Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Bubbles everywhere

We have seen a partial-collapse of the finance bubble based ultimately on house price inflation - however, Western governments have tried very hard to prevent house prices from dropping, so in fact the bubble is not fully deflated.

There is much talk of a bubble in higher education, based on fee inflation.

Other bubbles in the West include government employment - public sector expenditure; the legal profession, health services and science (especially medical research).

There are bubbles everywhere - indeed Western societies are essentially bubbles.

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Bubbles are based on people mistaking consumption for investment:

people bought over-priced houses they did not need and could not afford because they imagined houses were an investment, when actually they were not investing but consuming the ownership of a house;

people are actually consuming college education but they imagine that it is an investment in their abilities, employability and future salaries;

people are actually consuming health care but imagining that it is improving their health;

increased spending on medical research is imagined to improve medical treatment (hence improve health) but being a medical research funder is actually consuming a status-oriented luxury good.

And so on...

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So bubbles are really inflation, i.e. things are costing more and more for what you get.

But the bubble is fuelled by the delusion that cost increases are actually a good thing: that increasing house prices, years of education, amount of health care, and quantity of medical research are actually good in themselves because they invariably generate greater benefits than their costs.

In reality you are getting less per unit investment, in imagination your ever increasing-investment is misunderstood to imply that what you are getting has an ever increasing value.

This thinking is rampant in property speculation, where people have been brainwashed, or have brainwashed themselves, into believing that house inflation (paying ever more for ever less) is somehow 'a good thing' because house inflation is (supposedly) an index of prosperity.

People don't - yet - feel the same about food price inflation as such (although many people are happy to invest in consuming over-priced 'organic' and health food on spurious 'investment' grounds that doing so will improve their health - so maybe there is a bubble in food prices too?)

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These bubbles amount to borrowing from the future with payments deferred and deferred by ever-increased borrowing on the basis of ever-more-exaggerated hopes; and at some point reality bites and either the future will need to be paid, or the present will default and the future will suffer a massive loss. Guess which?