What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
With rendition switcher


Question: Does anyone in particular deserve blame for the financial crisis? 

Simon Johnson: It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not an individual financial firm, for example. It’s a system. It’s a system of beliefs and a system of incentives that caused a lot of trouble before and it now remains in place and I would say it’s an ideology. I live in Washington. I interact with them every day. I argue this out. We have the blog where this goes on all the time and the book is just really meant to reinforce and push these points further. But, these people—these very, very powerful people believe that finance is good; unregulated finance is better and huge financial firms essentially unfettered in what they do around the world are the best. 

This is wrong. This is incorrect. I’m not a radical of left or right. I’m a centrist. I’m an IMF technocrat if you like. I’m a professor and we bring a lot of people with us on this point. We have a lot of blurbs in the book from people across the political spectrum. The structure we have right now is wrong, it is dangerous, it must be stopped. 

Question: Is there any value in large banks being as big as they are? 

Simon Johnson: There is no value to the banks of their current size. There is no evidence, and we go through this in the book and we’ve debated this with all the leading people on the other side. There is no evidence that banks over $100 billion in scale confer benefits on society. Now, we’re looking at banks that are $2 trillion, $2.5 trillion, which is the case of Citigroup before the crisis. Of course, there's bigger bonuses for the guys who work there and the guys who run it, but all society is getting is this big, downside risk, these massive crises. Push them back to a couple hundred billion dollars. That’s our point. And then you get plenty of benefits from the scale and less danger. 

Question: Was the financial meltdown the result of a conspiracy? 

Simon Johnson: No, there's no conspiracy. Conspiracies, honestly, would be relatively easy to root out and expose and fight against. This is not a conspiracy. This is a system of beliefs. This is the way people think. This is what they have come to convince themselves of because Wall Street did so well, because they made so much money, became very prestigious and a lot of people drank the Kool-Aid, if you like. The belief is this is the way it’s got to be and that’s what we’re fighting against. This book is a counter on the ideological, on the belief system and we have the evidence, we have the facts, we have a lot of people on our side. 

Question: Have Washington’s actions so far made another meltdown more or less likely? 

Simon Johnson: Oh, they made it more likely. I mean, that’s the point of keeping the bankers in place and keeping their entire incentives in place. Look, they weren't even embarrassed by what happened. Okay, maybe there were 20 minutes that it was a little bit awkward, but that’s it and these people, I can assure you, have no remorse. And, as far as they're concerned, it was a great trade. They made a lot of money. That’s what they care about, the bottom line. They did well out of this. Make no mistake, they’ll do it again.

Recorded on March 31, 2010

More from the Big Idea for Thursday, June 10 2010


Who’s To Blame for the Fina...

Newsletter: Share: