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Archive for December, 2011

Thank you, Inside Job

The documentary Inside Job put a spotlight on conflict of interest for “experts,” specifically business school and economic professors at well-known universities. The conflict was that they’d be consulting for some firm or government, getting paid tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and would then write academic papers investigating the methods of that firm or government, without disclosing the payments.

Since it’s human nature to do so, these academic papers would end up supporting those methods, more often than not, even when the methods weren’t sound. I’m being intentionally generous, because the alternative is to think that they actually sell their endorsements; I’m sure that happens, but I’m guessing it isn’t always a conscious, deliberate decision.

Last Spring, the Columbia Business School changed its conflict of interest policy to address this exact problem. From the Columbia Spectator Article:

Under the new policy, Business School professors will be required to publicly disclose all outside activities—including consulting—that create or appear to create conflicts of interest.

“If there is even a potential for a conflict of interest, it should be disclosed,” Business School professor Michael Johannes said in an email. “To me, that is what the policy prescribes. That part is easy.”

The policy passed with “overwhelming” faculty support at a Tuesday faculty meeting, according to Business School Vice Dean Christopher Mayer, who chaired the committee that crafted the policy.

The new policy mandates that faculty members publish up-to-date curricula vitae, including a section on outside activities, on their Columbia webpages. In this section, they will be required to list outside organizations to which they have provided paid or unpaid services during the past five years, and which they think creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Good for them!

Next up: the Harvard Business School. I don’t think they yet have a comparable policy. When you google for “Harvard Business School conflict of interest” you get lots of links to HBS papers written about conflict of interest, for other people. Interesting.

I don’t understand what the reasoning could be that they are stalling. Is there some reason Harvard Business School professors wouldn’t want to disclose their outside consulting gigs? I mean, we already know about them advising Gaddafi back in 2006, so that can’t be it. Just in case you missed that, here’s an excerpt from the Harvard Crimson article from last Spring:

But Harvard professors have focused on the political conclusions of the report, which, among a set of recommendations, indicated that Libya was a functioning democracy and heralded the country’s system of local political gatherings as “a meaningful forum for Libyan citizens to participate directly in law-making.”

The report was a product of Monitor’s work consulting for Gaddafi from 2006 to 2008. The Libyan government—headed by Gaddafi, who has ruled since a 1969 military coup—hired consultants from Monitor Group to provide policy recommendations, economic advice, and several other services.

The consulting group carries a distinct Harvard flavor. On its website, the company touts the Harvard ties of several of its founders and current leaders.

I’m wondering if this would have happened if there already was a conflict of interest policy, like Columbia’s, in place. And I’m focusing on Harvard because if both Harvard and Columbia set such policies, I think other places will follow. As far as I can see, this is just as important as conflict of interest policies for doctors with respect to drug companies.

Categories: finance, news, rant

Meritocracy and horizon bias

I read this article yesterday about racism in Silicon Valley. It’s interesting, written by an interesting guy named Eric Ries, and it touches on stuff I’ve thought about like stereotype threat and the idea that diverse teams perform better than homogeneous ones.

In spite of liking the article pretty well, I take issue with two points.

In the beginning of the article Ries lays down some ground rules, and one of them is that “meritocracy is good.” Is it really good? Always? And to what limit? People are born with talent just as they’re born rich or poor, and what makes talent a better or more fair way of sorting people? Or are we just claiming it’s more efficient?

Actually I could go on but this blog post kind of says everything I wanted to say on the matter. As an aside, I’m kind of sick of the way people use the idea of “meritocracy” to overpay people who they justify as having superhuman qualifications (I’m looking at you, CEO’s) or a ridiculous, massively scaleable amount of luck (most super rich entrepreneurs).

Second, I’m going to coin a term here, but I’m sure someone else has already done so. Namely, I consider it horizon bias to think that wherever you are, whatever you do, is the coolest place in the world and that everyone else is just super jealous of you and wishes they had that job. So you don’t look beyond your horizon to see that there are other jobs that may be more attractive to people. The reason this comes up is the following paragraph:

What accounts for the decidedly non-diverse results in places like Silicon Valley? We have two competing theories. One is that deliberate racisms keeps people out. Another is that white men are simply the ones that show up, because of some combination of aptitude and effort (which it is depends on who you ask), and that admissions to, say Y Combinator, simply reflect the lack of diversity of the applicant pool, nothing more.

