When the World Stops Making Sense

by Inya Ivkovic, MA

There are all kinds of numbers floating out there, serving very little purpose but to disorient us even more. Take, for example, China. Depending on whose team you’re cheering for, China could surpass the U.S. economy in a decade, in two decades, perhaps in three, or never really. But I’m not interested now in figuring out who’s right, but in illustrating how the world in which we operate has become exceedingly confusing, and has even stopped making sense.

Who can forget how, two years ago, many economists argued that the subprime endemic could be contained? We were also led to believe that no economic downturn could touch Asia, while Wall Street could do no wrong. And that brings me to the question: who is coming up with all those numbers and just how reliable are they? After all, many of our decisions depend on those numbers and how we interpret them.

Going back to China, according to some analysts’ calculations, China’s economy has just about reached that of Japan’s. But, then again, how could China have such an amazing GDP growth go largely undetected by the rest of the world until 2005, give or take a quarter, when it allegedly surpassed the Austrian economy? And, in 2007, China claimed it surpassed Germany and became the world’s third largest economy. Considering the dire straits the U.S. economy is in right now, for all we know, China could surpass it as early as next year?

Not to be disrespectful, but China isn’t exactly known for being a champion of full disclosure and transparency. The joke about
monkeys and dart boards doesn’t get played on money managers only. In reality, as we learned from those who dared to lose before us, China is structurally imbalanced and navigating through a multitude of often reality-detached top-down policies is worse than walking through an actual minefield.

In China’s defense, it cannot be easy capturing the economic activity of a population of over 1.3 billion, dispersed at various levels of poverty and prosperity every single day in a year. On the other hand, there is that constant pressure from the government to be the best, to dazzle the world with outstanding numbers, to make the headlines, and, ultimately, to attract traders. This apparent contradiction is why the world doubts China’s economy.

Now, in the spirit of honesty, who knows what goes on with economic data produced from the U.S. either? Considering the size of the U.S. economy, the only factor that could have brought it to its knees was Wall Street, and not oil, as I’ve heard some economists now claim. It was Wall Street that created complex financial products that no one understood or knew what to do with, but upon which so much fictitious wealth was built. Obviously, when assets are incorrectly valuated, so is the economy, be it on a national or an international level.

It’s no wonder most of us feel as if we’re living in suspended reality, with some of us driven to insanity from worrying about things we cannot control. It could be that China’s economy will soon surpass the U.S. economy and that there will be a seismic shift in the world order. On the other hand, it could all be just a horrible nightmare. Also, it could be that the U.S. economy could free itself from the clutches of this recession by the end of this year. On the other hand, it could be that the Great Recession of 2008/2009 will turn the dial back, sending us all to medieval times. But that’s how it is when the world stops making sense.