Pop!: Why Bubbles Are Great For The Economy

Three cheers for “exuberant, foolish, mad overinvestment!” Slate columnist Gross takes a counterintuitive look at economic bubbles-those once-in-a-generation crazes that everyone knows can’t last, and don’t. With each one, we lament having gotten in too late, and then not having gotten out soon enough, and finally shake our heads at the inevitable bankruptcies and lost jobs and general financial wreckage. The pattern is all too familiar, which is why Gross’s argument is so intriguing: that these bubbles, with their hype and madness and overenthusiasm, are not to be feared-they’re actually a primary engine of “America’s remarkable record of economic growth and innovation.” The author surveys modern bubbles and finds the benefits far more durable than the disruptions: in each case, most investors flopped, but businesses and consumers found themselves with a “usable commercial infrastructure” that they quickly put to new uses. The telegraph “led to the creation of national and international financial markets”; extra railroad lines made national consumer brands possible and gave consumers access to distant stores; extra fiber-optic capacity gave everyone Internet access after the bust. Gross drops zingers throughout his cheery history, amusingly highlighting parallels between past and current bubbles. He concludes-with admirable practicality-by calling for a “real bubble” to jump-start alternative-energy programs.
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