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Extra9/1/2009 12:01 AM ET

New bull, new bubble, new meltdown?

You can feel it in the air; Americans want a new bull and a new bubble to spice up the economy, and the government is cooperating. As usual, we'll pay for it later.

By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch

Something's in the air. You can feel it. A new bull. Hype? Maybe, but also a roaring new bull -- and eventually another meltdown.

Television is a metaphor for our cycles, so see how America's becoming a huge ratings competition:

  • "America's Got Talent." Complete with kooky judges like "The Hoff" (ex-"Baywatch" lifeguard David Hasselhoff), Ozzy's wife, and Piers Morgan (no relation to JP). And you've got to love those wacky contestants going mano-a-mano for Nielsen ratings against those noisy "disrupters" being sent to health-care town hall meetings by the GOP crew. A sure sign America's employment picture is improving and the economy is in recovery.

  • "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Regis Philbin, the original moderator, came back for 11 fabulous nights in August. Why? A cover-up? Maybe it was tied to all the TARP money paybacks and hot earnings that let the "too-greedy-to-fail" banks make more Wall Street insiders millionaires. Wall Street loves Regis upstaging Goldman's giveaway of bonus billions from taxpayers.

  • Cash for Clunkers. The Chicago school of behavioral purists might say this program is a perfect example of economist Joseph Schumpeter's "creative destruction" in action. It's also great television, rivaling Nascar, Chopper Mania, Monster Trucks and the local demolition derby.

Yes, folks, America loves talent, wants to be a millionaire, loves to destroy stuff, and then to rebuild. Cars, jobs, careers, retirement portfolios, the economy, the stock market. You can see this metaphor in other great television programs: "Big Brother," "Hell's Kitchen," "Lie to Me," "Criminal Minds," "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?" The point is, TV's a great barometer for the American soul, and it's screaming "bull!"

Tempers are flaring over how best to reform U.S. health care. But a deeper conflict over the role of government in American society is what is really fueling this debate, says Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal.

Yes, Americans want another bull, another bubble, even another meltdown. Guess what? It's already here, folks. The next big market-economic-business cycle has arrived ahead of schedule. This is what makes us America. We love challenges, risk-takers and winners. The nobody who suddenly becomes a big somebody is the biggest of all TV metaphors for who we are.

America's got talent. Where else can you see The Hoff screaming "You got talent!" to Grandma Lee, a craggy 75-year old comedian? Or Piers rooting for a bunch of half-time acrobats back-flipping off trampolines? Or Sharon Osbourne cheering for Kevin Skinner, an unemployed chicken catcher who looked like a hobo but wowed us with a voice like Randy Travis.

New, bigger bubble -- and a meltdown ahead

Yes, folks, a new bubble cycle is already in motion. You can feel the energy building, the kind that fueled the meltdowns of 1998, 2000 and 2007. We never resolved the problems fueling the dot-com insanity. We made matters worse feeding the subprime credit-derivatives disaster with cheap money, Reaganomics ideology and two costly wars. Lessons were never learned, and nothing was resolved. Today matters continue deteriorating.

Behind the hoopla, the Wall Street conspiracy has dumped $23.7 trillion in new bailout debt on taxpayers. The bill will come due. But for now, we're getting their wish: A new bubble is accelerating, thanks to America's "too-greedy-to-fail" Wall Street banks.

Folks, you can bet on it, sure as Regis is hosting "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" The bull, a bubble and another meltdown are virtually certain and accelerating faster than earlier cycles, coming by 2012. How to profit? Ride it up for a couple years, then pray you'll have enough brain left to bail out in time before the crash (most don't) because at that point the euphoria is blinding, like a cocaine addiction.

Want more proof of inevitability? Here are some visionaries who aren't working for Wall Street's hype machine: Michael Lewis, a former Wall Street trader and the author of "Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity," recently told Newsweek: "There's a false sense that it's over, that the crisis is passed." The bailouts have merely postponed the inevitable. "We are in for another day of reckoning down the road."

Could there be another housing bubble?

The next one will be bigger, "badder," a real demolition derby. Several months ago, in a Vanity Fair article, "Wall Street Lays Another Egg," Harvard financial historian Niall Ferguson sounded more like a shrink: "Markets are mirrors of the human psyche." Like individuals "they can become depressed . . . even suffer complete breakdowns."

The five stages of a bubble popping

In the 400-year history of stock markets "there has been a long succession of financial bubbles," Ferguson says. "Time and again, asset prices have soared to unsustainable heights only to crash downward again." It's an all-too-familiar cycle, in fact, so familiar is this pattern -- as described by the economic historian Charles Kindleberger -- that it is possible to distill it into five stages:

  • Displacement: "Some change in economic circumstances creates new and profitable opportunities." Last year's historic bailout, election, new ideology.

  • Euphoria or overtrading: "A feedback process sets in whereby expectation of rising profits leads to rapid growth in asset prices." Goldman is proof.

  • Mania and bubble: Prospects of "easy capital gains attract first-time investors and swindlers eager to mulct them of their money." More bubbles: 2010-2011.

  • Distress: "Insiders discern that profits cannot possibly justify the now exorbitant price of the assets and begin to take profits." Wall Street replays 2007-2008.

  • Revulsion or discredit: "Asset prices fall, the outsiders stampede for the exits, causing the bubble to burst." Yes, 2008's brutal meltdown repeats in 2012.

Continued: The culprit? The Fed

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