Sunday, June 7, 2015

Of stock market bubbles etc

(From "The

History repeats frequently when it comes to financial euphoria. If the seemingly obvious lessons from these episodes going back almost 400 years haven't been learned yet, chances are it isn't going to be any different the next time.

Galbraith explains why these bubbles recur so often with what he calls "financial memory" (or the lack thereof). Basically every 20 years the new players involved in the financial system, the so-called smart money**, become convinced "it's different this time" because of some new innovation, financial or otherwise (ie. The Joint Stock Corporation in the 1700's, holding companies in the 1920's, junk bonds in the 1980's, internet stocks in the late 90's, derivatives like CDO, CDS etc more recently). Here are some relevant excerpts from John Kenneth Galbraith's book, A Short History of Financial Euphoria:

"The world of finance hails the invention of the wheel over and over again, often in a slightly more unstable version. All financial innovation involves, in one form or another, the creation of debt secured in greater or lesser adequacy by real assets." - John Kenneth Galbraith in A Short History of Financial Euphoria (Page 19)

"All [financial] crises have involved debt that, in one fashion or another, has become dangerously out of scale in relation to the underlying means of payment." - John Kenneth Galbraith 
in A Short History of Financial Euphoria (Page 20)

"Let it be emphasized once more, and especially to anyone inclined to a personally rewarding skepticism in these matters: for practical purposes, the financial memory should be assumed to last, at a maximum, no more than 20 years. This is normally the time it takes for the recollection of one disaster to be erased and for some variant on previous dementia to come forward to capture the financial mind. It is also the time generally required for a new generation to enter the scene, impressed, as had been its predecessors, with its own innovative genius." - John Kenneth Galbraith in A Short History of Financial Euphoria (Page 87)

One of the common elements in these episodes is the use of debt to finance speculation.

Historically, the so-called financial innovations from these episodes of euphoria have just been leverage in a different guise.

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