Frank Shostak has an essay out today at Mises.org that discusses the business cycle and the question of whether businessmen can anticipate the business cycle in advance and thus neutralize the cycle.
He quotes Gordon Tullock:
Hence, it is held, the ABCT is not a serious contender in the explanation of modern business cycle phenomena. According to a prominent critic of the ABCT, Gordon Tullock,I believe Tullock is missing an important point here, He is looking at businessmen in an aggregate and fails to understand that there are many different actors in the economy and that they may respond to the boom phase of the business cycle in many different ways. Further, depending upon their age, they have different experiences with business cycles.
For example, you often see various investments of the Carlyle Group go bad, especially during downturns, but never does Carlyle, itself, go down. That's because the firm structures its investments in a way so that it is protected. Carlyle partners know full-well that there are boom-bust cycles. They may not know Austrian School Business Cycle Theory but the senior partners have been around long enough and know enough financial history that they know they need to protect themselves from business downturns.
They are, in a way, performing a kind of arbitrage between smart money and dumb money. They know a bust will eventually come, but they want to ride the boom phase. Thus, they structure investments in a way that the risk will be taken by the dumb money, i.e. those who are not aware of the dangers of the business cycle. Because of the investment structures they create, they will profit from the upside without exposure to the downside. They suck in the dumb money for the downside exposure.
I attended the 2007 Michael Milken conference. Many of the major mortgage securities players were there, including Lewis Ranieri, generally regarded as the "father" of the securitized mortgage market,
The sentiment among these players back then was pretty much "Hey, this is a crazy boom. It won't last, but what can we do but take advantage of it as long as it lasts."
Thus, if there are players who understand a bust is coming, it doesn't mean the boom-bust cycle won't occur. Those, who are aware, are likely to be represent smarter players, who know how to structure investments that limit their exposure but suck in dumb money that they need to ride the boom.
Ranieri, back in 2007 knew full well a crisis was coming. On a panel that also included billionaire Leon Black, founding partner of Apollo Advisors LP and where Milken was the moderator, Raineri said (This was April 2007) that for the first time in history the median home price in the United States was likely to decline.
He also added that there would be many technical problems in working out problem mortgages, He said the vast majority of problem loans were securitized and that, in the past, problem loans were in individual portfolios. This time around, because of securitization, there were many, many holders of the securities with an interest in a mortgage. This will mean, he said, there will be many more parties that will have to agree to everything. In addition, he added, there were more lawyers and accountants in the picture to complicate matters.
He further stated there would be a "political reaction" and he feared that bad legislation could create problems for the entire mortgage sector that are now just limited to the sub-prime area.
Talk about nailing it.
So yeah, there can be many smart people who understand there is a boom-bust cycle (especially older operators who have lived through one) but it doesn't mean most will. And it doesn't mean the smart money won't figure out a way to take advantage of the boom, and operate in it, but protect themselves from the bust!
Further, each boom-bust cycle tends to be a bit different to suck in new players ("It's different this time.") There are sectors that tend to be always involved, such as the stock market, But in 1997-2000, it was the Dot Com bubble that was the epicenter, then it was real estate. You would have to be pretty savvy to understand both were just different representations of the boom-bust cycle.
The only thing you can know for sure is that if a central bank is printing money and it is getting out into the system, there is a boom going on somewhere that will eventually turn into a bust.
For sure, this time around, the stock market is in a boom---which, as I say, is almost a leader in every boom.
So is Silicon Valley, once again. The bond market is in a super-boom market spanning multiple cycles.
I don't see any of this ending tomorrow, but it will end. And it won't be pretty. The boom-bust cycles have not been learned out of existence.
Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher at EconomicPolicyJournal.com and at Target Liberty. He is also author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics