Adventures in national stereotypes

By Felix Salmon
May 27, 2009

The Epicurean Dealmaker has invented a new parlor game: match financial-market participants to Russian national stereotypes circa 1865! Can I play too?

Tolstoy TED Felix
Frenchmen A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. Investment bankers; recent MBA graduates All investment bankers under the age of 40; most hedge-fund managers
Englishmen An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. Goldman Sachs employees; private equity professionals IMF/World Bank employees; economists
Italians An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. Hedge fund managers; CNBC commentators Traders
Russians A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. “I am completely unaware of anyone currently operating in the financial sector who will admit to knowing nothing, much less take pride in it.” EMH devotees in general; buy-and-hold index-fund owners in particular
Germans The German’s self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth—science—which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth. Economists; derivatives structurers Chartists

Incidentally, the stereotypes age well. Have you met a French investment banker? A Bank of England technocrat? Nouriel Roubini (who counts as Italian for these purposes)? Josef Ackermann?

But of course there’s still a burning question: Why is the American self-assured?

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