Cryptocurrencies soar in value, plunge, hit new highs, are written off, rebound, and hit new highs again, and the cycle repeats. We should be terrified. Over the last five years, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether have outperformed the overall market. However, can the general trend of outperformance last, or will these digital assets drop over 90% like some of its other crypto brethren? Is there a sustainable performance that creates the foundation for either a new currency or a valuable asset class? Probably not. Forces that drive these eye-watering returns seem to be the same as those that drove the social media-driven insanity behind meme stocks such as GameStop. We are seeing social media mobs controlling demand to a limited supply, creating price spikes that look attractive to any speculative investor. Unfortunately, demand can dry up quickly and the price subsequently falls through the floor. Financial markets ruthlessly sort nonsense from substance. Volatility and existential threats have been brutal and extreme for digital assets and the reckoning for crypto has been predicted for some time. However, digital assets are not on their way to history’s dustbin. Reality is more nuanced, and I try to provide a more detailed analysis since a broad brush hardly seems appropriate. The weakest and craziest portions of the crypto world have been exposed as nothing more than silliness. But some valuable components remain resilient and offer tremendous opportunity. I will explore these in detail. There is more cause for optimism than pessimism among the best and the brightest. We will explore these opportunities while harshly dismissing the hype and silliness – avoid the terror of a worthless market.
Open markets, free global trade, and limited state interference lead to greater shared prosperity. Heavy-handed Industrial policy and state intervention impede progress. It’s the economy and inequality, trade imbalances, are not what drive shared global wealth. Industrial policy, restricted trade, government subsidy, and overall intervention are challenging to get right, and hoping to achieve multiple goals simultaneously. One subsidy does not tackle climate change, boost industrial and economic growth, or enhance security. It is bound to fail. Time to revisit how things actually work through incentives to innovate, sensible economic models, prosperity, and wealth creation. No other mechanisms drive change or address the world’s most critical issues.
Stunning capabilities are emerging from large language models like GPT 4 that, until very recently, were thought to be only theoretical. We could never have the data sets or the processing power to generate real and usable results. Well, all that has changed – rather suddenly.
But is it time for the torches and pitchforks? What are the serious risks that accompany this technology?
There will be good and bad, like every new era. Will it be the Middle Ages all over again and we’ll experience The Plague before the Renaissance, or will it be more balanced and reasonable? There are good, bad, and many things in between whenever humanity advances.
Let it happen. Put down the pitchforks.
Our most intractable problems cannot be solved with behavior modification, conservation, or our existing technology, regardless of its advanced or widespread applications.
Only new knowledge creating innovative solutions can address our most intractable problems. This can only be achieved through basic scientific discoveries and then combining these discoveries with enterprise-based innovation, commercial discipline, and competition. Innovation, creativity, and competitive dynamics create the most effective innovations, the best solutions, and the most sustainable companies. Developing the best public policy as well as the best structure to enable innovative and creative solutions, as well as the economic incentive to scale these opportunities and make them economically sustainable.
Central planning, bureaucratic industrial policy, government-led economic management, and dictatorial focus have always failed, and always will.
Zero-sum thinking has begun. Despite comparative advantage, mutual cooperation, and specialization proving indisputably more beneficial than any other approach to economic interaction, this ideal is under threat. Rules and norms for economic integration lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, created an order-of-magnitude increase in the average wealth of the Western population, and benefited countless hundreds of millions enabling a way of life otherwise unimaginable post-World War II. Now that system is under threat as developed countries subsidize alternative energy, attract manufacturing via expensive subsidies, and restrict the flow of goods and capital. Mutual benefit is out; national gain is now the highest priority. In other words, stupidity and zero-sum thinking have taken over. A handful of bureaucrats, regardless of how brilliant each may be, can never equal the mind of the market. Management and control usually spell disaster eventually. Managed focus on technological development for products and services the central government believes have greater substantial benefit to the overall society may not be calamitous, but the law of unintended consequences has not been repealed. It will be inefficient, substandard, and create potentially dangerous side effects. Innovation, creative freedom, and unstructured thought are essential components to the development of any technology of substance and disruptive benefit.
The onslaught of market-making bad news seems almost a daily event. A gloomy picture of slowing economic growth, elevated inflation, and confusing fiscal and monetary policy has added a lethal mixture to the market’s performance. Fiscal stimulus is sidelined, and monetary policy is constricting economic growth and entrepreneurial innovation. It makes for a gloomy outlook and an even more depressing long-term perspective. The next 10 years look more like a lost decade. High-growth company valuations have been significantly discounted, and over time as discount rates drop, their valuations are likely to increase substantially. Higher-yielding fixed income securities will be a standout performer as interest rates are reduced, the higher-yielding BDCs, REITs, leveraged loan securities, and high cash flow instruments, along with high-dividend equities, will prove extremely attractive and are currently available at bargain prices. Providers of value and users of value will be the winners for the next decade. Those generating real cash flow and disruptive innovation will define the next decade.
The rewards for innovative success have become enormous and unpalatable, especially among the five technological giants (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) forcing these firms to spend absurd amounts of money on lobbying in Washington DC. It’s an expensive and wasteful distraction, but essential in this brave new world. If nothing else, it clogs innovation. It is to our detriment – and the world is literally burning while politicians fiddle – and even more disastrously – impede innovative activity. Applying friction to free thinking and new ideas never ends well.
Remarkable things can happen. Or not. Can we solve climate change, food shortage, limited healthcare, and other global stresses – all with TikTok videos? Innovation is unpredictable and astonishing – it can address the world’s most critical issues today, from hunger to efficient energy, to devastating diseases. It is also too often misguided, inefficient, and meaningless – creating nothing more than distractions and wastes of time cloaked in an image of technological wonder. Misguided and manipulative business plans sit alongside the groundbreaking disruptions that may address society’s most significant problems. We don’t have time. Even though there is no clear argument for resources going to a new video-sharing platform or immersive game, that is beside the point. Technology delivers something, nothing else can. It is the only way to find solutions to otherwise intractable and potentially devastating global crises. . The freedom to pursue solutions is the essential first step. Letting the best people do their best is still the best policy. It will also generate the best outcome.
Risk is higher. Markets are more unpredictable, and valuations more volatile. So, when anyone says “this time it’s different” it usually makes good sense to stop listening. However, these days the markets have given us more frequent and intense volatility. The NASDAQ is down almost 30% so far this year, and shocks from the pandemic, the Ukrainian war, massive central bank interest-rate maneuvers, and China’s zero-covid policy, are all ongoing inputs for turmoil that will continue for some time. Persistent uncertainty creates higher costs of capital and less affordability, weakening business investment, slowing GDP growth, and reducing investment returns. Hyperbolic “this time it’s different” statements are turning out to be true. This time days look darker, uncertainty greater, economic growth lower, vulnerability to additional shocks higher, and investors fear many more dark days to come. More frequent and intense volatility will not be calmed anytime soon. It really may be different this time.
While most of Europe and the United States suffer sweltering heat, darkening economic skies and bitter winter of discontent are looming. Threats to the world economy are chilling. Rising interest rates are slowing activity for discretionary spending while rising prices for nondiscretionary spending are also slowing economic activity. It would be miraculous if the compounding of both effects would not lead to a recession in both Europe and the US. China’s growth has stalled. The Ukraine conflict will resolve itself to the West’s dramatic disadvantage and the West seems to be willing to let it happen – much to each economy’s long-term disadvantage. Don’t count on anything miraculous.