Few readers will be unaware that our current era has been widely regarded as the Information Age. The preceding epoch of the Industrial Revolution, marked by the production, distribution and consumption of goods, is regarded to have been superseded by a world increasingly dominated by the creation, collection, storage, collation, processing, distribution and consumption of Information. 1970 seems to be a generally agreed upon date for its beginning.
While the transition of the world's motive force from Industry to Information may be widely accepted, the full implications of that shift for every sphere of human endeavor--economics, finance, society and politics--is far less widely known. While this is easily the subject of entire books, I am going to present an outline of its key features here.
I believe that this matter goes to the core of everything we are seeing and experiencing in finance and the economy at the present juncture. Information is the heart and substance of the very rapidly emerging and imminent new world. Information is the new Capital.
Under Industrialism, the generation of value added through industrial processes created surplus value (value above and beyond that inherent in the raw material, labor and energies required to produce the product) which was accumulated as Capital. The control, distribution and application of accumulated surplus value Capital was of course known as Capitalism. Capital could be reapplied to the same process which produced it, or it could be used to enhance and improve such a process, or it could be directed to another process or even an entirely different or new industry entirely. It was a mobile, fungible, transferable and translatable substance. The dynamic and organic properties of that substance made the explosion of transformative and amplifying human activity possible. As more surplus was generated, greater and greater populations could be supported from ever-increasing production. The disposition of ever-more industrial and consumer products produced markets of buyers and sellers to arrive at a price in which goods were exchanged for stored value in units of currency.
One of the problems faced by this system, however, was that it needed to constantly expand. It was not a system that could be maintained in a state of equilibrium. By its own mechanics, it had to constantly grow. When it reached a stage in which no further growth was possible, severe dislocations occurred. These tended to self-correct as capital found new ways to expand into new markets, frequently as a result of new technological developments.
As financial markets for accumulated capital developed, capitalism created mechanisms for amplifying and leveraging capital and charging fees and interest for the lending and borrowing of it. This increased the fluid properties, or liquidity, of capital and allowed it to flow more rapidly to uses which could generate a greater return, staving off the tendency for growth to stagnate, but also accentuating the dislocations that inevitably occurred as a result of this amplification.
With the advent of central banking and fiat money, financial capitalism increasingly sought to postpone and prevent periods of dislocation through increased liquidity. The eventual merger of state power and finance capital led to Financialism, the final stage of Capitalism.
The period of 2000-2020 was the the extinguishing phase of the old paradigm based on Capital as well as the gestational transitional phase of the new paradigm based on Information. That period of time saw the gathering and accentuating of fundamental and unstoppable forces that absolutely mandate a systemic shift away from Capital.
The fundamental impulse of Financialism is Inflation, which we can read as the drive to expand the flow of capital. The fundamental oppositional force is Deflation, which we can read as the accelerating tendency towards the degradation of the value of capital. Viewed another way, in relationship to Debt, the fundamental unit of Capital in Financialism, the unit of value produced for every new unit of debt vanishingly decreases. In this sense, Deflation is the same thing as the inability to create new value from new debt.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, some of the most important, core fundamental deflationary forces that are requiring a systemic shift include:
Technology. The sprint towards the "technoligization" of every aspect of human endeavor is highly deflationary. Fewer and fewer units of labor inputs (human or mechanized) and fewer and fewer units of energy inputs are required to generate greater and greater units of value.
Commodification. There is a general acceleration towards the commodification of all consumer and industrial products, another highly deflationary trend. Only the newest and most advanced technological process are capable of producing sufficient added value to be economically viable as capital. Even computer chips, the core input to technological innovation, become entirely commodified almost as fast as they are invented.
Depopulation. Population trends are accelerating towards an outright decline of the child-bearing age group and the under-65 consuming age group, while the non-productive, cost-inducing over 65 age group explodes as a percent of overall population. Capitalism cannot grow and perpetuate itself absent an ever-increasing population of consumers and tips into implosion once the population of non-producers outweighs the producers and consumers.
