In order to understand a bubble, one has to examine two conditions of our environment. One, there is a randomness with the way we interact with our economic community; everybody works, but we all have different types of jobs. Two, our resources are finite; they can be exhausted by consumption.
The first step of a bubble is the severe misallocation of resources. Production focuses on one particular item. The misallocation, means that we are about to allocate most of our resources towards that one goal. This starts out gradually and then progressively consumes more and more resources.
In the second step of a bubble, a large group of people are no longer interacting with the economy in a random fashion; they are all pursuing the same wealth creation formula. This too, starts out with a normal amount of people employed in the bubble sector of the economy. As the bubble gets more robust, more people with a desire for riches join in with lost abandon.
As we enter step three, there is the comfort that everyone participating in the bubble, feels sort of group camaraderie (the herd mentality). Notice as people acquire more riches from their venture, they come to accept the fact that they’re just MORE intelligent than ordinary people. At this point greed and stupidity mix well; double your investment and in turn, double your profit.
Then we come to the final stage (step four) loss of control; the resources are exhausted and the bubble collapses. The damage has been done and it is real.
Examine these two bubble examples from the past:
A river boat ferry, in India 20 years back, was packed with 600 people. Two teenagers in love were going to jump off the boat and commit suicide (their parents wouldn’t let them get married). Needless to say 600 people rushed to one side of the ferry to witness the event. The ferry capsized with a very large loss of life. What happened was sudden and very unexpected by all involved.
The second case was in Africa 50 years ago. Wealth was measured in cattle. The more cattle you owned, the more wives you could afford (this also produced a lot of kids that had to be fed). Cattle production shot through the roof over several years, everyone was getting rich. Even the people growing the hay to feed the cattle were making money. The price of cattle feed started to increase; there wasn't enough supply to meet demand. The cattle were starting to exhaust their food supply. Farmers found it difficult to feed all of their cattle, so more went to market for sale. Prices started to drop and the cattle market collapsed. The livestock died off in mass and the general population faced the aspect of starvation. There wasn’t any drought that brought this famine on, just the misallocation of resources.
Identifying a bubble is at best, very difficult in the early stages. The housing bubble over time has become obvious. Medicare is a bubble in progress. Resources are limited more so than is apparent; high costs in the past have kept medical demands in check.
The national debt is also a bubble but the concept of what constitutes resources (real money) is one of those magic acts, that go on forever. An increase in the interest rate to 9% could spell doom for the US Treasury and the national debt (of course that could never happen).
The ferry boat (our Ship of State) is full and pushing away from the dock; I wonder if Romeo and Juliet are on board?