The word originally meant character—in Greek, of course: ήθος. And ethology is the study of animal behavior. Wikipedia distinguishes this from the study of human behavior.

As Austin Powers would say, ‘oh, behave!’ In what way are humans not animals? And in what ways is human behavior different? As in all higher animals, the balance is struck between selfishness and altruism, fear and greed—those are the core ‘characters’ that run the planet.

In war and peace, business and home, we play by those unwritten rules, and that forces us to define other rules to observe the boundaries—put simply, society tries to shift the balance a little from selfishness to altruism, and put limits on both fear and greed.

That’s why we pay taxes, observe speed limits, and punish murderers.

But the world turns at speed, and a bunch of these things spin out of control. One of the most worrying, as we stumble into 2016, is the Chinese stock market juggernaut. Jagganath, or Temple Car, is a ‘mercilessly destructive and impossible vehicle.’

Except in this case, we’re not talking about the bearer of Krishna crushing the faithful, and we’re certainly not talking of anything impossible—or metaphorical.

Although red in a lucky color in the Middle Kingdom, neither the big board or the woman's blouse seem to match her body language (picture from the Washington Post).

Although red is a lucky color in the Middle Kingdom, neither the big board or the woman’s blouse match her body language (picture courtesy of the Washington Post).

This picture tells a tragic story. The type of brokerage house on display is similar to those in the U.S. some decades ago, some would call them bucket shops. Back then, it was slips instead of computers, but the common ground is this: welcome to the stock market for the common man, which given time, is like supplying dynamite to children.

Stocks go up or down, and as a consequence it’s perfectly fair to bet either way. That of course is not the position of Cao Zenghui from Weibo.

It is not just a stock market issue any more. I will fight with forces who short China’s economy.

I don’t want to be a preposition pedant, but surely ‘against’ would be a better choice. Or in the words of another of his colleagues.

Hold stocks with confidence. Win glory for the country even if you lose the last penny.

When Marxist-Leninist slogan slinging becomes part of this equation, you know  things are on a war footing. For the common people, the situation in China is a thing of despair.

An excellent article in the Washington Post describes a small village, like many I’ve visited in rural China, that succumbed to what Scottish journalist Charles Mackay termed ‘extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds.’

The village is called Nanliu—there’s a certain irony in the fact that nan means south. Nanliu is in Shaanxi province, which is bordered to the east by Shanxi province.

Confused? The government added an extra ‘a’ to the first one, so their pinyin spelling would not be identical—the ‘a’ only differs in tone.

This is the Chinese heartland, where people’s skin is brown from the sun, not the pale alabaster of the dynastic classes. They farm from sunup to sundown, and everyone works, humans and animals alike. They export their kids to the migrant worker factories that feed the Walmarts of the West.

A group of Nanliu farmers, led by the village chief, did exactly the same as the Icelandic fishermen who collapsed their nation in 2008—they became speculators. It’s challenging to find commonality between Chinese and Icelanders, but for clarity I’ll use a scientific term—neither had a fucking clue about what they were doing.

And right now their investments have gone south, and in this predictable and completely avoidable horror story, a number of them lost their life savings. The other consequences have been the breakdown of family relationships and of the community itself—the village chief has vanished.

There is a subtle difference between Iceland and China—the Middle Kingdom has farms bigger than Iceland. So when, in a completely connected world, a nation with the second largest GDP (third if you count the EU) goes into free fall, and that nation happens to be the world’s biggest bond holder, a huge manufacturing power, and a market growth engine for German luxury cars, the planet is put on notice—these days, every time China coughs, the DAX gets a chill.

China’s economy is still expanding at over six percent, but if the contraction pattern evident in the last years continues, and the stock market experiment that has ruined so many smallholders has a tragic end, the sleeping tiger will stir.

The nanhui farmers read books like A Farmer’s Hundreds of Millions of Wealth Legend, but not The Madness of Crowds.

That ‘Farmer’ book? Here’s the blurb.

How should we understand the nature of the financial investment? What kind of mentality should participate in the market? How should analyze the macro environment and the specific breed? Change how to seize the historic opportunity? Now the price in the end is high or low? The price will go up which direction? How supply and demand with a balance to effectively measure? Satisfaction guaranteed, or money back.

I particularly like the ‘which direction’ bit. What part of ‘up’ do you not understand? Oh, well, the book costs sixty-eight bucks, so they’ll get that back on account of the historic opportunity.

And the other one? By what’s his name, Mackay? He wrote that in 1841.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.


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