Oil? America's addicted to
And our denial is sabotaging the economy and markets
By Pual B. Farrell, MarketWatch: Feb 14, 2006
ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- Addicted to oil? Just oil? You're joking? No, we're a "nation of addicts," doing what addicts do best: Denying reality.
In denial the brain can rationalize anything.
The more self-destructive an addict's behavior, the stronger their denial,
louder their protests, arrogance, bravado, even optimism: "I'm fine,
everything's under control!"
So when a Texas oilman admits 295 million Americans are addicted to oil, as President Bush did in his State of the Union address, that's historic!
I've worked professionally with people in and out of recovery; politicians, doctors, celebrities, rock stars, pro athletes and royalty, some in the Middle East, many from the Betty Ford Center. Addicts will do anything to get the next fix or drink, oblivious of the destruction around them. They create living hells, losing health, family, kids, careers, wealth, and most of all, their freedom.
Nations are no different! This is not news. Two decades ago psychologist Anne Wilson Schaef wrote "When Society Becomes an Addict." Her opening line: "Our society is deteriorating at an alarming rate." The symptoms: Greed, arrogance, ethical deterioration, obsessiveness, rationalism, self-centeredness, tunnel vision. We're out of touch, living with an illusion of control.
Flash forward. New addictions: credit cards, obesity, massive deficits, iPods, plasma HDTV's, McMansions, SUVs, outsourcing to India, buying plastic from China. Go deeper: We have a near-religious addiction to rationality, logic, data, numbers, stock quotes, productivity, interest rates, GDP, etc. Our brains gorge on an endless diet of numbers from cable's talking heads, online breaking news, print reports.
Information is our new mind-numbing drug, worse than cocaine and heroin. Often distracted, in a stupor, narrowly focused on immediate gratification, we lose perspective, integrity, even our identity; we're addicts in a myopic bubble, in denial of the real world.
Paradoxically, America's addiction to rationality and numbers is a major part of our brain's denial mechanism, blinding us to unpredictable risks and irrational dangers that do not fit neatly into our conventional wisdom. Please notice how we've programmed denial into the thinking behind our economic and market forecasting systems:
First: Economic modeling. Economists use elaborate computer models to simulate how America works. Past performance is projected using complex mathematical formulas. But they cannot predict wars, pandemics, another 9/11. By screening out these high-cost, unpredictable variables, economists build denial into their forecasts, coating over increasing dangers, then feeding us forecasts that are invariably misleading and wrong. Second: Market forecasting. Our addiction to rationality and numbers is even more dangerous in market-timing and trading systems. Institutions and individuals use esoteric theories: Elliot Wave, Gann, Fibonacci, Candlesticks, Astro-Harmonics and other systems. They hypnotize "numbers addicts" like drugs, creating a false sense of control, even rationalizing losses. One commodity trader showed me how his models predicted his day-trading, "but I don't have a clue about next week."
We are a nation of addicts, in denial, and
our mastery over the economy and markets is an illusion, creating a false sense
of security. Wall Street, Washington and Corporate America are all addicted to
computer models that minimize or eliminate unpredictable threatening variables:
Global wars, pandemics, terrorist attacks on American soil, the very things
that could do the most damage to the economy and markets are not included.
Meanwhile, Main Street is focused narrowly on getting the next "fix."
Denial blinds us to many dangers. Like the
coming Iranian Petro-Euro Bourse threatening the
American dollar's position as the world's reserve currency, a threat
potentially more catastrophic than a nuclear arsenal. We deny it.
And recently, we learned of an even bigger threat: about World War III. Seriously, a war is being provoked by loose cannons in America as well as abroad. Irrational, absurd and unwanted, fanatics on both sides are prophesizing an all-out war in the next couple years.
For years America has heard religious fundamentalists predict the "End of Days," Armageddon, an Apocalypse, The Rapture, Tribulation, a final battle prophesized for the Holy Land. Prominent evangelists believe it's coming soon. Many are so convinced their rhetoric may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Until recently this was outside market and economic thinking. That is, until Iranian President Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations in October. His prophecies mirror those of America's evangelists. Ahmadinejad not only hopes for but is trying to provoke both the free world and Islam into war.
Iran's "End-of-Days:" Ahmadinejad passionately believes that in the next couple years the world will witness the "second coming" of the Mahdi, a messianic "hidden 12th imam" of Shiite Islam, prophesized to appear at the "End of Days." Ahmadinejad even embraces his "divine mission" to "pave the way" for the second coming.
Get it! We have ideological fanatics on both sides, like two alcoholics itching for a bar fight. Both sides want a global war, provoking enemies and allies alike. Both pray for an irrational first blow triggering the "End of Days," a WW III nuclear conflict between the world's greatest cultures. Both expect fulfillment of ancient prophecies. Both want a war to end all wars, and the end of the world as we know it.
Irrational? Probably. But remember, these high-risk variables are not programmed into America's economic models and market forecasting systems that Washington, Wall Street and Corporate America throw at you every day. Yet in the hands of fanatics these variables can trigger events that can easily overwhelm entire economies and markets.
Wake up America! Oil's only one minor symptom. We are a nation of addicts, in denial of so many threats external to our bubble world. Mentally we are at greater risk than with the irrational exuberance of 2000. Except this time the threat is global, systemic and potentially catastrophic, far outside the box of our mega-rational economic models and market forecasting systems. Soon your denial system may no longer work, reality will implode.
So please, be prepared for market losses far greater than the $8 trillion we lost between 2000 and 2002.
Remember, when any addict "hits bottom," the big thing they lose is their freedom ... the same holds true for an entire nation of addicts.