The worse economic fundamentals and forecasts become, the more mysterious stock-market outcomes in the US appear. At a time when genuine news suggests that equity prices should be tanking, not hitting record highs, explanations based on crowd psychology, the virality of ideas, and the dynamics of narrative epidemics can shed some light.
Predicting the stock market at a time like this is hard. To do so well, we would have to predict the direct effects on the economy of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as all the real and psychological effects of the pandemic of financial anxiety. The two are different, but inseparable.
So far, with his flashy lifestyle, the US president has been a resounding inspiration to many consumers and investors. But his personal narrative is unlikely to survive an economic downturn, because people pull back during such periods and reassess their views and the stories they find believable.
While the conventional wisdom holds that it is never possible to "time the market," it might seem that major shifts – like the quadrupling of the US stock market over the last decade – should be at least partly foreseeable. Why aren't they?
Following his recent death, Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle was widely and generously eulogized – and justifiably so. But if everyone followed Bogle’s investment strategy, market prices would turn into nonsense and would provide no direction to economic activity.
Inflation targeting is supposed to reduce uncertainty about prices. But keeping the inflation target at 2% or more, might actually increase a sense of uncertainty about real things like home values or investments.
With share prices and corporate earnings moving together on a nearly one-for-one basis, one might conclude that the US stock market is behaving sensibly, simply reflecting the US economy’s growing strength. But the stock market has not always been so dismissive of the volatility of earnings.
Donald Trump’s trade war is an international tragedy. But it could have a happy ending if it eventually reminds us of the risks that free trade imposes on people, and if we improve our insurance mechanisms to help them.
Practically no one, outside of computer science departments, can explain how cryptocurrencies work, and that mystery creates an aura of exclusivity, gives the new money glamour, and fills devotees with revolutionary zeal. None of this is new, and, as with past monetary innovations, a seemingly compelling story may not be enough.
The crises that erupted in countries like Ireland and Greece a decade ago would not have been so severe had their debt been linked to their economic performance. And the same is true today: Investors around the world will continue to accept the risk, given the unlimited upside to investing in entire economies.
It is impossible to pin down the full cause of the high price of the US stock market. That alone should remind all investors of the importance of diversification, and that the overall US stock market should not be given too much weight in a portfolio.
Richard Thaler has shown in his research how to focus economic inquiry more decisively on real and important problems. His research program has been both compassionate and grounded, and he has established a research trajectory for young scholars and social engineers that marks the beginning of a real and enduring scientific revolution.
The US stock market today looks a lot like it did at the peak before all 13 previous price collapses. That doesn't mean that a bear market is imminent, but it does amount to a stark warning against complacency.
Inequality is usually measured by comparing incomes across households within a country. But there is also a different kind of inequality, in the affordability of homes across cities, and the impact is no less worrying.
One explanation for today’s stagnation focuses on growing angst about new technologies that could eventually replace many or most of our jobs, fueling massive economic inequality. People may be increasingly reluctant to spend today because they have vague fears about their employability tomorrow.
The public reaction to recent proposals that robots be taxed when they replace human labor has been largely negative. But a moderate tax on robots – even a temporary levy that merely slows the adoption of disruptive technology – seems like a natural and obvious component of any policy to address rising inequality.
Speculative markets have always been vulnerable to illusion, and in the US, two have been sustaining asset-price gains since November's presidential election. But seeing the folly in markets provides no clear advantage in forecasting outcomes, because changes in the force of an illusion are difficult to predict.
US President-elect Donald Trump campaigned in part on a proposal to cut taxes dramatically for those with high incomes, a group whose members often have elite educations as well. So why did his most enthusiastic support tend to come from those with average and stagnating incomes and low levels of education? What gives?