want a depression? Well…yes…bring it on! But not because we enjoy seeing people lose their houses and stand in bread lines. It’s only because we know that a lot of mistakes were made during the bubble years – thanks largely to the government’s mishandling of the economy. While real, underlying wealth only grew at maybe 2% per year, people spent an extra 5% to 10%. This spending gap grew during the bubble years, effectively consuming wealth that had not been earned yet…and leading to so many capital investment mistakes that there is no way to avoid a bit of backtracking – which we recognize as a depression.
Here at Markets and Money, we love depression like we love mid-winter. It clears the air…and prepares the earth for spring.
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