Saturday, December 27, 2008

Faces of the Crisis: Nouriel Roubini

In the buzzy, scruffy warren of offices in New York from which Nouriel Roubini runs his economics aggregration and commentary website, one of the young cyber-serfs has taped a New York Post story about the boss to the chalky wall. “NYU Playboy Warns: Econ Party’s Over”, the sub-heading declares, next to a photograph of a smiling, open-shirted Mr Roubini, sandwiched between two attractive young women.

“This crisis was not a Black Swan event,” he argues, citing Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book on the importance of the extreme and the unknowable. “It was more of a generalised asset and credit bubble throughout the economy . . . But whenever you are in the middle of a bubble people find ways to justify the asset prices.”

“He’s been the most right of all the economists around,” fund manager and philanthropist George Soros says. Lawrence Summers, the incoming head of Mr Obama’s National Economic Council, who was Mr Roubini’s ultimate boss at the Treasury and who has been an adviser to his website, said this autumn: “Nouriel’s great virtue is that he was right. A lot of stuff that he laid out that people thought was nuts has happened, so I give him credit.”

Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of asset-manager Pimco, describes Mr Roubini as “brilliant” and a favourite intellectual combatant because “he is not shy to engage in discussions”.

As for the future, he warns that 2009 will probably be the worst year: “I expect a global recession and a very severe one.” But he promises not to be an eternal pessimist: “In the medium term, the integration of India and China is a boon for the global economy and I think the US can fix its market, too. Maybe one day Dr Doom can become Dr Boom.”