If your social media feed or favorite cable news show is full of dire warnings for weeks about an impending economic crisis, that’s a pretty good clue that there is no impending economic crisis. Real financial calamities are almost always surprises, although most are followed by plenty of after-the-fact claims of “I told you so.”
As I think about the real financial crises that have occurred in the almost 40 years I’ve been investing, I realize that none were discussed on television for weeks ahead of time. And the horrible things that are predicted for weeks on television seldom, if ever, turn out to be lasting, horrible things.
For weeks, politicians, public economists and news commentators have warned of the looming financial Armageddon caused by the debt ceiling crisis. Since 1995, we’ve been warned of a potentially devastating debt ceiling crisis about every 6 years. We will almost certainly have another one in January 2025.
The U.S. government has pretended to shut down 10 times since 1980; all were supposed to cause financial crises, although none actually did. The 2011 debt ceiling crisis was credited for spooking investors into a 2,000-point Dow Jones Industrial Average decline. Surely that qualifies as a crisis – except that six months later the market had increased 20% and 3 years later stocks were 60% higher. No crisis.
One of my favorite predicted crises was the economic collapse that would occur if Barack Obama was elected president. And Joe Biden. And Donald Trump, both Bushes, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, et. al. Plenty of predictions of doom to the contrary, the last U.S. president under whom the economy contracted during his term of office was Herbert Hoover.
Real economic crises aren’t predicted by the general media or your Facebook friends for weeks ahead of time. They are unexpected and seldom in areas of widespread concern. Most media outlets and commentators marched right into and through the mortgage bubble of 2007-09 without ever understanding what was happening at the time, if ever. The savings and loan crisis of the 1980s caught almost everyone off guard, as did the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank this year.
Real economic crises are both dangerous and rare. It is often precisely because these events haven’t been predicted that they cause significant turmoil. Widely telegraphed issues allow for preparation and contingency planning. It’s hard to prepare for the things you don’t see coming. The next real economic crisis will almost certainly stem from something you don’t expect. Just as we will almost certainly have plenty of erroneously predicted crises before then.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.