There is an Evangelist named Harold Camping, who claims the world will end tomorrow.

He has violated the first rule of forecasting: You can give a price target ($0) or a date (tomorrow) but never both at once.

Besides, the end of world forecast carries additional risks. People have been making Armageddon forecasts for, like, forever. So far, not one has paid off. Oh-fer-∞.  (Perhaps the long  shot odds are attractive to risk takers).

But its a stupid bet for the simple reason that there is no upside:

a) If you are right, your counter-parties will be dead and unable to pay off the wager.

b) If you are wrong, you look a fool AND have to pay out your obligations (Hey Moose, Rocco, help the judge find his wallet )

The Mayan predictions of the end of the world holds no sting for them — their world ended a long time ago.

Harvard historian Niall Ferguson knows this lesson well — in Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, he describes the inevitable decline of the United States, but neglects to give a “Sell By” date

Category: Really, really bad calls, UnScience

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

56 Responses to “End of Worlders: Classic Game Theory Error”

  1. Rightline says:

    However, “the end of the world as we know it” bet has unfortunately been a winner…..

  2. VennData says:

    …unless you get a bunch of suckers to give you all their money while they stand on street corners and wave placards at the soft-mined, innumerate, home-schooled.

    Then you’re simply another tele-evangelizer, top of the multilevel marketing pyramid of cash flow, cleaning out the suckers

  3. rktbrkr says:

    Speaking of bets and predictions I haven’t seen any online bets yet on when Demonique Strauss Kahn will flee. The maid is apparently a squeaky clean french west african – and a MUSLIM!

    I predict there will be more than one maid for TV movie about this, “L’Affaire Strauss-Kahn”

  4. Mike in Nola says:

    But while Ferguson is smarter in his predition method, you do have to admit that he has the same overweening sense of certainty and superior knowledge of a fundamentalist preacher who has stumbled upon a revelation.

  5. inessence says:

    Welllll….we’re wating…………………

  6. Mike in Nola says:

    My daughter asked: If a West Aftican Muslim official came to New York and raped a white Christian maid, would he get bail?

  7. dead hobo says:

    Funny you should bring this up today.

    Since yesterday, I’ve had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that next week will be the start of the big one for equities. While we all know a big dip is coming after QE2 ends, my gut tells me the start is next week. Then again, maybe it’s just a bad diet expressing itself.

    We have no good news and a lot of mediocre to lackluster news on the horizon. This translates to ‘no reason to buy equities at these prices’. Equities markets haven’t been able to break past the congestion at this level for several weeks. I don’t sense excess animal spirits anywhere. I suspect HFT is the main force batting the ball around right now. I can’t imaging anyone going long in anything right now if they’re using their own money.

    High gas prices are killing spending, making people more cautious. Shopping centers and garden stores are emptier than you would like to see if things were happy. 10 year rates are in a slow free-fall, implying a walk-don’t run flight to safety, aka ‘race to the exit’.

    By June 1, we will see if it’s only indigestion or good trail reading.

  8. dead hobo says:

    By ‘feeling in the pit of my stomach’ I mean some free floating anxiety coupled with a mental image of the countdown clock hitting zero in ‘Independence Day’ followed by the long silence.

  9. It figures that it would happen on a long weekend up here in Canada. God, if you’re going to wipe the world’s hard drive, could you at least wait until Tuesday?

  10. Sasquatch says:

    I always think I’m negative and then I read Dead Hobo.

  11. Outta Here says:

    VennData – Some atheists homeschool too :)

  12. AHodge says:

    one way to bet that is sell some US default swaps
    you and everyone else wont be financially “around” if they pay

  13. KidDynamite says:

    maybe this explains the LNKD price action? no one cares, because they all know that the world is ending? (/sarcasm)

  14. Invictus says:

    The good news for Camping is that his heirs won’t have to pay the estate tax bill on his $72 million fortune (Source: 2009 IRS Form 990 for Family Stations, Inc. via

  15. Robespierre says:

    “But its a stupid bet for the simple reason that there is no upside:”

    Yes there is see @Invictus above.

    BTW this is very similar to breaking the bank you run to become a zillionare in bonuses. There is no upside for the bank but there is a lot for the banker.

  16. rktbrkr says:

    Mike in Nola Says:
    My daughter asked: If a West Aftican Muslim official came to New York and raped a white Christian maid, would he get bail?

    No, but he’d make the basketball cut at Rikers.

  17. Bruman says:

    There is something interesting though, from a psychological point of view. The more precise the prediction in this kind of thing, the less likely it is to be true, and yet the more likely it is that it will sound well researched and plausible.

    I suppose it is because we know that really precise predictions like that are very likely to be wrong, and so only someone who has done careful research would be willing to make one… or someone who just doesn’t know what they’re doing… take your pick.

    As far as I can tell, the argument is that God gave Noah a week’s warning about the destruction of the world, and since 1 day to God = 1000 years to us, May 21st exactly the 7000th year after the warning of the flood.

