The antidote to conspiracies lies in the biggest conspiracy ever devised

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Photo by Tarik Haiga on Unsplash

We are innately skeptical of conspiracy theories because each one on its own is so vanishingly unlikely. Yet of all the conspiracy theories out there, at least one of them must be true. To me, that’s a terrifying thought, not because it happened in defiance of all reason, but because our reason prevents us from ever knowing the truth.

We avoid spending our time on conspiracy theories because the overwhelming likelihood is that we are completely wasting our time. We can’t follow every rabbit down every hole, which is why we have a grudging admiration for the friend who dedicates themselves to learning about every arcane matter surrounding the most obscure topics. …


The pandemic is a dip in the road compared to the long-term trends that drive economic growth

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Photo by travelnow.or.crylater on Unsplash

Ask an economist what the biggest questions are in the world today and you might be surprised by the answer. At a time when the pandemic has captured the full attention of experts, some have managed to remain aloof from these immediate concerns. Despite the massive fiscal hole created by the pandemic response, we still need specialists focused on the long-term economic challenges and the multi-cycle trends that transcend the current crisis.

Economists take the long view. We will always need economists to help governments formulate policy responses to immediate problems, but the real work of economics is in understanding the conditions that, over time, give rise to the greatest wealth for the greatest number. …


Which is why you should question everything

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Photo by Dimitar Belchev on Unsplash

There’s a kind of wisdom in herd behavior. When you see a large group of people fleeing in panic from some unseen threat, you could hang around and find out what all the fuss is about, or you could join them in their frenzied evacuation. The safest option is likely the latter, but if you felt dumb following the crowd, you could take a big risk and stand out on your own. Sometimes, waiting until you have more information is the fool’s choice when the situation demands immediate action.

Herd behavior is one of those highly evolved human instincts that serve to get in the way of our more rational decision making. It also keeps us alive. It can pay to go with the crowd. If we win, we all win, and that’s great. If we lose, at least we all lose together, and no one can feel too silly for having made the mistake. …


How religious ideas still shape our moral attitude toward capitalism.

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Photo credit: Giorgio Trovato

If there was a way of thinking that encapsulated the foundation of the United States it was that the American people were destined for greatness yet had still to prove themselves worthy of it. The idea that one could be born into greatness was anathema to American republican virtues, but even so, Americans managed to preserve in their own minds a sense of manifest destiny.

Not only would they inherit a vast, vibrant, and fertile land, they would — by prioritizing hard work over unproductive leisure, and investing the surplus of their labor back into their own enterprises and communities — be found totally justified in their possession of it. …


How should we interpret the new push for government-run digital money?

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Photo by Didier Weemaels on Unsplash

For years central banks have shown nothing more than a passing interest in digital currencies. If the topic was raised, it was usually to remind us that crypto currencies and other private digital money providers would have a hard time competing with the government. Central banks are the ‘only game in town’, not just because they have the ability to backstop financial markets, but because they have the power to create legal money while regulating payments and exchange.

This haughty attitude to digital currencies has changed almost overnight. In the depths of a global pandemic, central banks are competing tooth and claw with public and private rivals, racing to develop their own digital money. Just this week the European Central Bank (ECB) began testing its own digital euro, which is being developed as a potential Central Bank Digital Currency (or CBDC as it is known for short). …


How a country assumed its way out of a crisis

The Sydney Opera House set on a bright orange sky at dusk
The Sydney Opera House set on a bright orange sky at dusk
Photo by Liam Pozz on Unsplash

The Australian federal budget is long-awaited, not just because we finally get a glimpse of the immediate fiscal cost of the pandemic but because we now have a clear articulation of the government’s assumptions about how the pandemic will evolve and what the recovery will look like.

Australia is running one of the most bifurcated policy experiments of the pandemic, with some states close to fully easing restrictions, and others still sweating anxiously over the numbers. …


According to the U.S. Fed, household net worth is at an all time high

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Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

Last month a very interesting tidbit was released by the U.S. Federal Reserve. It shows, remarkably, that households, businesses, and governments are the wealthiest they have ever been, both in nominal and real terms. The release covers the June quarter, which includes much of the economic fallout from the nation-wide lockdowns. The fact that households have not only grown their net worth during this recession but grown it to the highest recorded level in history is something worth delving into.

If you feel like you’re missing something, I’m with you. Recessions are supposed to destroy wealth, not create it. Certainly, the pandemic has created a lot of economic destruction, forcing businesses to close and consumers to cut back on spending, with the end result being fewer goods and services changing hands. But in pure balance sheet terms, net worth has risen due to a massive influx of government payments, increased savings, and a rise in asset values (mostly financial assets). …


Keynes’s legacy extends beyond theory to the world of action, speculation, and ambition

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Photo by Matthew Waring on Unsplash

It is a strange thing to hear economists talk of ‘animal spirits’ who themselves appear to be animated by little more than elaborate, closed-off theories. There are more than enough economists who claim some insight into how economies operate without ever gaining first-hand experience of the market. Exposure to the markets is essential if we want a deeper understanding of the interplay between finance and economics. The two are intertwined, and one cannot be fully understood without the other.

When we invest our money and expose ourselves to the vicissitudes of the market, we are left with psychic imprints that stay with us through the rest of our investing lives. When markets tumble, we feel the sting through the loss of our own capital, and we are impelled to discover more of the mechanisms by which the market was driven down. Similarly, when markets are rising and all appears calm, we wish to learn what conditions bring about such fortuitous gains. …


Investors were not thrilled to hear next-gen batteries are three years off

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Photo by Afif Kusuma on Unsplash

Given the hype surrounding America’s brave new carmaker, it’s hardly surprising that many of us struggle to buy into the vision, let alone the stock. Even after coming off its most recent all-time high, the valuation is simply too risky, and the road is littered with broken promises. But if we filter some of Tesla’s wilder announcements, we are left with a company that will fall well short of its goals while still managing to disrupt the car industry and leave competitors in its wake.

The now annual Battery Day event has come and gone for 2020. This year it was a virtual occasion, save for the 200-odd select investors who were able to attend in Tesla cars arrayed in the Fremont plant carpark. It was an opportunity for Tesla to update the market on its progress eking out extra speed and mileage from ever smaller and lighter batteries. It’s also a key recruitment platform, given that human resources are the biggest constraint facing Tesla right now. …


How can we recapture the magic of our physical retail spaces?

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Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

I never thought I’d say this, but the death of the mall feels like one of the great social tragedies of our time. We often hear of the death of churches, trade unions, community centers, libraries, clubs, and other associations that for centuries have been part of our social and moral fabric. Now we have another institution to add to this list.

There will be plenty who say good riddance. For many of us the true social value is bound up in a cloud of nostalgia, because we all remember the wonder we felt when we stepped into the local mall as a kid. It was a place to shop, eat, see a movie, or just hang out. It was a place for kids and grandparents, laborers and bankers, lost souls and charity muggers. …

About

Gordon Toy

Writer and analyst based in Melbourne, Australia. Investing, markets, politics, history of economic thought. More at: https://www.gordontoy.com/

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