Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowdsby Charles MacKay
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Why do otherwise intelligent individuals form seething masses of idiocy when they engage in collective action? Why do financially sensible people jump lemming-like into hare-brained speculative frenzies--only to jump broker-like out of windows when their fantasies dissolve? We may think that the Great Crash of 1929, junk bonds of the '80s, and over-valued high-tech stocks of the '90s are peculiarly 20th century aberrations, but Mackay's classic--first published in 1841--shows that the madness and confusion of crowds knows no limits, and has no temporal bounds. These are extraordinarily illuminating,and, unfortunately, entertaining tales of chicanery, greed and naivete. Essential reading for any student of human nature or the transmission of ideas.
In fact, cases such as Tulipomania in 1624--when Tulip bulbs traded at a higher price than gold--suggest the existence of what I would dub "Mackay's Law of Mass Action:" when it comes to the effect of social behavior on the intelligence of individuals, 1+1 is often less than 2, and sometimes considerably less than 0.
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This short version of Charles MacKay's book, Estraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which was first publilshed in 1841, should be on the reading list for anyone looking to make a fast buck, in the stock market or elsewhere. Change the names, places and time frame, and you would swear that it was just written. Amazing!! Popular delusions affect many investors - just ask Madoff, and other swindlers. The urge to "get rich quick" is mostly delussional. Once in ten thousand investments does one "hit the jackpot". The "Hula-hoop" back in the 50's is a classical example of hitting it big. President Obama should take the time to read this, but then again, he may not be invested in the market, or anywhere else. Americans are easily swayed by the "Rainmaker". This book, if read and compared to today's current affairs in the United States, and around the world, will reveal that human beings are gullable, as well as greedy, otherwise, they would be more cautious with whom they place their trust with their hard earned funds.