gall and gumption

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Reverse Deja Vu

That's the effect of reading "The Great Crash."

Galbraith seems like he was the sort of person who could sit across the breakfast table from you and read bits of the Wall Street Journal in a completely deadpan voice and have you weeping with laughter. Here he reports the booming optimism of 1928:

Observing this group [of corporations] as a whole, Professor Dice was especially struck by their "vision for the future and boundless hope and optimism." He noted that "they did not come into the market hampered by the heavy armor of tradition." In recounting their effect on the market, Professor Dice obviously found the English language verging on inadequacy. "Led by these mighty knights of the automobile industry, the steel industry, the radio industry..." he said, "and after much sackcloth and ashes, had caught this vision of progress, the Coolidge market had gone forward like the phalanxes of Cyrus, parasang upon parasang and again parasang upon parasang..." [Section break] In June of 1928 the market retreated a parasang or two...


His chapter on the proliferation of "investment trusts" somehow evokes memories of the tech boom, the housing boom, and Enron:

As usual at some point in the growth of a boom all aspects of property ownershop become irrelevant except the prospect for an early rise in price. Income from the property, or enjoyment of its use, or even the long-run worth is now academic. As in the case of the more repulsive Florida lots, these usufructs may be non-existent or even negative. What is important is that tomorrow or next week market values will rise -- as they did yesterday or last week -- and a profit will be realized.


People, it seems, haven't changed.

That much of what was repeated about the market -- then as now -- bore no relation to reality is important, but not remarkable. Between human beings there is a type of intercourse which proceeds not from knowledge or even from lack of knowledge, but from failure to know what isn't known. This was true of much of the discourse on the market.

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