I’d like to offer a third option, namely that only white guys show up because that’s who thinks working in Silicon Valley is an attractive idea. I know it’s kind of like the second option above, but it’s not exactly. The qualification “because of some combination of aptitude and effort” is the difference.

Let’s say I’m considering moving to Silicon Valley to work. But all of my images of that place come from movies and my experiences with my actual friends in the dotcom bubble era who slept under their desks at night. Plus I know that the housing market out there is crazy and that the commute sucks. Finally, I’d picture myself working with lots of single, ambitious, and arrogant young men who believe in meritocracy (code for: use vaguely libertarian philosophical arguments to act ruthlessly). I can imagine that these facts keep plenty of non-white non-men away.

Next, going on to the point about horizon bias. People who already work in Silicon Valley already selected themselves as people who think it’s a great deal. And then they sit around wondering why it’s not a more diverse place, in spite of having everything awesomely meritocratic.

Going back to the article, Ries mentions this idea that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones. I’d like to look at that in light of horizon bias and ask whether that’s the wrong way to look at it. In other words maybe it’s more a function of what the common goal is, which leads to a diverse team if the common goal is broadly attractive, than how the exact team was created. If goals are super attractive, attractive enough to draw diverse people, then maybe those goals deserve success more.

For example, one of the strengths of Occupy Wall Street has been the diversity of its membership. People of all ages, all backgrounds, and all races have been coming together to speak for the 99%. It’s of course fitting, since 99% does represent lots of people, but I’d like to point out that it is diverse because the cause resonates with so many people, which makes it successful.

Another example. I worked at the math department at M.I.T., which is famously not diverse. And I saw the “Truth Values” play recently which made me think about that experience some more. There’s lots of horizon bias in math, because there’s this assumption that everyone who was ever a math major should want to someday become a math professor (at M.I.T. no less). So it’s easy enough to wring your hands when you see that, although 45% of the undergrad math majors are women, and 40% of the grad students in math are women (I’m making these numbers up by the way), only 1% of the tenured faculty at the top places are women (again totally made up).

And of course there’s real discrimination involved (trust me), but there’s also the possibility that a bunch of women just never wanted to be a professor, they just wanted to get a Ph.D. for whatever reason. But the horizon bias at the top places assumes that everyone would want to become a professor.

On the one hand I’m just making things worse, because I’m pointing out that in addition to the real discrimination that takes place for those women who actually do want to become professors, there’s also this natural but invisible self-selection thing going on where women leave the professorship train at some point. Seems like I’ve made one problem into two.

On the other hand, we can address this horizon bias, if it exists. But instead of addressing it by blotting out the names of candidates on applications (a good idea by the way, and one I think I’ll start using), we would need to address it by looking at the actual company or department or culture and see why it’s less than attractive to people who aren’t already there. It’s a bigger and harder kind of change.

ISDA has a blog!

ISDA, or International Swaps and Derivatives Organization, is an organization which sets the market standards in a bunch of ways for credit default swap (CDS) and other over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives, in particular they legally define CDS and other swaps and have standard forms for other people to use to enter into such contracts. They also have a committee which decides when a CDS has been triggered, which is a big deal with all the Euro debt restructuring that’s happened and will probably continue to happen.

Anyhoo, what I wanted to mention today is their blog. Actually they have two, one for internal blogging about what they’re up to, and the other for responding to media comments about them.

What’s crazy about these blogs is that they’re well written and… funny. Yeah. You wouldn’t expect that from a legal organization which oversees OTC derivatives, but there you have it. Or else, maybe that just means I’m a complete and utter finance nerd.

And they’re also informative. This post talks about their decision to sue the CFTC for some position limits rule they don’t like. One of their arguments is that the CFTC ignored public comments and cost-benefit analysis which would have loosened the rule or argued against them, and they’re hoping that by suing they can at least force the CFTC to explain how they took into account the public comments.

This argument matters to me because I am involved with the Occupy the SEC folk (OMG those guys are relentless) in preparing public comments for the Volcker Rule, and until now I didn’t know what it meant that there will be public comments and someone has to read them. I mean, I still don’t, really, but it is certainly exciting to see if the CFTC’s hand will be forced in this matter.

Their media blog is informative too. This post talks about how misleading some of the media reports were about why MF Global tanked- it was through repos, not OTC derivatives. True! And by the way, also relevant to the Volcker Rule people, since repos are not considered risky trading in the Volcker Rule. Big huge hole! Doesn’t anybody remember the stuff that Lehman was doing near then end with repos? At the very least they are tools of deception, and need to be taken into account.

