Is Conspicuous Construction An Economic Red Flag?

The patterns that take place right before our eyes are often the most difficult ones to see.

Sometimes wishful thinking gets in the way. Other times patterns run over such a long period of time – from one generation to the next, or even over the course of hundreds of years – that they are difficult to detect.

The bright red warning flag of conspicuous construction falls into the latter category.

While there is no scientific basis to explain this phenomenon, there is a historical pattern. And as we know, despite our best efforts, history always repeats itself.


Back in the 1300s, a new cathedral was constructed in England. At 525 feet, the church was the tallest building in the world. Shortly thereafter England defaulted on its debts due to expenses incurred during the 100 Years’ War.


Over the course of the next 400 years, England’s economy recovered, as did the country’s proud claim to once again being home to the world’s tallest building. Shortly thereafter, the Panic of 1796-1797 struck both the US and Great Britain, a cross-Atlantic economic slump that affected both countries.


The US was the first to recover from the Panic, and with the construction of the Equitable Life Building in New York also took title to having the tallest building in the world. Unfortunately, completion of this building occurred at the same time that the new Panic of 1873 hit, followed by a 10-year-long depression.

1890 & 1893

In 1890 there was a new Panic that coincided with the completion of the New York World Tower which held the record for the world’s tallest building. A few years later Philadelphia’s City Hall became the world’s tallest building, just in time for the Panic of 1893.


The Singer Building and then the Met Life Insurance Tower in New York were the world’s tallest when the Panic of 1907 hit.


As the Great Depression of 1929 struck, buildings in New York such as the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and 40 Wall Street were all in the running for the tallest building in the world.

1970s & 1990s

The financial crisis of the 1970s occurred about the same time that the World Trade Center and the Sears Tower in Chicago held joint title to the world’s tallest buildings. When the financial crisis in Asia struck in the late 1990s, the Petronas Towers in Malaysia were the tallest in the world.

2000s & 2008

The recession in the 2000s – caused in part by the bursting of the dot-com bubble – occurred at about the same time the Taipei 101 Tower was the tallest in the world. In 2008 Dubai’s Burj Khalifa building was the world’s tallest, just before the Global Financial Crisis struck.


Currently, both Dubai and China are competing for the claim of the next tallest buildings in the world – all of which are to be completed in 2018.

We’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not there’s any merit to this 700-year pattern of conspicuous construction and global economic crisis.

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