Just Desserts and Markets Being Silly Again

Posted by Jeremy Grantham via John Mauldin - Outside the Box

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“I can imagine the company representatives on the Titanic II design committee repeatedly pointing out that the Titanic I tragedy was a black swan event: utterly unpredictable and completely, emphatically, not caused by any failures of the ship’s construction, of the company’s policy, or of the captain’s competence. “No one could have seen this coming,” would have been their constant refrain. Their response would have been to spend their time pushing for more and improved lifeboats. In itself this is a good idea, and that is the trap”…..

…..by working to mitigate the pain of the next catastrophe, we allow ourselves to downplay the real causes of the disaster and thereby invite another one. And so it is today with our efforts to redesign the financial system in order to reduce the number and severity of future crises.”

Just Desserts and Markets Being Silly Again  

I can’t tell you how surprised, even embarrassed I was to get the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Yes, I had passed the dreaded chemistry A-level for 18-year-olds back in England in 1958. But did they realize it was my third attempt? And, yes, I will take this honor as encouragement to do some serious thinking on the topic. I will also invest the award to help save the planet. Perhaps that was really the Nobel Committee’s sneaky motive, since there are regrettably no green awards yet. Still, all in all, it didn’t seem deserved. And then it occurred to me. Isn’t that the point these days: that rewards do not at all reflect our just desserts? Let’s review some of the more obvious examples.

…..read more HERE.

or read his sumary below:



  1. Yes, this was a profound failure of our financial system.
  2. The public leadership was inadequate, especially in dealing with unexpected events that often, like the housing bubble breaking, should have been expected.
  3. Of course, we should make a more determined effort to do a more effective job of leadership selection. But excellence in leadership will often be elusive.
  4. Equally obvious, we could make a hundred improvements to the lifeboats. Most would be modest beneficial improvements, but in the long run they would be almost completely irrelevant and, worse, they might kid us into thinking we were doing something useful!
  5. But all of the above points fail to recognize the main problem: the system has become too big and complicated for even much-improved leaders to handle. Why should we be confident that we will find such improved leaders? For, even in an administration directed to “change,” Obama and his advisors fell back on the same cast of characters who allowed, even facilitated, the development of the current crisis. Reappointing Bernanke! What a wasted opportunity to get a “son of Volker” type. (Or should that be “grandson of Volker?”)
  6. The size of the financial system continues to grow and shows every sign of being out of control. As it grows, it becomes a bigger drain on the rest of the economy and slows it down.
  7. The only long-term hope of avoiding major recurrent crises is to make our financial system simpler, the units small enough that they can be allowed to fail, and, above all, to remove the intrinsically conflicted and dangerously risk-seeking hedge fund heart from the banking system. The rest is window dressing and wishful thinking.
  8. The concept of rational expectations – the belief in the natural efficiency of capitalism – is wrong, and is the root cause of our problems. Hyman Minsky, on the other hand, was right; he argued that the natural outcome of ordinary people interacting is to make occasional financial crises “well nigh inevitable.” Crises are desperately hard to avoid. We must give ourselves a chance by making the job of dealing with them much, much easier.
  9. All in all we are likely to have learned little, or rather to act, through lack of character, as if we have learned nothing. In doing so we are probably condemning ourselves to another serious financial crisis in the not too- distant future.

This article courtesy of John Mauldin and his Outside of the Box. Ed Note: read the entire letter HERE at Jeremy Grantham’s GMO.com


John F. Mauldin

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