As a result of these and other related forces, the spread between value-added and surplus value has become ever narrower and the system absolutely requires ever-increasing liquidity in order to support even marginal growth.
These unstoppable secular deflationary trends are absolute anathema to the established Keynesian, monetarist, debt-driven Financialist model of capitalism. There is simply no fundamental way for the existing paradigm to perpetuate itself and systemic shift is the only option.
While it might be a challenge for the economically uninitiated to get a handle on the nature and mechanism of Capital, it pales in comparison to the task of understanding the substance and properties of Information. One of the best ways to get a primary understanding of the subject is James Gleick's "The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood". I would go so far as to say it is essential reading. The enormity and the absolute applicability of Information Theory to absolutely everything, particularly that which is at the forefront of our present circumstances, is well-summarized in these excerpts from the Prologue:
People began to name a successor to the Iron Age and the Steam Age... We can see now that information is what our world runs on: the blood and the fuel, the vital principle. It pervades the sciences from top to bottom, transforming every branch of knowledge. Information theory began as a bridge from mathematics to electrical engineering and from there to computing. What English speakers call “computer science” Europeans have known as informatique, informatica, and Informatik. Now even biology has become an information science, a subject of messages, instructions, and code. Genes encapsulate information and enable procedures for reading it in and writing it out. Life spreads by networking. The body itself is an information processor. Memory resides not just in brains but in every cell. No wonder genetics bloomed along with information theory. DNA is the quintessential information molecule, the most advanced message processor at the cellular level—an alphabet and a code, 6 billion bits to form a human being. “What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life,’ ” declares the evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins. “It is information, words, instructions.… If you want to understand life, don’t think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.” The cells of an organism are nodes in a richly interwoven communications network, transmitting and receiving, coding and decoding. Evolution itself embodies an ongoing exchange of information between organism and environment...The gene has its cultural analog, too: the meme. In cultural evolution, a meme is a replicator and propagator—an idea, a fashion, a chain letter, or a conspiracy theory. On a bad day, a meme is a virus. Economics is recognizing itself as an information science, now that money itself is completing a developmental arc from matter to bits, stored in computer memory and magnetic strips, world finance coursing through the global nervous system. Even when money seemed to be material treasure, heavy in pockets and ships’ holds and bank vaults, it always was information. Coins and notes, shekels and cowries were all just short-lived technologies for tokenizing information about who owns what. And atoms? Matter has its own coinage, and the hardest science of all, physics, seemed to have reached maturity. But physics, too, finds itself sideswiped by a new intellectual model...Particle physicists did not need bits. And then, all at once, they did. Increasingly, the physicists and the information theorists are one and the same. The bit is a fundamental particle of a different sort: not just tiny but abstract—a binary digit, a flip-flop, a yes-or-no. It is insubstantial, yet as scientists finally come to understand information, they wonder whether it may be primary: more fundamental than matter itself. They suggest that the bit is the irreducible kernel and that information forms the very core of existence. Bridging the physics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, John Archibald Wheeler, the last surviving collaborator of both Einstein and Bohr, put this manifesto in oracular monosyllables: “It from Bit.” Information gives rise to “every it—every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself.”...“What we call reality,” Wheeler wrote coyly, “arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions.” He added: “All things physical are information-theoretic in origin, and this is a participatory universe.” The whole universe is thus seen as a computer—a cosmic information-processing machine.
Now, there is a lot to unpack there, and the book does this as well as anything I have read. But once you do the unpacking and assimilate at least the essence of Information Theory, you will be infinitely better positioned to understand everything about our current world and the trajectory of all phenomena including stocks, finance and economics.
One key takeaway is that Information is infinitely more fundamental than Capital. Capital is the accumulated substance of human transformative effort, which was, for about 300 years, a qualitative leap above the previously dominant organizing principle governing human affairs, which is probably best summarized as Authority. But, as you can see from just the few passages quoted above, Information originates in the very foundational levels of the Universe itself.
