On August 12, something extraordinary happened. The news broke that, in the first seven months of 2020, the United Kingdom’s economy had suffered its largest contraction ever (a drop in national income exceeding 20%). The London Stock Exchange reacted with a rise in the FTSE 100 by more than 2%. On the same day, when the United States was beginning to resemble a failed state, not merely a troubled economy, the S&P 500 hit a record high.
To be sure, financial markets have long rewarded misery-enhancing outcomes. Bad news for a firm’s workers – planned layoffs, for example – is often good news for its shareholders. But when the bad news engulfed most workers simultaneously, equity markets always fell, owing to the reasonable expectation that, as the population tightened its belt, all income, and thus average profits and dividends, would be squeezed. The logic of capitalism was not pretty, but it was comprehensible.