As Americans watch their stock accounts rise and fall precipitously in the coming months and years, it will become necessary to determine whether financial markets are behaving in predictable ways, or are seemingly cut loose from fundamentals entirely. In other words, volatility seems assured, but the basis for it may be tied more and more to perception and less and less to objective facts.
Why? I believe it is because we are draining our culture and our economy of the underlying foundation of truth upon which predictability is built. When bailout after bailout salvages sinking corporate ships to make them look seaworthy for a time, and when taxation schemes are devised to take money from folks who were assured they would not be targeted for increased taxes, what lies ahead becomes increasingly uncertain. When rogue nations bent on genocide (who shouldn't have squirt guns) are allowed to develop nuclear weapons, and when the leader of America seems ambivalent about America's power on the world stage, there is no genuinely stable footing for forecasting the future.
Like a bipolar patient, whose moods shift from mania to depression without anything real to be tremendously excited about or terribly despondent about, the market may move to highs and lows for no particularly good reason at all.
This analogy to bipolar disorder is an apt one. While there may well be a genetic and neurochemical vulnerability to the condition (just as the stock market may have a number of technical and structural vulnerabilities), I have found that those suffering with bipolar disorder often experienced such unpredictable and painful life events during their developmental years that their internal mood barometers have essentially snapped. Deep despair and euphoria have lost their tethers to reality, visiting unpredictably and in extreme form.
To press the analogy further, some with bipolar disorder actually suffer from delusions, which are fixed and false beliefs about themselves and the world around them. Some with mania believe they have special powers or are in direct contact with God, while some with depression believe they are responsible for all the evil in the world. Similarly, investors and markets may now get "stuck" in rigid belief patterns about the moment or the future that they become highly irrational, to the point of being almost delusional.
One of the reasons gold may continue to climb in value is because it has basic value, which approximates truth. It rises and falls as a countervailing hedge against despair or euphoria.
The real cure, of course, is to restore predictability to the markets by restoring the foundation of truth upon which they were built. No more bailouts. No more gimmicks to prop up real estate by getting people who can't afford homes to buy them anyway. No more putting our heads in the sand and believing that the world is a place that will be at peace if we simply leave the world stage.
Until then, look for the bipolar twists and turns on Wall Street, where volatility will reign supreme.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be reached at email@example.com.