Robert Gover (born November 2, 1929) grew up in an endowed orphanage (Girard College in Philadelphia), attended the University of Pittsburgh on athletic scholarship (swimming the butterfly), received a degree in economics, worked as a journalist, became a bestselling novelist by age 30, lived most of his life in California where he began his study of astrology, and now resides in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. His latest novel is Two Brothers. He describes it as an “economic novel.” One brother becomes a millionaire, the other a skid row bum. A third character was an economics professor till he studied astrology—he was subsequently confined in an insane asylum. Robert’s first novel, One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding, is a satire on racism and remains a cult classic. He has published 10 novels and 2 works of nonfiction, including Time and Money: the Economy and the Planets. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Black Swans & Uranus
Robert Gover, USA
The term “Black Swan” is used to describe events which are unpredictable, have a tremendous impact, and are rationalized only after the fact. In economics, great depressions and stock market panics are usually viewed as Black Swan events. For instance, at the time of the stock market crash of October 1929, there was no known logical reason why stocks should crash and keep going down and down and down and then lead into the greatest depression to that point in history. It was a Black Swan event—nothing in the past pointed to its possibility.
“Go ask your portfolio manager for his definition of risk, and odds are that he will supply you with a measure that excludes the possibility of the Black Swan—hence one that has no better predictive value for assessing the total risks than astrology…” (1)
Actually, astrology is the best way to explain Black Swan events in the economic realm, as I will show in this article.
The term is believed to have been coined by the Roman poet Juvenal and used in 16th Century London to describe an impossibility. All swans were believed to have white features until swans with black feathers were discovered in the outback of Australia, a Black Swan discovery that happened in 1697. Still, the term continues to be used for the unpredictable and unprecedented, especially in economics and finance.
Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions are also Black Swan events in the natural realm. The 2011 Japanese Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and resulting nuclear plant meltdowns hit with astounding surprise. We know that San Francisco is located on a dangerous fault line but we cannot predict when another earthquake may hit, nor if it will devastate that city. Tornadoes “come out of nowhere,” it seems, although later we can piece together the meteorological factors that created one. We know the East Coast and Gulf Coast are likely to be hit by hurricanes during the late summer and early autumn, and we can track tropical depressions moving across the Atlantic and note when they reach hurricane proportions but we cannot predict where exactly they will hit and with precisely what devastation. Seismic sensors can detect volcanic activity but we cannot predict exactly when another Mount St. Helens will blow and wipe out forests and towns.
Amazing artistic creations and scientific discoveries that come “like a bolt from the blue” are also categorized as Black Swan events. In this essay, I focus on Black Swan economic events. Such events are beyond any logical risk assessment. The famous economist John Maynard Keynes pointed out that there is no scientific basis on which to form any calculable probability for such events. They come as total surprises and are rationalized only after the fact.
In the 1990s a couple of brainy mathematicians came up with a formula for consistently profiting from options trading. They won a Nobel Prize. Their formula led to the creation of what was then a unique investment firm, Long Term Capital Management. But the crash of LTCM and the Federal Reserve’s rush to prop up the wrecked banking system thereafter became a Black Swan event. The professors’ formula addressed known risk, but not unpredictable, unprecedented Black Swan events. (2)
Long Term Capital Management’s crash was triggered by Russia’s allowing its currency to fail—something the best financial brains deemed an impossibility—on August 17, 1998 with Uranus in Aquarius forming a grand cross pattern with Saturn in Taurus, Venus in Leo and Chiron in Scorpio.
The financial meltdown of 2008 was another Black Swan event, for although there was a bubble in real estate prices, there was no known reason why the puncturing of that bubble would create such chaos in the world’s financial system and economy. After the fact, reasons abound in the hidden transactions involving trillions of dollars of unfunded credit default swaps and the marketing of mortgage securities without legal transference of property titles. The full story of how this happened has not yet came to light. for some details about the credit default swap scandal that has yet to be cogently covered by the mass media.)
Western astrologers will recognize in Black Swan events the influence of Uranus. In primary aspect to other planets, Uranus brings the unpredictable and unprecedented to individuals and whole societies. These Uranian surprises impact our world in ways that we can only rationalize later, after the fact, when we look back and try to fit the event into some logical, cause-effect paradigm.
Yet seven decades after the great depression of the 1930s, economists still debate why it happened, and what can be done to prevent it ever happening again. Economists who say they have logically solved the riddle are vulnerable to looking foolish when the next economic Black Swan event hits.
Given Uranus’ role in Black Swan events, if economists were able to overcome their prejudice against astrology, a whole new realm of cause-effect relationships would open to them.
