How Facebook could destroy the U.S. economy


(MarketWatch) — Facebook just joined a “troubled club,” warns the Economist. Now it’s just another “endangered public company.”

Yes, endangered. The number of public companies has declined 37% since 1997. The number of IPOs has dropped from 311 annually before 2000 to 99 in the past decade. Meanwhile, the smart CEOs and the Super Rich are “going private,” to avoid government red tape restricting capitalism.

Over at BusinessWeek they’re warning investors that the growing number of “cutesy mascots” is a dangerous reminder “of the dot-com boom’s irrational exuberance.” They’re also red flagging new reports that “more Chinese investors are betting on U.S. start-ups.” And feeding the flames.

What’s going on? Facebook’s in trouble, that’s what. Now in the crosshairs of public scrutiny, everybody’s taking potshots. And the warnings are just beginning:

Everything from Facebook (US:FB) being “too big to fail or succeed” to a Chicago attorney warning that the stock could “crater” if Facebook can’t grow revenues 41% annually for five years to “sustain its value” to a warning that Facebook’s one of the “black swans” that could eventually bring down the global economy.

Let’s begin, shining the bright light of behavioral science and psychology on what’s going on:

Facebook’s billion ‘friends’ in denial — 1999 deja vu

Behavioral economics is the new “psychology of denial.” Yes, it’s like falling in love. You can’t hear, can’t see the warning signs. Till after. After months of hype building up to this IPO, you’re convinced Facebook is your soul mate, that not getting shares in that IPO would leave you devastated, rejected by your true love. And nothing anyone says about the risks will change your mind. That’s the “psychology of denial.”

There are four main reasons for this pervasive psychology of denial among Main Street’s 95 million investors: First, investors hate admitting we’re irrational and ill-informed, so they cling to the fiction they’re rational. Second, optimism is the investor’s worst nightmare, but Americans still act optimistic no matter the odds. Third, Wall Street loves investors who are irrational, uninformed and optimistic; they’re easy to manipulate. Fourth, American investors are by nature trusting folks who want to believe Wall Street’s telling the truth, even though most of the time that’s not the case.

The Facebook mystique is so powerful today that in our minds Facebook truly is too big to fail. Facebook will never fail. Facebook will just keep growing indefinitely at rates that would remind us of the old dot-com mindset of 1999. Hail, Facebook — you are too big to fail, and nothing will change our minds.

And, paradoxically, that’s exactly why Facebook is the ultimate economy killer.

Global economy killer? Yes, Facebook has now been added to my list of global macroeconomic triggers (deadly unpredictable black swans like the dot-coms in 2000 and subprimes in 2008) that the denial system driving the collective brain of American investors will simply tune out, till it’s too late. Till a crash takes the economy down again.

And, yes, it may take years. Or trigger in 2012. We watched the same kind of buildup to the 2008 crash for a few years in advance, as credible warnings were ignored. Yes, folks, Facebook is that dangerous to our economy and to the global economy.

You think I’m kidding? Not one bit. In fact Facebook is now one of my top 12 economy-killing triggers, any one of which could ignite a firestorm.

These include: euro-zone ills, overpopulation, China, climate crisis, peak oil, the Fed’s cheap money, the 2012 elections, austerity vs. growth, high-frequency trading, extreme capitalism, and the black swan nobody ever sees coming till it hits — you know, a trigger like the 1914 assassination of a relatively unknown archduke that ignited a world war.

Facebook’s user success is a classic example of investor denial In today’s new age of behavioral economics, all this extreme denial creates an illusion that misleads us by minimizing risk in our brains. Remember Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s classic remark before the 2008 meltdown, that he was witnessing the “best economy in my career.”

Seriously, you keep asking, does our beloved too-big-to-fail Facebook really have that kind of economy-killing power? You bet. At least one of our too-big-to-fail banks like J.P. Morgan has trillions in hard assets, hundreds of billions in capital, and huge leverage with the Fed and Treasury.

But Facebook is just the opposite: It is too big to succeed. The cash value is now in the pockets of the insiders who are cashing out with the IPO. The real “value” is in the minds of a billion friends, which is still a collective illusion that must be kept alive with future cash.

There’s a huge possibility Facebook will lose big in the aftermarket, and eventually our love affair will evaporate. That’s short-term thinking, like a day trader’s.

Here we’re more concerned with the big picture long-term issues, where American investors are blowing a newer, bigger bubble, a black swan that truly can bring down the economy — bigger than 2000 and 2008 combined.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Oh … I almost forgot: You can’t see or hear any warnings, blinded by love for Facebook.

Is Facebook the sock puppet of today’s new dot-com bubble?When the honeymoon euphoria wears off (remember Kim Kardashian’s 57 days of bliss), and reality sets in, please remember the following remarks we just got from Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago lawyer and investor advocate. And remember that 93% of the time Wall Street insiders and their pundits are happy talking and can’t be trusted, so listen to some facts and perspective from the other side:

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