Article — From the February 2008 issue

The Next Bubble

Priming the markets for tomorrow’s next big crash

A financial bubble[1] is a market aberration manufactured by government, finance, and industry, a shared speculative hallucination and then a crash, followed by depression. Bubbles were once very rare—one every hundred years or so was enough to motivate politicians, bearing the post-bubble ire of their newly destitute citizenry, to enact legislation that would prevent subsequent occurrences. After the dust settled from the 1720 crash of the South Sea Bubble, for instance, British Parliament passed the Bubble Act to forbid “raising or pretending to raise a transferable stock.” For a century this law did much to prevent the formation of new speculative swellings.

[1] I will use the familiar term “bubble” as a shorthand, but note that it confuses cause with effect. A better, if ungainly, descriptor would be “asset-price hyperinflation”—the huge spike in asset prices that results from a perverse self-reinforcing belief system, a fog that clouds the judgment of all but the most aware participants in the market. Asset hyperinflation starts at a certain stage of market development under just the right conditions. The bubble is the result of that financial madness, seen only when the fog rolls away.

Nowadays we barely pause between such bouts of insanity. The dot-com crash of the early 2000s should have been followed by decades of soul-searching; instead, even before the old bubble had fully deflated, a new mania began to take hold on the foundation of our long-standing American faith that the wide expansion of home ownership can produce social harmony and national economic well-being. Spurred by the actions of the Federal Reserve, financed by exotic credit derivatives and debt securitiztion, an already massive real estate sales-and-marketing program expanded to include the desperate issuance of mortgages to the poor and feckless, compounding their troubles and ours.

That the Internet and housing hyperinflations transpired within a period of ten years, each creating trillions of dollars in fake wealth, is, I believe, only the beginning. There will and must be many more such booms, for without them the economy of the United States can no longer function. The bubble cycle has replaced the business cycle.

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is the founder and president of <a href="http://itulip.com">iTulip, Inc.</a> He formerly served as managing director of the venture firm Osborn Capital, CEO of AutoCell, Inc. and Bluesocket, Inc., and entrepreneur-in-residence for Trident Capital.

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  • Shaun

    Haha, this article was writing about the housing bubble pre-fall 2008 as well as the solar bubble? Lot of foresight I guess.

  • anglel

    The solar bubble was just to get us through to the education bubble to the health insurance bubble. pretty well contrived bubbles. makes allot of sense. Americans love debt.

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