The Upside of a Stock Market Crash

by Charles Hugh-Smith

A drought-stricken forest choked with dry brush and deadfall is an apt analogy.

While a stock market crash that stairsteps lower for months or years is generally about as welcome as a trip to the guillotine in Revolutionary France, there is some major upside to a crash. Let’s start by noting how drawn-out crashes reset the dominant ethos of the era from wild debt-funded speculation to long-term investing in productive assets.

(Whatever that means….nobody seems to know what a “productive asset” even is… presumably a call option on a Momentum Stock that expires in two days qualifies….)

In an era where punters expect to turn $4,000 into $400,000 in a few months via a frenzied speculative churn, there is no role or incentive for long-term investing. A 10% return is barely acceptable on a single trade on a single day, so the idea that one invests one’s nestegg in stocks that might (if all goes well) return a total gain of 10% annually… you must be joking, right? Ten percent a year?

An incentive structure that no longer rewards speculation would be a positive for the nation. A market that drifts lower, impoverishing every buy the dipper and draining the capital from every speculator, large and small, would be extremely beneficial as it would lower expectations and re-establish measures of value that have lost all meaning.

In the larger scheme of things, nations which save some earnings and invest these savings in enterprises which increase productivity generate broad-based prosperity. Nations which become dependent on speculative bubbles to generate illusory gains of phantom capital stagnate and collapse once the bubbles pop, which all speculative-debt-funded bubbles eventually do.

A stock market crash that only slipped lower for months or years would also force the nation to look at the broken rungs on the ladder of upward mobility. As it now stands, upward mobility has been reduced from available to almost all to available to the children of the wealthy (i.e., an aristocracy) or a Darwinian death-march in which an army of hopefuls obtain the necessary baseline credential (a college B.A. or B.S. diploma) and then experiences the Darwinian death-march’s appalling attrition as hundreds of insolvent PhD graduates seek a handful of tenure-track positions and naive law-school grads are worked to exhaustion and then jettisoned as over-credentialed offal.

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The only ladder rung left is from debt-serf to tax donkey. Which brings us to the bracing prospect of getting amazingly rich in an amazingly short time via stock market speculation in leveraged instruments such as options and futures contracts.

On the one hand, there’s 40 or even 50 years of grinding away for The Man to pay the monthly nut of student loans, a pickup truck loan and if you’re lucky, a staggeringly large mortgage, and on the other hand, turning $4,000 into $400,000 and telling The Man to take this job and shove it.

From the perspective of power relations in a kleptocratic economy masquerading as a “democracy” (heh), insanely risky speculation in bubbles is 1) a relief valve (hey, at least there’s still one way out) for the social unrest that awaits a broad recognition that the entire economy is rigged to benefit billionaires and the top 0.1% and 2) a means of distracting people from the dead-end realities of an economic-political system that increases wealth-and-power inequality by leaps and bounds every time the Federal Reserve spews more jibberish–which is every day.

Few believe a crash is even possible, and a crash that doesn’t immediately bounce to new highs once the Fed spews more gibberish is incomprehensible. A crash that doesn’t bounce and just keeps slipping to new lows is viewed as far less likely than Martians landing.

Which is of course one reason why it’s so likely. When everybody’s all in, then the pool of greater fools is no longer large enough to sustain a rally. While various gimmicks and tricks can keep the bubble inflated for a few weeks or months, eventually gravity wins and stocks start sliding–or put another way, they just stopped going up.

The other reason why bubbles inevitably burst and stocks decline for years is kleptocracies, extremes of inequality and speculative frenzies are all systemically unstable. Each lacks the fundamental dynamic stability required for sustainability.

A drought-stricken forest choked with dry brush and deadfall is an apt analogy. If there’s no human-provided spark, random lightning strikes will ignite the crash, no human intervention required. The destruction of speculative-driven debt and gambling will clear the economy of dead wood and enable a regrowth of constructive, long-term investment in increasing productivity. That’s an upside the U.S. economy desperately needs. The sooner the speculative bubble crashes, the sooner a constructive ethos can take hold.


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