|Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's|
|HOME WEB LOG COUNTRY WIKI COMMENT FORUM DOWNLOADS ABOUT|
So is Thursday's speech on bubbles by Fed Governor Frederic S. Mishkin.
There's barely a sentence in Friday's front page Wall Street Journal article entitled, "Bernanke's Bubble Laboratory: Princeton Protégés of Fed Chief Study the Economics of Manias," that makes any sense at all.
Let's start with the first three paragraphs:
But how and why do bubbles form? Economists traditionally haven't offered much insight. From World War II till the mid-1990s, there weren't many U.S. investing manias for them to look at. The study of bubbles was left to economic historians sifting through musty records of 17th-century Dutch tulip-bulb prices and the like.
The dot-com boom began to change that. "You were seeing live, in action, the unfolding of lots of examples of valuations disconnecting from fundamentals," says Princeton economist Harrison Hong. Now, the study of financial bubbles is hot."
I read stuff like this, and it makes me want to tear my hear out.
I don't even understand how somebody write these sentences -- "From World War II till the mid-1990s, there weren't many U.S. investing manias for them to look at. ... The dot-com boom began to change that." -- and not even have the thought cross their minds, "Hmmmmm. Maybe the reason that there weren't bubbles from WW II to the mid-1990s is because the generations of survivors of the Great Depression were in charge."
How dense to do you have to be not to see something so obvious -- or at least ask the question and debate it?
And so, once again, we have some brilliant economics professors, this time from Princeton, who can't see the most obvious thing, right in front of their noses.
As I've said pointedly many times, mainstream economics and macroeconomics have been a total failure in predicting or explaining anything that's happened since the 1990s. Why did the dot-com bubble happen at all? No explanation. Why did it begin in 1995, rather than 1985 or 2005? No explanation. The obvious, simple explanation is that the early 1990s was the time when the generation of risk-averse survivors of the Great Depression all retired, all at once, but it never even crosses the minds of these people long enough to even debate it. It's such a difficult, abstract concept to these brilliant economics professors that they're totally oblivious to it.
And this sentence from the article is a real laugh: In order to study bubbles, you have to look through "musty records of 17th-century Dutch tulip-bulb prices and the like." This statement captures the contempt that journalists, analysts, professors and economists have today for anything that happened before they were born, as if the world were created just for them.
Well, what about the 1920s stock market bubble mania? Are those records too musty as well?
Lots of people have looked at those musty records. American Prospect's Robert Kuttner testified before Congress last year, comparing 2007 to 1929. Also last year, the Bank of International Settlements did an analysis, and predicted a coming 1930s style Depression. But I guess that kind of study is too musty for these people.
To repeat what I've said before, if you go back through history, there are many small or regional recessions. But since the 1600s there have been only five major international financial crises: the 1637 Tulipomania bubble, the South Sea bubble of the 1710s-20s, the bankruptcy of the French monarchy in the 1789, the Panic of 1857, and the 1929 Wall Street crash.
These are called "generational crashes" because they occur every 70-80 years, just as the generation of people who lived through the last one have all disappeared, and the younger generations have resumed the same dangerous credit securitization practices that led to the previous generational crash. After each of these generational crashes, the survivors impose new rules or laws to make sure that it never happens again. As soon as those survivors are dead, the new generations ignore the rules, thinking that they're just for "old people," and a new generational crash occurs.
We're now overdue for the next generational crash, and it might occur tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year.
Let's take another paragraph from the article:
This is about as silly a paragraph as you can imagine. How was electricity "tied" to the 1920s bubble??? Where do they come up with this stuff? (It turns out that technology is tied to something completely different -- K-cycles -- as I explained in "System Dynamics and the Failure of Macroeconomics Theory.")
This reasoning is a logical fallacy that has a name: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, which means, "After this, therefore because of this." In other words, if B occurs after A, then the fallacy is to conclude that A caused B.
Standard, mainstream economics, as practiced by standard, mainstream professors of economics at Princeton and other places, is FULL of Post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacies. Economists say, "Hmm. I don't understand why this recession occurred. Well, Congress did X the year before, so that must be the cause." Or, "Hmm. I don't understand why this real estate bubble occurred. Well, the Fed reduced interest rates in 2003, and that must be the cause." Of course, it never occurs to such people to wonder why other interest rate reductions didn't cause real estate bubbles, but that's what a logical fallacy entails.
