Too Many “Think Tanks” Are Just Kool-Aid Fueled Group Think

The morning routine for many over the last few weeks suddenly has had a peculiar fly in the ointment added to the day’s ensuing narrative. First: how is it that “everything is awesome” has suddenly turned many a 401K balance into WTF status. And second: why is it when they return home the TV no-longer seems to shout how the mornings plunge in stock prices was met with a near immediate BTFD (buy the dip) rally erasing any and all previous losses with gains? Suddenly it seems things are quite different.

Yes, indeed – they truly are.

For the last 5+ years the above has been the dispensed conditioning reminiscent of Pavlov’s canines of not only many a next-in-rotation fund manager, but also, the next in rotation so-called “smart crowd” guest from some well named “think tank” appearing within the various outlets of not only the financial programs, but rather, throughout the main stream media in total.

Over the last 5 years the various Fed. QE (quantitative easing) interventions into the capital markets has facilitated dumb luck trading into “genius” status, and no clue analysis into “spot on brilliant” prognostications. The real issue at hand is many believed their own press, and the current state of egg on their face would make many a Denny’s™ blush. As bad as that sounds – it gets worse.

The other day I was viewing a program where the guest was the president of one of the well-known, prominent, “think tank” (TT) institutes. (I’m not trying to be coy in not naming, it just doesn’t matter, for its more of a cabal than any one singular.) These TT’s are where policy members whether it would be Federal Reserve officials past or present, along with lawmakers and other central bankers from across the globe will speak among themselves (or dispense advice) and ruminate about monetary policy, its effects, and so on. And yes, far, far more.

Supposedly this is where the “thinking” gets exercised within the peer group for efficacy before, and possibly during, any implementation phase that might arise. One would think this is where a robust dialogue of differing ideas would be present. Alas, it would seem far from it. For if what I witnessed when listening to an argument as to why or, why not the current market gyrations are showing obvious warning signs that need to be heeded. The prevailing rationale and thoughts to my ear resembled more around illogical or, spurious group think, as opposed to anything resembling a tank where “great minds think alike” would gather.

On the table front and center was the topic of China and their current stock market malaise. Also, within the conversation was a two-part topic concerning The Fed. There was the question as to whether or not the current rate hike has inflamed the current melt down we’re witnessing in Chinese markets. But also, the topic of whether or not the “Audit the Fed.” initiative recently voted on was a valid issue. Whether or not you agree or disagree with the audit bill is for you to decide. However, the issue that took me completely off-guard were the arguments made against it and the examples used. From my perspective this was a brief moment of clarity when one could get a glimpse of just how delusional or decoupled from reality these TT’s have become. Ready?

(I had just taken a mouthful of coffee when these was delivered. So, if you might be doing something similar, may I warn you – put it down first before reading the next few sentences.)

In response to China and whether they have a debt problem the retort was : “China doesn’t have a debt problem – they have a stock problem.”

In response to the “audit” issue: “It’s The Fed. that has saved this economy, and just look at the $Billions it recently paid to the treasury.”

In response to the consumer: “Consumers are doing quite well.” “Gas (prices) is a boon to retail.”

In response to employment and the economy: “Jobs are doing great, people just aren’t spending.” “GDP is on the right track.”

If someone wants to argue or, consider that China doesn’t have a debt problem, maybe you would like to consider purchasing some ocean front property I have in Kentucky. I’ll give you a great deal. Trust me. Or, how about the beneficial argument about how the Fed. has made payments to the Treasury? If you can argue with a straight face and no chuckling what so ever (or else the offer is null and void) how we benefit as a nation emulating a Ponzi type system of money creation and payments – I’ll discount that beach property 10%. Heck, if you can do it; make it 15%. It’ll be worth it from my perspective. Again: trust me.

As startling as the above responses may be, what’s truly terrifying is although you or I may see the absurdity – the people “in charge” of monetary policy and more are not only of this view-point. Many are guest speakers as well as hand-picked or invited “senior fellows” that perpetuate the narrative and reasoning on why these views and responses to events are either correct or, proper while insinuating: they know best, and all you need to do listen (and/or obey.) Just don’t dare question them. That’s when things get ugly. Not for them – but for you.

Today, with the markets in turmoil resembling the antithesis of what was touted by the so-called “smart crowd,” this is going to have a far more negative effect on the populace at large than previous iterations. For 5 of the last 7 years since the financial meltdown of ’08 many believed this crowd actually understood or, at the least “had a clue” about what has been transpiring within the global economy by the manifestations created not by just the Fed’s initial intervention into the markets. Rather, that they could control the resulting Frankenstein it created in continuing that intervention.

During this period it could be seen by anyone willing to put down the Kool-Aid® long ago they could not. Yet. it seems at many of these “institutes” as well as gatherings of “great minds thinking alike” not only was it decided to avert their eyes and brains away from the growing monster, but it seems they decided to go full-Krugman supplying a free-flowing, open bar, endless supply of the punch to any and all takers.

As the many who believed, as well as listened, (or worse) took advice from this cabal. This weekend is going to have many wondering: Do they open their 401K statement this month? Or, like in 2007-08 toss it to the side and hope (if not pray) that the “experts” really do know what they’re doing. Or, is it different this time?

My feeling is: not only is it different; the one’s that understood the fragility of this house-of-cards left long ago. While the one’s that remained are in that process. And they aren’t coming back when the shouts of “stocks on sale” hit the airwaves in the coming weeks and months. Just like they didn’t this past holiday season for retailers. Sales don’t matter when the collective mindset has turned from bargain shoppers to – preserving what you’ve got. And the retail numbers are showing just that.

However, not to be alarmed. For the people who will tell you, “The consumer is fine” will also be the ones surrounded by their compadres in a massive display of “group think” and “great mind brilliance” next week in no other place than Davos Switzerland. For why should the economy or body politic be viewed as having anything less than stories of great success and enlightenment when a party of four’s single night dining bill and subsequent bar tab will probably eclipse exponentially the average Joe’s 2 week vacation tab? That is, if the average person can still afford one to compare it to.

Besides, do you really want to go on vacation today with all the safety concerns around the globe? Just look at what it’ll take to make these people who tell you “everything is awesome” have to contend with to enjoy theirs. This year it will take 5000 Swiss military to protect this enclave alone. I wonder what that’ll cost them.

Actually: who cares. After all the most important item at this event will be on-tap, free-flowing, and in endless supply.

Intellectual brainstorming resulting in pragmatic ideas as to solve the world’s economic crises and other issues you ask? No, silly…

The Kool-Aid!

© 2016 Mark St.Cyr