/blæk/ /dʌk/ (n.)
An event that:
- (a) Has an outsized, or non-linear impact on its environment
- (b) Is highly amenable to ex post facto, wise-after-the-event rationalisations, especially by politicians, regulators and bank executives
- (c) Lies outside the actual expectations, however sensible, of those whose job it is — was — to keep an eye out for things of this nature.
From a bank executive’s perspective, black ducks are like black swans — exactly the same, in fact — only easier for people on Twitter to be judgmental about. The key, for such a bank executive, is to position yourself so you can be judgmental about them on Twitter, too. That means finding someone else to blame. Bank executives have proven very adept at this over the years.
So, if it is a black swan, Q.E.D. it is no-one’s fault, certainly not yours, being impossible to foresee, so you get away scot-free, you just fire a few subject matter experts for the sake of good order and to be seen to be doing something, and the taxpayer foots the bill.
If it is a black duck, you personally should have known better, so your main focus should be quickly finding some subject matter experts to blame who you can fire for the sake of good order, and the taxpayer foots the bill.
There is a subtle intellectual distinction, even though it has no practical influence on the lived experience of (a) taxpayers or (b) subject matter experts.
So, with feeling:
Black swans: The collapse of the Soviet Union, 9/11, the internet, GameStop, Credit Suisse (if you are UBS).
Black ducks: Covid-19, the Global Financial Crisis, the Invasion of Ukraine, Archegos, Cryptocurrency fraud, SVB Memeplex, Credit Suisse (if you are Credit Suisse).
- ↑ Being “impossible to foresee” is quite closely correlated with Nassim Nicholas Taleb not being able to foresee it.