It’s an Upside Down World Economy

white collar corruption

A man secure in his faith need not fear the words of a blasphemer. A fanatic must hide from the truth wherever he suspects it.
— Unknown

The US markets may have risen overnight but the world is very much poorer for the events that have occurred in Paris.

Slaying 12 people because they had the ‘temerity’ to express an opinion is barbaric. Freedom of expression and the sharing of opinions (whether you agree or disagree with them) is what gives rise to a richer society. One that is rich in knowledge, tolerance and ideas.

Using fear and intimidation to stifle the robust exchange of views has the capacity to make our society more insular. It is our hope that the brutal and cruel actions of a tiny minority do not succeed in this objective. Sadly, I think people will, at least in the near term, be more guarded in their views for fear of becoming the next victim.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the victims of this senseless atrocity. We stand with you, and with the ideals of free expression — whatever that expression may be — that the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo fought and died for.

At The Daily Reckoning, we will not succumb to fear…and promise to continue bringing you our uncensored views, from business and finance to geopolitical events.

The opening quote, by the way, was sent to me by Bernd Struben, the DR’s Managing Editor. It’s from a newspaper cut-out his mother kept tacked to the family refrigerator when he was growing up. It makes you wish more people were secure in their faith. And it tells you the three cowardly terrorists in Paris are riddled with doubts about their own fanatical dogma.

Now let’s move on from these events to something closer to home.

Maybe I’ve become a grumpy old man, but the world makes less sense to me these days.

People pay good money and endure pain to permanently disfigure themselves by putting indelible ink all over their bodies. Then, some pay even more good money and endure even more pain to have the ink (partially) removed.

People with no other talent other than blatant self-promotion make millions from narcissism. What does it say about society that these people attract an audience?

People turn a baseball cap backwards, mumble into a microphone and get paid millions for pumping out (c)rap. Reality TV creates instant fame for the most obnoxious people.

Some people have no shame or manners for that matter, yet society puts them front and centre on magazines, TV promos etc., and the crowd goes wild. What sort of message are we sending?

Political leaders who dare mention the concept of living within our means and paying down debt see their approval ratings plummet to a level that’s on a par with Ivan Milat.

I don’t get it.

The world is being dumbed down in oh-so-many ways. Experienced teachers are voicing concern over the watering down of curriculum content, not to mention the lack of respect and discipline from a growing percentage of the student body.

A dumb society makes dumb choices and accepts dumb decisions.

Perhaps this explains why the financial world no longer makes sense to me.

A 22 year old invents a virtual reality headset that enables people to play more realistic games and Facebook pays him US$2.8 billion for it. What’s the going rate for the cure for Alzheimer’s?

Twitter (a narcissist’s must-have) is valued at US$23 billion. I wouldn’t give you a hundred bucks for it. I’ve never used it and my life is none the poorer for not knowing what self-absorbed people are doing every minute of the day.

My grumpy old man rant could go on — Uber, Facebook, Alibaba. Sure these companies have a value, but not the stratospheric ones that are currently — and I stress, currently — applied to them.

This is the upside down, valueless society we currently — and again I stress, currently — live in.

There’s a scene in Remember the Titans where Gerry Bertier (the white captain of the football team) accuses Julius Campbell (one of the African American players) of having a bad attitude. Campbell replies, ‘Attitude reflects leadership, captain.’

And so it is with the attitude of today’s society.

For forty years, the Western world lived beyond its means, borrowing to fund a lifestyle we had not earned. The GFC was the moment when the natural order of the universe had had enough.

Instead of heeding this call, our leaders put on earmuffs, hummed loudly and continued on as if nothing had happen.

Were those responsible for bringing the financial system to its knees held accountable? Hell no, they were given trillions to recapitalise and go back to business as usual (and along the way pay the token billion or three in fines from the multi-billion dollar profits they’ve been making).

Politicians continue to think money grows on trees (and to a large degree, the central bankers confirm it) and go on making promises that in the longer term cannot be met.

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe is the pin-up boy for spendthrift politicians. Abe-san knows no bounds on how to conjure up money to pay for mounting interest, welfare, health and energy costs. Given the lacklustre turnout at the recent Japanese elections, my guess is most Japanese realise they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. So what the heck? — let Abe write his name in the ‘Catastrophic Disasters’ chapter of the economic history books.