In the article, the implication of the word "tied" is that the bubble was caused by electricity and autos, or at least was caused by something that gave rise to electricity and autos AND the bubble. This connection is made simply because they both happened at the same time.
Using this reasoning, one could argue that a huge bubble should have occurred in the 1960s-70s. There were huge developments in mainframe computers and minicomputers at that time, and almost every organization was running part of its business with the aid of computers. The Xerox machine was revolutionizing office procedures. Countries in Europe and Asia were recovering from WW II, and their economies were surging. America went off the gold standard. It was a perfect time for a bubble, but of course the bubble never happened. Why not?
The obvious reason is that the people running businesses and financial institutions at that time were all Great Depression survivors. But this possibility is never even suggested or debated. That's absolutely incredible to me.
But that's the way mainstream economics works. When the economists don't understand something, they say, "Gee, what was going on at the same time, or just before? That must be the cause."
This is all that mainstream economics does, and that's why it's always wrong. As I keep saying, mainstream economists didn't predict and can't explain the 1990s bubble or anything significant that's happened since then, including the current mess. Economists have almost a 0% success record. They poke around like a blind man in a room full of chairs, and every time they move, they trip and fall.
Let's take a look at another part of the article:
According to a model he developed with Mr. Scheinkman, investors dogmatically believe they are right and those who differ are wrong. And as one set of investors becomes less optimistic, another takes its place. Investors figure they can always sell at a higher price. That view leads to even more trading, and, at the extreme, stock prices can go beyond any individual investor's fundamental valuation."
I hope we didn't waste any taxpayer money developing a model that says that "investors ... believe they are right and those who differ are wrong."
This stuff tells you absolutely nothing why these bubbles occur. Once again we have the situation where the totally obvious explanation, the generational explanation, isn't even debated. Instead, you come up with crap like the above. This is what we get from Ben Bernanke's Princeton Department of Economics. It's really sickening.
"But," you may be thinking, "this is just a newspaper article. You're being unfair criticizing the article about the speech, when you should be looking at the actual sources.
Fair enough. Let's take a look at the actual speech, given by Fed Governor Frederic S. Mishkin on Thursday.
So far, so good.
At some point, however, the bubble bursts. The collapse in asset prices then leads to a reversal of the feedback loop in which loans go sour, lenders cut back on credit supply, the demand for the assets declines further, and prices drop even more. The resulting loan losses and declines in asset prices erode the balance sheets at financial institutions, further diminishing credit and investment across a broad range of assets. The decline in lending depresses business and household spending, which weakens economic activity and increases macroeconomic risk in credit markets.5 In the extreme, the interaction between asset prices and the health of financial institutions following the collapse of an asset price bubble can endanger the operation of the financial system as a whole."
Here we already see the major problem in the thinking of mainstream economists.
What he describes here is very important, the "feedback loop" that occurs when a credit bubble to be formed:
This "feedback loop" generates a bubble, with the following results:
This is all true, but it's about the silliest stuff imaginable. It's like saying that what happens when it's raining is that water drops fall onto things, with the result that things get wet. That's about as deep as it gets with these mainstream economists.
These are all things that happen before and during a bubble, but he's implying (sort of) that they cause the bubble, which is a Post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. And if he's not really assigning cause, then he's simply stating a collection of useless facts.
I'm going to raise the same question I asked earlier: Why was there no bubble in the 1960s and 1970s? I seem to vaguely recall some exuberant expectations in the computer field. And economists are always referring to "The Great Inflation of the 1970s," so there was plenty of asset appreciation. Why was there no bubble? Why was there no feedback loop? Why didn't lenders become less concerned about borrowers' ability to repay loans?
In fact, why were there no important bubbles at all from 1945 to 1995? If you've been studying economics your whole life, and you're a professor of economics, and you're a Fed governor, and you're a respected economist around the world, then why don't you answer the question? Why were there no bubbles until 1995, and then there was the dot-com bubble and the housing and credit bubbles? What answers do your macroeconomic models give you?
