Thursday, May 21, 2009


Pfuel was one of those hopelessly and immutably self-confident men, self-confident to the point of martyrdom as only Germans are, because only Germans are self-confident on the basis of an abstract notion—science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. 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. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. 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. 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.

— Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace 1

Here's a fun new parlor game, kiddies. Match the famous Russian novelist's national psychological stereotypes from 200 years ago to current financial market participants. Here are some thoughts off the top of my head:

  • Frenchmen = Investment bankers; recent MBA graduates
  • Englishmen = Goldman Sachs employees; private equity professionals
  • Italians = Hedge fund managers; CNBC commentators
  • Germans = Economists; derivatives structurers

Naturally, I exclude the Russians from my analysis, because I am completely unaware of anyone currently operating in the financial sector who will admit to knowing nothing, much less take pride in it. (Actually knowing nothing does not count, since if we used that distinction 98.3% of all market participants would have to start wearing ushanki all year round.)

Your thoughts?

1 Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970, p. 709.

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