The crashes of 1929 and 2008 both occurred under a T square formed by Uranus, Saturn and Pluto. The way to foresee the possibility of Black Swan events is by charting the astrology involved. And the key to analyzing is the position of Uranus and the aspects it makes at the time, especially to the other three outermost planets—Saturn, Neptune and Pluto—and to the natal chart of whomever or whatever is affected. (See Charts 1. 2, 3 and 4).
After a Black Swan event, we are usually able to define a chain of causes and effects that led to it, even though there is likely to be disagreement on precisely which precipitated it. What can we say for sure about the crash of 1929 and the great depression that followed? Suddenly, within a few months, the national mood changed from optimism to pessimism. Was it that change of mood that precipitated the crash and depression? Or was the pessimism caused by the crash and depression?
Astrologically, the answer is that both occurred simultaneously. The 1930s unfolded as Uranus inched into Aries, forming a square with Saturn in Capricorn and Pluto opposite in Cancer, with all three creating a grand cross pattern with the USA’s Sun-Saturn square.
That T square repeated early in this millennium when Uranus in Pisces moved opposite Saturn in Virgo with Pluto square both from Sagittarius, afflicting the USA’s natal Mars-Neptune square. The orbs are not exact and the Signs aren’t the same but the planetary angles and transit-to-natal impact are unmistakable.
This is not to say that there are never rational reasons for Black Swan economic events. It’s just that those reasons are hidden or ignored till it’s too late. As Robert Reich (3) has pointed out, “It’s no mere coincidence that over the last century the top earners’ share of the nation’s total income peaked in 1928 and 2007—the two years just preceding the biggest downturns.”
But very few individuals tracked this growing disparity back then. The few who worried about it were accused of fomenting class warfare. Now, in the wake of the 2008 crash, more and more people are becoming aware of the huge disparity between the few super rich and the rest of humanity, although how this disparity developed is still debated, as no single explanation satisfies all.
Hard angles formed by the outermost planets coincide with highlighting what has gotten out of balance. What is now out of balance economically is this huge disparity of wealth. What to do about it is another and more vexing question.
We must make a distinction between stock market crashes and great depressions, though, for one rarely leads to the other. Stocks have crashed when the overall economy remained robust, and great depressions have preceded sinking stock markets.
Looking back through history, we find that every time the USA’s Sun-Saturn square has been afflicted by a grand cross formed by the outermost planets the national economy has fallen into a great depression. Great depressions are not to be confused with recessions, corrections or depressions without the adjective “great.” Economist Ravi Batra (4) defined great depression this way:
“A recession usually lasts for one to three years, during which the rate of unemployment, while rising, is generally below 12 percent. When a recession lasts for more than three years, and/or the rate of unemployment lies between 12 percent and 20 percent, the economy may be said to be suffering from a depression. When unemployment remains high and business stagnates for six or more years, the nation’s plight may be called a great depression. Thus, depending on its severity in depth and length, the downswing of the business cycle may be defined as a recession, depression, or great depression.”
By that definition, there have been four great depressions so far in the history of the USA. Each has occurred under afflictions to the USA’s Sun-Saturn square, with Saturn in Capricorn and Uranus prominent. (5)
1780s with Saturn in Capricorn opposite the US Sun in Cancer and square the US Saturn in Libra, Uranus conjunct the US Sun square Neptune in Libra conjunct the US Saturn.
1840s with Saturn in Capricorn opposite the US Sun in Cancer, square Pluto opposite the US Saturn from Aries, and Uranus opposite the US Neptune from Pisces, square the US Mars in Gemini.
1870s with Saturn in Capricorn opposite the US Sun in Cancer, Uranus conjunct Jupiter and the US Sun in Cancer, and Neptune in Aries opposite the US Saturn in Libra.
1930s (by Christmas 1930) Saturn in Capricorn opposite the US Sun in Cancer, which was conjoined by Jupiter and Pluto, and Uranus in Aries opposite the US Saturn.
Other periods have been economically difficult and often called depressions, but those four fit the metrics defining great depressions.
By 2025, we may look back on the 2000-teens as a fifth great depression, although as of this writing, our travail is still described as a “great recession.” Euphemisms are little comfort to those whose lives have been devastated by the meltdown of 2008, however—today’s unemployment statistics have been “politicized,” so that 9% really means closer to 18% or 20% when all the unemployed are taken into account. Given the desire of most politicians to put a smiley face on our economic situation, the economists they hire obligingly fudge the numbers.
We may look back on this period as the most difficult in our history, for this time it is Pluto in Capricorn, not Saturn, and Pluto is square Uranus in Aries. All previous great depressions since the Industrial Revolution have occurred under Saturn in Capricorn. Tiny little Pluto takes an average of 248 years to orbit the Sun, and hasn’t been in Capricorn since colonial times and the American Revolution. From 1755 to 1758, Uranus in Pisces squared Pluto in Sagittarius, making seven direct hits. These were the years leading up to the American Revolution, which manifested in warfare when Pluto went into Capricorn.