Once again, the obvious answer is that all the risk-averse Great Depression survivors retired in the early 90s, and were replaced in senior management positions by risk-seeking Boomers. But this is waaaaaaay too abstract and difficult for the world class mainstream economists to debate or even think about.
Do you wonder, Dear Reader, why I say I feel like tearing my hair out?
Continuing with Mishkin's speech, Mishkin says that "asset price bubbles can be hard to identify." Maybe some are, but the dot-com bubble was obviously a bubble in 1996 when Alan Greenspan made his "irrational exuberance" statement. So Mishkin is making excuses here. It's actually quite easy to identify the major bubbles, and I'll explain how later in this article.
Mishkin gives these reasons why raising interest rates, and other monetary tools, are not effective policies when a bubble is identified:
This is a very interesting paragraph when you understand that bubbles are caused by generational changes. When risk-seeking generations (like the Boomers and Gen-Xers) come into power, Fed interest rates are just part of the noise that these people ignore. If you're lying on your mortgage loan application, or if you're defrauding the public with worthless CDOs, then it makes no difference at all what the Fed funds rate is. So Mishkin is certainly correct that monetary or Fed policy will have no impact whatsoever on a generational bubble.
Instead, Mishkin recommends the adoption of regulations to "prevent future feedback loops." He says:
This paragraph contains another logical fallacy, circular reasoning. He's already described the feedback loop with high asset prices and increased credit, but then he refers to research that finds that banks have more money to lend at such times. They would need more money anyway to increase credit.
In other words, Mishkin really has nothing to offer for regulation proposals.
It's been clear for years that economists don't have a clue about regulating bubbles. There were plenty of regulations enacted in the 1930s, but as the Boomers took charge, they were all repealed or ignored. The amount of fraud occurring in the real estate and credit bubbles was massive and pervasive, and occurred at every level. That fraud is still occurring (see below), and so new regulations are useless, and probably harmful.
Economists these days are likely to say that it's impossible to identify a bubble. And yet, I knew in 2002 we were in a stock market bubble, and I knew in 2004 we were in a real estate and credit bubble. If it's so hard to identify a bubble, then how the hell did I know? And Alan Greenspan knew that there was a stock market bubble in 1996 when he made his "irrational exuberance" speech. How did he know?
The parts of Mishkin's speech that I quoted so far are merely vacuous, but when it comes to the subject of identifying bubbles, Mishkin should be a standup comedian.
Consider the following from the speech:
This is a hilarious argument. Mishkin says that central bankers are no more able to detect bubbles than ordinary investors are. Well, Greenspan saw the dot-com bubble in 1996, and he saw the real estate and credit bubbles in 2004-2005, but "the market participants" didn't do so. This is just another dumb statement.
Anyway, it's very easy to detect a stock market bubble, as I showed in "How to compute the 'real value' of the stock market."
The steps for determining a bubble are as follows:
You can apply this kind of analysis directly to the stock market values themselves, as I showed in "How to compute the 'real value' of the stock market."
But in that article, I actually started with something easier to see, the S&P Price Earnings index, with the following graph, which I've posted many times before:
Now, can Mishkin or anyone else possibly look at this graph and say, "Duh! I have no idea whether we're in a stock market bubble."? It's utter nonsense.
The above graph is modified from the one you've seen before -- a web site reader modified my graph to fill in the purple and green colors. He wrote to me as follows:
This is exactly what the Law of Mean Reversion means. The historic average of the P/E1 (price divided by one-year trailing earnings) is about 14. From 1995 to the present, it's averaged around 25. You don't have to be a Fed Governor or a Princeton professor of economics to see that there's a bubble. Why is it that I can see it, and my web site reader can see it, but Bernanke and Mishkin can't see it?
You know, back in 2004-2005 I was commenting on all of Greenspan's speeches. I agreed with some things, disagreed with other things, but his speeches always made sense and contained real content. But I've heard barely a single coherent statement from any economist since Greenspan. This speech by Mishkin was ridiculous, and the recent statements by economics Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz verged on total absurdity.
Alan Greenspan said some remarkable things as Fed chairman. Actually, they didn't seem remarkable at the time, but compared to what we've been hearing lately, they're incredible.
Well, admittedly Greenspan used circular reasoning when he discussed the housing bubble in 2004, but at least he recognized the possible existence of a housing bubble -- something that no one else fathomed throughout 2005 and 2006.
