Why Is Everyone Still Listening to Nouriel Roubini?

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A survey of economists that came out today suggests many believe the end of the recession is in sight, though NYU economist Nouriel Roubini is still quite bearish on the economy, just so you know. "There is still too much optimism that a recovery is just around the corner," Dr. Doom said at a conference in Seoul yesterday. "A more sober analysis suggests we're closer to the bottom; there is light at the end of the tunnel, but it's going to take a while longer, and the recovery is going to be weaker than otherwise expected." The conference was late last night, our time, and already, his quotes have been disseminated all around the Internet, like dandelion seeds fluttering onto people's lawns. Why? Why is everyone still listening to this guy?

To be sure, Roubini is obviously incredibly smart; he employs an interesting methodology and is a good, engaging speaker, and he was, most important, right in predicting the economic meltdown. But he's at this point where we really have to wonder if he's truly trustworthy. After all, he has a stake in this thing, by which we mean "the global recession." Not that he can keep it going, single-handedly. But it certainly seems like it would benefit him to try.

Long ago, when the nickname Dr. Doom was first bestowed upon him, Roubini was viewed as a kind of quirky Nostradamus figure, muttering about doom in his classes at the Stern Business School and occasionally on CNBC, where his opinions were usually dismissed by the hosts as those of a wacky perma-bear. But the economic crisis changed all that. Since his forecasts proved correct, or semi-correct, Roubini's become an economic celebrity, practically a household name (okay, maybe only in the wonkiest of households, but still). He's been the subject of countless magazine profiles and is lauded by his peers. His independent economic research firm, RGE, has flourished, and he's always speaking at some conference, somewhere, around the globe. (And, with respect to Julia Ioffe, who wrote a great profile of the economist recently for The New Republic, we're not buying the idea that he's taking his message on the road out of some noble sense of duty. His fees must be astronomical at this point.) His stock has gone up with the ladies, too; as he recently told New York, "The recession has been great for me."

In fact, it's been so good that we can't imagine he's ever going to want it to end, or, if it does end, that he'll be the one blaring it out over a loudspeaker. If the recession ends, then people's interest in the economy would wane, and Roubini would fade back into obscurity. He'd go back to spending his nights not being fêted as a soothsayer in a room of hot blondes, but alone, with only his graphs and the plaster vulvas on his walls.

That's depressing, sorry. Anyway. This is not to say that we think Roubini is wrong. We have no idea whether he's wrong. But it does seem like he should be treated with a little more skepticism. Fame does weird things to people, and it's possible that Roubini is like the Speidi of the economic crisis: enjoying his moment, and doing everything he can to keep it going.

Roubini Says Bottom Of U.S. Recession Not Here Yet [NYT via Reuters]