The edible gold indicator (III)

Does a gilded birthday cake presage the end of the economic cycle?

Edible gold cake

I ate gold, for the third time ever, this week. The last time was late 2006; the time before was 1999. This might mean something.

In 1999 and 2006, I thought it meant something because, for unrelated reasons, it was obvious that an economic/financial cycle had gone much too far, and was about to end. Literally eating gold, at the manic height of a bubble, was too funny not to comment on.

I wrote a draft of “Fin de cycle” (about eating gold in 2006) at the same time as “The edible gold indicator (I)” (about 1999). I published the latter in 2011. Two months ago, I went down into the dark and dusty drafts directory to find and finish “Fin de cycle.” As explained in a follow-up comment, that was because I’d read things that made me think we may, once again, be getting close to the end.

Two months ago, I hadn’t seen gold to eat in nine years. And then, last week: a chocolate cake with gold leaf scattered on it. Is this meaningful? Who knows… it’s striking timing, though, considering how close it is to my deciding it was time to publish “Fin de cycle.”

And, certainly, there are plenty of reasons to think the six-and-a-half-year-old bull market in all financial assets is past its prime; and the global economic expansion looks increasingly dyskinesic. However, unlike 1999 and 2006, I don’t have a knock-down argument, based on monetary flows, that the party has to end soon. Money is now unlimited, detached from reality, printed at will. Also, the gold I ate is not as elegant as the gold of those years…

I had some of the cake in the picture above in San Francisco a few days ago. There’s bits of gold leaf gilding the edges of the chocolate foliage. It’s less impressive than the dessert I ate with Rasheed in 1999, but—it’s still gold!

I lived and dined in San Francisco during the late-’90s “dot com” bubble. San Francisco seems even more insane now than it did then. However, The Economist had an interesting article a few months ago, pointing out that the Bay Area is now the center of the global economy, for rational reasons, which means it rationally ought to have something like forty million people in it, rather than the eight-ish million it does now. This makes some sense, although I hate it.

I first lived in the Bay Area—Palo Alto—in 1985. I loved it. That Bay Area is gone, utterly. Every time I visit, it is more of a shock. (This is called “being old,” technically.) All the qualities that made it what it was have faded, or are gone.

But, apparently, every generation feels this way about the Bay Area they knew. I recently heard it described as “a much nicer version of New York.” That makes huge sense of it to me, now. If you like New York, you’ll love the 2015 Bay Area. I don’t.

Canberra
Canberra photo courtesy Francisco Martins

I spent a month in Canberra, Australia, recently. (“You what??” all my Australian readers are thinking. “No one goes there who doesn’t have to.”) Canberra in 2015 reminds me strongly of Palo Alto in 1985 (minus the tech industry). Visiting was profoundly nostalgic—a sense of being at home in a way I haven’t felt in thirty years. (Australians make fun of Canberra for being terminally dull. It is dull—but exceedingly pleasant. I think they’re prejudiced by the fact that it’s their capital, and every country loves to ridicule its government. “A waste of a perfectly good sheep station” is the city’s unofficial motto.)

So if San Francisco is the center of the global economy, it may not be in a bubble, any more than Shanghai was in a bubble ten years ago. It’s just turning into the next Shanghai. They probably ate gold in Shanghai ten years ago, too.

Anyone reading this live in Peoria? Are they eating gold there now?

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Author: David Chapman

Author of the book Meaningness and several Buddhist sites.

9 thoughts on “The edible gold indicator (III)”

  1. Agree with pretty much everything here… We are near the end of the cycle, though it could still be a couple of years during which the bubble will further inflate.

    I lived in San Francisco 1992-2006. In the 1970’s, I think, the term “the Manhattanization of San Francisco” was coined by opponents of the “make San Francisco a financial center” forces, which brought amongst other things BART, the Transamerica Pyramid, and Bank of America headquarters. So the process has been going on for a long time, supported not just by the tech industry but by the local old and or big money, and as these things go, some of the stuff that happened along the way may have looked good, but it has led to where we are now, which is indeed older ;-)

    My wife and I left San Francisco for New Zealand. More resonance…

  2. Interesting… Oh! You reminded me of a recent article about how every generation misses the Bay Area it first knew. I’ve added a link to it, in the body of the post.

    The Coromandel Peninsula (North Island NZ) also reminds me of the San Francisco Peninsula in 1985… what these places need are serious universities. But then they’d probably just turn into 2015 San Francisco!

  3. DC Ate gold 1999 > Dot com bubble bursts 2001.
    DC Ate gold 2006 > Global financial crisis 2008.
    DC Ate gold 2015 > new recession 2017? (actually quite likely)

    The last thing the Coromandel needs is a university.

  4. Sighted in the NYT Men’s Style section today: gold-covered doughnut filled with champagne jelly, so it was claimed…

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