You probably didn’t pay much attention to Monday’s 767-point drop in the stock market, because you were thinking more about the two mass shootings that occurred just before that. Fair enough. So take a few minutes now to sit down and contemplate the galaxy of risks that could economically destroy you in the near future. Knowledge is power. (You have no power over any of this.)
By most traditional measures, the U.S. economy has been booming under Trump: the stock market is high, unemployment is low, and there is a greater array of utter crap to buy than ever before. Of course, economic inequality is still extreme, we have done nothing to address the crisis of climate change, and Nazi ideals are making a comeback. It is a “mixed bag,” as they say on CNBC. Ever since the devastating crash of 2008, our nation has been on edge, wondering when the next recession—or worse—will bite us. What should you be stressed out about as you lie in bed at night, wondering if this house of cards will come tumbling down, wiping out your job and your savings and your ability to provide for your family? A brief and incomplete list:
1) History Itself. We are currently living through the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. Is that a good thing? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we’ve sure had a nice long economic expansion. No, in the sense that never in history has an expansion kept running this long, so every single day, history is telling us that it is unlikely that this party will keep going much longer. As a bonus, this expansion’s record-breaking length has been accompanied by a record-breaking low of actual economic and job growth. So you haven’t got much out of it! Enjoy this piddly bit of nothing while it lasts (not much longer).
2) Prices. After the great recession, the world’s central banks opened up the “money faucets” (technical term) and flooded all the world with new money, which was accumulated almost entirely by the rich. If the money had gone to normal people they would have bought stuff like food, clothing, and shelter, but since it went to the rich, they bought stuff like stocks, bonds, and every other financial asset. The result being that the prices of everything that you can invest in have gotten very high. Historically speaking, higher prices of financial assets today mean lower returns in the future. What goes up, must come down. As you can see in this chart of the CAPE ratio, which measures how expensive stocks are, the only times in U.S. history stocks have been as expensive as they are now were just before the Great Depression and in the years leading up the 2009 crash. Don’t think about this too much or it will stress you out!
3) Trade War. There are more immediate threats than history. For example, the fact that our idiot president, Mr. Stupid, who quite literally does not understand basic and uncontroversial tenets of economics even though he has the power to run our economy, is unilaterally pursuing a trade war with China, a nation that—while it does not have quite as much money as us—still has a lot of money. Also they trade with us a lot. Use your imagination to see how a tit-for-tat trade war would be bad, like two people taking turns shooting one another. Monday’s stock market drop was a direct response to trade war fears. Expect more and more and more of this, as our idiot president does stuff that he thinks is savvy, but which, actually, is dumb and stupid.
4) Brexit. Yeah this is still happening too. Fortunately these delicate negotiations that are sure to ripple out through the global economy are being handled by the UK’s new leader, Mr. Stupid (English Version).
5) Geopolitical Catastrophe Risk. This category is a LITTLE BROAD I admit, but we don’t have all day here. Briefly: North Korean missiles? Russian cyber-wars? Iranian real wars? India vs. Pakistan nuclear wars? Use your imagination. The world, as always, is rife with dicey situations—many created by us!—that could explode at any moment with serious consequences for the global economy, in addition to the global people who will be dead. In many ways global finance is the constant process of carefully evaluating and managing these large scale risks.
6) Catastrophic Climate Change Risk. I’m not talking about some “Oh no, in 100 years we shall be flooded” thing here. Forget what happens to your damn grandkids. I’m talking about right now. The right kind of natural disaster could easily have enormous national economic consequences due not just to the impact of the disaster itself, but to the dawning realization on the general public that things they thought were safe are not in fact safe at all, sparking a panic. My personal favorite scenario: a huge hurricane hits Miami, destroying tens of billions of dollars of real estate value, causing all ability to insure Florida beachfront property to disappear, immediately sending the resale value of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of real estate plummeting towards zero, thereby devastating not just real estate owners but also lenders and the tax bases of state and local governments. This is not unlikely! You can run these scenarios with wildfires, too. Hey, sunshine.
7) Other Trump-Related Economic Risk. Donald Trump tries to meddle with the independence of the Fed constantly. He’s also nominated a gold bug for a Fed seat, which is a bit like nominating a reiki healer for Surgeon General. It’s in character, though—his other top economic advisers include an old cheat who falls asleep in meetings, a crank TV host who has been spectacularly wrong about every important thing in his career, and a squeaky-voiced rich kid who’s failed at managing both a small newspaper and a big skyscraper. This is the collection of failing-upwards white men who hold the world’s most powerful economy in their hands. Investors are a skittish bunch. If they decide that these incompetent cranks might potentially, you know, mess things up, they can all decide to grab their cash and flee the markets, which is how crashes start. The fact that nobody smart really believes in the ability of these people to successfully navigate a crisis makes it all the more likely that any of the other problems discussed above will cause everyone to head for the exits at once. That’s when we’re fucked. Because you’re all loaded with debt!!
“But I don’t even own any stocks,” you say. Yeah—you’ll get fucked worse than anybody. Don’t worry.
In the meantime practice self-care or whatever.