The 5 Weirdest Things That Control the Global Economy
The global economy is an insanely complex system of labor, money and goods all governed by laws to keep each facet in check. So it'd be pretty depressing if researchers discovered that the whole thing was actually the end result of a bunch of seemingly random bullshit, wouldn't it?
Answer: Yes it would be, and they did.
The Belief in Hell
It's widely believed that fraudulent practices like mortgage underwriting and predatory lending were some of the main causes of the 2000s credit crunch, which raises some terrifying concerns: If the state of the economy is so dependent on a handful of people promising not to be greedy, what's really stopping the economy from collapsing all over again as soon as those assholes decide more is better? Surprisingly, it might be their belief in hell.
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and Harvard researchers both independently studied the correlation between believing in hell and economic development. Each analyzed years of data from dozens of countries, and in each case the results were the same: The more a population believes in hell, the less corrupt and more prosperous their country's economy is.
Interestingly, believing in God alone didn't cut it. It's explicitly the fear of eternal damnation that ultimately scares us into not being such gaping assholes and working earnestly toward a brighter future for everyone.
Of course, nothing is actually stopping you from being a decent, hardworking banker or whatever without believing in hell. The problem is that when you look at the big picture, it simply isn't in our nature to give a fuck about more than a handful of people or their money.
So it takes the threat of being boiled alive in their own urine to make a few corporate heads stop and rethink their strategy of embezzling and Ponzi schemes. Which starts to make a lot more sense given that so many CEOs are ...
It takes a lot to be a corporate CEO, knowing that each decision you make can affect thousands of people and the economies of dozens of nations. It means emotionally distancing yourself from the lives you potentially ruin and taking advantage of other people's misfortune, all while stating with a straight face that you have their best interest at heart.
Luckily there already is a name for it: psychopathy.
Some experts say a staggering number of corporate heads suffer from this condition, or more realistically, enjoy every damn second of it.
That was the findings of author Ron Jonson, in his book "The Psychopath Test." He put the ratio of psychopaths among CEOs four times higher than among the general population. He wasn't the first to notice it either (see: every office worker ever). As early as 2004, Professor Robert Hare -- an expert on psychopaths and author of the Psychopathy Checklist -- warned that the psychopaths' manipulative nature and superficial charm made it very easy for them to reach high-power corporate positions. It's actually been suggested that business powerhouse Henry Ford was a psychopath (who not only famously spread conspiracy theories about the Jews, but also spied on his employees and forced the secretary he was banging to marry his chauffeur as a cover up).
Professor Hare has actually noticed clear psychopathic patterns in the behavior of the executives at Enron and WorldCom, where executives plunged ahead with destructive and clearly unsustainable practices, unable to make any kind of sane connection between the actions and their consequences. They just blindly plowed ahead, in that way that only the truly crazy can.
Fortunately, most psychopaths don't last forever in a corporate environment, because when things go wrong they tend to throw fits, blame others and ultimately just abandon ship. And then, presumably, an equally dangerously unhealthy person takes their place.
The Sun and the Moon
When we say the weather affects the economy, you figure we're talking about a drought or tsunami wiping out some nation's most valuable crop at harvest time. But it turns out that perfectly nice days can have just as big an impact on the world market.
Studies show that the stock market does better on sunny days than on cloudy days. And we're not talking about one particular month, when maybe it was just a weird coincidence -- researchers looked at data from 26 countries across 15 freaking years. And what they found was that stocks are the opposite of vampires.
It seems to be a solely psychological effect, with the sun putting the investors in a good mood, making them more likely to try new things, take more financial risks and maybe even ask out Debbie from human resources.
Well ... that sort of makes sense. Now try to figure this one out:
According to a study from the Harvard Business Review, for a period of 15 days around a new moon, stock market returns are twice as high as those during the rest of the month. So as we approach a full moon, stock prices drop. It may seem like a coincidence but, again, this is not a minor amount of data here: the researchers analyzed 30 years of market data from 25 countries, even going as far back as 100 years with U.S. stock indexes. So stocks are also the opposite of werewolves.
Financial executives insist that observing a giant space rock is no substitute for conventional market analysis because the system is certainly more complicated and also because no one wants to believe that such a complex job could be done by a random asshole with a calendar. Still, it's refreshing to think that maybe it's not OUR fault for sinking our life savings into that Vietnamese company that makes breast implants for dogs. The moon made us do it.
The Day of the Week
A disdain for Mondays goes beyond cubicle jobs and comic strips about a miserable cat. There is genuinely something awful about the first day of a workweek, and it takes its toll on productivity around the world. The stock market is no exception.
Researchers from Turkey and Texas (no, we're not sure how they met) got together and studied the S&P 500 market index between 1973 and 1997 and found that days of the week can influence how much money you make trading stocks. Like we said before, Mondays are absolutely the worst. Wednesdays yield the highest returns. Fridays, on the other hand, were the drunken college girls of the group, in that they were most likely to go both ways.
Now there's a reason for the Friday phenomenon -- most economic reports are announced at the end of a workweek, so traders will have Friday to react (or overreact) to whether or not the news is good or bad.
As for Monday and Wednesday, there are a couple of explanations. Part of it is due to short sellers who freak out about their risk exposure over the weekend and close out everything they can, causing the market to drop on Monday. But the much bigger culprit is likely just simple psychology. In fact, whole heaps of studies have tried to understand the "weekend effect" on the stock market, and the majority of them contend the same thing: Investors aren't any more in the mood to do their jobs after the weekend than you are.
They are less likely to take risks, or yield nearly as much productivity, on Monday as they do later in the week. By Wednesday, however, traders settle back into their routine and are ready to trade the shit out of some textiles, or whatever people are buying these days.
The Japanese economy is currently the third largest in the world, which means everything that happens in the Japanese market has a ripple effect through the rest of the world. Essentially, whoever controls the Japanese economy inadvertently affects the economy of the entire planet.
Enter the Japanese mafia.
The Yakuza are likely the biggest criminal organization on Earth, consisting of over 100,000 members whose job is apparently to stroll around Japan, poking at financial institutions with sticks just to see what happens. Their influence has such a huge impact on Japan's economy that many economists agree that Yakuza activities, like stock speculation and loan sharking, were one of the main factors behind the massive Japanese recession of the 1990s. To this day, the country still hasn't fully recovered.
So how did the Japanese mob hijack the economy of an entire country? The same way most businessmen rise to the top: they earned it. The group started out as a bunch of small-time thugs for hire, then slowly moved up to controlling the country's land deals and finally blackmailing huge corporations. That last practice, called "sokaiya," is so widespread today that most Japanese firms have to put that blackmail money into their annual budgets.
The Yakuza are so immersed in the world of business that in 1984 the Japanese Ministry of Finance actually asked one Yakuza group for help in chasing away some other gangsters from a chain of Sogo banks. The Yakuza were happy to oblige, and then immediately took over those banks for themselves. They sold them off in 1986 to the Sumitomo Group, creating one of the biggest Japanese banks to date, which they still partially control.
Even today, following the massive earthquake in Japan, the Yakuza have been eager to help in the rebuilding of major cities, and in the process sticking their fingers in yet another fiscal pie.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a freelance online writer and Japanese-English-Polish translator. If you pay him, he will write words for you. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more on our economy, check out 5 Bad Economic Indicators for the Criminally Insane. Or learn about some wussy groups that are actually awesome, in 6 Organizations You Didn't Know Were Secretly Badass.