Monday, October 27, 2008

Non-Great Depression parallels to the current financial crisis

The tenacious Barry Ritholtz recently linked to a NYT article (careful it's a PDF) from 1911, analyzing the Great Panic of 1873. The article is written by Roger Babson, the "well-known statistician," and if nothing else the language is enthralling. Sadly, people just don't use words like "herewith" and "promptitude" anymore. His general argument is compelling too,
In fact, a study of history shows me that the public always forgets that our business epochs are as natural as the tides of the ocean, and they continually endeavor to change conditions by tinkering with the tariff or legislating against the railroads, or making some similar unintelligent move... Throughout the country's history, this has always been practiced, although such legislation has almost invariably resulted in making the situation worse than it was before.
The obsession over comparing the current crisis to the Great Depression troubles me. While it is no doubt an important case study, it's foolish to draw so many lines through this one data point. This is especially true because so many of them lead us somewhere grafted from the book of Revelations.

There's nothing wrong with incorrect predictions, but if overinflated expectations lead us to rash action it could spell trouble. History does not favor those who do something merely for the sake of doing something.