Obviously everything they say about CDS and the OTC market is pro-them, but that’s okay. They’re at least saying stuff. I’m impressed!

Categories: #OWS, finance

#OWS data nerd

You all know I’m a data nerd. So here goes my little exploration into how #Occupy Wall Street has influenced the conversation. Go to Google trends page to try this for yourself. It’s super fun to play with and to anticipate what the graph will look like.

First, there’s the concept of “Occupy” itself.

occupy 
1.00
 Rank by   occupy

I’m happy to see that more people google for “Occupy protest” than for “dirty hippies”:

occupy protest 
1.00
dirty hippies 
0
 Rank by   occupy protest dirty hippies

Next, let’s look at how #OWS has influenced the conversation. The interest in income inequality has definitely gone up:

ncome inequality 
1.00
 Rank by   income inequality

And the idea of looking at the top 1% and bottom 99% has definitely entered into our vocabulary:

1% 
1.00
99% 
0.50
 Rank by   1% 99%

People also seem to be paying more attention to policy issues:

volcker rule 
0.95
tobin tax 
1.00
 Rank by   volcker rule tobin tax

 

Please send me any other good search terms that you find! It’s too tempting to spend all day doing this…

Categories: Uncategorized

Good bank/ bad bank – why we didn’t do it

Today’s guest post is written by my aunt, the economist Susan Woodward. I recently found a paper she had written which proposed to split up banks into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ banks. This is an idea I’ve heard bandied about, and it always sounded like a good one and moreover one that’s seemingly worked in other countries. “Why hasn’t this happened?” I asked. This is her response:

—————————————————-

The good bank/bad bank idea is kaput.  “We” (the US) did not do it because

1) it would have re-written the contract between the bank bondholders and equity holders.  If the govt forced this, it would have given the bondholders the right to sue for damages for the losses imposed on them, and likely they would have won, as many thrifts did when FIRREA (1989) changed the deal ex post.

2) the only point of it would be to leave the “good” bank with plenty of equity so that it could fund its commercial paper smoothly and cheaply.  Any other workout or guarantee would do the same thing, and the other loans (now we know, $7.8 trillion dollars worth) and guarantees did do the same thing.  The big US banks are still undercapitalized, but forcing them to raise equity right now is sort of impossible politically.  So instead we just don’t let them do anything exciting and avert  our gaze from the non-performing mortgages they have not yet written-down.  I know that BofA is selling its above-water mortgages in order to book gains.

But I confess I am baffled by bank accounting now — it is a mix of assets (and liabilities!) marked-to-market and others not, by logic that eludes me. In Citi’s last earnings report, a large fraction of “earnings” was a decline in the value of its bonds (if a rise in the value of an asset is income, so is a decline in the value of a liability, it is not entirely crazy, just not done much before) because markets assigned a lower likelihood to them paying the bondholders.  What a reporting convention. oh dear.

Citi and BofA are maybe broke anyway.  Their market caps are both below $80 billion (depending on the temperature of the Euro mess) on assets of about $2 trillion each. I imagine that various parts of the govt are working on contingency plans for orderly dismantling of them. Just in case.

As for European banks, they may need lots and lots of help, depending on what Europe does about the ECB and its ability to issue bonds, buy bank assets, and, ulp, collect TAXES.  All of the pundits are right that if the ECB could buy sovereign bonds and bank bonds, it could fend off a meltdown at least for now.  The US Fed has bought 11% of GDP’s worth of US bonds, and the UK has done 13%.  So it is not a new or unknown strategy.  But in the US and the UK, the power to tax as well as the power to print money lies behind the institution.

The situation is somewhat like the original States after 1779, when the new constitution reserved the right to print money to the federal government, and took it away from the States.  The first federal power to tax was not direct, but worked through telling each state what share it owed, then counting on the States to raise the money, sort of like the ECB now. When the Federal govt finally got the power to tax directly, the value of its bonds, 23 cents on the dollar in the early chaotic years, rose to par, then above par. The federal assumption of the States’ expenses for the revolutionary war resulted in a deal — Virginia, which was very prosperous and had paid off some of its war debt, agreed for the deal to assume the burden of Massachusetts, which had not paid off so much and in any case also had a heavier burden in the revolutionary war, in exchange for moving the capital from New York to Philly (temporarily), then on to Washington.  The deal was cut at a dinner party in New York attended by Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton.  I wonder what wine was poured.

In those early years, States funded their state-level budgets with earnings from owning shares in banks they chartered! And the previous colonies funded their budgets from mortgage lending!  So much for the separation of finance and government.

