The Advance of Technology and Major Bubble Collapses: Historical Regularities and Lessons for Today
The current crisis is not an accidental event in the financial system. It is a historically recurrent phenomenon endogenous to the market system. It results from the way technological revolutions are assimilated. Such major collapses signal the need for a structural shift in the forces guiding growth and innovation from financial to production capital and to the return of an active state. If history is a guide, a global golden age may lie ahead.
All bubbles are about greed and herd behaviour regulation tries to avoid their worst excesses, but some bubbles are also about the installation of technological revolutions and making overall paradigm shifts. The crash of 1929 and the twin collapses of 2000 and 2007-8 are of this type. Recovery from the consequences of those bubbles requires major institutional innovation to enable the real economy to flourish. The basis for making those statements is the evidence of regular historical patterns of diffusion and assimilation of technological revolutions in the economy and society.
There have been five technological revolutions in 240 years: the first was the ‘Industrial Revolution’ from 1771, with the introduction of machinery for textile factories and the construction of a national network of canals for trade (the “internet” of the time). From 1829, we had the age of steam, coal, iron and railways; from 1875 there was the age of steel and heavy engineering (electrical, chemical, civil, naval), when cheap high-quality steel made it possible to build fast transcontinental railways, rapid steamships (replacing sailing vessels) and transoceanic telegraph. All that led to the first globalisation, with worldwide sourcing (and pricing) of minerals as well as counter-seasonal trade in agriculture.