Peering Into the Future from the Past

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As far as the market drop and the comeback of the market, I’d just like to pass along the following information. I stand in the Ten-Year Treasury-Note pit in the Chicago Board of Trade. The name of the room I trade in is the Financial Room. We trade the commodities that represent most of our national debt. When the gov., sells debt, the buyers of that debt have to hedge somewhere. They hedge with us.

This room is the center of the universe as far as our national debt is concerned and it will become increasingly more visible as the crisis approaches. (If you’ve ever seen CNBC during the day, they cut to the CBOT floor with a reporter named, Rick Santelli. Behind Rick, you can see a trading floor; that’s the Financial Floor of the CBOT.)

That’s from James Goulding’s blog from August 2003. (The blog has been reduced to a static web page. Scroll down to see this entry in its entirety.)

I love reading people’s predictions years later. Most prognosticators miss by a mile. A few land in the ball park.  A handful scare the begeezes out of me.

Do you find it peculiar that Mr. Goulding mentioned the significance of national debt and introduced Rick Santelli so long before the two converged to inspire the Tea Party? I do.

James Goulding is a big fan of two other prognosticators who freak me out: William Strauss and Neil Howe who wrote The Fourth Turning among other works.

Here’s a quote from that book:

A spark will ignite a new mood. Today, the same spark would flame briefly but then extinguish, its last flicker merely confirming and deepening the Unraveling-era mind-set. This time, though, it will catalyze a Crisis. In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party [bold mine].

The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny

Of course, Howe and Strauss did not predict the emergence of the Tea Party movement when they wrote in 1997. Did they?

It’s eerie, nonetheless. Why that term? Why in that syntax?

We can’t really predict the future, but we can arm ourselves with a lot of information about the possible courses history might take and the dangers and trade-offs we face.

Strauss and Howe believe that we live though a 20-year period of Crisis every 80 to 100 years.  The last such period ended in 1945 with the end of WWII. It had begun in 1929 with the stock market crash.  The next one was between about 2005 and 2013.

And here we are.

Back to Goulding:

The point is this; the market (the DOW) is behaving [in August 2003] like the market of the 20s. However, I noticed something recently. When I advance the chart of the twenties in time, by 14 months, the similarities of this latest rally we are having (August 2003) are startling. 9/11 may have escalated the pace of the impending Spark. (The Spark wasn’t expected until 2009) It may have advanced to 2007.

Or 2008.

In this crisis, I try to make myself useful.  I am guided by these words, again from The Fourth Turning:

“Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth,” F. Scott Fitzgerald said after the crash that hit his peers at the cusp of what should have been their highest-earning years. “A generation with no second acts,” he called his Lost peers—but they proved him wrong. They ended their frenzy and settled down, thus helping to unjangle the American mood. Where their Missionary predecessors had entered midlife believing in vast crusades, the post-Crash Lost skipped the moralisms and returned directly to the basics of life. “What is moral is what you feel good after,” declared Ernest Hemingway, “what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” “Everything depends on the use to which it is put,” explained Reinhold Niebuhr on behalf of a generation that did useful things regardless of faith—a role the Missionaries chose not to play.

Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning (Kindle Locations 5978-5984). Three Rivers Press. Kindle Edition.

The modern day Lost we call Gen X, the Missionary, Boomers.  Next up were the GI whose modern version we call Millennial.

I hope I’ve learned well the lessons of history. We have a tough row to hoe. We can whine and complain, or we can shoulder the work.

Given a choice, I’d prefer more income, better markets, and a quiet life. But the cycles of history have decided otherwise.

What do you think?