LONDON – Whew! The Dow shot up on Wednesday morning and fell in the afternoon. Not a good sign [ed. note: indeed, it wasn’t]. We have to be careful not to say anything controversial today. Otherwise, we won’t be able to keep up with the mail. (Catch up on our controversial essays about the Oregon situation here and here.)
What other people think matters. People get upset – even homicidal – over ideas and myths, not reality. Catholic, Protestant, Shiite, Sunni, Democrat, Republican, land rights in the West… captured U.S. soldiers… racial slurs… the master race…
Manifest Destiny… terrorism… global warming – there is no idea so bogus it can’t be the cause of a government program or a massacre. Thoughts – like viruses – enter the brains of humans and take control of them.
Then, acting as though they know what they are doing, people try to “improve” the world around them. They tax, kill, argue, torture, demonstrate, seize public land, write letters to the editor, and call up Rush Limbaugh. Ditto to that!
The cause is always a worthy one, of course. And there are always people to blame… people standing in the way of a better world. They must be forced to wear seat belts and sign up for health insurance – for their own good.
The Johnny Rebs must be kept in the Union. Incomes should be more “equitable.” Trade should be fair. Hey, what about the Declaration of Independence? And don’t forget to free the Holy Land!
What you think is what you get… no matter how absurd. And then, reality imposes itself, and you get something else altogether, often the exact opposite of what you wanted.
Reality doesn’t care what you think. Thoughts hardly matter. Reality happens whether you want it or not. Nobody threatens his weatherman when the temperature falls; everyone knows it’s not his fault. The sun shines. We grow old and die. Three aces beat two pair.
An extra-careful look at uncaring reality …
So, what are markets? Myth? Or reality? Answer: They are both. In the short run, they are myth spinners. If everyone believes the economy is healthy and prices will rise, they probably will rise… at least for a while. But in the long run, reality sets in. No matter how many people expect – and want – prices to continue to go up, at some point, they will go down.
No amount of wishful thinking can erase debt, create profits, or stop markets from going up and down. There is always some truth that overrides delusions, myths, and group-think.
Poverty, Misery, and Quasi-Slavery
Think back to the all the 20th century experiments with socialism and central planning; Russia, China, and Venezuela come to mind readily. Did they lead to the workers’ paradise that the proles were promised?
Did they create the rational, productive, and fair economies that people expected? Nope! They led to poverty, misery, and quasi-slavery for millions of people. Even the most fantastical myths have real consequences.
An uplifting image from the world’s last remaining Stalinist paradise.
Photo credit: gregandcathsadventures
Pity the poor virgin; she dismissed a myth as “superstition.” Then, they tossed her in the volcano anyway. Then when the grumbling volcano grew silent: “Look, it worked,” they said, giving each other high fives until the hot ash fell on their heads and the burning lava covered their feet.
One of the most surprising and disturbing myths today is the myth of “terrorism.”
This is not to say that there aren’t real flesh-and-blood terrorists. But they are hardly a serious threat to the U.S. or to its people. And “going after terrorists” doesn’t necessarily make you safer… as the invasion of Iraq proved in spades.
But the power of the myth is so strong that every Republican presidential candidate believes it will take him to the White House. The politicos ride the myth; then the myth rides them.
From Dream to Nightmare
Take Hitler’s myth that Germany had to build up its army to wipe out enemies on all sides and gain “living space.” At first, it seemed to make sense. Then the myth began a trend. And the trend took on a life of its own. Soon, there was no stopping the Nazis’ “security industry” – led by Hitler himself. His Thousand-Year Reich stormed over Europe for six years.
Then it met its own horrific apocalypse. The dream had brought its own nightmare. Germany was bombed, defeated, destroyed. The supposedly invincible Wehrmacht had provoked the Red Army; once roused, the Reds were unstoppable.
What the 1,000-year Reich looked like after six years (Nuremberg, Egidienplatz) …
Reality was grim. Roughly 1 out of every 10 Germans – more than 7 million of them – died in the war. The invading Soviet soldiers raped thousands of German women… and countless others committed suicide to avoid this fate. And Germany’s Jewish population was almost totally wiped out.
Investing in a myth can bring the same perverse results. Investors piled into stocks after 2009 because they believed a potent myth: The Fed had “saved the day.” Bernanke was a hero. We were on the road to recovery.
The more widespread the belief became (and let’s not forget that it was supported by the Fed’s EZ money), the more stocks rose… apparently confirming the truth of it.
But the higher the stock market went… and the more debt increased… the more the whole shebang wobbled and lurched. Now, investors may get what they least want: a deep and extended bear market.
Chart by: BigCharts
Chart and image captions by PT
The above article originally appeared as “The Hidden Reason Why Stocks Are Tumbling…” at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.
Dear Readers! We are happy to report that we have reached our turn-of-the-year funding goal and want to extend a special thank you to all of you who have chipped in. We are very grateful for your support! As a general remark, according to usually well informed circles, exercising the donation button in between funding drives is definitely legal and highly appreciated as well.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
Most read in the last 20 days:
- How the Welfare State Dies
Hollande Threatens to Ban Protests Brexit has diverted attention from another little drama playing out in Europe. As of the time of writing, if you Google “Hollande threatens to ban protests” or variations thereof, you will find Russian, South African and even Iranian press reports on the topic. Otherwise, it's basically crickets (sole exception: Politico). Gee, we wonder why? They don't like him anymore: 120.000 protesters recently turned Paris into a war zone. All...