Uranus-Pluto squares from Aries to Capricorn are exceedingly rare: Prior to the one we’re presently under, there were only two going back to the year 1. In 258-259, a killer smallpox pandemic ravaged the Roman Empire. In 1676 to 1678, an uprising called Bacon’s Rebellion unfolded in the Virginia Colony when English indentured servants and African slaves united against the colony’s aristrocracy, killed Indians and burned Jamestown to the ground, sending landowners fleeing to the Eastern Shore; the outcome was the legal color coding of the working class into separate races called black and white.
Stock market crashes are another category of Black Swan events. A distinction must be made between the overall economy and the stock market. The stock market is part of the economy but by no means the leading indicator of overall economic health or illness. That leading indicator is employment/unemployment.
Almost every time there has been a surprising stock market crash that has come with such surprise it has caused panic, the USA’s natal Mars-Neptune square has been afflicted by transiting planets, especially the outermost four. (See “An Astrological History of Stock Market Crashes” by Robert Gover in the ISAR Magazine, Autumn 2011.) Not all panic crashes lead into great depressions.
A few especially intuitive investors may anticipate a crash. These anticipators are usually called “doom and gloomers” before the crash. Cassandra has never been popular. After each crash, a variety of explanations are put forward as to why it happened. Still, the only way to really explain this type of Black Swan event is to understand the astrology involved.
The crash of October 19, 1987 was a shocker, and many an analyst at the time predicted that it would lead into another great depression. (See Chart 5.) But it did not. Why? Again, astrology holds the explanation. For this crash, the USA’s Mars-Neptune square was afflicted by Saturn and Uranus in Sagittarius, and Chiron in Gemini. Great Depression occur when the USA’s Sun-Saturn square is afflicted by outermost planets in the Cardinal Signs of Capricorn, Aries, Cancer and Libra. In 1987 the affliction was to the natal Mars-Neptune square. By the early 1990s when Saturn had moved into Capricorn, there was a recession but not a great depression because there was no outermost planetary affliction to the US Sun-Saturn square.
As an economic astrologer I rely on the primary angles formed by the outermost four planets, plus the Moon’s Nodes and Chiron, to ascertain what to expect in the stock market and economy. However, the cosmic environment our Earth lives within is in constant motion, so no two moments in cosmic time are the same astrologically. Primary planetary angles repeat—the New Moon repeats every 28 days, the Neptune-Pluto conjunction every 496 years—but always within a changed cosmic environment.
This ever changing phenomenon reflects how we perceive earthbound history as ever repeating but never duplicating. So there is no guarantee that these planetary patterns which have brought Black Swan crashes and great depressions in the past will bring the same in the future. It may be that we are influenced by celestial bodies so far distant that we have not yet seen and identified them. Yet the astrology of past Black Swan events remains the best way to ascertain when another will hit, with hard angles from Uranus the most indicative pattern to look for.
The two most economically sensitive points in the USA’s chart are two squares: Sun in Cancer square Saturn in Libra and Mars in Gemini square Neptune in Virgo. Afflictions to the Sun-Saturn square impact the overall economy. Afflictions to the Mars-Neptune square bring down the stock markets. On Black Monday 1929, a stock market crash was indicated by the opposition of T Saturn and Jupiter hitting the natal Mars-Neptune square. Moon conjunct natal Neptune apparently triggered the panic. A few months later, trouble for the overall economy was indicated by T Uranus opposite the US Saturn, square T Pluto conjunct the US Sun.
Biwheel Chart 2 shows the T square formed by Uranus, Saturn and Pluto about a year after the Crash of 1929 as people were realizing that this crash was unlike any previous, and was leading the nation into what we now call “The Great Depression.” When the Crash of ’29 occurred in late October, the T square had not yet formed but was applying. Notice that in the chart for Christmas 1930 the Uranus-Saturn-Pluto T square afflicts the USA’s natal Sun-Saturn square. It’s this square that has always been afflicted when great depressions have hit the USA.
By mid-September 2008, it was clear that another Black Swan market event was unfolding. Notice that the T square formed by Uranus, Saturn and Pluto this time hit the USA’s natal Mars-Neptune square—indicating that this was strictly a stock market and/or financial catastrophe. As Uranus then moved into Aries, it opposed Saturn in Libra conjunct the US Saturn and square the US Sun, with Pluto applying to an opposition to the US Sun. This indicated another great depression, although few were willing to call it that by 2011. Every time the USA’s Sun-Saturn square has been hit by the outermost planets from Capricorn and Aries, the nation has gone into a great depression. Logical reasons why each happened are found later, after such Black Swan events.
