Sunday, January 09, 2011

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

It just struck me that there is a unifying thread of mendacity that underlies  two of the greatest calamities of the 00s.  First, Iraq--the idea that nobody realized Saddam had no WMDs.  Of course this is bollox: Hans Blix knew and told everybody who would listen.  Lots of other people (not all of whom want to admit it today) got taken in by intelligence "data" that was deliberately scrubbed, mined, cherry-picked, whatever with the intention to mislead.

And the other is, of course, the housing bubble.  Same theme: nobody knew that housing was overpriced and would come tumbling down in a heap.  Of course we know now that John Paulson knew, and those guys in Michael Lewis' book knew.   But we tend to pretend they are outliers, eccentrics like the guy with the Swedish accent.  More temperate students know that this is a soothing fiction in the market, for every long there was a short, and somebody was betting against these deals all along.

Who knew?  It's a particularly soothing bit of magic.  If no one knew, it can't be anyone's fault, or at least you are as much at fault as the guy who caused the problem.  Whether it applies to the current political environment--who knew that if you put crosshairs on the candidate, someone will take a shot at her--is an exercise left to the student.

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