The Wait

P/E ratio for the S&P 500, past 100 years

If there’s anything that seems to be a constant thought from many of the folks who see the realities of things (again, see the blog roll), it’s the concept of The Wait, or “How long can this go on?”  Listen to David Collum’s interview on the Kunstlercast a few months ago, with regard to a financial collapse/hiccup in the markets, or Chris Martenson’s commentaries.  The simple P/E graph above tells the story, if you don’t want to listen through a podcast.   Remember, regression to the mean does not indicate we’ll just touch the mean; we’ll have to go below it, and we’ve been above it for quite a while.

Wile E. Coyote and the cliff indeed.  If you read Zero Hedge, you’ll see complaints about this all the time in the comments section, when another ‘sky is falling’ article is published in all its gory detail.  Many have mentioned (and quite understandably) that if you thought the world was ending in the 1970s, you’d have missed a lot of the world, as it sailed blissfully in the future, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Internet, and the rest of the gadget filled world we’ve got now.

But, as they say in the fine print in many a mutual fund advertisement, “Past performance is not a predictor or guarantee of future returns.”

The JMG view is that we’ll see a stairstep decline, and his analogy to the “Fall of Rome” is one that is trotted out a lot, and he does have a point.  Nobody, at the time, thought “This is it!” and knew that after a given event, things were downhill all the way.   We may be waiting for an “event” that doesn’t happen; it will just be a series of miserable experiences, punctuated by lulls in the action.   Ugo Bardi, of course, trots out the Seneca Cliff, and the quick decline scenario.

The wait isn’t fun; a few people have said, “let’s get it over with,” and get to the resetting.  Not quite sure if that’s better than this maddening wait; any of the scenarios that have been showcased (take your pick of any doomer porn) sound pretty miserable.  If things do go south quickly (EMP (natural or man-made), a small nuclear exchange, bio-warfare, plague, zombies, etc.), it isn’t going to be fun, by any stretch of the imagination.  My instinct is to side with Ugo Bardi on this; complex societies such as ours might go a lot faster than we think; the start of The Great War; the fall of France in World War Two are some examples of where thing spiralled out of control pretty quickly, even though a few predicted a storm of some sort was coming.

Questions, as always:

  • Are we kidding ourselves? Is this crazy system far more resilient than we could ever realize?  Maybe it is.  If so, what are we missing here?  At some point, the physics of the real world must enter the picture, or can our delusions override things like real sea level rise, or drought?  This seems implausible.
  • Is the coming crash going to be so massive that we can’t even wrap our heads around it?  Commentary on the 2008 meltdown seems to be that we were hours from the ATMs shutting down, and if something like that happened again, some say it can’t be contained.
  • Why is the wait so annoying?  Is it the smugness of those who believe in the technofuture, and who have been growing rich, and enjoying the ride?  Again, is it possible that we are wrong, and that Science *will* find a solution?
  • The P/E graph is pretty good at telling us that things are over-extended.  Any other graphs or plots you’d like to let us know about?  What graph shows the “Wile E. Coyote – cliff moment” the best?

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