Greater fool theory

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The greater fool theory states that the price of an object is determined not by its intrinsic value, but rather by irrational beliefs and expectations of market participants.[1] A price can be justified by a rational buyer under the belief that another party is willing to pay an even higher price.[2][3] Or one may rationally have the expectation that the item can be resold to a "greater fool" later.[4]


In real estate, the greater fool theory can drive investment under the expectation that prices always rise.[5][6] A period of rising prices may cause lenders to underestimate the risk of default.[7]

In the stock market, the greater fool theory is also called survivor investing, is defined by Investopedia as the belief held by someone who makes a questionable investment, with the assumption that they will be able to sell it later to "a greater fool"; in other words, buying something not because you believe that it is worth the price, but rather because you believe that you will be able to sell it to someone else at an even higher price.[8] It is similar in concept to the Keynesian beauty contest principle of stock investing.

Art is another commodity in which speculation and privileged access drive prices, not intrinsic value. In November 2013, hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital was selling artworks at auction which he only recently acquired through private transactions. Works included paintings by Gerhard Richter and Rudolf Stingel and a sculpture by Cy Twombly. They were expected to sell for up to $80 million. In reporting the sale, the New York Times notes that, "Ever the trader, Mr. Cohen is also taking advantage of today’s active art market where new collectors will often pay far more for artworks than they are worth."[9]

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