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Comment Models had nothing to do with it (Score 2, Interesting) 561

The contribution of mathematical models to the present crisis has been vastly overblown. The breast-beating and mea culpas from the likes of Derman and Wilmott are self-flattering: after all, if you caused the problem, you must be important! In reality, the quant is at the bottom of the pecking order on most trading floors. The people who trafficked in securitized garbage did so not because they were fooled by their models, but because they were paid to. You can't tell me that the guy who lent $750,000 to a strawberry picker with $14,000 income would have thought it a good idea if he was lending his own money.

Contrast this to LCTM, which really is an example of quants gone wrong: those guys had so much faith in their models that they not only put their own money in the game, they borrowed money to invest in themselves! They were doing the same things they had done at Salomon but they failed to appreciate the importance of being able to lean on Solly's balance sheet in times of trouble.

As for Taleb ... puh-lease. The guy is a self-promoting windbag and his two most recent books are a waste of time. That's a shame, because he has written at least one interesting book I am aware of: Dynamic Hedging. Unfortuntely, the flaws that were present in embryo in that book - exaggerated self-regard, exaggerated criticism of others, deliberately cryptic statements meant to make the author seem clever - have grown like a tumour to consume 100% of his writing. All of Taleb's points have been made more clearly and more intelligently by other, better people. A recent example is Rebonato's Plight of the Fortune Tellers, but there are many others.

Comment It's the liquidity, stupid (Score 1) 561

An equilibrium price doesn't mean that everyone agrees what the price should be, just that there is a balance between those who think the price too high and those who think it too low. If you restrict the supply of a given financial instrument, you chase out people at the margin who think the price is reasonable and are left with just the irrationally exuberant. Conversely, as you flood the market with new supply you are chasing progressively more bearish investors in the quest to find a buyer. Both of these effects are liable to dynamic positive feedback: as a price rises, the exuberant feel justified in their optimism and become ever more irrational. Likewise, as a price falls, bearish investors assume that the market is in possession of some negative information hidden from them and become ever more bearish - who wants to catch a falling knife?

The "types" of companies (and governments) directly affected by this bubble are in this case extremely narrow: banks (and none) respectively. In short, it is a classic financial bubble. Naturally, trouble for the banks spells trouble for everyone else, just as a cardiac arrest spells trouble for your little pinkie. Yes, it is always possible to view such a bubble as a "monetary" effect if money is defined sufficiently broadly - securitization is money creation, of a sort. But it is not money creation in the form of bank credit or manipulated interest rates and the Austrians and their Chicago students are of no use to you here.

Comment Re:Tough call (Score 1) 278

Not to mention: third, the initial cost of an item is often proportional to the initial externalities of polution and energy consumption. I don't happen to know whether this is true of plasma and LCD TVs, but it is true in many real-life examples. For instance, most of us instinctively dislike disposable styrofoam coffee cups - we can see and feel in our hands plastic that we will immediately throw away. But one requires many hundreds of styrofoam cups to equal the energy and polution costs of one ceramic mug. True, there are costs associated with disposing of the cups, but there are also costs required to clean mugs for reuse.

Paper cups are often preferred over styrofoam on the grounds that they are biodegradeable, but the advantages of paper over reusable mugs are doubtful. Compared to styrofoam, paper requires truly exorbitant amounts of energy to manufacture.

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