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Crazy Talk: Why I read Charles Hugh Smith's blog, Of Two Minds

[Over to the right there is a short list of blogs I read.  I'll be rotating that list every now and then, as well as writing about why I read them.  Doug]

Classic Of Two Minds "uh oh" chart from 2006

Back in 2006 there was some crazy talk about the decline in home prices bringing down the whole economy of the country and even the world, but that's what it was, "crazy talk."  Every morning, my "real estate bubble" Google alert would reliably bring me entries from beyond the fringes of the Main Stream Media.  I justified the time of reading through some of the more entertaining ramblings as part of my job at the Honolulu Board of Realtors.  I was the Director of Technology during the half dozen years surrounding that point when "The Bubble" met "The Peak" and -- predictably -- popped. 

The Honolulu Board of Realtors (HBR) had been riding on the heady appreciation of home values and sales for several years when I came on in April of 2004.  When I was hired, the CEO at the time, Judy Sobin, gave me the "what goes up must come down" warning and told me that part of my job was preparing for famine even in the midst of this feast.

Home prices and sales peaked in mid 2005, although no one really noticed until deep into the next year, and no one seemed to be seriously worried until 2007.  That the problems in the real estate market and that strange mechanism supporting it -- the "subprime" mortgage market -- could bring down the entire economy of the country and even the world wasn't a consideration.

In early May of 2006, the peak was over, but the local market was still riding high when I hit the Google alert link to "Housing Bubble Bust Will Take Down the Global Economy."  Halfway execting something about UFO's or Cosmic Rays, I put on my tinfoil hat, if you know what I'm saying.  But hmmm, it made dangerous sense to me even then.  And much more sense later on. 

Housing and the economy were recurring, but not exclusive, themes of Smith's blog.  On February 21, 2007, he asked, "Can 4% of Homeowners Sink the Entire Market?"  We know the answer now, but he knew the answer (and the arithmetic) back then.  Then on August 21, 2007, "How 4% of Mortgages Have Brought Down the Entire Market." 

Amazingly, Smith didn't do a whole lot of gloating after September 2008, when his predictions came true and the economy sailed off the edge of the Earth.  He wrote and published some interesting stuff, like, "The Art of Survival, Taoism and the Warring States," a strategic meditation on surviving hard times with some unusual advice: share your stuff, because "the best protection isn't owning 30 guns; it's having 30 people who care about you." 

After I got laid off, I read with keen interest, "Action List for the Newly Unemployed," where in one of his steps he counsels,
"Add some beauty to your world. Our culture glorifies ugliness, aggressiveness, self-centeredness and psychoses of power. Planting some flowers that can be viewed by passerby, keeping your block trash-free, creating some art or craft, repainting a fence with bright colors -- anything which adds vibrancy, color and creativity to a small corner of the world is a blow against degradation, aggressiveness, ugliness, squalor and surrender."
Hey man, that's just crazy talk.  Yup.  But if it makes some sense to you, hit the link and check out Charles Hugh Smith's, Of Two Minds.  You don't need a tinfoil hat -- it won't do you any good anyway.

-- H. Doug Matsuoka
9 September 2010
Makiki, Honolulu


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