Several years ago, a very smart friend of mine introduced me to fractals, a mathematical concept that has political applications. It also applies to art and literature; Jackson Pollock’s paintings are based on fractals, and David Foster Wallace said that his novel, “Infinite Jest,” was partly based on the concept as well. For those smarter than I, you can read all about fractals, but basically the term describes the ability of some patterns to replicate themselves in ways that are identical at all scales.

The political example my friend used was the Bush-Gore election where everything from the split between the electoral college and the popular vote down to the 5-4 Supreme Court vote was identical in its closeness despite being at very different scales. (In one case there were over 100 million votes; in the other, nine, but still the pattern held.) He even counted up all the court votes in the aftermath of the elections, the Supreme Court’s as well as several lower court votes, and found that Bush still beat Gore by one vote. 

Looking at economic news, I am reminded of the laws of fractals.  All good news comes with some bad — whatever the scale. Our economy is recovering, but it also may be sliding back into recession at the largest scale.  All other economic news seems to replicate this pattern. Today, for example, just two headlines tell the tale of the fractal: “World growth improves slightly, but remains fragile,” and “March housing starts fall, new permits surge.”

If this pattern continues, we will have an election that will fit into another fractal: the Gore-Bush model; if it tips one way or the other, we will have an easy winner.