Sarah Sands: The future is fearful. Ask Robert Harris...

Share
Related Topics

Philosophers and politicians may agree that you should face down your fears in order to obtain wisdom and courage, but they are not the ones investing in the stock market at the moment. The stomach-churning losses in the last week may have underlying causes but the momentum of short-selling is attributed above all to the smell of fear.

Still, one person's loss is another's opportunity. The global panic in the markets happens to coincide with the publication of Robert Harris's new thriller. In it, a brilliant scientist invents a computer that can make predictions about the global financial markets. The computer picks up a far more powerful force in the markets than information. It is fear, the most primal emotion. As Napoleon said: " There are only two forces that unite men. Fear and interest." When the two come together in stock markets, the results are catastrophic.

Harris's title, The Fear Index, is close to the market instrument The Volatility Index, a measure of the volatility in share prices. It can tell you how everybody is feeling. At the moment, investors are buying gold. Does that suggest that they think things can only get better?

The strongest characteristic of fear is its contagion. You would guess that since the markets are being scrutinised by experts they could form calm independent opinions. But investors turn out to be more hysterical that the rest of us, probably because they have a lot more to lose.

As Harris's computer creeps into the territory of artificial intelligence, it realises that terrifying people can be a reliable way of making money. I hope that The Fear Index is not the inspiration behind the decision of some famous investment bankers to go and form their own hedge funds. Is this the way the world ends, with one mass global short-selling?

The risk-takers will no longer say boo to a goose. They are hoarding like hairy survivalists. Who will tempt them out of their shelters? After the gigantic hoax of sub-prime lending, financial institutions may never trust each other again. Everyone is looking over their shoulder – Europe at Asia, Asia at America – while investors' heads are swivelling frantically.

The trouble with the fear index is that it crushes hope. Financial giants such as the American investor Warren Buffett may talk of having a "huge bull on this country" but people are too spooked to believe him. Whether or not we are all heading for a double-dip recession, we will talk ourselves into one. No private investment: no growth.

What we need is a genial figure radiating Reaganesque sunny politics, but unfortunately David Cameron is now about as cuddly as Robespierre. The fear index is social as well as financial. We have peered into the abyss of disorder. At first we blamed gangs and criminals, but within a week everyone was citing the Stanford prison experiment – where half the students were told they were guards, the other half prisoners – and civilisation was hanging by a thread.

A young woman who lives in Tottenham told me that she was still afraid to come to work in central London. It was not the prospect of looters she feared but that the riots would be a catalyst for a terrorist outrage, "because we are vulnerable now".

Once fear is triggered, it is very hard to restore calm. But I recommend the banner held aloft by a woman in London. It said: "Everything is OK."



Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the 'London Evening Standard'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IT - Fixed Term, Part Time

£17340 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Come and join one of the UK's leading ca...

Recruitment Genius: Property Sales Consultant - Chinese Speaking - OTE £70,000

£18000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity for a Fluent Chines...

Recruitment Genius: AV Installation Engineer

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to business growth, this is...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Refugees try to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near Gevgelija, on Wednesday. The town sits on the ‘Balkan corridor’ used by refugees, mostly from Syria, to travel from Turkey to Hungary, the gateway to the EU  

The UK response to the plight of Syrian refugees is a national embarrassment

Kevin Watkins
The provincial capital of Idlib, Syria, which fell to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra last week  

'I was sure I’d be raped or killed. I was terrified': My life as a gay Syrian refugee who had to flee Isis

Subhi Nahas
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent