Some of you may remember the economic fractalist Gary Lammert. Occasionally, he would pop into Setser’s or Thoma’s or elsewhere and deliver his precise prediction of when economic doom would fall. (His latest and last prediction was for November 12, 2006, I think.) On his blog he accepted no comments; on the blogs of others, he never engaged. One pronouncement of doom and he was gone.
I was a frequent visitor to The Economic Fractalist. I did not pretend to understand his quantum fractals, let alone totally believe his predictions. But his baroque style caught my eye: Convoluted sentences hundreds of words long, studded with eye-catching metaphors, like iridescent jewels. Whether his math was nothing more than mad scratchings, I could not tell. But he was on to something. Over and over again, he spoke of the danger of excessive credit, of the incredible imbalances that simply cannot defy gravity forever. He talked about economic cycles extending back to and before the Great Depression. Those vast circular fractals were about to close again, he would exclaim. “Expect the unexpected,” was how he often ended a thread. Now his blog is quiet. The prediction was wrong.
Now Gary is still alive and well, with a new, quieter blog, I think. He writes on the same themes, but confines them to narrower topics.
I think about his dilemma a lot these days. Can any of us predict with any kind of certainty? No century is like another; no decade is like another. History repeats, maybe. I agreed with his analysis, sans fractals and predictions. It seems to me that only the lucky get the date of Armageddon, a dubious distinction at best.
We live in a world of increasing uncertainty, of increasing complexity.
And fragility seems to be everywhere, not only in economics.
The Japanese love shark fins: Strip the fins and throw the dying shark back. But sharks eat ray fish, which in turn eat shellfish. And shellfish are crashing for the love of shark fin soup. Nouriel talks of subprime-lending moving like a contagion through the economy. Meanwhile, doctors worry about a drug resistant strain of TB, or report that the Bubonic plague is alive and well in Western parks, carried now by the fleas on squirrels. Then there is the warbling of the bird flu. And what about that pet food? We heard that sunflower seeds okay for dogs to consume. Is it true that milk will rise 9% in price next year because of oil?
I saw a documentary last night where a thousand foot mile-wide chasm had been emptied of ice. All of it had melted in the space of a few years. I saw another documentary on the Klamath River: Indians patiently waiting for the coho salmon, which never came. In Science, a prestigious scientific journal, I read a study outlining how global warming as presently predicted would so alter the habitats of thousands of species that many species would crash by 2050. On another documentary, I watch in horror as those huge fishing factories, killing machines, with mile wide nets, scour the deeps, destroying everything willy-nilly. Over half the catch is unwanted, returned to the sea in a bloody cascade, where thousands of gulls hovered and screamed.. The documentary then turned to fish markets, full of fish. But for how long? Is there a limit here? .
Glaciers in the Himalayas are melting, I am told. They are the headwaters for major Indian and Chinese rivers. By 2030, these glaciers will be one-fifth their present size. Well, I already knew the world had problems with potable water. Australia is experiencing its worse drought in recorded history. Already, penguins are in trouble, the emperor especially. They need the ice. Wonder if Australia can snag a few mammoth ice bergs to supplement the water from their desalinization plants?
A friend of mine calls to tell me it’s all solar cycles. “The sun is getting larger, “ he says. I do some research. Yes, maybe there is something to that, but the only expert I can find claims that solar irradiance, at best, will add less than .076 degrees, merely reinforcing the 2-3 degrees we can expect. “Besides, “ he adds, “the weather is fine here.” I did not tell him that mid-latitude countries are supposed to experience the least harmful effects. “And what happened to all those hurricanes we were supposed to have last year,” he continues. I refrain from telling him that global warming does not guarantee many and massive Gulf hurricanes every year.
Ah, maybe he is right. I go outside. Seems nice to me, too. We did have a mild winter where I am. Not much snow. All that fragility, yet the world keeps on truckin’. It does seem to defy gravity.
Maybe we know too much…or maybe I read too much. Maybe I should get a life, huh? Or, maybe, like Gary, hoe a smaller patch.