The voice of Dr Doom

2011-09-03 00:00

WHAT makes people become journalists? Having worked with hundreds of journalists, it’s something often pondered. Cynics tell us that those seeking a career in journalism do so to overcome inferiority complexes. Apparently, they possess a deep need to show they’re worth something, and get it by basking in the reflected fame of those interviewed. Then there’s my preference: the more charitable description of idealists driven to change the world.

Whatever gets them into it, once inside, every journalist has the same objective — the big story. That usually means engaging with “the big names”, and their CVs are sprinkled with the names of famous people they have interviewed. Those are the moments remembered, not the exotic places, the fancy meals or the smart hotels, but the people.

Strangely, for me it is some TV interviews that resonate most. They include Anton Rupert towards the end of his life; a brash, pony-tailed Marcel Golding who, pre-democracy, used Eskom to argue for nationalisation (not joking); Emma Thompson (the actress); and Michel Camdessus, MD of the International Monetary Fund, although that was probably because of the cameras shared with another young reporter, one Richard Quest, who even in the early nineties was larger than life.

You’d have thought that the passion for getting the big name would pass after three and a bit decades of listening and questioning, but it doesn’t.

Wednesday night was almost as good as pulling out a new foal. Thanks to the good offices of our radio show’s sponsor, my headphones were filled with the voice of “Dr Doom” himself, rock star economist Nouriel Roubini. It was 12 minutes that lived up to any possible billing.

I first came across Roubini, a New York University professor, in January 2007 at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He was one of five panellists at the highlight of every opening day, an early morning wrap of the global economy. His strong Italian accent, clipped speech and dour manner weren’t all that set Roubini apart from the other worthies. While the rest waxed lyrical about the world’s Goldilocks Economy (not too hot, not too cold — remember?), Roubini warned about three ugly bears: the United States housing market, rising oil prices and delayed reaction to higher interest rates.

The first real bumps hit later that year. So Roubini was the only panellist invited back in January 2008. This time he really let rip, warning about a looming financial crisis. Once again, he was an outlier. Once again, people smiled knowingly. Once again, he was on the money. The moneyed world doesn’t chuckle at Roubini anymore. Such is his clout that he stopped a strong share market rally in its tracks this week by suggesting on Bloom­berg TV that the U.S. economy is back in recession. Most still prefer to believe in a happier outcome. But they’re taking heed, incase Roubini is right. Again.

How can he be so definite when almost everyone else thinks differently? Especially back in 2007 and 2008, when he was dismissed as an alarmist and so few saw looming disaster that those who did became profiles for Michael Lewis’s masterpiece, The Big Short. Many rate Lewis’s only other effort, written two decades earlier, Liar’s Poker, as the best business book yet.

Why is he able to swim accurately against the tide? Roubini told me this week: “I’ve written a book, Crisis Economics, on this phenomenon. Whenever there is a bubble, people live in it. Consumers in the U.S. could spend more than their income. Politicians were happy. Wall Street and bankers were making billions of dollars in profit. The regulators were asleep at the wheel. The ratings agencies were gaining from misrating the securities. Everybody deludes themselves that’s reality, until the bubble pops.”

So is Dr Doom about to scare the pants off us when he takes the podium at the Discovery Invest’s Sandton Summit on September 21? Thankfully not. He warns there’s a high risk of China overheating and commodity-dependent Africa has an umbilical tie to the Middle Kingdom. So the continent will face challenges, but nothing imminent. Roubini reckons that China’s troubles will begin late in 2013, maybe slightly later. So South Africa has time to address its issues. For now. He covered a lot more ground in our chat, including worrying comments for gold bugs. The transcript, on Moneyweb, makes fascinating reading. But for the full Roubini, we’ll need to wait three weeks. I’ll be taking a recorder. He’s one of those rare people who packs a punch into every sentence. Better still, his comments bear scrutiny years later. A welcome contrast to most of the pages in my notebooks.


Alec Hogg is the founder of Moneyweb. He presents Market Update with Moneyweb on SAFM, weeknights at 6 pm. Follow him on ( or (

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.