Science has generally agreed for quite some time that Matter is Energy. But if we are interested in an understanding rooted in first principles, we must further enquire into the nature of Energy. Currently, the most advanced science tends towards concluding that Energy is Information.
Humanity is at the juncture of mucking about with the core Informational stuff of Reality. And, going forward from here, absolutely everything that we do, everything that we produce, everything that we distribute, everything that we think, everything that we value, will inexorably be a factor of its properties as Information.
The substance of Information is the new capital and the new currency of the realm, from which all other forms are derived and to which all other properties are beholden.
The implication of the preceding is that a new system based entirely on Information is the inevitable way forward.
At BullBear Trading, we have been anticipating an eventual very long term secular paradigm shift in markets, economics, politics and society since the start of the new long term bull market wave in 2011. The expectation has been for a phenomenon roughly equivalent in character and significance to that which occurred in the 1929-1949 period, marking a 70 year cycle and functionally equivalent to what Strauss and Howe described as “The Fourth Turning”. In the 2017-2018 time frame I started to project that the shift would come in 2020. In January and February 2020 I told subscribers that there were technical signals which warranted caution for bullishly positioned traders and investors. After the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) printed below its October 2019 low, I told subscribers that the anticipated Secular Shift was upon us.
The onset of the last shift was marked by the Crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression, and the current shift is marked by the Coronacrisis. While the past can often inform the present, it’s also a reliable truth that historic cycles tend to rhyme rather than repeat. Our current “Fourth Turning” is at least as significant as the prior comparable shift, and more likely of a higher degree in that it involves a systemic shift and not just a secular shift within the context of the same ongoing system. That systemic shift is from a Capital-centric system to an Information-centric system.
On the one hand, we may say that the secular shift has occurred, in the sense that a “tipping point” has been reached, from which there is a forward momentum that makes any return to the context of the past paradigm impossible. On the other hand, we may also say that the shift is a process that is ongoing and yet to be fully completed and consolidated. Given the accelerating effects of technology, time is unfolding in shorter, compressed intervals, so that what may have required decades is transpiring within months or weeks.
While the 1929-1949 period was transitional in nature, giving birth to a new secular order in the course of a long labor over a protracted period of time, the birth of our currently newborn world was more sudden and akin to a c-section following a long pregnancy, with the infant system violently ripped from History’s womb and spanked sharply into its first shrieking breaths by the Coronapanic , economic collapse and social destabilization.
The new system is best described as "Technocracy". History may retroactively settle on a different appellation to describe the phenomenon, but of the options from the existing lexicon, Technocracy seems to fit best.
Technocracy is a term that originated in the 1930's, in the depths of the Great Depression. It was a movement that advocated the end of capitalist free markets and the rule by committees of technical experts. Then, as today, capitalism was perceived to have failed the population and there was a drive towards a rational allocation of resources in opposition to the organic and anarchic mechanisms of the free market.
It's interesting that if we look at this cover of the movement's magazine today, the giant robot seems threatening and scary to us, a behemoth from a Sci-Fi movie, but at that time it was meant to represent Technology routing the greedy Capitalists and taking over Washington, D.C. Technology was to be the People's hero. It's also very interesting to note that the headline advocates Universal Basic Income.
The vision of the Technocracy Movement of the 1930's was "an energy theory of value". Since the basic measure common to the production of all goods and services was energy, they reasoned "that the sole scientific foundation for the monetary system was also energy", and that by using an energy metric instead of a monetary metric (energy certificates or 'energy accounting') a more efficient design of society could be made. If we keep in mind that Energy is Information, and substitute the latter for the former, we get a remarkable approximation of many of the current ideas such as Modern Monetary Theory and Universal Basic Income in the context of an Information-centric, fully automated, Artificial Intelligence-managed socioeconomics. The Technocratic ideas are not new, but at that time the technical means of realizing them did not actually exist. Today they do exist.
