Saturday, 15 November 2008

Karma . .

Got into a big long argument with a lawyer from TSB a couple of days back about the cause of our current financial crisis. For me, the most incredible thing was the way in which the people doing the actual trading quite obviously had no idea what it was they were buying and selling, that they were essentially extremely well-paid salesmen and buyers for whom it did not matter what exactly is was they were buying and selling. The same kind of phenomenon where politicians win office merely by mouthing catch-phrases and holding forth on button-pushing issues which have little to do with the actual job they will be doing was replicated over and over in the stock market. That's not to say that there aren't plenty of very smart people working in finance, just that they were working within a system which did not (and does not) actually punish them for making long-term bad decisions for short-term gain. Their forecasting had as much to do with the actual value of their stocks as the average job advert is an accurate reflection of what the duties and chances of promotion are in the job advertised (the job market is another field in which style is rewarded over substance, but that's another story). Anyway, I saw this quote on the Andrew Sullivan website which pretty much backed up everything I had been saying:

Sooner rather than later, someone was going to identify me, along with a lot of people more or less like me, as a fraud. Sooner rather than later, there would come a Great Reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people’s money, would be expelled from finance.

Michael Lewis is far from the only person to feel this way, a friend of mine who used to work over at Merill Lynch described Wall Street in pretty similar terms. It would be too easy to simply say that the solution for this (and for politics, and for recruitment) is less tolerance for BS, but is sure would help.

1 comment:

jeff said...

well written and cogent post..i'll go with michael lewis's take on the situation too...his best book liar 's poker, pretty much sums up the ponzi scheme taking place since the 1980s. ...those nobel winners,merton,scholes, to name a few, should return thoses prizes by one day air..modernportfoliotheory--efficient markets goes flush down the students and profs should chuck a lot of those 'elegant' formulas down the drain which has no connection with the facts on the ground....soros's idea of how the mass perceptions-illusions affects pricing of fundamentals thereby distorting pricing long term is discordent with the dr. swartz's freedom of markets,efficient markets,making the bus. cycle one big dossie one chap put it : it pays not to know what you should know..