Tuesday, January 27, 2009

PermaBear Wisdom

When an extreme event comes around like 2008, those who called it are elevated in stature. I think its appropriate they are elevated, but not too much. Many who called the crisis were incredibly vague prior to the problems (Shiller in his 2006 edition of Irrational Exuberance), and many enumerated tens of things that can wrong, and have always been saying so (eg, Noriel Roubini). Here is George Stigler describing the economist Leon Henderson circa 1942 in Memoirs of an Unregulated Economist):

Henderson had acquired a certain fame in Washington when he had been one of the few to predict the crash of 1937. An indulgent public had forgiven of forgotten his identical but mistaken predictions in previous years. I still label the repetition of a prediction until it comes to pass the 'Henderson method'.

Actually, a good doomsayer should predict a massive cataclysm is 'possible, if not probable'. In casual audiences this will work, because it is impossible to tie down, but it emphasizes the bad, so when that event happens, you simply say, 'exactly!'. A more quantitative audience will require actual numbers, so predict a cataclysm in 2-3 years, but here is the secret: always keep the improbable event forecast as being out 2-3 years. Most people who see you again, in a year or so, don't catch the inconsistency, because no one keeps archival real-time databases on prognosticators. As they say, forecast early and forecast often.

As a fund manager this shows up in your historical cumulative return data, which is why someone like Warren Buffet is so impressive. But if you simply disband your fund and start over, eventually, you can generate a nice arithmetic return, because a one-year -97% return can be offset by a 150% return, even if that won't really help the investors you had when you lost -97%.


Anonymous said...

do you have an opinion on whether aging societies should have higher inflation or lower inflation? i'm talking 20 years down the road. as far as i can tell, economists go for higher inflation, japan is supposedly an exception because it's highly industrialized.

gary said...

Anyone in particular you're thinking of?

Anonymous said...

lol @ gary