The Prospects for a Near Term Funding Desert

From where I stand, it looks much like the equities market has given the sign of doom over the past couple of months. The view of the next couple of years I subscribe to is that equities will fall dramatically some more very soon, then there will be a variety of massive government intervention timed to influence the presidential elections in 2012. The markets will then rise much as they did after the last massive intervention, but fail to regain the highs of this year, and thereafter fall into the pit through 2013. All of these equity market gyrations, like those of the past couple of years, are just a symptom of the deep underlying economic malaise in what was formerly a grand economic powerhouse - though malaise is probably the wrong word, as it suggests something that just happened, faultlessly. This is very much a state of affairs created through the actions of a comparatively small number of people in positions of power - evenly distributed between government and financial industries in a symbiotic state of regulatory capture - and then again by the actions of the rest of us in letting them do what they do, in failing to understand enough of economics to see cause and effect, and in failing to act to stop this process.

It's no great secret that the US is decaying; this is history unfolding as a procedural. The US is ever more rapidly becoming just another Europe, Japan, or pick your dysfunctional fascist-leaning (per the dictionary definition) economy of choice. The ending of empires that centralize economic and legislative power, develop a ruling class, grow their military, and debase their currency is pretty much written in stone - it's the details of the move from wealth enjoyed in freedom to authoritarian poverty that will surprise people in their nature and timing.

But in any case, what does the sign of doom in the markets mean for the next few years of research funding, and especially speculative research funding for efforts such as SENS? In my experience it means much the same as it does for raising funds to launch startup companies. This is to say that when the economy is in the doldrums, raising funds is very challenging - especially when the equity markets have just started on their way down in earnest and fear is rife. Funding agencies and investors pull back, either because they've suffered losses or because they have the luxury of waiting for a few years for better times.

To my eyes that makes the next few years the time to double down on raising funds from high net worth philanthropists. These are people who will be slowing their normal flow of deals and investment, but who have most likely not suddenly lost wealth in any meaningful way. There is an argument to be made that investments in early stage research made in the shadow of a falling market and economic destruction will be more effective on a dollar for dollar basis: there may be greater access to researchers and resources at lower prices due to a downturn in the normal state of their employment, for example.

One rather important item to take away from all this is that, like everyone else, I'm wrong about the market at least half the time. The fundamentals underlying modern national economies, and the US in particular, are truly terrible, however. If markets are up, it's because they're being propped up by the Federal Reserve, most recently by an uncharacteristically direct process that amounts to devaluation of the dollar and pumping newly created-from-nothing money into equities. I consider these large-scale manipulations to be something that cannot continue forever: the only goals they achieve are (a) political, keeping one faction or another in favor by providing the modern equivalent of bread and circuses in the form of high equities prices, and (b) personal in the sense that some of the ruling class become very wealthy in the course of carrying out these activities. They don't create wealth in any meaningful sense, only the hollow illusion of it. Eventually the cards must come crashing down and the hole will grow too large to be filled in by the standard model of government bailout. As they say, the trouble with other people's money is that you eventually run out of it.

So maybe the next few years will see the US equities indexes much lower than they are now, and the fundraising scene a desert. Maybe not, but I think it more likely than the alternatives. If you're in the business of raising funds, now is the time to be stacking away for the coming winter, and finalizing all the deals you can.

Comments

There are problems with our economy but I don't think they are major. I know it's not very satisfactory but every hundred years you have a hundred year disaster.

Posted by: libfree at October 12th, 2011 4:29 PM

The ending of empires that centralize economic and legislative power, develop a ruling class, grow their military, and debase their currency is pretty much written in stone - it's the details of the move from wealth enjoyed in freedom to authoritarian poverty that will surprise people in their nature and timing.

This is precisely what is happening to the U.S. I would shift my focus to Asia. There are plenty of people in Asia who want to live forever young.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at October 12th, 2011 7:37 PM

Let's see, in how many decades of U.S. history has the country been declared by its intellectuals to be decaying or in decline? I would venture to guess - most of them. I've experienced five so far and it was certainly the case in all five.

Yet through it all the GDP keeps growing. Minority rights improve. Technology improves. Yes, the government grows, but we easily forget all the bad things that were going on when the government was smaller, regulations were fewer, etc. Yes, the military grows, but again I think we easily forget the bad things that happened when we *didn't* have an overwhelmingly dominant military (remember Hitler?)

Sure, the present day has its special challenges. Mainly, so many low-skilled jobs have moved abroad and we haven't had time to adjust. Past decades also held challenges (remember Vietnam? Stagflation? Race riots?)

But those who cast their bets against the U.S. economy or the U.S. stock market have been handed their hats time and again.

I'm just saying. Don't become one of those sad "permanent bears" who's always hording gold and waiting for the big collapse. Nobody who actually makes things happen has this mentality, and they don't listen to people who do.

Posted by: William Nelson at October 12th, 2011 10:36 PM

Just another negative consequence of the deregulation of Wall Street which led to the sub-prime housing crisis which led to the downturn of the economy. I think things will eventually turn around though. Even with all its problems, the US is still the science powerhouse of the world and will be for some time to come. I hope the country keeps investing in science and higher education.

Posted by: KC at October 18th, 2011 1:36 PM

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