Another big magazine profile on Nouriel Roubini.
But at least in this latest one at The New Republic, cleverly titled “The Prophet Motive“, we get a bit more of a sense of Roubini’s background and inner psyche.
We learn Roubini’s family moved around a lot. Istanbul, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Milan. It was in Milan that he, like many other children of the educated well-to-do took an interest in radical politics, which ultimately led to him studying economics. He went to Harvard, taught at Yale (where he liked to sing opera at parties) and then to NYU, in part so he could be around NYC culture.
But despite his success, he’s still not happy with how he’s perceived. He claims to hate all the media coverage of his party life, and he’s not even happy with how he’s perceived intellectually:
The crisis has blessed Roubini with fame, wealth (mid-recession, RGE is still growing), and odes from his peers. Nassim Taleb, who also predicted a catastrophe in his book The Black Swan, calls Roubini “the best living economist”; heavyweights like Brad Setser, Simon Johnson, and Kenneth Rogoff were nearly as flattering in their appraisals. And yet, Roubini still sees himself as outnumbered and put-upon, the man no one will listen to until it is too late.
He also bristles at anything that smells remotely of constriction. When two people from the notoriously on-message Obama campaign approached Roubini and asked him to come onboard last year, he declined. Though Roubini had been happy doing policy in the late ’90s, he had chafed at working longer days for half the money, and his recommendations were being shorn of their Roubini-esque fullness. “When I was in government, every word I said in public, I had to clear it with general counsel,” Roubini says. “I prefer to be a free thinker and be able to write daily without having to worry about that.”
Before they left for Washington late last year, he told his old colleagues Geithner and Larry Summers that, though they were free to contact him, he was happy directing policy indirectly, on television or on his blog. “I cannot do everything,” he says. “You have to choose.”
Frankly, if we were Roubini, we wouldn’t trade his life for that of a Washingtonian in a million years. Still, this whole “nobody will listen to me until it is too late” schtick is a little much.
Could it have something to do with the fact that he’s changed his tune a lot over the years?
The TNR piece is the first one that actually tries to answer that question.
Anirvan Banerji, an economist with the Economic Cycle Research Institute, has been particularly dismissive of Roubini’s forecasting abilities: “The average time between recessions is about five years in the postwar period,” he says. “So, if you forecast a recession one year and it doesn’t happen, and you repeat your forecast year after year … at some point the recession will arrive.”
And Roubini has undeniably overshot. In 2004, he predicted that the oncoming recession would precipitate the crash of the dollar. The crisis has mainly buoyed it. On September 1, 2005, three days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Roubini told Reuters that economic disaster was imminent. What followed instead was a bump in financial activity that forestalled the recession for more than two years.