Friday, February 6, 2009

20 years of bad luck

Well, not bad luck, since luck isn't a real entity. But the hand of Providence is real, and it
follows certain rules. And that's why we say "history repeats itself". Many experts have pointed out that the over investment in information technology in the 1990's echoes the over investment in railroads in the 1860's. Anybody with any cash poured it into hair brained and poorly organized business ventures that laid miles and miles of fiber optic cable, wiring the world with the kind of capacity that will never be fully utilized in our lifetimes.
In both the 1860's and last decade, the flood of capital led to enormous overcapacity, devastating entire industries. We can only hope along with Rob, that the analogy ends here and that by propping up our economy with this bailout bill, things will go back to the good old days. Because the mid-nineteenth century boom in railroads (and the steam engine and telegraph) helped produce not only widespread industrial overcapacity, but a surge in productivity. This deadly combination set the stage for two solid decades of deflation.
Although worldwide economic production continued to grow strongly between 1874 and 1896, prices collapsed. In England, the dominant economy of the time, price levels dropped 40 percents. In turn, business profits evaporated. Companies watched the value of their products erode while they were in the very process of making them. As the first worldwide depression took hold, economic malaise covered much of the globe. "Optimism about a future of indefinite progress gave way to uncertainty and a sense of agony," wrote historian D.S. Landes.
Its a very different world today, of course, and it would be dangerous to assume that history will repeat itself. But with companies struggling to boost profits and the entire world economy teetering on the brink, it would also be dangerous to assume history can't.
Peter Schiff can see it coming, can you? Were on a submarine that is about to go under for a while - take breaths while the breathing is good. Information Technology is about to become commoditized. Then the world will see, IT doesn't matter.

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