In watching the investment markets quite closely for the past decade or so, I concluded that trends often continue until their trajectory is accepted as inevitable. This is related to the Magazine Cover Indicator (MCI) that shows how a trend often reaches terminus when its acceptance is so great that it appears on mainstream magazine covers. Internet history demonstrates the usefulness of this; the link I used is from June 2005, almost exactly when the housing bubble topped. The columnist was writing at that moment how the boom would continue, ignoring the MCI to which she referred. [Join with me, please, in a collective smirk at the irony.]
It’s hard to go against the consensus.
Imagine a tour boat, loaded to capacity. For whatever reason, everyone on the boat crowds to the port side, leaning on the rail. What happens? The boat rolls over, to port of course, and those in the crowd suddenly find themselves not only in the drink, but ever worse the structure of the boat is rolling down right on top of them.
In today’s America there appear to be several articles of faith on which people will brook no debate: One is that the U.S. military, the most destructive organizational force in human history, is capable of crushing any and all resistance. This faith is, of course, false. U.S. forces in the Middle East are failing not due to a shortage of destructive might, but because of the limits imposed by the moral level of action. The U.S. military could theoretically depopulate the entire region, even turn the desert into glass, but any who ordered such visible barbarity would be a short time from their own fall from grace. As a consequence, the barbarity has to be held below a certain threshold so that a separate faith, the people’s faith in America’s innate goodness, is not tested.
That these two articles of faith are contradictory and mutually incompatible suggests one will fail soon. Either U.S. forces are routed in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. government barbarity boils over all thresholds in a hellish nuclear attack on non-nuclear Iran, or both.
What did you expect? False faiths are evil, after all.
If one-sidedness of discussion and the vitriolic criticism of a position are any indication, another article of faith is likely to join in the soon-to-be-marching failure parade.
I Googled the word "inflation" and got about fifty million hits. "Deflation," on the other hand, yielded less than four million, and most of those hardly argued in favor of its eventuality. Anecdotally, there appears to several camps regarding inflation, with some people certain that the U.S. government will inflate its way out from under the main entitlement programs to hide their de facto collapse and others certain that a Central Bank can always maintain a macroeconomic balance in favor of a growing monetary aggregate, and thus a stable inflationary bias, also known as the Goldilocks fantasy.
People who suggest, instead, that a 1930′s style deflation looms are treated to a chorus of catcalls, to say the least.
Is everyone on one side of the boat yet?
Most of Lew’s readership can agree on the ultimate outcome when the monetary system and much of economic activity are centrally "planned." Whether the denouement is a collapse in the value of the dollar (inflation) or collapse of outstanding credit (deflation), hard times are the inevitable result from decades of distortions layered into the U.S. (and world) economy.
Time will tell how all this plays out, but with vast numbers of people embracing debt as never before on the belief that repayment will be with wheelbarrows of shrinking dollars, it seems like they might someday find themselves shivering in the water under the widening shadow of the boat’s superstructure.
December 27, 2006