I do not think many people saw this coming. An illicit, wild animal food market in a region in China unleashes a global economic recession in the space of three months – or possibly longer, depending on whether you trust the information coming out of China
The specifics are almost certainly unforecastable, but the pattern may be predictable.
I have been revisiting the deeper realms of my memory, raiding my university experiences. I dimly remember having an interest in the processes of disequilibria in economics, at a time when conventional theory suggested markets were always in equilibrium.
Back in the day, we thought economic systems were rigid and only temporarily disturbed from equilibrium. Temporary disequilibria were thought to be created by 'exogenous shocks' - rare and isolated to world wars and the oil crisis.
Thankfully, theory has moved on. There is a much richer theoretical framework for the workings of complex systems. It harnesses insights from hard sciences and ecology.
There is interesting work being done into how and why complex systems display differing degrees of resilience to shocks, how they move between alternative states or collapse and reform entirely.
Specific shocks may be random and exogenous to the system, but the way a system then shifts, either staying within predictable bounds or breaking into entirely new configurations, is an endogenous property - and is, in some sense, predictable.
Resilient systems can take outside shocks and stay within bounds of predictable equilibrium states.
Fragile systems are vulnerable to shocks and can shift to entirely new states, where recent history and norms are no guide to the future. Previously robust systems can evolve into fragile ones.
Fragile systems tend to be complex, concentrated, and highly connected, but lacking in diversity and idle, duplicated capacity.
The modern economic system, it seems to me, has evolved into a fragile system. Modern supply chains are highly complex and interconnected, making it very difficult to predict how they will respond to unforeseen interruptions. Many industries have become highly concentrated, with winner-takes-all type competitive landscapes.
The ruthless pursuit of short-term efficiency, backed by heavy debt levels, has encouraged the removal of 'fat' from companies and entire industries.
Highly infrequent economic downturns are quickly neutered and rescued by government intervention, allowing patterns of behaviour to take root - which view risk as a one-way bet.
All of this drives the system away from robustness and towards fragility. All it needed was an exogenous shock to send us into a potentially unpredictable future.
This is why the current recession is unlike all others we can remember. Triggered, not by the inner workings of a cyclical system, as we were once taught, but by a genuinely unusual, external shock.
The shock hit individual behaviour first, then supply. Next it entered a feedback loop into demand. It started in one region in China and then spread to another. Then it spread to the world.
It is fundamentally different to 2008, which was not a shock, but the result of many years of lax lending. It is also different to 9/11, which was a shock, but of limited scope.
However, as the history of behaviour teaches us, we are always doomed to fight yesterday's battles, so the policy response is tailored to the last crisis.
Some strategists and commentators are suggesting the future will be different. This seems inevitable to us.
Jeremy Lang is partner and co-founder of Ardevora Asset Management