Michael Lewis on Donald Trump

Financial journalist Michael Lewis (born 1960) is author of numerous bestselling books, including Liar’s Poker (1989) and The Big Short (2010).

Just before Donald Trump’s electoral victory, Lewis was adding finishing touches to his latest book, The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds (Norton, 2016). The 368-page volume is an homage to contributions to behavioural economics of two Isreli psychologists: Danny Kahneman (born 1934) and the late Amos Tversky (1937-1996).

Gary Silverman, the FT’s US national editor, recently caught up with Lewis.

“Every which way, Trump is exploiting the faulty mechanisms in people’s minds,” Lewis says over lunch at César, a restaurant in his adopted home town of Berkeley, California. “It feels like we are in a world where, to me, some meaningful part of the electorate is beyond reasoning with — beyond fact, anti-science. All the mental faculties that lead to human progress, they are opposed to.” ….

“I think of this as echoing of the 2008 financial crisis,” he says. “The marketplace for politicians just did something as weird as the marketplace for securities did ….”

Given their histories, Lewis makes a natural critic of the president-elect. Apart from having two ex-wives apiece, as Lewis jokes, he and Trump have little in common. Lewis made his name as a writer with an account of 1980s capitalist excess — Liar’s Poker, a memoir of his stint as a young bond salesman at investment bank Salomon Brothers. Trump, meanwhile, was an unapologetic poster child for the era — a property developer and casino owner who put his name on a book that described his deals as art. ….

One of the reasons that Lewis finds Trump so worrisome is that he appears so resistant to criticism. “He seems to think his own impulses are ingenious, even when they are fraudulent, idiotic or stupid. He tells himself a story that ‘I won, I am a success,’?” says Lewis. “He really is as fallible as the stupidest American citizen.”

Trump, in other words, is one of us — and that’s a problem.

“We are hard-wired to stereotype,” Lewis says. “When you are fighting racism or bigotry of any sort, or stereotyping of any sort, you are in combat with the way the mind works. You are, in a weird way, in the world where you are trying to overwhelm impulses. It’s so hard to get rid of it. This is how people think.”

Gary Silverman, “American psyche: Michael Lewis on the triumph of irrational thinking“, Financial Times, 9 December 2016 (metered paywall).

There is much more in Mr Silverman’s full column, which TdJ highly recommends.


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