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1980–2008: The Illusion of the Perpetual Money Machine and What It Bodes for the Future

Didier Sornette () and Peter Cauwels ()
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Didier Sornette: Department of Management, Technology and Economics, ETH Zurich, Scheuchzerstrasse 7, Zurich CH-8092, Switzerland
Peter Cauwels: Department of Management, Technology and Economics, ETH Zurich, Scheuchzerstrasse 7, Zurich CH-8092, Switzerland

Risks, 2014, vol. 2, issue 2, 1-29

Abstract: We argue that the present crisis and stalling economy that have been ongoing since 2007 are rooted in the delusionary belief in policies based on a “perpetual money machine” type of thinking. We document strong evidence that, since the early 1980s, consumption has been increasingly funded by smaller savings, booming financial profits, wealth extracted from house price appreciation and explosive debt. This is in stark contrast with the productivity-fueled growth that was seen in the 1950s and 1960s. We describe the transition, in gestation in the 1970s, towards the regime of the “illusion of the perpetual money machine”, which started at full speed in the early 1980s and developed until 2008. This regime was further supported by a climate of deregulation and a massive growth in financial derivatives designed to spread and diversify the risks globally. The result has been a succession of bubbles and crashes, including the worldwide stock market bubble and great crash of October 1987, the savings and loans crisis of the 1980s, the burst in 1991 of the enormous Japanese real estate and stock market bubbles, the emerging markets bubbles and crashes in 1994 and 1997, the Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) crisis of 1998, the dotcom bubble bursting in 2000, the recent house price bubbles, the financialization bubble via special investment vehicles, the stock market bubble, the commodity and oil bubbles and the current debt bubble, all developing jointly and feeding on each other until 2008. This situation may be further aggravated in the next decade by an increase in financialization, through exchange-traded-funds (ETFs), speed and automation, through algorithmic trading and public debt, and through growing unfunded liabilities. We conclude that, to get out of this catch 22 situation, we should better manage and understand the incentive structures in our society, we need to focus our efforts on our real economy and we have to respect and master the art of planning and prediction. Only gradual change, with a clear long term planning, can steer our financial and economic system from the turbulence associated with the perpetual money machine to calmer and more sustainable waters.

Keywords: financial crises; financial bubbles; monetary policy; economic growth; productivity; systemic risks; financialization (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: C G0 G1 G2 G3 M2 M4 K2 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2014
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