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I've interviewed more than a dozen high-profile economists and investors over the last year. I ask each a question that I think covers the most important and overlooked aspects of the Great Recession: Have we learned from our mistakes, or are we doomed to repeat them?
Two weeks ago, I sat down with Robert Arnott, CEO of Research Affiliates, and one of the brightest investment minds in the world. When asked about learning from our mistakes, he was pessimistic, and pointed out that we not only repeat them time after time, but we have a dangerous tendency to blame others. Here's what he had to say (transcript follows):
Robert Arnott: Human nature is that we always repeat our mistakes. Simple fact is, countries have gone through the experiment that we're embarked on with disastrous consequences again and again in history. It always takes decades to mend the problems; but, eventually, they are mended. The real risk is when you're going through this kind of experience, the temptation is overwhelming to paper it over. I liken it to having holes in the floorboards that you put wallpaper over to try and pretend they're not there. Very dangerous.
And the other dangerous element is the desire to blame others for our travails. China bashing comes to mind. If China's currency is too cheap, as a lot of people advocate, well, that means that our imports from China are too cheap, which benefits consumers. Sure it hurts exporters; but it benefits consumers. It's a reciprocal, roughly equal effect.
So do you want to engage in China bashing, hoping that they'll boost trade off the foreign exchange rate for their currency, and make our exports more competitive, and make our imports from them more expensive? You're advantaging some exporters, you're disadvantaging the consumers. There's symmetry; the consumers don't have lobbyists.