Review - “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds” by Charles MacKay

Sun, Nov 3, 2013 - 12:06pm

I have a necessary library of trading and market related books, both in printed and electronic form. To do things I believe that you need to allocate resources. For investing, one resource is, obviously, money or capital to invest or trade with.

Other things can be equated with money, for they have difficulty in the getting. Power is one – it can be used to seize money from those who have it. Another is knowledge, for with knowledge money can be made or created. A third primary resource is time. It takes time for all things to happen, time to gain power, even a HFT algorithm requires a small amount of time to carry out it’s instructions, and it takes time to learn knowledge.

I’m talking of knowledge today. This is the first of a series of book reviews which more or less could be called my own Recommended Reading List for Traders and Investors. It’s personal and some famous works will be left out, and I assume some minor works will come as surprises, as the prioritization is my own and based on my personal experiences and thoughts.

I had an inner debate about whether the #1 slot should go to MacKay or Lefevre/Livermore, but MacKay wins out because his work transcends trading, or even markets. It is a study of humanity. I expect everyone would benefit to a certain degree from reading this.

Oh, I should mention – Charles MacKay wrote it in 1841. That’s 172 years ago, 50 years after the French revolution, and 20 years before the American Civil War was to be fought.

I add at this point that I have three volumes of this book in my personal collection: A 1980 facsimile of the original, 724 pages in length, an electronic one, and also a new compact (abridged) hardback edition from Harriman House of 2003, 115 pages, and reprinted several times since. So this is an investment classic and still in very high demand, hence the reprints. The main difference between my two paper editions, apart from weight, is that the recent compact volume contains the financial bubbles whereas the original full text describes these however it also recounts other historical manias not related to finance like Fortune-Telling, Duelling, Haunted House, Poisoning and other manias.

I’ll stay with the compact volume for this review seeing as it will be read by investors and traders in the main. The illustrations are representative of my quirky thought process and not intended to be manipulative or imposing a political view. They are merely chosen to transcend the time of writing of the excerpted texts visually.

So what book written back then could be so pertinent today? I must get out of the way and let Charles MacKay's words speak for themselves. Here are some quotes from the first section about John Law and the Mississippi Bubble. You can judge for yourself.

Early on his wisdom was noticed and discussed in the media:

All the small poets and litterateurs of the day poured floods of adulation upon him. According to them, he was the saviour of the country, the tutelary divinity of France; wit was in all his words, goodness in all his looks, and wisdom in all his actions.”

Real assets were sucked in while paper was issued to acquire these items of value:

... It was remarked at this time that Paris had never before been so full of objects of elegance and luxury. Statues, pictures, and tapestries were imported in great quantities from foreign countries, and found a ready market.

All those pretty trifles in the way of furniture and ornament which the French excel in manufacturing were no longer the exclusive playthings of the aristocracy, but were to be found in abundance in the houses of traders and the middle classes in general. Jewellery of the most costly description was brought to Paris as the most favourable mart;”...

The wealth effect is described so well, as is the link between the Sovereign Ruler and Financier:

“...Thus the system continued to flourish till the commencement of the year 1720. The warnings of the parliament, that too great a creation of paper money would, sooner or later, bring the country to bankruptcy, were disregarded. The regent, who knew nothing whatever of the philosophy of finance, thought that a system which had produced such good effects could never be carried to excess. If five hundred millions of paper had been of such advantage, five hundred millions additional would be of still greater advantage. This was the grand error of the regent, and which Law did not attempt to dispel. The extraordinary avidity of the people kept up the delusion; and the higher the price of Indian and Mississippi stock, the more billets de banque were issued to keep pace with it.

On astute individuals hedging to protect against the inflationary loss this next quote reads like it was written both next year and in the 1930s, some 92 years after Mackay published his book:

“ ... In February 1720 an edict was published,

which, instead of restoring the credit of the paper, as was intended, destroyed it irrecoverably, and drove the country to the very brink of revolution. By this famous edict it was forbidden to any person whatever to have more than five hundred livres (20l.) of coin in his possession, under pain of a heavy fine, and confiscation of the sums found. It was also forbidden to buy up jewellery, plate, and precious stones, and informers were encouraged to make search for offenders, by the promise of one-half the amount they might discover. The whole country sent up a cry of distress at this unheard-of tyranny. The most odious persecution daily took place. The privacy of families was violated by the intrusion of informers and their agents. The most virtuous and honest were denounced for the crime of having been seen with”

And that is just the section about John Law!

