Chapter 10

Southeast Asia: Travels Through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam

I received an email late one night from my contact in Bangkok. “I would strongly recommend you delay or cancel your trip to Bangkok,” she began, “as the flood situation is getting from bad to worse.”

Stability and calm seem rare cards in the greasy deck of human outcomes. Instead, we reel from one crisis to another. Some are small. Some are large. But the transitions are rarely smooth. Big, influential events dominate the history of markets and men.

“Big gains and losses concentrate into small packages of time,” wrote Benoît Mandelbrot, the late great iconoclast of finance. He points to how the dollar lost value against the yen from 1986 to 2003. Half of the losses happened in only 10 trading days out of 4,695 such days. In the 1980s, nearly half of the gains from the S&P 500 occurred on one-half of 1 percent of the trading days. These are just a pair from a fat file full of such examples of big gains and losses in small packages of time.

The rising floodwaters surrounding Bangkok gave us another example. The floods had a serious economic impact.

“More than 2 million people in 23 provinces have been suffering from floods for months,” our correspondent continues, tapping out her worried lines, staccato style, in the wee morning hours from Bangkok:

More than 350 people have perished. Rice fields in nearly all industrial estates in the Central Plain have been inundated. Floodwaters have entered parts of the ...

Get World Right Side Up: Investing Across Six Continents now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.