“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”*

*William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act IV, Scene I)

On 8 May, the Sydney Morning Herald headed its Analysis on Facebook:

“An expert panel has convened to nut out how we might resume travel between Australia and New Zealand. But exactly what will the trans-Tasman bubble look like? (nut out: to discover, through careful consideration, deliberation, or investigation, the solution to something. Australian English, New Zealand English, informal)

More Australian and NZ slang: open slather is a term for “a situation in which there are no restrictions; free-for-all”…if the term is unfamiliar to you, it’s easy to read as “opens lather”, especially in proximity to “bubble”. Eleanor Ainge Roy reported for The Guardian on 5 May that:

“Leaders in Australia and New Zealand have floated the idea of a trans-Tasman bubble for some weeks now, as cases of coronavirus in both countries continue to drop, nearly in tandem…

…If both countries agreed to an exclusive bubble arrangement, more flights would be put on by the national airline carriers, and the need for a two-week quarantine for all arrivals scrapped. The New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has hinted that New Zealand may not agree to open-slather travel with all states in Australia – as some have worse outbreaks than others, such as New South Wales, though she stressed this was a federal issue for Australia to resolve.”

Edward Chancellor‘s “7 minute read” for Reuters on 24.3.20 cited the newly published The Rules of Contagion, by Adam Kucharski, and Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, first published in 1841, in observing:

“…After the **South Sea Bubble collapsed 300 years ago, contemporary observers likened the market situation to a plague…

…Financial bubbles and epidemics are both prone to cross borders. In 1720, the genie of speculation jumped from Paris to London, and later spread as far as Portugal and Russia. In the early months of 2020, Covid-19 was carried from Wuhan, China to much of the rest of the world. Bubbles produce unreal times: rumours abound and bizarre promotions are launched. Speculators snapped up shares 300 years ago in a company “for the immediate, expeditious and cleanly manner of emptying necessary houses [toilets] throughout England.” Their descendants have lately taken to stockpiling toilet rolls, a product that England still produces in ample quantity. In an atmosphere of dread, gossip and tall tales spread more virulently than the virus itself.

Bubbles are a form of social contagion.”

(On 15.4.20 Dr Claudia Rei, Associate Professor in the University of Warwick Department of Economics, commented on reports that the conoravirus may cause a bigger fall in UK GDP than the South Sea Bubble.

“On recent comparisons between the current economic downturn and that resulting from the South Sea Bubble in the early eighteenth century, it is first important to clarify that the causes of these downturns are not the same and thus the recovery from the present crisis will likely be different…”)

From Encyclopaedia Britannica:

**”South Sea Bubble, the speculation mania that ruined many British investors in 1720. The bubble, or hoax, centred on the fortunes of the South Sea Company, founded in 1711 to trade (mainly in slaves) with Spanish America, on the assumption that the War of the Spanish Succession, then drawing to a close, would end with a treaty permitting such trade. The company’s stock, with a guaranteed interest of 6 percent, sold well, but the relevant peace treaty, the Treaty of Utrecht made with Spain in 1713, was less favourable than had been hoped, imposing an annual tax on imported slaves and allowing the company to send only one ship each year for general trade. The success of the first voyage in 1717 was only moderate, but King George I of Great Britain became governor of the company in 1718, creating confidence in the enterprise, which was soon paying 100 percent interest.

In 1720 there was an incredible boom in South Sea stock, as a result of the company’s proposal, accepted by Parliament, to take over the national debt. The company expected to recoup itself from expanding trade, but chiefly from the foreseen rise in the value of its shares. These did, indeed, rise dramatically, from 128 1/2 in January 1720 to more than 1,000 in August. Those unable to buy South Sea stock were inveigled by overly optimistic company promoters or downright swindlers into unwise investments. By September the market had collapsed, and by December South Sea shares were down to 124, dragging other, including government, stock with them. Many investors were ruined, and the House of Commons ordered an inquiry, which showed that at least three ministers had accepted bribes and speculated. Many of the company’s directors were disgraced. The scandal brought Robert Walpole, generally considered to be the first British prime minister, to power. He promised to seek out all those responsible for the scandal, but in the end he sacrificed only some of those involved in order to preserve the reputations of the government’s leaders. The South Sea Company itself survived until 1853, having sold most of its rights to the Spanish government in 1750.”

For further reading, see The “Bubble” That Keeps on Bubbling by Ben Zimmer, language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine, on August 27, 2013.

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