WEB EXCLUSIVE Niall Ferguson, Live from LBS

The London Business School Global Leadership Summit began this morning with a typical virtuoso performance from Professor Niall Ferguson. The world's leading business historian and sometime MT contributor delivered an alarming speech during the course of which he recommended getting all investments out of the Middle East fast. He also predicted that Osama Bin laden and Al Qaeda may soon realise there are better returns to be made long-term by getting into private equity, than relying on their current cash cow of Afghan opium.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Professor Ferguson's thesis is that we're living in a time of great uncertainty, and that too many of us continue to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to world affairs, rather than face the thought that anything can possibly go wrong. To illustrate this, Ferguson draws parallels with the geo-political climate of 1880 to 1914 ­- a time of similar market complacency to today, but one that came to a sudden shocking end with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and consequent outbreak of the First World War. The result of this unexpected ‘black swan': stock markets round the world shut down completely for six months.

It's a salutary lesson for the United States in particular today. It's a nation that accepts neither that it's an empire, nor that it is in terminal decline. Ferguson says that the US colossus suffers from three major deficits which undermine its imperial power: 1. a financial deficit, 2. a manpower deficit and 3. an attention deficit, which means that its electorate will not tolerate any military intervention that lasts longer than four years. But with what Ferguson describes as the 'Middle East great war' apparently just round the corner, we could all soon be in for the mother of all black swans.

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