Saturday, January 21, 2023
New York Times Op-Ed: The Crypto Collapse and the End of the Magical Thinking That Infected Capitalism, by Mihir A. Desai (Harvard Business School & Harvard Law School; Google Scholar):
I have come to view cryptocurrencies not simply as exotic assets but as a manifestation of a magical thinking that had come to infect part of the generation who grew up in the aftermath of the Great Recession — and American capitalism, more broadly.
For these purposes, magical thinking is the assumption that favored conditions will continue on forever without regard for history. It is the minimizing of constraints and trade-offs in favor of techno-utopianism and the exclusive emphasis on positive outcomes and novelty. It is the conflation of virtue with commerce. ...
For the past decade, being a finance professor meant being asked about crypto or about novel valuation methods for unprofitable companies — and being smiled at (and ignored) when I would counter with traditional instincts. Every business problem, I am told, can be solved in radically new and effective ways by applying artificial intelligence to ever-increasing amounts of data with a dash of design thinking. Many graduates coming of age in this period of financial giddiness and widening corporate ambition have been taught to chase these glittery objects with their human and financial capital instead of investing in sustainable paths — a habit that will be harder to instill at later ages. ...
The end of magical thinking is upon us as cryptocurrencies and valuations are collapsing — and that is good news. Vested interests will resist that trend by continuing to propagate fictions. But rising rates and a return to more routine business cycles will continue to provide the rude awakening that began in 2022.
What comes next? Hopefully, a revitalization of that great American tradition of pragmatism will follow. Speculative assets without any economic function should be worth nothing. Existing institutions, flawed as they are, should be improved upon rather than being displaced. Risk and return are inevitably linked.
Corporations are valuable socially because they solve problems and generate wealth. But they should not be trusted as arbiters of progress and should be balanced by a state that mediates political questions. Trade-offs are everywhere and inescapable. Navigating these trade-offs, rather than ignoring them, is the recipe for a good life.