Deceiving the Greater Fool

May 22nd, 2006 | By | Category: Ireland

It is a long time since I sat in an economics class.

I used to have problems with economics at times during my teenage years, not because of any inadequacy on the part of the teacher, but because I was too vain to admit that I needed to wear glasses to see the blackboard, so would sometimes misread figures and graphs that he wrote on the board. (When I hear economic policies described as “short-sightedâ€? by Government critics I wonder if this is due to vanity on the part of the finance minister).

Being out of touch with much of current economic thinking, I was delighted to discover a new theory in Saturday’s Financial Times. A column by Tony Jackson was an exposition of what he calls the “Greater Fool Theoryâ€?. Jackson writes that there is no rational explanation for why everything was at such high prices, shares, commodities, property, all sorts of exotic assets; there was no sensible explanation as to why prices had gone up so much. The income you might get from such investments was too low to explain the prices people were paying.

The only logical way of understanding what had happened was the Greater Fool Theory. The theory says that people buy things they know to be at foolish prices because they believe they can count on a greater fool to whom to sell their investment at a higher price.

The Greater Fool Theory explains the Dublin property market. Everyone knows it is overvalued, everyone knows that they are having to pay prices in excess of anything justified by their earnings or by comparisons elsewhere, but the market keeps going up, so they buy in the hope that there is a greater fool who will buy from them if they have to sell.

The Greater Fool Theory suggests that much of our economy and our society is founded on a deceit – yet if it’s all about deceit, then why is the Church, so keen to speak on matters of morality in other areas of human life, so quiet?

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