August 21, 2011

“No ordinary man could be such a fool”

My daughter Alexandra, an art fanatic, on hearing my explanation about the mistake of the Basel Committee pointed me to “The forger’s spell”, a book by Edward Dolnick about the falsification of Vermeer paintings. Boy was she right! 

In that book Dolnick makes a reference to having heard Francis Fukuyama in a TV program saying that Daniel Moynihan opined “There are some mistakes it takes a Ph.D. to make”. And he also speculates, in the footnotes, that perhaps Fukuyama had in mind George Orwell’s comment, in “Notes on Nationalism”, that “one has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.” 

And that comprises about the most appropriate explanation I have yet seen so as to understand why our bank regulators were able to commit their huge mistake that got us into this financial and economic crisis that threatens the Western World. No “ordinary man” would have told his children to beware about what he knew his children were afraid of, and stimulated them to go more where they wanted to go as it seemed safe… which is precisely what the current capital requirements for banks do when they are quite sizable whenever the perceived risk of default is high and small or even inexistent whenever the perceived risk of default is low. 

And then, just like to force down our throats, Dolnick writes “Experts have little choice but to put enormous faith in their own opinions. Inevitably, that opens the way to error, sometimes to spectacular error.” All of which now leaves me with the problem that also “no ordinary” FT reporter can come to grips with believing that experts could be such fools.