In his 2017 book, “Zero Hour: Turn the Greatest Political and Financial Upheaval in Modern History to Your Advantage,” Harry Dent forecast a catastrophic economic crash would hit us no later than early-2020.
Dent saw the developed world arriving at the pointy-end of a long and unsustainable period of technological progress and growth, which was destined to implode in the greatest bubble burst of modern history. In a feeble attempt to thwart the resulting downturn, and in an expression of gross monetary manipulation central banks would respond by printing more money.
This post is part of CoinDesk's 2020 Year in Review – a collection of op-eds, essays and interviews about the year in crypto and beyond. Leah Callon-Butler, a CoinDesk columnist, is the director of Emfarsis, a consulting firm focused on the role of technology in advancing economic development in Asia.
Then, amid rising geopolitical tensions and regional trade wars, domestic melting pots would finally boil over as citizens from incongruous cultures, religions and income groups railed against the establishment in a backlash against intensifying globalisation. In 2017, he pointed to Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, Brexit and Black Lives Matter, and predicted “the greatest revolution and financial crisis since the late 1700s.”
Harry Dent, who is 67, has built a career on such bold predictions. His books have titles like “The Great Crash Ahead” (2011), “The Great Depression Ahead” (2009) and “The Next Great Bubble Boom” (2006). The son of a political strategist, Dent created an investment and newsletter empire in Tampa. But recently he has decamped to Puerto Rico, where he mixes with several members of the island’s crypto community.
“At least it’s dealing with its crisis rather than printing money to cover the problems,” wrote Harry about his decision to set roots in Puerto Rico.
The debt-ridden Caribbean island is known for its favorable tax incentives. Around 2018 it began to attract some high-profile blockchain entrepreneurs and investors who set their sights on building the local scene. Harry’s rhetoric was in alignment with the core philosophies of Puerto Rico’s burgeoning crypto community and his new neighbor, investor and PR man Michael Terpin, invited him to deliver a keynote on the future of money at his investing conference, CoinAgenda Caribbean.
That’s where I met Harry and where he gifted me a signed copy of his new book, “Zero Hour.” Had I read it back then, in May 2018, I might have dismissed most of his bizarre predictions as hyperbole. But I didn’t get around to it until March 2020, after the coronavirus lockdown had kicked in and suddenly I had all this free time on my hands. Reading it as the global crisis was unfolding and the economic outlook turned bleak it felt like Harry was commentating world events in real time.
“Zero Hour” mentions nothing of a pandemic, but speaking with me via Zoom in December 2020, Harry said COVID-19 was simply the trigger for a series of calamitous events that had been timetabled for decades. To arrive at these conclusions, Harry and co-author Andrew Pancholi identified a range of demographic and geopolitical cycles all due to collide in 2020. They explain that it is rare to get so many cycles converging at once, with the most comparable event in history being the period known as “The Great Depression.”
In Harry’s view, recessions, depressions, booms and busts are completely normal and necessary for efficiency, but the natural process has been interfered with. “Central banks have hijacked democracy and killed free market capitalism by taking over the economy and driving it from the top down,” he said, pointing out that governments worldwide had responded to the financial crash of 2020 exactly as he predicted, with quantitative easing and excessive stimulus.
Of course, that only helped to add value to bitcoin’s ideology – and price – throughout the year.
Shoot the messenger
Harry will never call himself an economist and it’s true that his unconventional approach has attracted many critics. An opponent of note is the economic researcher and wealth adviser Larry Swedroe, who has made it his mission to hold Harry accountable to his predictions – which he claims have been more often wrong than they are right.
Via a LinkedIn DM, Larry described Harry’s harbingers as “investment porn that is designed to titillate, stimulate and excite you into action, but has no basis in reality.” He compared Harry’s success as a forecaster to a blind squirrel that occasionally finds an acorn. Larry said he’d “written many pieces exposing [Harry’s] garbage” and shared a few links as evidence, one going back as far as 2013.
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But Harry isn’t fazed. He says this is just how disruptors are met. “That’s the way I’m greeted by economists: ‘Shut up, we don’t want to listen to this, you’re a cuckoo,’” he said, outlining the plight of anyone who dares to position their opinions on the wrong side of popular. “It’s the same as innovators. We are greeted with bullets and A-bombs and told to get out of here.”
That might also explain why Harry isn’t getting invited to speak at the crypto conferences anymore, since he’s now saying stuff like: There’s no bigger bubble than bitcoin, it’s the bubble of bubbles. Refusing to concede the current bull run represents mass-scale adoption and true institutional acceptance, Harry thinks he’ll still be feeling bearish until some point in 2022, when bitcoin should experience a 90% correction, by his clock.
Some of his neighbors would like to insist they’ve seen the worst of the crypto winter already, but Harry sees an even bigger shakeout on the way up to the next big thing. He says it’s a perfect example of an S-shaped adoption curve at very early stages, with the technology still at 1% but growing exponentially. He likens blockchain to the World Wide Web on a 20-year lag, recalling the time “the internet ran past the Nasdaq like a race car.”
Harry concludes our chat with a warning: You better start listening to me, not those egghead economists and central bankers.