In the present context of a shift to an Information-centric system, the Central Banks are shepherding the transition from the old paradigm to the new by providing plenty of liquidity for both private industry and government at zero percent interest to fund the transition to a fully automated, robotized, artificial intelligence managed economy with a UBI-supported population. New technologies will be rapidly developed and deployed over the next 10 years to a degree that the world will be almost unrecognizable. A suite of mutually self-reinforcing technologies are propagating a parabolic growth curve. Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing are currently being realized as practical realities and will unlock other technologies from New Materials to Nuclear Fusion Reactors. The exponential increase in our command over Information is placing absolutely transformative technologies immediately on deck for realization.
While to the uninitiated this may seem like hyperbole, it is not. There are plenty of resources from authoritative science and corporate sources that verify that the Information-centric, technology revolution is upon us now. Watch this video with Director of IBM Research Dario Gil:
The Future of Quantum Computing with IBM's Dario Gil
This brief video gives a beginning sense of the breakneck pace and awesome scope of robotization, automation and artificial intelligence management.
The accumulation, control, manipulation, distribution and consumption of Information is the new currency of the realm and the new Capital. It is becoming clear that we need to look at our world and our economy and the financial system as a flow of Information, not a flow of Capital. If we change our perspective in this way, much that does not make sense begins to come into focus.
THE SYSTEMIC SHIFT
Some of the external expressions of the current secular systemic shift include:
In the post-Cuban missile crisis world and through the Reagan era, most citizens of the advanced nations lived in a collective state of fear of global nuclear annihilation. This was a rational fear that was produced from the fact that intractably opposed superpowers were armed with weapons that really could destroy us all. This traumatic terror did not extend to the entire population of the globe, however, since the overwhelming bulk of the population of the “3rd World” had little to no knowledge of global geopolitics and military technologies. Most of the world's population continued to live on in ignorance as though the real threat of annihilation did not exist.
The Coronapanic of 2020, however, has extended to virtually every citizen of every country throughout the world. Irrational fear has been imposed by force and propaganda leading to the practical subjugation of billions. For the first time in human history, the entire planet has been enveloped in a state of locked-down terror.
Media, government, scientific and think-tank voices of authority are declaring loudly and continually, as they did in the wake of 911, that “nothing will ever be the same again” and that “there will be no return to normalcy”. The intention to reorganize and transform all of socioeconomics is entirely unambiguous. Clearly, a historical line of demarcation has been crossed.
It’s also clear that it’s time for a thorough re-evaluation of all preconceptions of the core nature of current financial, economic, political and social structures. Those of us that choose to remain active participants in the structures that are labelled “markets” need to go through a process of redefining terms, refreshing the applicable lexicon, reforming the analytical framework and otherwise updating our entire outlook to conform with the nearest possible understanding of the new reality.
Observers and commentators of the financial system have been struggling to come to terms with what is often referred to as a “disconnect” that only ever seems to grow more acute. Many are reduced to outrage, indignation and the hurling of insults at a system that does not conform to any recognized theory of markets, finance and economics.
Here's a video with three well-known and widely-followed market analysts Guy Adami of CNBC, Dan Nathan and Sven Heinrich:
I like these guys. I think they really mean well and they are sincerely trying to figure out what is going on and trying to point people in the right direction. But like most observers of the current situation, they are woefully behind the curve. In this post I am trying to spark a realization in the minds of at least some readers that the analytical frameworks applicable to Capitalism and Markets no longer apply, simply because they fundamentally no longer exist. There has been a fundamental systemic shift.
There is a broad state of “cognitive dissonance” in which the secular shift is unobservable for many because the enormity of the gap between what is known and presupposed and what is currently presented disallows effective cognition.
This cognitive gap is present at every secular shift. Some “get it” early on (or were the progenitors of the shift) while others resist it and advocate for a preservation of old ways. Yet we really did go from the horse and buggy to the automobile, from the horse delivered written message to the telephone, from the oil lamp to the electric light bulb. Each of those transformations was ridiculed in its time. All around us, on every level of human endeavor, we are seeing the onset of transformative change that makes these examples seem like standing still.