Then we come to the leadership of our central bankers. These folks have enough letters after their names that you’d think they’d know better. Unfortunately, none of those letters spell c-o-m-m-o-n s-e-n-s-e.

Central bankers, in their effort to keep in play an economic model well past it use-by date, have turned the world of asset values upside down. Economic growth derived from wanton, credit funded spending is not sustainable.

In our upside down investment world, Japanese 10-year bonds are paying a measly 0.3% while Japan’s inflation rate is averaging around 1.5%. The Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) ability to print an unlimited amount of yen to finance Abe’s grand plans has completely distorted the bond market. Is this phenomenon permanent or temporary?

Likewise, we see the US share markets (S&P 500 and Dow Jones) soar to record highs during the most anaemic economic recovery since WWII. The wind beneath the market’s wings has been the Fed’s provision of plenty of cheap dollars to Wall Street. This is why multi-billion dollar valuations can be placed on tech companies that offer questionable value to society.

The following extremes in long term valuation metrics indicate how far from the norm we have strayed.

Valuation metric


Historical Mean

Year historical Mean measured from

Deviation from Mean

Shiller PE 10





Market Cap/GDP (the Buffett Index)





Tobin Q Ratio





The average deviation from mean is 70%. This is in the seriously over-valued territory where only the rarest and most infamous of markets have ventured — 1929, 2000 and 2007.

We may currently live in an upside down world, but the laws of mathematics remain the same — reversion to the mean is tried and true. The euphoria of ’29, ’00, and ’08 was short lived; the stratospheric prices soon returned to earth with a resounding thud.

The dumbing down of society has enabled our political and financial leaders to carry out this fraud in broad daylight. Mainstream economists not only endorse but actually encourage these hare-brained stimulus strategies.

Far too many people have little idea what is actually going on. So long as they can continue to buy tattoos, watch reality TV, play mindless computer games and listen to (c)rap while enjoying free health coverage and collecting welfare then all is okay with the world and woe betide anyone who wants to turn the world right side up.

Well, folks, a reversion to the mean is coming, and when it does, the world is going be far meaner to a lot of people.

My gut feeling is the corrective activity the universe has destined for us will be of such a magnitude that it will change society for generations to come.

And when it does, this grumpy old man will be a lot happier.

Vern Gowdie,
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

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Vern Gowdie

Vern Gowdie

Vern Gowdie has been involved in financial planning in Australia since 1986. In 1999, Personal Investor magazine ranked Vern as one of Australia’s Top 50 financial planners. His previous firm, Gowdie Financial Planning, was recognized in 2004, 2005, 2006 & 2007, by Independent Financial Adviser magazine as one of the top 5 financial planning firms in Australia. He is a feature contributing editor to The Daily Reckoning and is Founder and Chairman of the Gowdie Family Wealth advisory service and editor of the Gowdie Letter To follow Vern's financial world view more closely you can you can subscribe to The Daily Reckoning for free here.

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4 Comments on "It’s an Upside Down World Economy"

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1 year 9 months ago

Because the Wealthy of the world will never know the consequence’s of their actions.
The world will always remain an asylum for everyone.
We will always be buffeted by winds from all directions
without knowing why or where they come from.

Joe Tabone
Joe Tabone
1 year 9 months ago

Your article covers a lot of ground Vern, but it is one of the best written, most concise articles on the true state of affairs of humanity and finance I’ve read in a while. I couldn’t agree with you more, but maybe I too have become a grumpy (albeit not quite so old) man.

1 year 9 months ago

Well written the thing is this has gone on for so long now u start to think it will never correct we live in hope.Very well put.

1 year 9 months ago
In viewing this world from the lens of history, I do not see it as an upside-down world economy. This is, more or less, what you would expect it to be. I would suggest that it is Vern’s analysis that is upside down and not up to speed for investing in a world prior to the downturn in the hegemonic cycle; especially if you have missed what is soon to become the third longest US bull market in stocks since 1932, and with good gains still to come. It is a given that in a non-linear world that it is… Read more »
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