DOW 36,000 Redux

Enrique Diaz-Alvarez enrique at
Sat Aug 21 08:48:58 PDT 1999

Rakesh Bhandari wrote:

> > Any thoughts?
> Well Enrique, I always look forward to yours. What is your explanation for
> the Dow being at around 2.5x its 'fair market' value? You may wish to
> respond to the list...

I am afraid my thoughts in this matter are not terribly original. I think this is one of the recurrent speculative insanities that afflict anglosaxon capitalism every generation or so. As to why it has gone on so far and for so long, farther and longer than any previous bubble, I can think of three reasons. First, the fiat monetary system. I don't think that the global printathon conducted by the central banks of developed countries, which has ultimately kept the US bubble going, would had been possible under any sort of hard-currency regime (not that I am a fan of those). Second, the Reagan revolution. By relentlessly redistributing wealth to the top 20%, it expanded massively the ranks of those who had enough liquid wealth to risk some of it on the stockmarket - the man with $6,000 in the bank is unlikely to send it to the market until _after_ the bubble is in full swing. Finally, the democratization of unsecured credit in the US, which has also expanded dramatically the number of people who indirectly buy stock on margin, by hocking their homes, their cars, or, in the case of credit cards, borrow money "on their face" to especulate.

My fairly uninformed opinion is that speculative insanity is a key feature of capitalist development, and that insufficent attention has been paid to it. Galbraith assigns to it a major role in the business cycle. I don't think its role is always negative, though: had investors not been caught up in euphoria, it is likely that many of the British and American railroads would not have been built; in fact, in most other countries were the attitudes toward investment are far more cautious, these had to be built by the state. People today fret about the internet bubble: I don't think what's so bad about relieving the rich and stupid of their money and using the part of it that isn't skimmed in stock options to build an excellent and mostly free information infrastructure.


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