The next economic bubble

Tom James @ 18-08-2009

foam_bubblesOne of the many fascinating aspects of the recent crisis of credit is discovering that many people predicted something like this would happen as far back as 2002, like the hilarious stockbroker/blogger Daniel Davies does here. Since reading his analysis of the post dot-com boom I have been on the look out for similar predictions of the next big bubble. And here we have one from Peter Boone and Simon Johnson at the New York Times:

The next global bubble is already under way. What happens when the most powerful nation in the world, with a reserve currency everyone trusts and holds, decides to push a big credit expansion — again, at the instigation of our financial sector? The creditworthy borrowers this time are not in the United States — they are in Asia, Latin America, and even Africa. They have little debt and great prospects; for a mere 1 percent per year they can borrow American dollars, spend the funds at home, and turn paper money into real assets. Every great bubble begins with a truly convincing shift in fundamentals.

In the 1990s this was called the “carry trade.” You borrowed from the Japanese at 1 percent and bought anything outside Japan that yielded a bit more (including United States subprime mortgages). The coming American carry trade is the same thing: it weakens the dollar, lifts the economy out of recession through exports, and creates inflation that reduces the real value of our debts.

It will be interesting to see whether this latest scheme works superbly forever or results in a collassal failure some years down the line. But if and when it does fail and results in another recession it will kind of suck.

Are recessions a normal and inevitable part of capitalism and free markets as they currently exist, and if so, is there something that can be done to improve the situation?

[from the New York Times][image from woodleywonderworks on flickr]

Games and economic misbehaviour

Tom James @ 03-08-2009

wolfram_fractalsGeorge Dyson has an excellent and compelling essay on game theory, economics, information theory, computer science, banking, finance, technology, and John von Neumann:

We are surrounded by codes (some Turing-universal) that make copies of themselves, and by physical machines that spawn virtual machines that in turn spawn demand for more physical machines. Some digital sequences code for spreadsheets, some code for music, some code for operating systems, some code for sprawling, metazoan search engines, some code for proteins, some code for the gears used in numerically-controlled gear-cutting machines, and, increasingly, some code for DNA belonging to individuals who serve as custodians and creators of more code. “It is easier to write a new code than to understand an old one,” von Neumann warned.

The monograph over on Edge discusses von Neumann’s intellectual antecendants and the development of game theory and statistical modelling. It also includes some interesting commentary on our recent economic difficulties. Definitely worth a read.

[image from kevindooley on flickr]

What does the financial crisis mean for the future?

Tomas Martin @ 19-03-2008

A joker puts the value of a share on the $1Billion headquarters of failed bank Bear StearnsWith the sale of Bear Stearns for £2 a share on Sunday (it was worth £170 a share in April last year), the Credit Crunch claimed a high-profile casualty. But in the long run, what does a possible US and global recession bode, after things clear up? Some people think this may be the worst we get, others think there’s a fair few other banks and businesses looking shaky. However it continues, there’s no doubt that the markets are going to change following the collapse of a lot of mortage-based finance.

The crisis has been caused by an decrease in the enforcement on banking legislation. Without sufficient checks, financial companies offered loans to people who couldn’t afford it, then traded the loans like shares across the world economy. As lenders failed to pay up and defaulted, the companies who traded the paper behind the loans began to make losses and a lack of trust led to less liquidity, or money available for lending between firms. Bear Stearns was one of the companies most at risk, like Northern Rock here in the UK.

Many economists and analysts are starting to look at the repercussions of the credit crunch. Some say that the reduced interest rates by the Federal Reserve and Bank Of England will lead to inflation problems, especially with commodities like wheat, gold and oil recently at all-time highs. Others compare the crisis to other recessions around the world. Although Japan in the eighties and the Great Depression are scary comparisons to make, some say that Sweden in the early nineties is the best one to make, and a good example of how the Fed can get out of this situation: more regulation to clear that bad debt quickly.

But if we’re looking at ways to stimulate the economy, surely we should be looking at moving the focus away from the financial markets and ‘bubbles’? During the dotcom and housing bubbles, wages have stagnated and many have succumbed to borrowing large amounts to keep consuming. A possible solution: invest in new infrastructure for alternative energies, mass public transport and energy-efficient products. Jobs will be created to keep the economy afloat and the financial world could settle to a fairer and more balanced system.

[photo via Calculated Risk]