03 November 2008

The Gaussian Fallacy and Other Epistomological Failings in the Age of the (Aging) Bullshit Baby-Boomer

I've typically been skeptical of adherents to Nassim Taleb's "Black Swan" club. The events that have unfolded since the collapse of the Chrysler deal in late July 2007, are not black swan outcomes. [No one posited the existence of black swans. All swans were white, until they weren't.]

These outcomes are the wholly predictable results (in framework, if not in detail) of the moral bankruptcy of the Baby-Boomers and Generation X coupled with an unsustainable and untenable financial system. I believe there were extremely few people in the world who believed we could save nothing and borrow money at 0% forever without the bill ever coming due.

However, I think that this very lucid post on Ultimi Barbarorum (a Spinozist blog about finance) is an excellent summary of the ways in which financial innovation abetted the stability of the system for the first half of this decade until it didn't.

The only thing I would add, is that retail investors were also tricked by a Gaussian Fallacy. They were told that stock returns followed a Gaussian distribution... as long as you diversified, never paniced, and invested in low cost stock index funds, you could expect 10% a year and retire happy. This shiny ordure was sold to our parents by men under fifty who had begun their careers after 1980 and had never seen anything but a stock bull market. The ideological laziness and lack of intellectual curiosity on the part of our parents and their financial advisers is inexcusable. The "this time its different" argument, used to explain why it is not important to study the past, is the direct consequence of the self-indulgence, egoism, and narcissism of the Baby-Boomers and Generation X, both of whom were raised or came to believe that they were "special" and somehow their history would be as well.

With compassion for their sins, I nevertheless look forward to the rottenness being purged from the system. As a child I used to think a good name for my generation would be "Generation Why" but more and more as I become an adult I believe in Generation MGMT.

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