Our Bizarro World
How the fictional world of DC Comics is surprisingly relevant today.
The comic series even profiled a salesman marketing Bizarro bonds that were “guaranteed to lose money.” And while it was funny at the time the comic was written precisely because it was laughably unrealistic, it’s actually not uncommon today. There are trillions of dollars of debt in the world yielding negative interest rates. Bizarro debt? Sure seems so.
Just last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Bain Capital founder Josh Bekenstein on stage at the Yale Private Equity and Venture Capital conference. During our conversation, he noted that despite being illiquid and highly leveraged, private equity outperformed the less leveraged public equity markets during the financial crisis. I had to pause and reflect: more leverage going into a crisis resulted in better returns? Yup.
I’ve been discussing the topic of free expression with students of mine at Yale…and what some have said is both shocking and disappointing. Several students state they do not feel safe expressing controversial perspectives in classes or even with peers. Sure, it’s conceivable that the students who take my classes are a self-selected conservative bunch (they are, after all, studying financial bubbles and are therefore concerned with finance…) that don’t represent the student body. But even students not in my class that I’ve gotten to know over the years have suggested it’s risky to engage in debate on topics for which there is an accepted politically correct answer. One student noted his reluctance to speak freely if his thoughts differ from the prevailing classroom dynamic: “There is no upside in doing so…I’ll be socially shamed and called out as insensitive.”
“The primary function of a university is to discover and disseminate knowledge by means of research and teaching…The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.”
Several paragraphs later, the report notes the critical role that free speech plays as means to protect minority opinion:
“…value freedom of expression precisely because it provides a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox. Free speech is a barrier to the tyranny of authoritarian or even majority opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of particular doctrines or thoughts.”
Compare the sentiments conveyed in these paragraphs with those that emerge from the video documentary. Could the current attempts at creating an environment of free expression at Yale instead be creating a culture of self-censorship? Bizarro indeed.
What this Bizarro world of ours has taught me is that we must constantly think about the unexpected developments that can derail our most cherished plans. What assumptions have we made that may not be valid? In the current environment of radical uncertainty, it’s critical we explore multiple scenarios and consider outcomes that, regardless of how likely (or unlikely) they may seem, can meaningfully impact us.