Notice in this chart for 2015 that the US Saturn is opposed by Uranus, Mars and Venus in Aries, square Pluto in Capricorn opposition the US Sun. On this particular day, March 5, 2015, the Full Moon is conjunct and opposite the US Neptune square the US Mars in Gemini. What this indicates is that the nation, and probably the whole world, is very likely to be in the pits of another great depression, with the strong possibility of another financial crash making things even more difficult. What is likely to be different about this great depression is a militant mood, indicated by Pluto’s position. Pluto’s arrival in Capricorn—every 248 years on average—has a history of coinciding with revolutions. Its previous sojourn through Capricorn coincided with the American Revolution. The one before that coincided with the decimation of Native American populations from diseases imported by Spanish conquistadors, to which the Indians had no immunity, and the shipment of tons of gold and sliver back to Europe, setting off inflation and a series of wars. In effect, both Hemispheres underwent cultural and economic transformations as Europeans invaded the New World in search of gold and silver.
It was the USA’s financially-sensitive Mars-Neptune square that was hit when stocks suddenly crashed to a new one-day record October 19, 1987. Uranus at 23 Sagittarius was opposite the US Mars, conjoined at this time by Chiron, and square the US Neptune, conjoined by the Moon. Although Jupiter was in Aries opposite the US Saturn, its trine to Uranus apparently saved the overall economy, for the stock market rebounded in the coming months. A couple of years later, with Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all clustered together in Capricorn, the Berlin Wall came down and major restructuring occurred in economies around the world—the Old Soviet Union disbanded and the USA ramped up laissez-faire capitalism—but no great depression occurred.
Two Rules Of thumb: No grand cross hitting the USA’s Sun-Saturn square, no great depression. And when the USA’s Mars-Neptune square is afflicted, there is danger of another stock market crash.
The tremendous impact on humanity of Black Swan events is best appreciated in retrospect. At the time of each, people are baffled.
Judging by the increased incidence of Black Swan events since the Uranus-Pluto square began tightening toward exact in 2008—first from Pisces to Sagittarius and then from Aries to Capricorn—the world as we know it will soon be transformed, presenting us with a variety of new challenges. That much we can deduce from the astrology involved. What we cannot yet know is how we humans will handle those challenges.
In Western culture, we have been imbued with the belief that it’s up to each individual to find ways to survive and prosper. Intuitively anticipating hard times, some people talk of storing up gold for a day when our money becomes useless; or moving to a tropical island and living a self-sustaining life; or turning homes into fortresses to defend against marauding mobs, and so forth. But such preparations are iffy at best because Black Swan events are unpredictable and bring the unprecedented. Those two key words—unpredictable and unprecedented—have long been used to describe the effects of hard angles to Uranus.
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Influence of the Highly Improbable, published April 22, 2007, TatePublishing.com.
- In his book The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson has a cogent explanation of this Black Swan event from page 320 to 330. In brief, if the Nobel Prize winning mathematicians had known more about economic history and Black Swan events, they would not have been so sure of their risk-assessment formula guaranteeing profits from options and derivatives trades. Investors put so much faith in this formula that big banks bet billions of dollars—and lost.
Robert Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, Supercapitalism, and his most recent book, Aftershock.
See Great Depression 1990 by Ravi Batra, published by Dell, 1998. Although no great depression hit the USA in 1990, the Japanese economy slumped into a prolonged depression. From Wikipedia: “Batra continued to publish books with the main thesis that financial capitalism breeds excessive inequality and political corruption which inevitably succumbs to financial crisis and economic depression.” Great depressions in the USA have occurred when Saturn in Capricorn combined with Uranus, Neptune and/or Pluto to create a grand cross pattern with the USA’s natal Sun-Saturn square. In 1990, Saturn in Capricorn made no such pattern with the other outermost planets. No grand cross, no great depression. But American jobs were steadily eroded by automation and corporate outsourcing to cheap labor markets overseas.
Economists do not agree on the specific dates when each great depression began, so it is impossible to pinpoint a specific date for precise astrological calculation. But the outermost planets move slowly, so the aspects they form are within orb for extended periods. These extended periods encompass disagreements among economists. In retrospect, it is clear that it’s impossible to pinpoint a specific date and time when any great depression began. The relevant economic factors involved usually develop in a zigzag pattern of fits and starts. Given our human proclivity to hope for the best, these fits and starts are often misread at the time, and corrected after the fact. As I write this, there is great disagreement concerning the true unemployment figures. What we know for sure is that unemployment and under-employment are enough to curtail demand for goods and services, which in turn curtails the production to supply goods and services, and the bank credit needed to restore normal buying and selling. By the time you read this, the government may or may not have stimulated enough demand to reverse this downward cycle.