    This really is a crazy read. First of all, the Jewish calendar says it is year 5771, so even if Noah was warned in year 1, we’re still way too early for that to be possible. And besides, assuming Scripture is true, didn’t the Flood already happen? And didn’t we get a Rainbow promise after that???

    And even if 7000 years is correct, with the implication of 1 second of God time = 1 month of Human time, it’s hard to believe that God is going to keep his promise to the 1/30th of a second. Sure, I’ll do something in a week, but I might show up a few minutes late if there’s traffic or a really good game on TV.

    In fact at that rate of life, Jesus’ entire 33 year lifespan would have made up roughly 6.6 minutes of God’s time, from conception to crucifixion. Now we understand Jesus’s cry “Oh Father, why hast thou forsaken me.” God the Father had not forsaken him; he’d just stepped out for a smoke or something.

  18. Orange14 says:

    The sad thing about this is that there are a significant number of children who are being harmed by their parents belief in this nonsense. Parents are selling all their assets and when the world is still here next Monday, it’s food stamps and Medicaid for the kids! I wonder if there is a circle in Dante’s hell for these parents.

  19. [...] Barry Ritholtz: End of the Worlders: Classic Game Theory Error [...]

  20. JerseyCynic says:

    gotta love his timing…

    RE: “throwing Israel under the bus”

    “America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region,” Obama said in yesterday’s speech. “Our message is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States.”

  21. Greg0658 says:

    the MSM is getting the meme half right (again) .. the gist of that meme is the good humans will be leaving us here to fix the mess without them .. a pool of less desirables to fix the mess … I don’t know if this will be my last post or not …. I don’t know .. & if I got to the gates would I have the guts to tell St Peter “send me back theres so much more to do .. I gotta kick me some bankster butt and get my pension reinstated starting up next year” :-)

  22. wrongway says:

    End of the world on Saturday? There are posters here who predict the end of the world EVERY day!

  23. carrottop says:

    in australia rapture day is going just fine …

  24. Greg0658 says:

    one more while there’s still time:
    SUPERTRAMP – You Started Laughing (Live in Madrid)
    what a lovely view :-) .. & (for me) off of Paris Live c1980

  25. Bokolis says:

    So, THAT’S what that sign just over the Brooklyn side of the Kosciuszko- that’s one hell of a place to try and pitch Bible banger radio- has been saying all this time.

    Well, if this joker happens to be right, at least I’m in one damned fine place to die.

  26. MorticiaA says:

    Meanwhile, the CDC has this on its website — Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocolypse.

  27. scottinnj says:

    Best blog post I’ve read on this subject (h/t from Andrew Sullivan’s site). A college professors FAQ about the Rapture for his students.

    This is my favorite:

    Q: What if my instructor is raptured?
    A: None of our instructors bear much chance of being judged worthy. However, on the off chance your instructor is chosen, an army of unemployed secular Marxists is waiting to take his/her place.

  28. postman says:

    Mike in Nola @10:25.

    Multiculti arguments would abound. He’d be freed. The thought of punishing him would be characterized as Islamophobia.

  29. daemon23 says:

    That whole “Mayans predicting the end of the world” thing is the result of goofy new age mysticism misinterpreting Mayan mythology anyway. The Mayans have no known end of the world prophecy.

  30. ashpelham2 says:

    I guess as long as humanity exists, we are going to have religion, and people making stupid predictions like this guy.

    I’m more interested in the over/under on Miami-Chicago in the playoffs. Oh, and a good place to meet women at in Chicago next Tuesday or Wednesday evening.

  31. socaljoe says:

    “Decline of empire” is not the same as “end of the world” or “Armageddon”.

    It doesn’t need to be predicted… it’s under way and it’s a process lasting decades not an event with a single date.

    Many empires throughout history have declined. It means a lower relative standard of living and sustainable lifestyle for the population, but not the end of the world. It’s entirely possible, that after the transition, this country, in many ways, might be a better place to live.

  32. gibbswtr says:

    The problem with all this rapture stuff is that according to the prediction all the good people will be taken to heaven and according to Ritholtz all we will left with is a world populated with bankers, mortgage brokers, assorted financial shills, and Alan Greenspan- wait that is Satre’s definition of hell- to be locked in a windowless, doorless room for eternity with four people you despise.

  33. gms777 says:

    It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between end-of-the-world manias and the economic cycle.

    It is a funny world.

    Back on May 11 of this year many Italians fled Rome fearing an earthquake, an event predicted years ago by a late Italian seismologist (?) who also correctly forecasted the dates of two other Italian earthquakes. Nothing happened in Italy on May 11, but there was an earthquake in Spain. It does make you wonder….

  34. Mike H. says:

    I love any post with a subtle “Caddyshack” reference. Especially on Fridays. Nicely done, BR.

  35. Disinfectant says:

    I wonder how many days they paid up on those billboards. No longer than through Saturday, I assume.

  36. KeithOK says:

    What’s the rule of thumb here?

    Buy the Prophecy, sell the Apocalypse?

