Anatomy of a Blowup

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Excerpted from The Fourth Quadrant: A Map of the Limits of Statistics,, September, 15, 2008, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
My classical metaphor: A Turkey is fed for a 1000 days—every days confirms to its statistical department that the human race cares about its welfare "with increased statistical significance". On the 1001st day, the turkey has a surprise.
The graph above shows the fate of close to 1000 financial institutions (includes busts such as FNMA, Bear Stearns, Northern Rock, Lehman Brothers, etc.). The banking system (betting AGAINST rare events) just lost > 1 Trillion dollars (so far) on a single error, more than was ever earned in the history of banking. Yet bankers kept their previous bonuses and it looks like citizens have to foot the bills. And one Professor Ben Bernanke pronounced right before the blowup that we live in an era of stability and "great moderation" (he is now piloting a plane and we all are passengers on it).


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