Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Most Economists are just Cargo Cultists with PhDs.

Analysis like this is the main reason that I consider Economists to be even less useful than astrologers. Economists spend so much time staring at numbers and trying to find curves that describe them that they forget (or ignore) the fact that their data aren't the result of some mathematical equation waiting to be discovered, but are the sum of millions (or billions) of people each making dozens of decisions per day. This is the economy.

The problem begins when economists start loving their numbers too much and confuse correlation with causation. We wind up with PhD-level cargo cult analysis. In this case, the reason for increasing unemployment is simple: the government is scaring the crap out of business. The rule of law is even more subservient to the whims of politicians than it has been in the past (GM / Chrysler bankruptcy proceedings, anyone?). We're facing very significant tax increases in the near future, and the politicians are being even more disingenuous than usual when describing how it will pan out. With the "card check" legislation in the pipeline we're faced with uncertainty as to whether we'll be able to easily adjust our workforce to economic and other business conditions. Those of us who are strongly affected by the value of the dollar are deeply concerned about the government borrowing money with its printing press.

Any downturn creates opportunities for well-run companies to expand, but right now the uncertainty is exceptionally high. There are some opportunities that are irresistible under these circumstances (I just expanded one company this year), but for the most part we're looking at mountains of potential problems offset by a bunch of politicians and economists saying "don't worry - trust us - we know what we're doing." Umm... yeah. Right. You guys have just been batting 1.000 lately.

Businesses don't like uncertainty. More uncertainty = more conservative management. We're going to wait and see how things shake out before risking what capital we have left. There's no surprise here; we're just (mostly) rational people making (mostly) rational decisions.

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