Did the financial system blow up because it was built and largely operated by people with many of the characteristics of a mild form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome?
As explanations for the crisis go, it’s on the extreme side but forms an interesting counterpoint to the “blame the looting bankers” story line.
People with Asperger’s, a mild form of autism, are characterized by, among other things, a deficit of “theory of mind,” essentially the ability to understand that other people have different beliefs or knowledge than themselves. Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, has written that a lack of theory of mind left many in positions of responsibility without the ability to conceive of and guard against black swans, which are rare, high-impact and hard to predict events.
There were, after all, a remarkable number of people blaming “hundred-year storms” for the crisis, which was at least in substantial part caused by an over-reliance on risk management controls and models that proved to be far too narrow.
There was a love of data and a refusal to conceive of the data being not wrong, but incomplete, which led many to cling to their models of how the world was working even as it fell around them. Remember all of those reassurances that problems in subprime were “contained”?