And then there was Greenspan's incredible reversal of opinion in February 2005. That was quite possibly the most significant speech of this entire decade, and yet I've never seen a single article (except on this web site) mention it, or a single commentator comment on it.
Greenspan had previously said that after making his "irrational exuberance" remark in 1996, he and the Fed had decided not to deal with the bubble, but to wait until the bubble burst, and then deal with its consequences -- by lowering interest rates to near-zero. In 2004, he expressed satisfaction with this strategy and concluded "that our strategy of addressing the bubble's consequences, rather than the bubble itself, has been successful."
During 2004, he began to express increasing concern, and in February 2005, he reversed himself completely with the statement, "The dramatic advances over the past decade in virtually all measures of globalisation have resulted in an international economic environment with little relevant historical precedent." He didn't predict a crash at that time, but he repudiated his previous reasoning and said, in essence, that he had no idea what was going on in the world.
Can you imagine Ben Bernanke admitting to any such reversal of opinion? Can you imagine any of these other mainstream economists doing it? None of them has the spine.
By August 2005, Greenspan discussed the danger of risk aversion, when he said: "Any onset of increased investor caution elevates risk premiums and, as a consequence, lowers asset values and promotes the liquidation of the debt that supported higher asset prices. This is the reason that history has not dealt kindly with the aftermath of protracted periods of low risk premiums."
This is exactly what happened what happened with the credit crunch in August of last year. Do you remember how everyone was caught by surprise by the credit crunch? And yet, Greenspan specifically predicted it two years earlier.
In December 2005, Greenspan gave a harsh doom and gloom speech, predicting many of the economic problems we're seeing now.
Even after leaving the Fed, Greenspan has often spoken out. For example, in September 2007, he admitted that macroeconomic forecasting is a failure, which is something that I've been saying for a long time, for much the same reasons that Greenspan gave.
The point I'm making here is that Greenspan said things of substance, whether I agreed with him or not -- but they had substance. His reasoning was powerful, and made economic sense.
But no one since then is anything like that. Whether it's Bernanke or Mishkin or Stiglitz or any of the others I've commented on, they say things that are hopelessly ridiculous. Why is that? Is there something in the water that's making economists increasingly stupid?
How is it possible that these economists are saying such stupid things?
I'm becoming increasingly convinced that they must be hiding their own complicity in what happened, and possibly committed fraudulent acts themselves.
It's already become very well-known how much fraud occurred in the financial and real estate industries already.
The housing bubble was caused by massive fraud throughout the entire financial and real estate industries, from top to bottom, whether it was homeowners lying on their applications, construction firms colluding with appraisers and brokers to get kickbacks by over-valuing homes, lenders who resold mortgages without checking any of the claims, lenders who adopted predatory lending practices, granting loans to people with no hope of making payments, investment banks that securitized loans based on the assumption that real estate prices would rise forever, ratings firms and monoline insurers that took fat fees to lie about these potentially worthless securities.
This fraud, this depravity, permeated EVERY financial institution at EVERY level, almost without any exception. Is it possible that the same amount of fraud didn't also permeate university Economics departments?
These professors of economics were smart enough to become professors of economics, and to understand the complex financial models that were being developed, but today they're too stupid to say anything coherent about them.
Writing for this web site, and writing about this massive fraud, has not only sickened me, but has made me about the most cynical person on earth. These economists can't possibly be as stupid as their statements, so they must be lying to cover up their own complicity and fraud.
Incidentally, let's be clear about this: The worst fraud occurred in 2007, when everybody already knew that these CDOs were becoming worthless. This realization only caused the financial institutions to speed up their activities, before it might be too late for the managers to get their fat bonuses.
And the fraud is continuing today, and is being encouraged by government regulators. Thanks to false statements by financial institution executives, worthless assets are still on the books at high valuations, defrauding investors who count on these valuations to decide whether to invest in the financial institution's stock. And government regulators are specifically saying that financial institutions should not write down their assets until they have to.
That's why this whole business about new regulations is nonsense. And it's why we might as well assume that university economics departments are participating in the fraud as much as everyone else is.
