Monday, June 16, 2008

Lemonade from Lemons: Some Thoughts on "Pop!" By Daniel Gross

Today I wanted to mention and recommend a book...called Pop! Why Bubbles Are Great for the Economy. The book is written by journalist Daniel Gross. Gross's tongue in cheek writing style is often seen in the “Moneybox” column for Slate and contributes to the “Economic View” column of the New York Times.

The book talks specifically about how American exceptional ism and a private sector who is quick to adapt and attempt to create and over-estimate new opportunities has bread a history of bubbles, that inevitably 'pop.' In Gross' book he specifically looks at the telegraph, the American railroad system, the crash of wall street and the financial new deal, the Internet, Real Estate, and the upcoming bubble...Alternative Energy.

Gross' thesis is that after the bubble burst, the infrastructure that is left behind paves the way for long lasting and important businesses the opportunity to truly profit from the waste of the bubble. For example, fiber optic cables of the 90s lead to many unprofitable businesses who spent tons of money on laying cable and competing with prices. As those companies folded, the cables remained and paved the way for our current cable infrastructure.

I will admit that there is nothing new or genius in this book, but for someone who normally doesn't read economic history style books, this is a great one, because it's funny, accessible, and super-easy to read (got to love those journalist!).

I thought I'd share a favorite quote, one where Gross tries to explain why American have an innate tendency towards entrepreneurship as well as referencing West Side Story at the same time:

"Clearly, the way in which American rush headlong into investment bubbles, process their failure, and get started on the next one is exceptional...over the centuries, immigrants constituted a self-selecting group of people with short attention spans, tendencies toward enthusiasm, an inflated sense of their own capabilities, and a high level of resiliency--all crucial character traits for entrepreneurs. Who else would get on a leaky boat to endure the passage across the Atlantic for an unknown future? This argument is what I call the Officer Krupke theory of economic growth: we're not deprived on account of we're depraved." -- Gross' Pop!, page 20.
My favorite chapter in the book was the one where Gross analyzed the fall of the real estate market (which is interestingly very accurate, for a 2007 book that hasn't even seen what 2008 has seen so far).

Similarly interesting is that this 2007 book joked about hybrid vehicles becoming more popular when gas got up to the price of $3.50 or $4.00 ("think what will happen when the Chinese and Indians really start to drive?")

I thought it was a good book, with a positive long-term prospect to weaker economics times, and a good and entertaining intro primer on American Economic History.

1 comment:

Loren Eaton said...

This sounds really interesting. I may have to check it out.