Monday, March 14, 2011


Globalization creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words, it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse. Financial institutions have been merging into a smaller number of very large banks. Almost all banks are interrelated. So the financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic banks -- when one fails, they all fall. The increased concentration among banks seems to have the effect of making financial crises less likely, but when they happen, they are more global in scale and hit us very hard. We have moved from a diversified ecology of small banks, with varied lending policies, to a more homogeneous framework of firms that all resemble one another. True, we now have fewer failures, but when they occur ... I shiver at the thought.

Banks hire dull people and train them to be even more dull. If they look conservative, it's only because their loans go bust on rare, very rare occasions. But ... bankers are not conservative at all. They are just phenomenally skilled at self-deception by burying the possibility of a large, devastating loss under the rug ... But not to worry: their large staff of scientists deemed these events "unlikely."

Once again, recall the story of banks hiding explosive risks in their portfolios. It is not a good idea to trust corporations with matters such as rare events because the performance of these executives is not observable on a short-term basis, and they will game the system by showing good performance so they can get their yearly bonus. The Achilles' heel of capitalism is that if you make corporations compete, it is sometimes the one that is most exposed to the negative Black Swan that will appear to be the most fit for survival.

Please, don't drive a school bus blindfolded.

Owing to ... a misunderstanding of the causal chains between policy and actions, we can easily trigger Black Swans, thanks to aggressive ignorance -- like a child playing with a chemistry kit.

-- Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Black Swans are occurring with greater frequency.

Last week's historic earthquake in Japan contradicts the notion and appearance of stability and is yet another Black Swan in a series that has (time and time again) threatened the order over the last decade.

The new normal is abnormal and is bound to haunt investors for some time to come.

"I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown."

-- Woody Allen

"It is often said that 'is wise he who can see things coming.' Perhaps the wise one is the one who knows that he cannot see things far away."

--Nassim Taleb

To put it into an ugly, crass context, it seems obvious that the U.S. automakers are one of the principal beneficiaries of the tragedy in Japan.

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