Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt are three of four harbingers of ill omen. The fourth is more of a following spirit made up of innumerable desperate decisions. It’s called Panic. They are social and economic contagions and though they spread at different times and rates, they tend to follow the same directions and end up in the same foul and musty places.
The markets are all over the map this morning but investors surfed through two days of serious uncertainty yesterday and on Monday. The scariest part in the aftermath is thinking about who, or more precisely, what market managers blamed for the sharpest decline on the Dow since 2008. Algorithmic trading and the arbitrage found in between where numbers fall. Trading sophistication so enormous and virtually unpredictable in its scope and decisiveness was fingered as the driving force in the greatest market correction since the international financial system was threatened ten years ago. That’ll bring some serious doubt eh?
It’s hard to take a long term outlook when the short term view is so murky. We know the ground underneath us is solid enough for now but we are absolutely convinced the ground ahead of us is far less than solid. Nevertheless, we’re moving forward at an accelerating pace. It’s not an irrational thing to do, given we don’t have another choice, but it’s rather frightening knowing your best laid plans could be squashed or irrevocably altered by the stroke of a trade delegate’s pen.
Our outlooks, both globally and domestically tend to focus on the destructive part of the great paradox of creative change. Think of a developing neighbourhood. Older structures that have stood for decades might need to be torn down to make way for larger structures that could facilitate more space for more people. There’s a lot of noise and bother to remove the older buildings and then there is a forlorn and empty space where once something stood, like the Honest Ed’s site in Toronto’s Annex. Two decades from now, that site will house thousands of people and hundreds of businesses though it’s hard to tell looking at it today.
Yesterday, while money markets fluctuated between stability and slide, the world’s most interesting inventor, Elon Musk shot off a the largest rocket ever to be sent into space. Its payload was Musk’s Tesla Roadster with a mannequin in a spacesuit at the wheel listening to David Bowie’s Space Odyssey and Starman forever and ever. A small plaque attached to the car’s door handle reads, “Made by Humans”. The title page of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is displayed on the roadster’s viewscreen. It reads, in large, friendly letters, “Don’t Panic”.
It is a fitting commemoration of these times. Musk is pushing forward to Mars. We are pushing forward into a future that is as uncertain as anyone else’s futures have been before us. Humans adapt in weird yet almost always explainable ways. The edges are elastic and we are naturally attracted to the density in the middle. Don’t Panic.