The famed TED talk is one of the most groundbreaking ideas of the 21st century. Offered to anyone with an Internet connection, each fifteen-minute discussion offers viewers a glimpse into the eccentricities of any subject imaginable, led by visionaries in every field under the sun. With over 1,000 talks available on TED.com, this collection of knowledge continues to grow in size and popularity; global viewership eclipsed 500 million visitors by the end of 2011. In the spirit of financial inquiry, we decided to compile a list of the top ten TED talks with a slant toward finance or economics.
Number 1: Kevin Slavin, “How Algorithms Shape Our World”
In this eye-opening talk, Slavin, the co-founder of game developer Area/Code, discusses the power that the ‘algoworld’ has in our daily lives. He estimates around 70 percent of all market trades are made by algorithms – computer programs that live in a world of microseconds. Due to this remarkably high speed, it is impossible for humans to have a complete grasp of their behavior; this was evident in the Flash Crash of 2010. Thus, a danger exists, and the world must strive to understand this new dimension of finance.
Number 2: Daniel Goldstein, “The Battle Between Your Present and Future Self”
Goldstein, a Research Fellow at the London Business School, has made a career by studying the economic behavior of Internet users. In this talk, he discusses how savings rates throughout the developed world have been decreasing with alarming consistency, while retirement risk has been increasing. Through experiments of virtual reality and numerical probability, Goldstein takes a crack at peoples’ unwillingness to consider the benefits of saving toward their future.
Number 3: Geoff Mulgan, “Post-Crash, Investing in a Better World”
Given in mid 2009, Mulgan asks why the enormous government bailout packages couldn’t be given to entrepreneurs, green technology, healthcare and other ‘socially responsible’ industries instead of the big banks on Wall Street. He points out that moments of crisis can be a catalyst for future change – we have the ability to determine if that change is positive or not.
Number 4: T. Boone Pickens, “Let’s Transform Energy – With Natural Gas”
Many think of T. Boone Pickens as a magnate with a penchant for resource ownership, and they’re right, although not completely. One topic that Pickens is wildly passionate about is the concept of peak oil – that waning petroleum supplies will ultimately increase commodity prices to a level that will cripple the American economy. To combat this, he discusses how the country must switch to a resource that is cleaner, cheaper, and closer to home. While power sources like wind and solar are the ultimate goal, Pickens explains how natural gas can be a perfect link to a greener future.
Number 5: Misha Glenny, “An Investigation of Global Crime Networks”
One of the most interesting topics in the world today is the illegal ‘shadow market’, which comprises around 15 percent of the world’s GDP. Glenny uses his real world experience – yes, he has insiders with everyone from the Columbian drug cartel to the Russian mob – to explain how this segment of the global economy has experienced enormous prosperity while legal industries have floundered. Inexplicably, he concludes that it is the “Western desire to consume that is the primary driver of international organized crime” from Mexico to Eastern Europe, and everywhere in between. Now that’s something to think about.
Number 6: Paddy Ashdown, “The Global Power Shift”
In this captivating talk, Paddy Ashdown discusses the nature of power shifts, and how they have been occurring since the dawn of civilization; to believe that this process will simply halt would be a mistake, he explains. Ashdown predicts that the next shift will occur in three prisms: (1) multinational corporations becoming as powerful as mid-sized countries, (2) the horizontal networking of governments through technology, and (3) the swing from a mono-polar world to a multi-polar world, where the Arab League and Pacific Rim will gain dominance.
Number 7: Laurie Santos, “A Monkey Economy as Irrational as Ours”
Using ‘monkeynomics’ Laurie Satnos uses the behavior of primates to explain how humans too can make dumb, predictable decisions time and time again. Interestingly, she details how we can build environments that are too complex to understand, even though we were intelligent enough to construct them. Santos gives a thorough analysis of the biases that plague our economic decision making, and ponders that “it might only be in recognizing our limitations that we can actually overcome them.”
Number 8: Shlomo Benartzi, “Saving for Tomorrow, Tomorrow”
Shlomo Benartzi, a renowned behavioral economist, explores the inexplicabilities that surround our inability to think of saving as a process occurring in the present. He points out that “self-control is not a problem in the future […] it’s only a problem now when the chocolate is next to us.” Benartzi is a professional who is dedicated toward building a world where people can learn to manage their money in a better way. This talk is a good starting point for individuals who share his passion.
Number 9: Steven Levitt, “The Economics of Drug Dealing”
As the author of Freakonomics, Steven Levitt has changed the way the masses view economics forever. No longer a ‘dismal science’ to non-economists, he gives the armchair-analysts a way to understand how human decision-making can be rational or irrational in many cases. In this talk, Levitt takes a pragmatic look at drug dealing; this definitely wouldn’t be covered in your Econ 101 class.
Number 10: Niall Ferguson, “The 6 Killer Apps of Prosperity”
In this discussion, Harvard professor Niall Ferguson explains how Western dominance came about, and why it is coming to an end. He refreshingly points out that this is not a negative thing, as many would have you believe. Finally, Ferguson details the six major reasons why the West has prospered in the past century, and how these ideas can be shared with the world.
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