On Hold

Here in London, the financial world is “on hold,” as near as we can tell.

No one knows why. No one knows what will be said when someone finally picks up the phone.

But for the moment, everything is quiet.

We steer clear of politics. Money is our beat. But we can’t help notice that it is crowds of people that dominate markets as well as politics…and that group thinking leads them both, in similar ways, to do preposterous, absurd things.

“Group thinking” is, like “honest politicians,” an oxymoron. Groups do not think. Instead, they desire. They fear. They panic. They go mad from time to time — sometimes believing they can get rich without working or saving…sometimes believing that they can all live at someone else’s expense…sometimes hoping that expensive stocks will become even more expensive…and sometimes just getting lathered up and setting off, hellbent on some self-destructive mania.

An individual knows he cannot spend his way to wealth. But put him in a group, and he’s ready to believe that “consumer spending” can make the whole society rich.

An individual knows he cannot kill another individual without risking jail…or hell. But put him in a crowd, and he’s ready to declare war on people he’s never met for reasons he’s never understood.

Groups — such as stock market investors — are dangerous, unthinking mobs…

In the British press, we find a couple of things worth mentioning. A study of single people — divorced, widowed or never married — found that living alone was a bigger health risk than smoking.


We’ve never understood why government was so insistent on trying to stop people from smoking. It is a “health risk,” says the anti-tobacco crowd. But there are a lot of things people do that could shorten their lives. Why single out smoking?

“Smokers impose heavy costs on public health services,” was the answer. But so do those who eat too much, do not exercise or never marry (at least, that is the implication of today’s headline article).

Elsewhere in the London newspapers, we find that English researchers working on skeletons in a Mexico City museum have concluded that the bones found in Baja California do not belong to the same race of “Native Americans” who are believed to have come over across the Bering Strait some 10,000 years ago. The bones in question have much longer, narrower skulls than those of the Siberian tribes that settled North and South America. These people — whom the British researchers believe came here from Southeast Asia or Australia — were apparently already in Baja California when the northerners arrived. The Baja bones have been carbon dated to 12,500 years old. DNA tests will be forthcoming. Stay tuned.

And back in France…

Two things are becoming popular according to today’s papers. First, the film The Choirboys was such a hit in France that it has set off a whole new mode for singing in choral groups. New groups are forming all over the country, with more than 300,000 people participating.

The other thing that has become fashionable in France is intentionally goofing off at work. A new book, Hello Laziness, tells how to do it.

Even The New York Times has commented on the new trend. Because the book’s author urged readers to work at “spreading gangrene through the system from within” by appearing to work but not really doing anything. This is a revolutionary doctrine, for the French typically do the opposite: They appear not to work too hard, while actually getting a lot accomplished.

What got the book widespread coverage was that the author’s employer, the national electricity company, found out about it and tried to fire her. Of course, this being France…even openly advocating internal sabotage was not enough to make a dismissal stick. She would have had to murder the CEO and the entire executive board…and even then she’d probably be back at work in a few weeks, with her employer forced to provide back pay as well as extra counseling!

Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century.