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Roubini deja vu

GB Geo-Blog

Roubini deja vu

NYU professor Nouriel Roubini, always in search of extending his 15 minutes of fame, argued in a speech in Singapore on June 12 that a “perfect storm” of economic disasters threatened the global economy in 2013. According to Roubini, the perfect storm consists of the US’s basket case of an economy and enormous budget deficit; a potential slowdown in China; debt restructuring in the European Union and stagnation in Japan.

To hedge his prediction, Roubini picked a date two years out and suggested that there was only a one-in-three chance that these factors might clobber growth. Since we live in a 0-1 world, either an event happens or it doesn’t. Predicting probabilities between these two extremes for any event enables the person making the prediction to claim perfect foresight after the fact – very much like my mother-in-law who always argues both sides of an issue.

Roubini rose to fame  and got his initial 15 minutes by predicting the collapse of the housing market in the US and the ensuing financial crisis. He started to make these predictions in 2006, finally being right in 2008.

I give Roubini credit for a very successful marketing campaign that got him extensive media coverage and super star status, at least for a brief period of time. He was much smarter than I, for I started predicting the imminent collapse of the dot-com bubble in 1996, but I never capitalized on eventually being right four years later. I also have been predicting the collapse of gold prices for the past two years, and eventually I will be right. However, being right eventually does not necessarily lead to fame and fortune. Indeed, while waiting to be right, forecasters can easily lose their shirts.

Unlike John Paulson, who had the confidence to bet heavily on his expectation of a housing meltdown in the US and make billions for himself and his hedge fund investors, I suspect that Roubini did not make any money betting on his predictions.

Following his rise to fame, Roubini’s predictions have fallen far short of the mark. Starting in late 2008 and going into the first half of 2009, Roubini continued to predict a double-dip recession for the US economy. Since coming out of the recession in the first half of 2009, the US economy has grown consistently every quarter.

Bloomberg noted in a June 13 column that “[s]ome of his other predictions haven’t panned out, including a call on July 4, 2010 for “market surprises on the downside” in ensuing months and a weakening in economic growth. The MCSI World Index rallied 23% in the second half of last year, while US GDP gains accelerated to 2.6% in the third quarter and 3.1% in the fourth quarter from 1.7% in the April-to-June period.”

I find it somewhat surprising that the media continues to give him any coverage and plays along with his efforts to extend his 15 minutes. Then again, most reporters have no idea of what they research and write about. They rely on so-called experts to do their work and provide a cover for their lack of research skills and knowledge. This behavior is very similar to that of CEOs and boards of directors when they hire consultants. They cover their backsides by being able to point out that they hired the best experts available – obviously because they are incapable of making decisions and taking responsibility for the risks they assume.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.


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