Monday, December 15, 2008


I agree with what Atrios says, the real estate bubble and a lot of the stock market in general have always sort of been pyramid schemes. This dude seems to have gotten in trouble for giving the game away as much as anything else.

I mean, there was a period of several years during which people were quite publicly encouraged to buy more real estate than they could pay for, not just despite their prices being very high by historical standards, but because of it: the logic being that the continuation of recent pricing trends would mean they could sell in a couple years at even astronomic-er prices and recoup their investment and then some. And because everyone knows that home ownership is a great way to build wealth, and because brokers make money as long as stuff changes hands, it's win-win-win.

In the basic model of how stock investments are supposed to work, as I understand it, the shareholders buy their stocks from a company to help give the company a bunch of money to work with; the company uses that money to run their business and turn a profit; and the profit is then distributed to the shareholders as dividends. But then some stocks don't work that way at all, and actually the entire value of purchasing a share derives not from any predicted dividend, but from the expectation that at some point in the future someone else will pay you more for it than you did (because of their expectation that at some point further someone else will pay them even more...).

And it seems to me that when you're in a position where actually quite a lot of stocks are traded based on those kinds of predictions, and when a lot of real estate is trading hands due to the widespread possession of a similar set of expectations (rather than because a given area is getting more or less popular as people move around and figure out where they want to live their lives), then it's a situation that is inherently unsustainable in basically exactly the same way a Ponzi scheme is: you need a greater number of people to pay into the system for each successive generation of investors to come out ahead, and at the end of the day there are only so many people and it collapses.

1 comment:

DU said...

Stock certs need something like telomeres or maybe a TTL flag would be a better analogy. Discourage derivatives and trading, encourage long-term investing (and thinking).