Robert J. Shiller

Una burbuja especulativa es una epidemia social cuyo contagio se produce a través de movimientos de precios. Los primeros en invertir se enriquecen a la par de las noticias de aumento de precios, y así se crean historias de éxito que echan a correr de boca en boca y estimulan la envidia y el interés. El entusiasmo atrae entonces a más y más personas al mercado, lo que vuelve a provocar un aumento de los precios, que atrae a otras personas y alimenta historias acerca de una “nueva era”, y así sucesivamente, en una serie de ciclos que se retroalimentan conforme la burbuja crece. Después del estallido de la burbuja, el mismo proceso de contagio provoca un derrumbe abrupto, cuando la caída de los precios lleva a más y más personas a abandonar el mercado y magnificar las historias negativas acerca de la economía.

Pero antes de pasar a la conclusión de que ahora que la crisis ya se produjo debemos aplicar políticas que pongan freno a los mercados, habría que considerar la alternativa. De hecho, las burbujas especulativas no son sino un ejemplo de epidemias sociales, y estas pueden ser incluso peores cuando no hay mercados financieros. En una burbuja especulativa, el contagio se amplifica por la reacción de las personas a las variaciones de precios, pero las epidemias sociales no necesitan mercados ni precios para concitar la atención pública y difundirse rápidamente.

Algunos ejemplos de epidemias sociales independientes de la existencia de mercados especulativos se pueden encontrar en un libro de Charles MacKay publicado en 1841, Delirios populares extraordinarios y la locura de las masas, que llegó a ser un best seller. El libro volvió famosas varias de las burbujas de la historia: la del Misisipi en 1719 y 1720, la de la Compañía de los Mares del Sur, entre 1711 y 1720, y la fiebre de los tulipanes de la década de 1630. Pero también se refieren en él otros casos que no tienen nada que ver con mercados.

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