While the process of bridging the cognitive gap between the old and the new is difficult and even painful, it is absolutely necessary if we are to remain engaged in the financial system as it is. What I am proposing here is really the subject of entire books, but I’d like to at least begin to outline its beginning in this report.
To be effective, we can’t let ourselves fall into the trap of oppositional politics or conspiracy theory rhetoric. Our goal is to see clearly and act in accordance with what is objectively observed. Objects such as “corruption”, “deceit” and “manipulation” do exist however, so they can be included inside of any analytical framework. The key is to recognize such factors as they present themselves without emotional reactivity. It is what it is, but you don’t have to get upset or angry about it. That’s the job of philosophers, politicians and commentators, not analysts. Our job is to understand what is, as it is, so that we can act accordingly.
Having said that, it’s entirely reasonable for any person of good conscience to be upset about many features of the new reality as it currently presents itself. The growing wealth distribution disparity, the increasing difficulty of securing meaningful and gainful employment, the concentration of political power in fewer hands, the manipulation of the mass mind by technological propaganda and ever-expanding sociopolitical divisiveness are just some of features of our actual experience which are legitimately concerning.
One way to start to establish the features and characteristics of a new paradigm is to identify first what it is not.
First, let’s face the fact that the current crisis is not the result of a virus. It is the result of the response by authority to the virus. The policy of lockdown and shutdown was a choice. It was clearly not the only option and it has become clear that the virus is not the mass killer it was purported to be by the computer models promoted by the global medical and political authorities. The virus did not radically alter the trajectory of financial, economic, political and social systems. The policy decisions of authority did. We have already been promised that there will be a “Second Wave” of coronacrisis in the fall and winter. We can look forward to a doubling-down on the policy decisions of the spring as the traditional “flu season” approaches.
The virus was not the cause of disrupted and collapsing systems, it was the catalyst.
Many have commented that “free market capitalism is dead” since the central banks of the world and their governmental organs decided to adopt a policy of full and unlimited intervention in the wake of the policy-induced crisis. While it may be argued that total intervention is a short-term phenomenon, we have yet to ever see a central bank or government extension of power rolled back. In fact, government and central bank interventionary efforts are continuing to expand. The likelihood is that there will be no curtailment and only a continuation.
We cannot talk about “free markets” when there is an actor that can and does intervene by buying and selling in any amount at any time for any reason for any length of time in any market that it chooses. That is the principle that has been firmly and inexorably established by recent policy action.
It is already known beyond a shadow of a doubt that in the next 10-15 years vast swaths of the labor force will be replaced by robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. There are no plans at all to transition this displaced labor to anything other than a life of subsistence dependency on some form of Universal Basic Income.
Effectively, we are in a post-market economy. Capitalism and markets are vestigial formalisms of the past.
In the past, fundamental economic data like Gross Domestic Product and Unemployment and market data points such as Price/Earnings or technicals such as Breadth, mattered. They don't anymore, because we have seen a fundamental paradigm shift. We are no longer operating under a capitalist, market based system. "They don't ring a bell at the top" and they don't announce secular systemic paradigm shifts on CNBC, either. They just do it and force your perception to eventually catch up to reality.
If we want to continue to play in the vestigial formalistic "capital markets", we will need to get a handle on what the New Fundamentals and the New Technicals really are in the New Technocracy. Future editions of the BullBear Market Report will delve into these areas.
For now, let's just note that the charts are confirming the shift to Technocracy. Technology stocks have closed the month of May at new monthly all-time closing highs.
Nasdaq Composite, monthly, line on close:
The rally off the low has been vertical and faster than the decline from the early 2020 high. The market remains in a clear trend channel from the 2009 low. The 50 month EMA, site of the initiation of the new bull market from the 2011 low, has not even been tested on a closing basis.
Nasdaq 100, the largest capitalization issues in the Nasdaq, is already well above its January 2020 all-time monthly closing high and still well within its trend channel from 2009 and and well above the key bull market support of its 50 month Exponential Moving Average (in blue).