There's one other point relevant to this discussion, and that's the "Greenspeak" or "Fed speak" joke that journalists and analysts make, and that Greenspan himself has mentioned.
According to this view, Greenspan was impossible to understand because he used convoluted language. This whole subject is totally ridiculous. Maybe while he's talking you can't understand what he's saying, but anyone can read his speeches over and over again, as I've done, and understand everything that he's saying. For hotshot financial reporters at the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times or on CNBC to say that they can't figure out what Greenspan is saying is simply an admission of their own stupidity.
What these financial reporters and analysts are exhibiting is what I've been calling "lenscap stupidity." This refers to a February, 2007, photo showing Israeli defense minister Amir Peretz spending a half-hour military briefing looking through binoculars with the lenscap on. How stupid do you have to be to keep looking through binoculars with the lenscap on?
And remember, this was the guy in charge of the armed forces during Israel's disastrous 2006 war with Lebanon. No wonder Israel panicked, went to war with no plan, and stumbled from one strategy to another. The Defense Minister was looking at the war through binoculars with the lenscap on.
Looking at facts through binoculars with the lenscap on has several advantages. It lets you imagine any facts you want, and ignore any facts you want.
The same lenscap stupidity is exhibited by Greg Ip at the Wall Street Journal, by Steve Lieseman at CNBC, and by economists like Mishkin and Stiglitz. The reason that they say such moronic things is that they're looking at the facts through binoculars with the lenscap on.
I guess what I'm coming to realize is this: Love him or hate him, Alan Greenspan is the last economist in recent times who actually looks at the facts. He seems to be the last economist not to exhibit lenscap stupidity.
And that probably also means that he's the last major economist not to have participated in fraudulent activities himself.
The P/E ratio graph that appears several paragraphs back in this article is the simplest and most obvious proof that we're in a stock market bubble, and that there's going to be a crash. That's just a straightforward P/E ratio graph, and the reason you never see it in the newspapers or on CNBC is because it's too frightening for people with lenscap stupidity.
But while we're on the subject of how you can detect whether there's a stock market bubble, I want to display again a graph that I used in an article last November:
This graph shows the Dow Industrials since 1950, with a (blue) trend line computed back to the 1890s. For the complete discussion of this graph, see the original article.
The first thing to notice is that the Law of Mean Reversion applies, and the Dow will have to fall well below the blue line for a long time to maintain the same average. That alone means that we've been in a huge bubble since 1995, and that there's a huge crash coming.
But I want to dwell for a moment for the two points labeled on the graph as "Points of inflection." When I started looking at this subject in 2002, I noticed the sharp corner in the curve that occurred in 1995, and I knew that this had to be extremely significant. Things in nature tend to be continuous, and this corner was a discontinuity in the first and second derivatives of the moving averages. Later, the second point of inflection in 2003 became apparent.
These discontinuities must be explained. In my original article, I gave a generational explanation of these points of inflection.
Mainstream economics can't explain anything about bubbles, so macroeconomic theory is useless in explaining these points of inflection. And the Princeton "bubble laboratory" is completely on the wrong track -- they can't even explain something simple, like why there were no bubbles in the 1960s-70s, let alone something more sophisticated like these points of inflection.
So this article is written to some future macroeconomics researcher, in a less fraudulent generation, who actually wants to figure out why bubbles occur, and what can be done about them. The key is to incorporate System Dynamics into macroeconomic models, and to study such things as those points of inflection. This is way beyond the capabilities of the current generation of researchers.
In the meantime, we'll just have to watch mainstream economists blunder from one policy to the next and one theory to the next, and suffer the consequences as they make the coming financial crisis even worse than it might have been.
