The world economy is grinding down. The protracted trade war started by President Trump is sapping economic vitality. A recent demonstration of inter-bank mistrust forced federal intervention. American employment and consumer spending are slipping. The economy of Germany, the stronghold of Europe, is sputtering. Growth in China is slowing. Climate change is taking an increasing toll as a harbinger of self-extinction. Yet stock markets, especially America’s, generally remain buoyant. How?
The richest 1,000 people on the planet control more private wealth than everyone else worldwide. Such concentration is historically unparalleled. The early 20th century is the closest comparative period.
Capitalism is a confidence game. Financial markets only start the desperate maneuver of musical chairs when investors sense the music of bon ton roulet winding down. Intensive wealth concentration has permitted financial stability despite the gnawing teeth of decline.
A crash where losses reel uncontrollably can only be forestalled. Corporate debt default is a possible trigger, though an odd financial burp may start the contagion.
The current financial levitation is more likely than not to give way to a downturn that will make the Great Recession of 2008 seem like a hiccup. For one, the US government lacks the fiscal tools to jump start the domestic economy: with negligible interest rates and already having a unprecedented deficit from Trump artificially pumping up the economy with a tax giveaway to the rich when the rich didn’t need any more cash.
With capitalism as a confidence game, what happens when confidence doesn’t feel well enough to get off the floor and finds only a feeble governmental helping hand to lift it up?