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. A price can be justified by a rational buyer under the belief that another party is willing to pay an even higher price. In other words, one may pay a price that seems "foolishly" high because one may rationally have the expectation that the item can be resold to a "greater fool" later.
In real estate, the greater fool theory can drive investment through the expectation that prices always rise. A period of rising prices may cause lenders to underestimate the risk of default.
In the stock market, the greater fool theory applies when many investors make a questionable investment, with the assumption that they will be able to sell it later to "a greater fool". In other words, they buy something not because they believe that it is worth the price, but rather because they believe that they will be able to sell it to someone else at an even higher price. It is also called survivor investing. 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 at auction artworks that he had 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."
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