I do not wish to spoil with excessive quotation, only two more, but the sections about the South-Sea Bubble and the Tulipomania are just as archaic distant history, and at the same time they describe exactly what is going on around us today in our Central Bank- Politician-Banking controlled present day world.

So to finish this review, I excerpt two short and memorable pieces – first from Charles Mackay’s 1st 1841 edition and another from his preface to the edition of 1852, written 160 years ago: “... millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple; and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity.” .....

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

And that last passage, Dear Reader, is as up to date as they come. If there is a"required reading list" for investors and traders, this text which has endured nearly two hundred years and still remains so appropriate to modern life's financial intrigues surely deserves the number one position on that list.


Publishers' Page for this book:

Available in printed, and electronic versions

Argentus Maximus


The author posts daily commentary on the gold and silver markets in the TFMR forum: The Setup For The Big Trade. More information about the author can be found here: RhythmNPrice.

About the Author


ancientmoneySpartacus Rex
Nov 4, 2013 - 1:41pm

@Spartacus Rex re: Dave in Denver on GLD . . .

I think he's on the right track. However, he stated,

"With that in mind, my best guess is that if the gold in GLD were to be depleted by another 35% from here, the largest remaining shareholders of GLD would likely start exercising their legally ambiguous "right" to convert their shares into physical gold and have that gold delivered out of JPM's custodial vault and into their possession." --------------------------------------------------------------------------------- However, JPM is custodian for SLV, not for GLD. HSBC is the custodian for GLD. For the record, we will not see silver deplete from SLV like we have seen gold from GLD. Phyzz silver is not for sale from SLV. As custodian, the prospectus allows JPM to keep all silver in SLV. All they must do is pay the APs in cash, should they decide to keep the silver. Likewise, HSBC could elect to keep whatever gold stocks still remain in GLD, as the GLD prospectus language also allows the custodian to pay for heisted gold in cash, no harm-no foul.However, because banks have gold and not silver, they allow stocks to flow from GLD but not from SLV. Silver is still held back by uneconomic, concentrated COMEX shorting by JPM, because they cannot afford to let billionaires buy up remaining silver stocks like they are gold stocks (by China). JPM cannot get out of their silver shorts like they did gold, or silver would blow up bigtime. Silver will be controlled until it cannot be controlled any longer, or until gold is used to back currency in some way, by some country. Silver paper trading will then be terminated, and silver will be set free at several multiples of current price. Or, it will be termed a "strategic metal necessary for the security of the U.S." and will not be allowed to be traded in open markets. This would happen sometime after a declaration of martial law. Obama has already declared that any asset in the world can be claimed by the U.S. government. So, it may be years before silver can be freely traded at anything close to its real, unfettered value, except in the black markets, which always exist whenever a government oversteps. Silver owned by the people will lie still, until such times as a trusted black market buyer comes forth, or until the unconstitutional regime controlling things is defeated.
Spartacus Rex
Nov 4, 2013 - 1:04pm

from our Fave Dave in Denver

How Much More Gold Can They Drain From GLD Before It Loses All Credibility?