  37. nofoulsontheplayground says:

    Doonesbury has been a blast this week as Gary Trudeau has been working the May 21st doomesday scenario into his storyline. How he remains cutting edge at his geezer age is beyond me, although I think his 20-something twins help him out a ton.

  38. [...] Meredith Whitney should have learned you can predict price (or in this case defaults), or time, but not both.  (Bloomberg also Big Picture) [...]

  39. rktbrkr says:

    MorticiaA Says:
    Meanwhile, the CDC has this on its website — Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocolypse.

    I highly recommend Zombies of Mass Destruction, it strikes the perfect balance of gore & humor

  40. bergsten says:

    What if, at this Rapture thingy, the people who are “taken up” are deleted from the database, so that as far as those who remain are concerned, they never existed at all?

    This means we could have already had any number of Raptures, and nobody would even know.

    I can think of a problem though. What happens if one of those to be taken up is in the middle of typin

  41. elizabeth192 says:

    Why ” sell up everything?” If you rise up into the air in rapture, who cares what form your assets are in?

    Are we going to need cash in heaven?

  42. bergsten says:

    Seen this one? The best part is the last sentence.

    December 21, 1954
    Who: Dorothy Martin, a Chicago housewife and student of Dianetics, a set of practices developed by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard.

    How she came by this date: Through automatic writing, Martin came in contact with beings from the planet Clarion, who told her that the world would be destroyed by flood and that the faithful would be rescued at midnight by flying saucers (or so she said).

    What actually happened: Martin’s followers, many of whom quit their jobs and gave away their possessions, gathered in her home to await the aliens. (Martin’s husband, a nonbeliever, slept upstairs through the whole thing.) To avoid being burned by the flying saucer, her followers removed all metal from their persons, including zippers and bra straps. Midnight came and went and the group became increasingly agitated. Finally, at 4:45am, Martin said that she received another message from Clarions informing her that God was so impressed by her groups actions that He changed His mind and decided to spare the earth.

    The group was infiltrated by a psychologist named Leon Festinger, who used his observations to develop the theory of cognitive dissonance.

  43. dead hobo says:

    elizabeth192 Says:
    May 20th, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Are we going to need cash in heaven?

    Ordinary heaven is like being surrounded by true believers who all have knowing smiles, give all their earthly belongings to the cause, and all their earthly earnings to the prophet / messiah / spiritual leader. Improved heaven allows you to not spend eternity around souls you would otherwise strangle if you were forced to live with them on a non-celestial plane. This is not free.

  44. bergsten says:

    Hey Dead Hobo. If you are risen (raised? rizzed?) tomorrow, you’ll just be “Hobo.” Or maybe “Zombie Hobo.” That’s kind of catchy.

  45. dead hobo says:

    bergsten Says:
    May 20th, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Hey Dead Hobo. If you are risen (raised? rizzed?) tomorrow, you’ll just be “Hobo.” Or maybe “Zombie Hobo.” That’s kind of catchy.

    No, they’ll just throw me back for being too disruptive and not going along with the program.

    Besides, and I’m serious, there is NOTHING in both religion or science that can’t be easily explained by assuming we are all nothing more than characters in a simulation on a hard drive.

  46. DeDude says:

    If we are all just “characters on a simulation on a hard drive” then I would like to know if it on a PC or a Mac???

    The time to the end of the world could depend on that answer!!!

  47. Invictus says:

    I was really looking forward to watching Too Big To Fail on Sunday night.

  48. bergsten says:

    Defective simulation.

  49. Julia Chestnut says:

    You know what really chafes? These folks believe that a particular brand of religious fundamentalist will get raptured, and the rest of us will be, as their popular novel series terms it “left behind.” What that means is that a bunch of homeschoolers in long skirts will get raptured and the rest of us — well, may not even notice, because the “chosen” don’t get out a lot.

    As for the rest of us, we’ve got – what – 100 years left of the end times strife? That’s not attractive. If the world really would end this weekend that would be one thing – but if the end times just really kicks off, and I still have to show up at work and pay bills and such, I think that is pretty crappy indeed.

    So regardless, being rather a heathen, I’m figuring on having to show up to teach Sunday School on Sunday at my other brand of Christian church. And having to mow the lawn afterwards. Because even in the end times, it doesn’t pay to piss off the neighbors (what’s left of them).

  50. hue says:

    and you drive all night and then you see a light
    and it comes right down and lands on the ground …

  51. Casual_Observer says:


    Or, are we long Earth or are we shorting the short-timers?

  52. DiggidyDan says:

    DH, I would venture we are more than just a mis-adventure on a hard drive. . . although a strong proponent of logic, there are things in this world you just cannot just explain as such. . . ones. . . zeros. . . chaos. . . order. . . beauty, music, love . . . errors do not beget eros.. . . zeros. . . ones. . ..

  53. [...] (in blue) beats World End May 21 (red)  — at least on Google Trends. Guess that whole Harold Camping thing was a momentary [...]

  54. [...] on yesterday’s ironic Game Theory post (End of Worlders: Classic Game Theory Error), I have a few quotes in a Reuters [...]