From tulips to bitcoin to NFTs — here's how the act of speculation became a financial mania

  • University of Pittsburgh professor Gayle Rogers says financial speculation wasn’t always seen as “mania.”
  • From NFTs to bitcoin, he says what’s being called mania should really be considered financial speculation.
  • He says using the term mania tells us “only a small and potentially misleading part of the story.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the late 1990s, America experienced a dot-com mania. In the 2000s, the housing market went wild.

Today, there are manias in everything from bitcoin and nonfungible tokens to SPACs and meme stocks — obscure corners of the market that are getting increased attention. Whether these are the next bubbles to burst remains to be seen.

The sudden rise of all these relatively new asset classes — or the astronomical heights they’ve reached — may seem irrational or even enchanted. Describing them as speculative manias implies that individuals are lost in forces beyond their control and needn’t take responsibility for the actions of the crowd.

But, as I learned while researching my book “Speculation: A Cultural History from Aristotle to AI,” which will be published in June 2021, financial speculation hasn’t always been understood as a widespread craze — or even outside of individual choice.

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