And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With odd old ends stol'n out of holy writ;
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil
- Shakespeare, "Richard III" We have witnessed a stunning drain of gold from the GLD ETF trust. Through last Friday, an incredible 479 tonnes - more than 35% - of GLD's gold has been removed and has disappeared, most likely to Asia - in the space of about 10 months. The biggest chunk of that 479 tonnes was removed shortly after Germany's Bundesbank issued it's feeble and hopeless request to the U.S. that the Federal Reserve start shipping back some portion of the 1500 tonnes of gold that is supposedly being "safe-kept" on behalf of Germany by the Fed in its vault in New York City. Gold luck, Angela... I have looked at GLD suspiciously ever since James Turk issued the first analysis of GLD's prospectus back in 2004. Those of us who are familiar with securities laws and investor "safe guards" supposedly enforced by the SEC were absolutely shocked that the SEC approved the GLD prospectus as it was filed because of the egregious lack of GLD sponsor and custodian legal accountability standards typically required by the SEC for publicly traded securities. Given this fact, I believed at the time that GLD was a scheme devised to suck in retail and institutional cash that might otherwise flow in massive quantities into actual physical gold that would be safe-kept in private vaults in this country. Although GLD has a mechanism to enable investors with a minimum of 100,000 shares to convert those shares into gold that would be delivered to the investor, the procedure is exceedingly cumbersome and expensive and there's a mechanism embedded in the language of the prospectus that enables the trustee of GLD to deny such requests. But I also knew - through GATA's invaluable research - that there would eventually be a shortage of physical gold that would be available to allow the western Central Banks and bullion banks to maintain their oppressive and incessant manipulation of the paper gold market for the purposes of maintaining a cap on the price of gold, for the purposes of defending the credibility of the U.S. dollar. I figured that at some point the gold in GLD would used for this purpose once the Central Bank stocks of gold were largely if not fully depleted. In this context, please recall that about three years, the ECB system, which had been selling 400 tonnes per year on average, pretty much stopped selling any gold. That's sign-post #1 that I was right. Then along comes the Bundesbank in early 2013, with a request that the Fed start shipping Germany's gold held in in New York back to Germany. That's when all hell broke loose: (Please note: the original graph is from the TF Metals Report. I sourced it from my esteemed colleague, "Jesse," of Jesse's Cafe Americain. Solid circle edits are mine to enhance visual readability of the chart. Jesse's original post can be read here: Collapse in GLD gold holdings). There's something really wrong with that picture because the intuitive response from the market by Germany's request of the Fed should have been a quickly rising price of gold. But as you we all know, the Fed defaulted on the request - for all intents and purposes - and that's when the massive drain of gold from GLD commenced. The truth is that my original hunch was correct. 100% correct. The gold in the GLD trust is being used to satisfy the enormous physical delivery demands from China and the other big gold buying countries because the western Central Banks have run out of gold to deliver. That is an unmistakable fact. Reports and data ad nauseum have been published in the last six months describing and verifying the voluminous, unprecedented amount of gold bars that have been moved - literally physical transferred - from the Comex in NY and the LBMA and Bank of England vaults in London to Switzerland and then on to Hong Kong, where it flows to its ultimate destinations in China. Anyone who would deny that this is the case has a blatant and catastrophic disregard for the truth as supported by provable facts. So the question is, how much longer can the depletion of gold from GLD continue before this scheme falls apart? Let me first say that it is likely that the U.S Government's "Waterloo" in this situation will be the gross miscalculation - when GLD was originally devised - of the growth and size of China's appetite for physical gold for which actual physical delivery is demanded. With that in mind, my best guess is that if the gold in GLD were to be depleted by another 35% from here, the largest remaining shareholders of GLD would likely start exercising their legally ambiguous "right" to convert their shares into physical gold and have that gold delivered out of JPM's custodial vault and into their possession. Think about the Hobson's Choice faced by the sponsor, trustee and custodian of GLD: if they don't honor shareholder conversion requests to convert and deliver gold, it will send the "default" signal to the world that indeed GLD is a fraud, that GATA has been right along. The price of gold will literally go straight up, "bid without" - meaning huge bids will appear at much higher levels and there won't be any offers. The other side of this "choice" is that it is likely that the physical gold - at that point in time - to honor such requests is actually not available in JPM's vault to be delivered and the trustee will attempt to settle in cash. Gold goes bid without. At this point there's really no telling just how much longer GLD can be drained of gold before the western Central Bank/BIS fiat paper gold system inevitably collapses, but with each passing day of increasing awareness and understanding of what is happening with the world's physical gold vs.the derivative paper claims on that gold, and with each additional day the LMBA GOFO rate is negative, the time to collapse is quickly shrinking. I do believe that, in what ironically was devised as a "fool-proof" tool manufactured to allow the west to "manage" the physical gold vs. paper problem for a long time, will likely be the Icarus wings of the U.S. Government's fiat money scheme.
Note: I am in the processing of revising and updating my original analysis of the GLD trust and why the shares in ETF are fraudulent - stay tuned...
Nov 4, 2013 - 1:02pm

Xl Commandment of Government

Never ever trust government with your life, if your have interest in keeping it.

