Archive for the ‘Socio-technical systems’ Category
As we saw in Act I and Act II, the current financial crisis was enabled by government interference in the housing and mortgage markets, then initiated by Wall Street’s willful blindness to systematic risk in the MBS market. Now we are observing the government’s flailing response.
First they bail out Bear Stearns. Then they let Lehman go bankrupt. But AIG gets a lifeline. On to a $700B bailout intended to purchase toxic MBSs. And most recently forcing several probably healthy banks to absorb $250B in government investment. Along the way, there were a bunch of changes to FDIC regulations and a see-sawing stock market.
You might be asking yourself, what the heck is going on here? The reason for all the flailing is that the government is attempting to implement a command and control solution to an extremely distributed problem.
When the bailout passed, I first thought this post was moot. But then I reconsidered. There’s still plenty of time to affect the implementation and several lessons to be learned. Also, when I’m pissed off, it’s nice to know that I have a good reason.
In Act I, we saw how government meddling overheated the housing and mortgage markets. Now we’ll see how Wall Street took advantage of this opportunity and also apportion some blame to ourselves.
Let me start by saying that the financial crisis is a very complex situation. I read several economics blogs every day and quite a few academic papers every month. My semi-professional opinion is that no economist even comes close to fully understanding the financial system, let alone the complete macroeconomy. Luckily, I haven’t seen any of them delusional enough to assert that they do in a professional forum. So when you hear a talking head spouting off about the crisis, take what he says with a grain of salt (this includes me, of course). At best, he only sort of knows what he’s talking about.
Because of the complexity, I think we should be very careful to take baby steps. Going off half-cocked is much more likely to make things worse than better. I think we need to do three things. First, we need to understand the underlying causes of the mortgage meltdown that kicked off the cascade (not because I think fixing the cause will solve the problem, but because it will help us avoid making things worse). Second, we need to examine how the cascade was magnified so we can hopefully install some breaks going forward. Third, we need to agree on the outcomes we most want to prevent as a society (as individuals, I’m sure we all want to keep our houses, jobs, and savings).
So as not to waste my expensive schooling, I still keep up with economics as a hobby. I don’t expect other people to generally share this interest, but it occurred to me that the current financial crisis is an excellent example of what happens when a complex adaptive system experiences a shock. Is anybody curious to have us discuss this topic? If so, what is specifically interesting to you? My short answer is to read everything by Arnold Kling at EconLog. Of course, I have a lot more thoughts if anyone wants to hear them.