Brilliant commentary on the financial crisis

Not where you would first think to look, but this show is intelligent, lucid, and not superficial.


Give it a listen.


Bailing out a sieve

Never mind. It was more complicated than I thought.

There was somewhere around 1 to 2 $trillion of house value in the bubble (out of perhaps $10 Tn total, not including commercial property), and tied to that was a disproportionate amount of uncertainty since all the securitized mortgages mixed them together and then the CDS chains of insurance created multipliers. Now in theory each mortgage sums to one when you count up all the pieces and match buyers to sellers along the chain.

The problem is, they don't match up. Pieces of the chain fail or are not synchronized because of lack of liquidity and so the contractual values get claimed at several points in the chain and not satisfied. Before the chains can work properly, they are in pieces and you have 10s of $Tn of these failures dangling in commerce-space. And it is not helped by all the players independently trying to claim what they can and refuse what they can. If someone claiming on you goes bankrupt then their ability to press the claim is deferred or even vanishes, so there are profits to be had by delaying, and meanwhile the same logic is applied to your claims. Sauve qui peut.

Cool. Financial wizardry intended to reduce risk instead, because the implementation is faulty, has ended up greatly magnifying the destruction.

In the end, money ends up in very different places than where it starts, somewhat randomly.

Learning from Experience

Over the years I've liked some of the things McCain did. But I'm not going to vote for him.

You see, I believe in accountability, and in the record of experience. In this case accountability for a record of poor judgement. Support for going into Iraq when it was clearly a trumped up case with no solid evidence, certainly nothing to support killing people (I can say that: I wrote that diagnosis to my friends the day after seeing the atrociously embarassing charade at the UN Security Council). A complete botch of what started as a good idea on immigration policy. Support for the un-Patriot Act and other Bush shenanigans. And choosing a totally unprepared Sarah Palin as a person to have a significant chance of being president within 4 years - something that would surely ruin any chance of reshaping the USA and rebuilding its strength. We cannot have a complicated, powerful nation like the USA run by a person of mediocrity.

No, it just does not add up to good judgement. A record of experience yes, but the experience is that McCain just is not good enough. And one reason why accountability is a good principle is that it removes people proven (or most likely) to have bad judgement. There is plenty of experience that people with bad judgement in the past will continue to make many mistakes. That should be one reason we are alert to a candidate's record. This is not a matter of forgive and forget, this is a case of what you saw is what you would be getting.

I'm not exactly sure Obama is ideal: they never are. Still, he is clearly an exceptional person quite capable of running a brilliant campaign and so far has acquitted himself well in debates. A reasonable chance of being a good chief executive. While holding McCain accountable for his record, the summary of his experience is he is not good enough. We need to elect only the best. The lesson of the past 8 years makes the cost of incompetence starkly clear.

One Megaword

Government has a tendency to decline in quality. Stopping this is difficult. Revolutions don't usually work, the odds are heavy on getting a new crew of criminals. Constitutions can be circumvented, ignored, or even forgotten, as the US Congress illustrates. So a good elected government drones on, churns out bad law and pork barrel, and over time the junk accumulates. A two century old democracy has a lot of stupidity codified and ever decreasing will to deal with it. How could this be remedied?

An indirect way is to limit the work product of government. Consider if the total of legislation could not exceed a million words - and moreover, words found in a ten year old dictionary just to keep them simple and to the point. If you want to write something new in, you have to cut something old out to make room. And give the courts the ability to cancel sections as being incomprehensible, so you can't get too cryptic. Hey, maybe just appoint a jury in a randomly selected jurisdiction and have them read one new law and pass judgement on whether it is clear (maybe answer a set of multiple choice questions about it). Assign each law (including laws alterred by deletions) to a different district. Make sure we can all understand the rules.

After all, nearly all of us remember less than a million words. If some issue is not important enough to rate a few sentences in the most important million words, then firstly why is congress concerning itself with such pointless detail, and secondly why should citizens need to worry about it? A million words, that is about 2,000 words per congress person or 10,000 words per senator. And still a million words each citizen might be touched by.

Oh and that includes budget items. And you can't cancel a section within 4 years except retroactively (which means if it was law anyone in conflict with it is pardoned and compensated, and if it was revenue the government gives it back with interest).

Maybe that would get a government to sit up straight and pay attention to the essentials.