Nov 4, 2013 - 11:45am

On the Madness of Crowds

There was an incident that happened in late October in the States. Hillary Clinton was speaking in Buffalo, delivering her model for what is required to solve complex problems. There was a heckler in the crowd who she admonished by saying, "... which doesn't include yelling. It includes sitting down and talking."

What patronizing bullshit. You know what happened? The audience of 6,500 stood up and gave her a standing ovation that extended on and on. So it's the people. The people can blame the politicians all they want, but as I see it, it's the people's responsibility for the state of their nation. - See more at:

Nov 4, 2013 - 11:22am

G. Edward Griffin ‒ The

G. Edward Griffin ‒ The Capitalist Conspiracy

from OMG7291X:

G. Edward Griffin - The Capitalist Conspiracy
Nov 4, 2013 - 11:21am

Remembering Why We Hold

Remembering Why We Hold Gold / BY RICK ACKERMAN / NOVEMBER 4, 2013 6:47 AM GMT

The price of gold has been falling for more than two years, alleviated by the occasional sucker rally and a stretch of tedium in 2012 that made the year tolerable at best for long-term investors. Any complacency they may have felt back then was not to last, however, for quotes fell a further 30% between February and June. And although they initially bounced back sharply with a 20% rally that got airborne last July, the respite for investors has been short-lived, having given way to a wearisome relapse since late August. Our technical runes now suggest that a washout to $1125 is possible. That would represent a 15% fall from current levels – enough, presumably, to elicit the kind of despair we typically associate with bear market bottoms. Not that things will necessarily have to get worse before they get better. For if gold were to forge higher in the weeks ahead, exceeding the 1487.20 peak highlighted in the chart, it would be well-primed for a rampage to $2000. My practice is to keep an open mind about such things, although as an investor I try never to put myself in the position of having to hope for them.


Nov 4, 2013 - 9:17am

RE: physical evidence of the existence of this Gold?

GRod, in this environment where we can't even get an audit of Fort Knox, you are not going to get a bar list for any of this unlisted gold. The best that can be offered is evidence from eye witnesses. Jim Willie claims that three independent sources that he trusts told him about the gold. That's probably about as good as you are going to get in a time when you can't even trust the bar count at Comex (see their legal disclaimer on their web site).


Nov 4, 2013 - 8:58am

Brodsky-from ZH

Not sure if this has been posted over the weekend. A little lengthy but worthwhile. Admittedly my brain glazed over some parts but I waded through. Here's the wrap up but the whole article is very enlightening.

A business that produces in a cheap currency and exports for consumption in a stronger one shows higher revenues and earnings in its home currency. The employees of that business are paid and can consume in their cheap currency, as long as they consume at home. All's well if they do not travel abroad and if the domestic prices of the goods and services they consume are not impacted by the rising global cost structure the cheap currency strategy produces (so all's not well, beyond the initial stimulus).

Beggar-thy-neighbor currency wars can be good politics and good for management bonuses and correctly speculating traders, but they are poison for savers and investors seeking wealth creation. Investors that own shares denominated in weakening currencies are implicitly betting on stable or increasing earnings AND a stable or increasing currency relative to the global cost of goods and services. Those investors expecting to use their profits for future consumption must convert their shares back to stronger currencies or hope their costs-of-living do not rise with global price inflation, sure to follow.

As implied above, when it comes to production and currencies there is one critical issue often overlooked by investors and economists: aggregate demand for goods and services does not by itself drive production, consumption and the general price level. Rather, aggregate demand in relation to the supply and demand for money and credit determines production, consumption and the GPL.

Most political economists of the current era seem to assume that global production costs and the price of global resources will not rise with their intrinsic values, even as currencies are being diluted. I believe they are wrong, and long history would endorse that belief. This argument is also supported by logic. Ask yourself this: why don't all central banks simply triple the quantity of their currencies tomorrow so that global economies can boom?

