For the past year I’ve been having periodic discussions with a friend who has a nice amount of money which he invests (he’s a single male cresting up to his peak earning years after receiving an advanced science degree from an elite institution). He is pessimistic about the long term prospects for the American economy, and believes that the current run of stock market gains are simply a bear market rally. Even when he made his assertion last year I pointed out that if it was a bear market rally it was unprecedented in its magnitude. Of course I wasn’t too confident about appealing to historical precedents after what’s happened in the past few years. Look at the comments I elicited after mooting fears of a recession in May 2007. I know some of the commenters are regular readers to this day, so I hope everyone enjoys watching the frankly moronic confidence. I use the term not as an aspersion but as an accurate description of the hubris and complacency on display. I myself told a friend that the credit crisis was overblown in the summer of 2008, relying on moronic conventional wisdom from overeducated morons that the Great Moderation was in effect. I was wrong, and I don’t have a word to capture the contempt which I have for the likes of me, a fool who relied naively on the foolish. I am reckoned a young man by some, so that’s the excuse I’ll give.
With all that stated then as to my profound uncertainty I have to say I’m a bit perplexed by green shoots of economic optimism which seem to be sprouting here and there. Ultimately I would dismiss this, but the stock market performance is mystifying to me. We know from historical precedent that market run ups presage economic growth in the future. This is presumably because investors are pricing information which they receive before the rest of us, and the NBER, and so give us a more accurate crowd-sourced preview of the future. But like my friend I have a hard time understanding where the fundamentals are which could give rise to a robust cycle of growth. We are, thankfully in my mind, being weaned off of consumer credit. So we can’t fake the growth through debt fueled consumption, we have to produce. But what new technologies are causing structural changes in the economy? I don’t see it.
But it is important to remember that most people didn’t see the internet being of economic relevance in 1994. Deep into 1995 Microsoft was “all in” on the next big technological breakthrough…interactive television! And while the .com bubble was blowing up no one had any idea of the awesome investing potential represented by the revolutionary economics of 21st century homebuilding…oh, oops! But let’s just assume that the stock market is telling us something real, that growth which is not fueled by consumers or the state taking on more debt is in the offing. Where does that growth come from?
I have no idea, so I’ll offer a speculative theory: in the next few years we’ll see the rise of magic, which will revolutionize modern economies with supernatural green forms of transport. Screw the Segway, imagine how efficient magic carpets will be as personal vehicles! Not only do they run on supernatural fuel which has no carbon footprint (all the waste is emitted in magicland, which is parallel to the real world), but they take up very little space, and are multipurpose as well as aesthetically customizable. The main downside is you’re exposed to the elements, and velocity has to be modest so you don’t fall off the carpet.
You might think this is a silly prediction to offer. So what’s your theory? Peter Thiel has billions, invested in PayPal and Facebook, and claimed that the markets are not so dumb that they’ll invest irrationally in a new bubble for a generation after being burned twice in the past 10 years. Is Thiel wrong? Are the markets not-so-efficient. Or are we going to have to get ready for some magic?
I seek a true guide to the perplexed, not platitudes from latter day kleptocrapts.