The Economist Illumination

I never really understood much about international finance and economics until this morning, when I read a special, long article in this week’s The Economist. In the printed edition, the text begins on page 49; it is entitled The slumps that shaped modern finance.

I’ve been subscribing to, and reading, that “newspaper” (as their editors call it, while we Americans think of it as a magazine) for several years. But I have always labored to figure out what the hell they are writing about. In surveying many past issues, I have contented myself merely to check out the obituary, which is always on the last page. Then I would thumb through in a backwards, right to left, fashion to glean a little from what’s going on in the literary and arts world.

Perhaps my years of reading The Economist with so little comprehension have prepared me, unbeknownst to my cognitive mind, for the light-bulb moment I had this morning while reading their concise, 6-page history of financial crises. Be that as it may, the light of understanding finally shone in my head when I read, on pages 51-52, their explanation of the Panic of 1857.

“I think I understand . . .” Joni Mitchell had sung long ago, “fear is like a wilder land.”

Long story short, when investors think they are going to lose a lot of money they are overtaken with Fear, so they go hog-wild. Maybe that means the bulls retreat while the bears gather, but the hogs go crazy destroying the place.

Or, as the ’60s radicals use to call them, the “pigs.”

But I wouldn’t call anybody a pig. Maybe . . . a walrus.

Anyway, here is what’s interesting about the Panic of 1857: America was at that time an “emerging nation” that had expanded its explorative and technological frontiers beyond its ability to keep all the accounts straight and well-balanced. Consequently, the Brit financiers panicked, and all the money people around the world followed suit, including us.

Today, the shoe is on the other foot. We Americans are like the well-established powerhouse that the Brits were in the 19th century, while today’s “emerging” powers, the so-called BRICs and a few others, are in a position similar position to where we were in 1857, or 1907, or 1937.

Maybe the other shoe is about to drop, maybe not.

If you want to know something about how this plays out historically, I recommend you check it out. If you want to read it online, here it is: http://www.economist.com/

Smoke 

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