Nouriel Roubini: The New Dr. Doom

You know the way some people gush over movie stars and athletes? With a Sun/Mercury/Saturn in financially-minded Capricorn opposing a cyclical Cancer Moon, I get a little starry-eyed over economists.

Maybe the reason why practitioners of the so-called Dismal Science get my heart beating a little faster is because I secretly consider them to be fellow travelers. After all, both economists and astrologers spend their time poring over charts and making prognostications. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from economist John Kenneth Galbraith: “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

Earlier this year, I wrote an ode to the late economist Hyman Minsky and I’ve been known to blow virtual kisses at market maven Barry Ritholtz.

I’m out of town so I’m just catching up with this New York Times Sunday Magazine story on Nouriel Roubini, whom I quoted in my Minsky post. Don’t have time to read it right now? Here’s a key point:

Only a handful of 20th-century economists have even bothered to study financial panics. (The most notable example is probably the late economist Hyman Minksy, of whom Roubini is an avid reader.) “These are things most economists barely understand,” Roubini told me. “We’re in uncharted territory where standard economic theory isn’t helpful.”

The NYT has dubbed Roubini “Dr. Doom.” Want to know the last time the mainstream media nicknamed an economist Dr. Doom? Interestingly enough, it was when Saturn was last in Virgo, 29 years ago. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Salomon Brothers chief economist Henry Kaufman had that moniker. Kaufman was a talking head who influenced markets during the tenure of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker. You can read about that period here.

I love the symbolism: Dr. Doom as a finance icon is having his Saturn return! By the way, the original Dr. Doom is still going strong at age 80. Henry Kaufman runs an eponymous consulting firm and gets a seat on the dais at Economic Club of New York functions in honor of his longevity.

Why is Roubini, the new Dr. Doom, getting so much ink right now? He is an Aries born Mar. 29, 1958, according to the Wiki. You can see Roubini’s chart with transits and progressions of Aug. 17, the day the NYT article was published, here courtesy of Astrodienst.

Interesting that Roubini’s progressed Sun and Moon are conjunct in late Taurus. This often signifies marriage or the beginning of a new creative partnership. The economist’s got the transiting North Node, which is traveling with Neptune and Chiron, on his Venus/natal Chiron in Aquarius right now. The Sun was a little past an opposition to his Venus on Aug. 17.

The transiting North Node, which is good for connections with the public, is bringing attention from the media, and increasing Roubini’s popularity, though the article mentions his perennial “outsider” status. I believe this reflects the conjunction of Chiron, the Wounded Healer, with Venus in his natal chart. The son of Iranian Jews who was raised in Turkey, Roubini is an immigrant. So is the original Dr. Doom, Henry Kaufman, whose family left Germany to escape Hitler after living through the hyperinflation of the 1920s.

Let’s hope the two Dr. Dooms, and the rest of us, don’t have to live through U.S. hyperinflation of the 2010s.

Hail to Hyman Minsky!

“… over a protracted period of good times, capitalist economies tend to move to a financial structure in which there is a large weight to units engaged in speculative and Ponzi finance.”  — Hyman Minsky

As the world’s economic system continues to unravel, the economist that everyone’s talking about is Hyman Minsky, who was born in Chicago on Sept. 23, 1919.

It is traditional to set a chart for noon when the birth time is not known, but I’m going to guess that Minsky was born late in the day and that he is a 0 degree Libra.

Why? Because transiting Pluto in Capricorn has been squaring Minsky’s Sun (and Moon) in a chart set for 11:45 p.m.  I think that Pluto transit would prompt a deep examination of the economist’s work, which focuses on financial crises. Here’s the chart, courtesy of Astrodienst.

Like many accomplished people, Minsky had virtually all of his planets clustered together in what I believe legendary astrologer Mark Edmund Jones (How to Learn Astrology) called a “locomotive formation.” Some might say this chart has a “bucket” pattern, with Uranus in Aquarius as the handle.

Finance types will notice the similarity between some of the patterns Jones identified in horoscopes and the terms used by chartists in the financial markets. And, indeed, chartists or technical traders don’t have the knee-jerk reaction against astrology that you typically find on Wall Street because they’re accustomed to looking for patterns in the price movements of a commodity or stock.

The aspect that I find most intriguing in Minsky’s chart is the Jupiter/Neptune conjunction in Leo, which is almost exact to the minute. This symbolizes speculation big time and the lush life. Interesting that Minsky chose to write about living the high life on credit instead of doing it himself. (Admittedly, I don’t know much about his personal life, but I’ll venture to say he was not a compulsive gambler or mad speculator. But maybe someone will write in and contradict me.)

The piece that brought the former Bard College economics professor, who died in 1996 at the age of 77, into the public eye is this page one story from the Wall Street Journal. 

The article, published Aug. 18, 2007, hailed the failure of market mechanisms as a “Minsky moment.” Interesting that the transiting Sun was broadly conjunct Minsky’s Mars in Leo and opposing his Uranus in Aquarius on the day the article was published. It was Minsky’s “moment in the sun.”

Before Minsky made his appearance on the first page of the WSJ, his name and theories were being bandied about by economists such as George Magnus of UBS, according to this post at the Financial Times.

Nouriel Roubini, a Turkish-born economist who has a great Web site, cited Minsky on July 30, 2007 when he asked: “Are we at the peak of a Minsky credit cycle?” You can read his post here.

According to Roubini, Minsky identified a group of buyers who come in late in the credit cycle as “Ponzi borrowers, as they need persistently increasing prices of the assets they invested in to keep on refinancing their debt obligations.”  (Ponzi is a reference to notorious swindler Charles Ponzi, who popularized schemes that offered extremely high returns in the beginning, but required more and more money, usually from new investors, to keep the scam going.)

In terms of Minsky’s idea of Ponzi borrowers, I can think of no better description of the hairdresser I sat next to on Metro North a few years ago. He was making his way to JFK, where he was going to fly down to Miami and “flip some condos.” Now, I’m a big fan of hairdressers (what woman isn’t?), but when they start talking about a particular investment, you can be sure we’re close to the peak of speculation in that market. 

Back to Minsky. Given all the publicity he was getting in late July and August of last year, it is possible that he was born early in the day and his Sun is in the last degree of Virgo. He’s been described as unkempt and that’s not an uncommon trait among Virgos. They sometimes let things go to hell in a handbasket because they give up in the face of the monumental task of being perfect. In that case, last August, Pluto in Sagittarius was squaring Minsky’s Sun.

Forgive me for thinking out loud here, but I want to share my back-of-the-envelope rectification with you as I guesstimate the time of birth.