I've estimated that the probability of a major financial crisis (generational stock market panic and
crash) in any given week from now on is about 3%. The probability of
a crisis some time in the next 52 weeks is 75%, according to this
Receive daily World View columns by e-mail
Donate to Generational Dynamics via PayPal
Web Log Summary - 2016
Web Log Summary - 2015
Web Log Summary - 2014
Web Log Summary - 2013
Web Log Summary - 2012
Web Log Summary - 2011
Web Log Summary - 2010
Web Log Summary - 2009
Web Log Summary - 2008
Web Log Summary - 2007
Web Log Summary - 2006
Web Log Summary - 2005
Web Log Summary - 2004
Web Log - December, 2016
Web Log - November, 2016
Web Log - October, 2016
Web Log - September, 2016
Web Log - August, 2016
Web Log - July, 2016
Web Log - June, 2016
Web Log - May, 2016
Web Log - April, 2016
Web Log - March, 2016
Web Log - February, 2016
Web Log - January, 2016
Web Log - December, 2015
Web Log - November, 2015
Web Log - October, 2015
Web Log - September, 2015
Web Log - August, 2015
Web Log - July, 2015
Web Log - June, 2015
Web Log - May, 2015
Web Log - April, 2015
Web Log - March, 2015
Web Log - February, 2015
Web Log - January, 2015
Web Log - December, 2014
Web Log - November, 2014
Web Log - October, 2014
Web Log - September, 2014
Web Log - August, 2014
Web Log - July, 2014
Web Log - June, 2014
Web Log - May, 2014
Web Log - April, 2014
Web Log - March, 2014
Web Log - February, 2014
Web Log - January, 2014
Web Log - December, 2013
Web Log - November, 2013
Web Log - October, 2013
Web Log - September, 2013
Web Log - August, 2013
Web Log - July, 2013
Web Log - June, 2013
Web Log - May, 2013
Web Log - April, 2013
Web Log - March, 2013
Web Log - February, 2013
Web Log - January, 2013
Web Log - December, 2012
Web Log - November, 2012
Web Log - October, 2012
Web Log - September, 2012
Web Log - August, 2012
Web Log - July, 2012
Web Log - June, 2012
Web Log - May, 2012
Web Log - April, 2012
Web Log - March, 2012
Web Log - February, 2012
Web Log - January, 2012
Web Log - December, 2011
Web Log - November, 2011
Web Log - October, 2011
Web Log - September, 2011
Web Log - August, 2011
Web Log - July, 2011
Web Log - June, 2011
Web Log - May, 2011
Web Log - April, 2011
Web Log - March, 2011
Web Log - February, 2011
Web Log - January, 2011
Web Log - December, 2010
Web Log - November, 2010
Web Log - October, 2010
Web Log - September, 2010
Web Log - August, 2010
Web Log - July, 2010
Web Log - June, 2010
Web Log - May, 2010
Web Log - April, 2010
Web Log - March, 2010
Web Log - February, 2010
Web Log - January, 2010
Web Log - December, 2009
Web Log - November, 2009
Web Log - October, 2009
Web Log - September, 2009
Web Log - August, 2009
Web Log - July, 2009
Web Log - June, 2009
Web Log - May, 2009
Web Log - April, 2009
Web Log - March, 2009
Web Log - February, 2009
Web Log - January, 2009
Web Log - December, 2008
Web Log - November, 2008
Web Log - October, 2008
Web Log - September, 2008
Web Log - August, 2008
Web Log - July, 2008
Web Log - June, 2008
Web Log - May, 2008
Web Log - April, 2008
Web Log - March, 2008
Web Log - February, 2008
Web Log - January, 2008
Web Log - December, 2007
Web Log - November, 2007
Web Log - October, 2007
Web Log - September, 2007
Web Log - August, 2007
Web Log - July, 2007
Web Log - June, 2007
Web Log - May, 2007
Web Log - April, 2007
Web Log - March, 2007
Web Log - February, 2007
Web Log - January, 2007
Web Log - December, 2006
Web Log - November, 2006
Web Log - October, 2006
Web Log - September, 2006
Web Log - August, 2006
Web Log - July, 2006
Web Log - June, 2006
Web Log - May, 2006
Web Log - April, 2006
Web Log - March, 2006
Web Log - February, 2006
Web Log - January, 2006
Web Log - December, 2005
Web Log - November, 2005
Web Log - October, 2005
Web Log - September, 2005
Web Log - August, 2005
Web Log - July, 2005
Web Log - June, 2005
Web Log - May, 2005
Web Log - April, 2005
Web Log - March, 2005
Web Log - February, 2005
Web Log - January, 2005
Web Log - December, 2004
Web Log - November, 2004
Web Log - October, 2004
Web Log - September, 2004
Web Log - August, 2004
Web Log - July, 2004
Web Log - June, 2004