Were Massachusetts and Virginia then more similar to each other then than Germany and Italy are now?  Not so clear.

Writing clear and helpful things about the financial crisis is not easy and takes heaps of time, which is why we quit doing it.  But hey, if you have it, go for it.

love, Aunt Susie

Categories: finance, guest post

Crowdsourcing projects

There are lots of new crowdsourcing projects popping up everywhere nowadays, and I wanted to talk about a couple of them.

First I want to talk about a voting system called Votavox. The idea here is to have a massive database which stores the responses of various questions in order to act as a lobbyist for the people. The questions, or rather statements, can be generated by the users, but are encouraged to be relatively non-partisan (or at least stated in a way that isn’t difficult to disagree with), actionable, and tagged with a person who could actually make the action.

For example, if the #Occupy Wall Street website wanted to start using Votavox, they could create a voting item in the direction of, “Mayor Bloomberg should take down the barricades around Zucotti Park and allow free access.” Then everyone who comes to the nycga.net website could vote for this, and the results could be sent to Mayor Bloomberg.

It could be seen as an online petition. It is more convincing when people go to the trouble of registering, so Bloomberg would get to see how many people from different walks of life think this or that. It would also be even more robust if the voting item got placement on the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as well. That’s the idea, though, to get people’s votes on statements and to send the result directly to a decision maker.

I met with the guy who started it a couple of days ago and I think it’s a cool idea. However, there are some important issues to suss out.

Namely, what’s the business model behind Votavox? One simple answer would be that the data is sold for people to mine. Unfortunately there are lots of unattractive things about this, verging on privacy issues and also the nuisance of having advertisers know all about your inner thoughts. I doubt that #OWS folk would be all that happy about their data being sold to mega advertisers.

On the other hand, servers and databases aren’t free, and maintaining and upgrading the Votavox software isn’t free either. Any ideas for this worthy project would be appreciated.

Next I wanted to talk about an applied mathematician named Lee Worden. Some of his past work has purportedly ‘challenged conventional wisdom on the possibilities of cooperation in situations where only competitive interactions have been assumed’, which is intriguing (maybe someone has a reference for that?). Right now he is interested in studying the mathematics of direct democracy, which is a cool and natural urge. In his words:

A few years ago I started telling friends that I would like to be an applied mathematician for the public, somehow. Unlike pure mathematicians, who work at a remove from everyday concerns and are something like composers, answering to nobody but the Muse, applied mathematicians live more of a have-gun-will-travel life, working for clients, solving the clients’ problems, and developing new theory along the way. The clients are often corporations and the military. Does this affect what we study, what we learn, and what we don’t learn? Of course it does! I decided I should work for the public, and address the public’s problems – but how?

I didn’t realize, when I started this experiment in crowd-funded research, that that’s just what it is: I actually get to work for regular people, on problems that relate to our collective future!

And here’s a video explanation of his #OWS work and a plea for funding. Some of his questions are really good and touch on stuff I’ve already experienced inside the #OWS working group Alternative Banking group, like whether, when we split into smaller groups, we should group people by similarity of opinion or whether we should make sure a range of opinions are represented. On the one hand, if you do group by similarity, the conversations go faster and seem more efficient, but on the other the chances of the end results being adopted by the larger group go way down.

Categories: #OWS

Quantitative theory of blogging

Once you start blogging, it turns out you can get quite addicted to your daily hits, which is a count of how many people come to your site each day, as well as to the quantity and quality of the comments (my readers have the best comments by the way, just saying).

WordPress even lets you see which things people read, and how they searched google to find your site, and what they clicked on. It’s easy enough to get excited about such statistics, and the natural consequence is an urge to juice your numbers.

What is the equivalent of Major League Baseball steroids for bloggers? I have a few suggestions:

