Can Irrationality Be Rational?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Barry Ritholtz responds to John Cassidy’s Rational Irrationality article:

(Cassidy’s analysis) asks us to ignore the repercussions of our behaviors. We can rationalize short term gains at the expense of long term losses, because we need to obtain quarterly profits regardless. Apparently, when it bankrupts the company, only then with the benefit of hindsight can we see what went wrong.

I am terribly sorry, but that is precisely the sort of thinking that led to the crisis in the first place. Making loans to people who cannot pay them back is not rational when its profitable — its NEVER rational.

Goldman Sachs avoided most of the credit debacle — were they being irrational when they forewent short term profits for a few years — but avoided the worst of the sub-prime debacle? And what about hedge fund manager John Paulson? His fund bet against all of these other players, netting several billions in profits while others suffered from their “Rational Irrationality.” How irrational was Paulson’s investment posture?

On a risk adjusted basis, the behaviors of Citi, Bear, Lehman, New Century and others was hardly rational. Call it whatever you want, but do not forget this simple fact: It was the sort of narrow, risk-ignoring thinking that is ALWAYS rewarded in the short term, and ALWAYS punished in the long term.

Great stuff from BR! Read the full post here

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