- Toward Freedom: Will The UK Write History?
Mutating Promises We are less than one week away from the EU referendum, the moment when the British people will be called upon to make a historic decision – will they vote to “Brexit” or to “Bremain”? Both camps have been going at each other with fierce campaigns to tilt the vote in their direction, but according to the latest polls, with the “Leave” camp’s latest surge still within the margin of error, the outcome is too close to call. The battle lines are...
- A Market Ready to Blow and the Flag of the Conquerors
Bold Prediction MICHAELS, Maryland – The flag in front of our hotel flies at half-mast. The little town of St. Michaels is a tourist and conference destination on the Chesapeake Bay. It is far from Orlando, and even farther from Daesh (a.k.a. ISIL) and the Mideast. St. Michaels, Maryland – the town that fooled the British (they say, today). Photo credit: Fletcher6 Out on the river, a sleek sailboat, with lacquered wood trim, glides by, making hardly a...
- Going... Going... Gone! The EU Begins to Splinter
Dark Social Mood Tsunami Washes Ashore Early this morning one might have been forgiven for thinking that Japan had probably just been hit by another tsunami. The Nikkei was down 1,300 points, the yen briefly soared above par. Gold had intermittently gained 100 smackers – if memory serves, the biggest nominal intra-day gain ever recorded (with the possible exception of one or two days in early 1980). Here is a picture of Haruhiko Kuroda in front of his Bloomberg monitor this...
- Rule Britannia
A Glorious Day What a glorious day for Britain and anyone among you who continues to believe in the ideas of liberty, freedom, and sovereign democratic rule. The British people have cast their vote and I have never ever felt so relieved about having been wrong. Against all expectations, the leave camp somehow managed to push the referendum across the center line, with 51.9% of voters counted electing to leave the European Union. Waving good-bye to...
- The Problem with Corporate Debt
Taking Off Like a Rocket There are actually two problems with corporate debt. One is that there is too much of it... the other is that a lot of it appears to be going sour. Harvey had a good time in recent years...well, not so much between mid 2014 and early 2016, but happy days are here again! Cartoon by Frank Modell As a brief report at Marketwatch last week (widely ignored as far as we are aware) informs us: “Businesses racked up debt in the...
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
A Convocation Of Gamblers The Wall Street Journal and BloombergView have just run articles on the shadow banking system in China. This has put me in a nostalgic mood. About 35 years ago when I was living in Japan, I made a side trip to Hong Kong. Asia's Sin City, Macau Photo credit: Nattee Chalermtiragool I took the hydrofoil to Macau one afternoon and the same service back early the next morning. On the morning trip, I am sure that I saw many of the...
- A Darwin Award for Capital Allocation
Beyond Human Capacity Distilling down and projecting out the economy’s limitless spectrum of interrelationships is near impossible to do with any regular accuracy. The inputs are too vast. The relationships are too erratic. The economy - complex and ever-changing interrelations. Image credit: Andrea Dionne Quite frankly, keeping tabs on it all is beyond human capacity. This also goes for the federal government. Even with all their data gatherers and...
- Janet Yellen’s $200-Trillion Debt Problem
Blame “Brexit” BALTIMORE – The U.S. stock market broke its losing streak on Thursday [and even more so on Monday, ed.]. After five straight losing sessions, the Dow eked out a 92-point gain. The financial media didn’t know what to say about it. So, we ended up with the typical inanities, myths, and claptrap. “Investors” are pushing the DJIA back up again..apparently any excuse will do at the moment. The idea may backfire though, as exactly the same thing happened...
- The Fed’s Doomsday Device
Bezzle BALTIMORE – Barron’s, in a lather, says the market is facing the “Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Huh? Only two? There were four last time! Supposedly, the so-called Brexit – the vote in Britain this Thursday on whether to leave or remain in the European Union (EU) – and uncertainty over where the Fed will take U.S. interest rates are cutting down stocks faster than a Z-turn mower. But Brexit is a side show. As our contacts in London...
- Gold and Brexit
Going Up for the Wrong Reason Gold is soaring. It should—and a lot—but in my view not for the reason it is. Indeed gold is insurance for uncertain times, a time that Brexit seems to represent. But insurance is an administrative cost — one must minimize its use. August gold contract, daily – gold has been strong of late, but this seems to be driven by “Brexit” fears - click to enlarge. Moreover, insuring against Brexit might ironically be equivalent...
- Brexit Paranoia Creeps Into the Markets
European Stocks Look Really Bad... Late last week stock markets around the world weakened and it seemed as though recent “Brexit” polls showing that the “leave” campaign has obtained a slight lead provided the trigger. The idea was supported by a notable surge in the British pound's volatility. Battening down the hatches... On the other hand, if one looks at European stocks, one could just as well argue that their bearish trend is simply continuing – and...