There is nothing like a long spell of good luck to ruin a man. He begins to think he can get away with anything. The next thing you know, he is wagering big money in Las Vegas and chatting up stewardesses.
Right now, the whole world economy is enjoying a spell of catastrophic prosperity. That is to say, things are going far too well…for far too many people.
And here, dear reader, we let you in on one of the deepest secrets of human life. Things do not work in a straightforward, simpleminded way. If they did, then perhaps bureaucrats, bolsheviks and world-improvers really could make things better. But there is good…and there is evil. The race goeth not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. And bubbles don’t always blow up when you want them to.
We say that just to set the stage. What follows is a brief theatrical discourse on the nature of life in the universe in general…and life in this great worldwide super-bubble of 2007 in particular.
Things are going remarkably well – especially for people who count; that is, the people who make the headlines and write them. Paris is out of jail. Stephen Schwarzman has successfully off-loaded his private equity business. The glitterati glitter more than ever. The investorati are as happy as pigs in merde too…for their portfolios, almost no matter where they are or what is in them, are getting fatter by the day. Restaurants are full in London, New York, Shanghai – wherever the great money machine is switched on and humming. And the speculator, who depends on a fulsome supply of greater fools to buy him out of his bets, is in heaven too. In America, there’s one born every minute, just as Mr Barnum said. But in Asia, heck, they can’t even count them.
At recent art auctions, hedge fund impresarios turned up – wads of cash in their pockets, consultants by their sides – and bid the most remarkable prices for the most unremarkable works of “art”. But thus does the great machine churn money – from one hand to the next…from dimwit to genius…from greedy SOB to saintly do-gooder…from fool to knave. It is breathtaking to watch.
But behold! There is more to it.
There are rules, lesson, patterns…and hell to pay.
When things go so well, for so long, it seems as if all the cuss words had been struck from a dictionary…as if negative numbers had been removed from the number scheme. It is as if bad seeds had been removed from nature…and bad genes from humanity. It is as if we finally had God without the devil…and Heaven without Hell.
No chance of going to Hell? Well, hell then… let’s have some fun! No negative numbers? Well…what are we waiting for? Let’s reach for higher rates of yield; to hell with the risk.
Unfortunate acts of nature happen as nature will have them. Hurricanes, cyclones, droughts – nature will have her way with us. But unfortunately, acts of market tend to happen when people reach for yield.
The markets, which are fairly benign most of the time, are occasionally wicked. But that is just the way the world works. God reigns – most of the time. But the devil sneaks in on occasion, and causes mayhem. Mankind’s history is one of progress, usually…but not always. There are also long periods of ferocious backsliding. Inflation, too, is common – at least since the invention of paper currencies. But woe to the poor sod who thinks it’s automatic, guaranteed and immutable.
“God and the Devil are about as four to three,” writes Samuel Butler. “There is enough preponderance of God to make it far safer to be on his side than on the Devil’s, but the excess is not so great as his professional claqueurs pretend it is. It is like gambling at Monte Carlo; if you play long enough you are sure to lose, but now and again you may win a great deal of excellent money, if you will only cease playing the moment you have won it.”
Prosperity is never guaranteed. That’s why, here at Markets and Money, we are always urging you to take matters into your own hands to build up your portfolio.
Usually, taking the broad sweep of human history, man gets richer one year to the next. It’s a bit like a street brawl in South London. The stronger, faster, bigger man is the better bet – usually. But, the runt can land a lucky blow from time to time. And let the big man forget the risk…let him become too confident…too drunk, too fat, too sure of himself…and the little guy will knock him down every time.
Let this boom run long enough, dear reader, and it will turn into a bust. Already at the bubble stage in many places and many markets – when the devil finally gets his due, it is likely to come as very unpleasant to many people. In the long run, of course, it is God’s world. But even He likes to see us get a good kick in the seat of the pants from time to time.
Markets and Money