David Hines
The Phaeton effect
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By David Hines
September 23, 2009

Tales cautioning against hubris are common The Bible, for example, tells of the Tower of Babel. We moderns, of course, have grown beyond such warnings, and believe we have the luxury to indulge in hubris.

The Greeks had a way with words, which may be why so many of our words come from their language.

Phaeton persuaded his father Helios to let him drive the chariot of the sun. Being inexperienced, Phaeton could not adequately handle the vehicle. As he careened out of control, the sun scorched the earth, then froze it. Zeus had no option but to hit the kid with a thunderbolt. In mourning, Helios refused for a few days to drive the sun across the sky, but was eventually persuaded to resume his route.

It should come as no surprise to most people that the earth's orbit is not entirely circular. During autumn in the northern hemisphere we are falling slightly toward the sun. Don't worry; as we fall we gain momentum that will carry us back outward. This has been going on for a very long time. An equilibrium has been attained, balancing the gravitational effects of the sun, as well as the other planets, upon the earth.

Imagine a government that has the power to affect earth's orbit. Politicians say, "The earth is falling! Something must be done!" Huge jets are installed and fired to counter the inward movement. They have a tough balancing act. A slight miscalculation, and a lot of things can go wrong.

Let's assume — though it is a lot to expect — that the global politicians are not so stupid as to impart too much outward momentum. Too much push, and the earth will leave its orbit, maybe drifting through the perilous asteroid belt, being captured as a satellite of Jupiter, or leaving the solar system altogether.

With competent managers, the orbital tweaks manage to stabilize. However, the inexorable pull of the sun, as well as of Jupiter and the other planets, will continue to induce minor orbital fluctuations. Fuel must be constantly expended to make minor corrections, redirecting resources from elsewhere.

When the fuel runs out, or a critical rocket fails or is taken offline for repairs, the orbital manipulations are likely to have perturbed the eons-old delicate balance. The earth's orbit might then become increasingly eccentric. Extremes of temperature would become intolerable. With very high eccentricity, tidal forces as we near the sun could cause massive earthquakes, pulling the earth apart. But we needn't worry about that, since we'd likely be dead already.

Maybe it's better to not sweat minor fluctuations. Fortunately, we have not yet enabled a political Phaeton.

But it's Phaeton's management style that they are taking with the economy. Our economic Phaetons consider themselves not sons of Helios but rather sons of Hades. As master of the underworld where are found gold, silver, and gems, the Romans called Hades Pluto: "the wealthy one."

Markets fluctuate. Left alone, they quickly self-correct. Politicians decided that self-correction is intolerable. They expend immense resources attempting to prevent it. Far from stabilizing the cycles, the attempts have introduced eccentricities. Rather than allow malinvestments to self-correct, politicians perpetuate them.

The Federal Reserve was created as a means to prevent cyclical economic downturns. How well has it worked? In the absence of a central bank such as the Fed, economic downturns were sharp and short. Since the economic Phaeton has taken the reins, downturns have often been prolonged by attempts to evade self-correction. Trying to overcome the gravitational effects of sound money with the creation of fiat money, the Fed has induced systemic eccentricity.

The worse their manipulations make things, the harder they try to introduce artificial stability. The more power they have to manipulate, the more pressure there is from influential parties to manipulate for the benefit of particular interests. By introducing ever greater cyclical eccentricity, they make life more hazardous for all of us.

Chthonian Phaeton, son of the Wealthy One, cannot avoid Zeus's thunderbolts. Economic law is a primal force that cannot be denied. The big question is how much damage Chthonian Phaeton at the Fed will do before his ultimate demise.

Having forgotten the cautionary tales about hubris, we shall have to invent new ones as the old lessons are re-learned at great pain.

© David Hines

 

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David Hines

Note: David Hines passed away on April 1, 2017.


Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)

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