Understanding Economics As a Rube Goldberg Machine

Much Of The Economy Is Like This Machine

Much Of The Economy Is Like This Machine

While history is important to remember it does not define the future. While pondering the current economy that is becoming more of a conundrum every day I stumbled upon an analogy I would like to share. The global economy is like a Rube Goldberg machine, one of those contraptions built in a ridiculously complicated way to perform what would normally be a simple task. Competitions are held to build these machines and in such a contest the designer makes a great deal of effort to complicate the task in an entertaining way by adding far more steps than are necessary.

Rube Goldberg machines often mimic the real world in that they are goal oriented with many parts coming together to complete a task. In the real world, things are usually not intentionally designed to be complicated but the reality is that they just are. More often than we would like to admit various systems and parts are thrown or “cobbled together” in a haphazard way to get the job done. We tend to try and explain events in terms of cause and effect but in doing so the bigger picture has a way of getting lost. Often hidden away is the nature of the risk that results from complexity and systems becoming codependent upon other. Bestselling author Nassim Taleb who wrote, “The Black Swan” detailed in his book how when something is highly complicated highly improbable and unpredictable events can and do occur.

History shows we often have no idea what is driving events until long after they have transpired and even then the picture is blurred by interpretation. The lens by which we peer at events is firmly controlled by those with an agenda. Even when control occasionally slips from their grasp such as when Donald J. Trump was elected President of America that does not mean that they have surrendered power it merely represents a temporary lapse in their dominance. An effort to be realistic for one moment will cause us to realize that government, big business, and mainstream media hold the cards and control. When we look at the individuals leading these various factions we have little reason for faith or calm.

The Direction In Which Things Fall Will Matter

The Direction In Which Things Fall Will Matter

Returning to the analogy the problem with getting a good handle on what is about to happen is complicated by the massive number of variables built into events. If you take the economy, for example, guessing what a central bank might do is one thing, however, how do you make allowances for the money created to stimulate the nation’s economy rushing out of the country at the tap of a button or companies using the money to buy back stock or pursuing a leveraged hostile takeover rather than investing in a new plant and equipment. The argument could be made that central banks can stack the deck but when it gets too high and begins to fall they may not be able to control the direction or who it will crush.

Just because a market or investors have reacted in a certain way in the past is no guarantee that faced with a similar situation their response will be the same or that once we hit a tipping point a self-feeding loop will not develop and take control. We have become very complacent and accepted the idea those in power will continue being creative enough to keep the economy moving forward and prolong current trends. Like a complicated Rube Goldberg machine with many moving parts, the failure of just one piece to perform as expected can alter the way events unfold. History is littered with many caution signs as to just how difficult it is to interpret current events and their possible impact on tomorrow. This makes it clear that looking in the rear-view mirror gives us a better image of events than predictions as to what might happen in the future. My point is, don’t have a great deal of faith in our economic system because it is severely flawed and does not even meet the criteria of a well designed Rube Goldberg machine.

H/T: Bruce Wilds


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