Some ideas are transcendent. Humankind’s inability to learn from past mistakes—often reappearing in cumulatively more costly iterations as memories of yesterday’s blunders fade—is an oft-repeated theme. Scholars confirm what historical anecdotes reveal.

Most recently Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart produced prodigious volumes of data in their 2009 work with the tongue-in-cheek title This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Two years earlier the duo had hit upon another human proclivity, this time of political entities. Their December 2007 paper “Banking Crises: An Equal Opportunity Menace” confirmed what the worldly wise already knew: Governments around the world—including our own—are no more inclined to reveal their true financial condition today than in the past.

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