The New Gurus

Josh Marshall and Felix Salmon flag this bizarre CNBC clip in which Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Taleb go on trying to talk about big picture global crisis stuff and basically the anchors keep peppering them for stock tips.


The other thing I’ve noticed about this, however, has been the sad, albeit understandable, tendency of these kind of media outlets to respond to the fact that their old gurus all turned out to be full of shit by attempting to anoint some “new gurus.” Since Taleb is, among other things, a practicing financier there’s been a particular tendency to do that with him. The typical way this goes, and certainly it happened on this clip, is to tout him as having “predicted” the crisis, and then make him out to be some kind of seer whose forecasts we need to listen to. If you actually read Taleb’s books, however, it’ll be clear that he did no such thing. Rather than “predict” the crisis, what he did was predict a crisis. He argued that risk models were inherently flawed; they systematically neglected the possibility of blowups and then were used to argue that investments strategies based on the impossibility of a blowup were safe.

But more to the point, his books—and especially the earlier one, Fooled By Randomness—offer powerful arguments against the whole method of trying to find the guy who predicted the last thing right and then asking him to predict the future. As he points out—and is obvious if you think about it—in a world of billions of people, lots of people might predict any particular event correctly. That doesn’t mean they can see the future.

What Taleb is doing on TV is refusing to play that guru role. But CNBC can’t handle it. If their old oracles are dead, they want a new oracle.