Obviously, this chart is not pricing in an economy that is in a depression from which it is unlikely to recover quickly, a society that is in a state of anarchy with an actual attempt at revolution in progress and a world that is in a de-facto state of asymmetrical, 4th Generation war between its two biggest powers. If these objective facts are not part of the equation, the price of NDX must be reflecting something else. It is reflecting the systemic shift to an Information-based socioeconomic order.
The ratio of Nasdaq 100 to Nasdaq Composite blew through its 2000 high in 2020:
Semiconductors index made a new all-time closing high for the month:
Ditto for biotech:
Internet, Cloud Computing and Computer Indexes absolutely crushing their former highs:
Artificial Intelligence and Robotics:
As of April 30, the megatechs were already trading higher for the year while the rest of US stocks were well under water YTD.
Tech companies are buying back their own shares again, dwarfing all other areas:
The megatechs are now the largest concentration of index capitalization in history:
The capitalization of the Nasdaq Index increasingly dwarfs that of the capitalization of the rest of the world (ex-US).
The only sector of global stocks that is experiencing earnings growth is Technology.
Obviously, big money is betting that Technology literally rules. Once could apply all sorts of old paradigm metrics and analytics and say that the above charts are "wrong" and that a crash "must" result. And many are doing just that. That amounts to shaking your fist at the sky and stomping your feet like a petulant child. No amount of complaining or moralizing is going to produce the desired result. It is what it is.
I looked around the rest of the SPX sectors and various specialty ETFs to see what else might be joining Big Tech in making new monthly all-time closing highs.
Since there is unlimited funny munny available to back any and all growth unicorns that won't see actual profits in who-knows-how long (mostly tech stocks), bets that future growth stocks will be the next AMZN are on fire.
Ditto for Global Megacap Growth:
Healthcare (really, Sickness Management) stocks have exploded as it is expected that the sector will continue to receive a boondoggle of funny munny in response to the permanent coronacrisis.
Consumer Discretionary is almost at a new all time closing high since the rich are getting richer and will continue to buy expensive stuff that nobody really needs at inflated prices.
Given the collapse in brick and mortar retailing its at first a bit of a surprise to see that the Retail sector ETF is also at a new monthly closing high, until you realize that the ETF is heavily weighted towards AMZN and a small group of mega retailers such as Walmart:
Home Depot Inc
Lowe's Cos Inc
Cvs Health Corp
Costco Wholesale Corp
The total destruction of small and medium local retailers is no doubt expected to permanently cement the absolute dominance of a small handful of online and big box retailers.
Meanwhile, the rest of the US stock market still needs to rally over 11% to get above its prior monthly closing high:
The 10 week EMA of the ratio of the Wilshire 4500 to the Nasdaq 100 has plummeted to new all time lows in 2020:
If you want to, you can see bear monthly divergences on some of the Nasdaq 100 oscillators, and you can say that some of the others are very overbought. I'd say that we won't see a substantial correction until RSI matches or exceeds its prior all time high.
Personally, I like Capitalism and individual Freedom. But my personal preferences are utterly meaningless in the face of the tidal wave of fundamental historical forces that are impelling the secular, systemic shift. The end of Capitalism is at hand, whether we like it or not. Many pine for a return to something in the past that they perceive was better or good. But there is no going back, no restoration. Some form on technologically centered socio-political economy is fundamentally inevitable. The only question is what its specific features will be, how it will be managed and how people are going to interact with it. If large numbers of people can wake up to the simple fact of what is actually happening, they may be able to successfully organize to have an effect on the outcome. The ONLY issue that any competent social movement, political party or interested individual needs to concern themselves with is forcing a vigorous, upfront discussion and hard-nosed negotiating about the exact political, social and economic features of the inevitably forthcoming Technocracy. If this does not happen, then we are going to be saddled with what they give us. And it may be very far from what we would have chosen.
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Thank you Leslie!
This is the most succinct description I've seen about what we observe in today's world. Each paragraph gave me an "aha" moment. Thank you Steven!
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