Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Good cartoon: 7 sins



It doesn't really need commentary, but... it shows that this crisis is indeed a proof that human character doesn't really change much. The sins where there 1000 of years ago, it took 3 generations for us to forget the lessons of the Great Depression in finance (too much debt).

To me it means that mankind is incapable of learning certain things. Certain knowledge just disappears. The 'sins' are really character traits that will always re-emerge . These traits have been with us all along and are not changing.

Yet they are hardly 'deadly'. Even in the presence of those sins we have not yet eliminated our kind. In fact I would argue that some of those traits, say like pride or greed push us to action. Perhaps some of our boom and bust dynamics of doing things is a result of those psychological traits of our characters. Who knows.

Here is to financial regulation, a real-life realization that the originate to securitize model of the investment banks could not, would not auto-regulate. Sometimes market forces push for blow-ups like the spectacular one we have seen in subprime. I would argue that some of what happened there was criminal.

Too much debt kills debt. Setting debt levels must not be left to the private sector. Monetary levels must be better controlled by public sector.

One money, one world.

7 comments:

Bill Burke said...

Mankind isn't just incapable of learning certain things, its just getting stupider.

The handling of the bailout (the extra $110B in fluff added to get it passed) showed how incompetent our government has become. The continual reference to "Joe Six Pack" and "Joe the Plumber" in the campaign showed how much you have to dumb-down your message to get people to vote for you.

Barry Kelly said...

Mind that you don't get caught in the facile trap of thinking that individual transgressions - however many - means that there isn't progress in morality over the centuries.

Of course those base impulses are there, because they are the gains that e.g. game theory would predict from breaking the social rules. The sins are ways that individuals can profit at the expense of society; ways that, if everyone followed them all the time, we'd be little more than savage animals living in a wilderness.

The combination of the religious virus - a kind of groupthink in which people get a certain kind of personal pleasure of belonging to a group and a sense of "goodness", from restricting other kinds of personal pleasures - and other indoctrinations that are part of being brought up in the Western world (in particular) are some of the only reasons that large-scale commerce is possible at all.

To the extent that we have the opportunity to specialize deeply - only possible with large-scale trading - it is through morality enforced both by institutions, but, more importantly, by cultural norms. These cultural norms are the set of acceptable things you can do, but if you broke, you'd be cast out of the group, i.e. shunned. Because they are cultural, though, they are learned.

And this learning continues: it's overdone in times of crisis, as whatever failing is judged to have precipitated the crisis is punished even more harshly for a few years / decades, and rules are embedded in institutions, etc.

But to the extent that we still end up with a global economy, with trading happening world-wide, the total measure of individualistic rule-breaking at the expense of the group - i.e. sinning - is definitely decreasing.

Of course, the size of the economy means the gains to individualistic actions are larger, so the rules need to be tough.

Marcf said...

eh! a non religious definition of sin.

You know, when I think about the subprime crisis, it reminds of "do not assume malice where incompetence would do". The whole chain: subprime borrowers, mortgage originator, investment banks, rating agencies was pretty much running lose with no checks and balances due to the laissez faire attitude of Greenspan.

The transgressions of the few was certainly there, we have all read the countless stories of criminal behavior in the sub-prime sector, both from the buyer and the lenders, but here we are truly witnessing the breakdown of a system (subprime) and the systemic re-alignment of finance (disappearance of the broker dealer model).

This is truly a systemic breakdown that may not be traceable to group morality but group behavior that did not emerge "self surveillance".

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