The answer is because real economics matter and real economies run on value and incentives, not on price management. While tripling the quantity of money would ostensibly triple NGDP and the price level for both consumers and producers, the intrinsic value of resources and production would not change.

Tripling the money stock would, however, diminish the burden of repaying debt obligations, which is why we should continue to expect significantly increasing monetary inflation, suddenly increasing price inflation (which might even be promoted by monetary authorities), and purchasing power dilution among all currencies. It seems clear that the likely outcome is a systemic default on systemic debt in real terms so that nominal defaults can be avoided. Inflation has always been the political solution throughout history, and current trends and logic support its future endorsement.

In the end, purchasing power wealth is controlled by those that produce and by those that fund production. Ownership in scarce resources and in capital producing businesses around the world must maintain their purchasing power value regardless of which currencies they are denominated in or how many monetary units it takes to own them.

And so it is apparent today that claims on demand-inelastic global resources and production are the ultimate sovereign currency, regardless of their provenance. That's where we think substantial alpha in the equity markets resides today.

Nov 4, 2013 - 8:50am

mining stock psychology

Don't Let Fear Make You Miss Out

Mining companies have a fiduciary responsibility to make their shareholders money, so they can’t help but paint a rosy picture for potential investors. That's why you need to have a disciplined and impartial eye. Most companies are not worthy of your hard-earned capital.

Having an advisor you trust, or access to technical expertise, is crucial. Ideally you should have both. The most educated investor always has the edge.

I'll conclude with this: the markets have not been kind to the miners recently. But selling a stock just because it dropped in value is an emotional decision. Seeing red on your computer screen is painful, but it is not relevant. What is relevant is what you do with that capital going forward. Don't let emotion cloud your judgment.

On the other hand, if you’re waiting for the gold price to move higher before you sell, then you’re a speculator masquerading as an investor, and you may as well buy a ticket to Vegas.

My boss and mentor, Rick Rule, recently said, “Bear markets are the authors of bull markets.” When these markets do start moving, if you’re not positioned with the highest-quality tier-one companies, you could miss out on one of the biggest bull market moves of your investing life.

ivarsMr. Fix
Nov 4, 2013 - 4:43am

@Mr.Fix-Its not European CBs

@Mr.Fix-Its not European CBs except UK

European gold selling AND leasing operations were limited by 1999 Washington agreement that has been renew since in 2004, 2009 for 5 years each time. As this agreement went into action in 1999, the world gold leasing dropped from about 5000 tons to 3000 tons. -2000 tons. The leases were not rolled over so the gold had to be bought and returned , and so gold prices started to increase. One can see that last 5 year deals on gold lease from European banks ended in 2003-2004.

The date of Washington agreement is clearly visible in gold prices-it was 26th of September 1999:

After 2004, the major Western countries outside the Washington agreement is the USA, UK, and Japan.

Now, UK sold almost all its gold back in 1999. Japan has about 765 tons. The only country LEFT with ability to lend more than 2000 tons that were taken away from leasing market by Europeans from 1999-2004 is the USA.

Also, there is IMF gold. However, IMF is forbidden to lend gold. But its kept in London, so who knows. A lot of other country gold is in USA and UK. It might be possible the USA has indeed expressed interest in lending that gold out, hence German request to return it.

Conclusion: The only country after 2004 able to lend gold to suppress prices is the USA, and perhaps there is some rogue lending by UK and the USA of some of the gold they store in their vaults belonging to others.

The USA and UK have lent at least 3000 tons since 2006 , may be earlier -since 2003-2004 to JPM and may be other banks in LBMA market maker group to suppress gold prices.It was done in Bush time. The major receiver of these loans has been JPM, who might be timing its sales into market by the USG meeting JPM owners demands which are global. USG now- Democratic- tries to intimidate these owners by geopolitical actions and criminal charges and money charges. It is a war, that can lead to war.

The fight now is either about getting that gold back or finding new gold to lend. I am sure Germans are indignant in public over spying because they want to get their 300 tons from the USA faster..Immedeately. We will see how easy it is. If they reach agreement fast, then the USA has the tons to deliver. If German demands get apocalyptic, the USA does not have free gold to return or does not want to.

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