  • Post about something super controversial, i.e. something that people care about and are totally divided about. Once I heard a sports talk radio host give away this trade secret on his show, when he said, “okay folks let’s talk about this next question, which when polled was split down the middle 50/50 among people…”. I think I hit on this once when I posted about how I think math contests suck. Lots of strong feelings both ways.
  • Post about something involving people that others consider kind of crazy. Once when I posted about living forever, I was kind of responding to this idea of the Singularity Theorists and their summit. Turns out some people don’t want to live forever, like me, and some people really really want to live forever. It’s like a religion.
  • Then there’s the celebrity angle. My posts about working with Larry Summers have generated lots of traffic, although I like to think it’s because of what I said in addition to the star power in the title.
  • I’m convinced that adding images to your posts makes people more likely to find them. Maybe that’s because they appear bigger when they are shared on Facebook or something.
  • If you are fed up with people arguing with each other on your comments pages, then another totally different way of getting lots of hits (and even more comments) is to post about something that allows people to tell a story about themselves that probably nobody else wants to hear. For example, you can write a post entitled, “did you ever have a weird experience at a doctor’s appointment?”. I haven’t done that yet but it’s tempting, just for all the awesome comments I’d get.
  • Finally, you can go lowbrow and talk about sex, or even better give advice to people about their weird sexual desires, or even better, make confessions about your weird sexual experiences. Also haven’t done that yet, but also tempted.

I’m a data modeler, so of course it makes sense that I’d try to test out my theoretical signals. So if you see me writing a post in the future about the sexual adventures of me and some nutjob celebrity (update: Charlie Sheen) when we went to the doctor’s together, complete with graphic pix, then you’ll know to click like mad (and comment, please!).

Categories: data science, rant

Hank Paulson

A few days ago it came out that former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is a complete asshole. Some people knew this already, but Felix Salmon kind of nailed it permanently to the wall with this Reuters column where he describes how Paulson told his buddies all about what was going on in the credit crisis a few weeks or days before the public was informed. Just in case descriptions of his behavior aren’t clear enough, Salmon ends his column with this delicious swipe:

Paulson, says Teitelbaum, “is now a distinguished senior fellow at the University of Chicago, where he’s starting the Paulson Institute, a think tank focused on U.S.-Chinese relations”. I’d take issue with the “distinguished” bit. Unless it means “distinguished by an astonishing black hole where his ethics ought to be”.

Here’s another thing that people may want to know about Paulson, and which some people know already but should be more loudly broadcast: he dodged tens of millions of dollars in taxes by becoming the Treasure Secretary. This article from the Daily Reckoning explains the conditions:

Under the guise of not wanting to “discourage able citizens from entering public service,” Section 1043 is an alteration of the government’s conflict of interest rules. Before 1043, executive appointees (mostly high-up cabinet members and judges) had to sell positions in certain companies to combat conflict of interest – like say, a former Goldman Sachs CEO-turned Treasury Secretary with millions of GS shares. After Sec. 1043, the appointee gets a one-time rollover. Upon their appointment, he or she can transfer their shares to a blind trust, a broad market fund or into treasury bonds. They’ll have to pay taxes on the position one day, but not immediately after the sale… like the rest of us.

I’m a big believer in incentives. And from where I sit, when you piece together Hank Paulson’s incentives, you get his actions. In some sense we shouldn’t even complain that he’s such an asshole, because we invented this system to let people like him act in these asshole ways.

[It brings up another related topic, namely that the level of corruption and misaligned incentives actually drives ethical people out of finance altogether. I want to devote more time to think about this, but as partial evidence, consider how few "leaders" from the financial world have stepped up and supported Occupy Wall Street, or for that matter any real challenge to business as usual. At the same time there are plenty of people in finance who are part of the movement, but they tend to be the foot soldiers, or young, or both. Maybe I'm wrong- maybe there are plenty of senior people who just are remaining anonymous, doing their thing to undermine the status quo, and I just haven't met them. According to this article which I linked to already for a different reason, and which corroborates my experience, there are lots of people who see the rot but not too many doing anything about it.]

Here’s what we do. We ask people who want to be public servants to sacrifice something (besides their ethics) to actually serve the public. I’m convinced that there really are people who would do this, especially if the system were set up more decently. We don’t need to offer huge cash incentives to attract people like Paulson to be Treasury Secretary.

update: I’m not the only person who thinks like this.

Categories: #OWS, finance, news, rant

Various #OWS links

December 1, 2011 Comments off

Here’s an internal Fed blog describing an internal Fed report which proposes that we tie banker bonuses to the CDS spread of the bank. The crux of the idea:

Under our scheme, a high or increasing CDS spread would translate into a lower cash bonus, and vice versa. For banks that do not have a liquid CDS market, the bonus could be tied to the institution’s borrowing cost as proxied by the debt spread. However, the CDS spread has the benefit of being market based, and can be chosen optimally. It is the closest analogue a bank has to a stock price—it is the market price of credit risk. If CEO deferred compensation were tied directly to the bank’s own CDS spread, bank executives would have a direct financial exposure to the bank’s underlying risk and would have an incentive to reduce risk that does not enhance the value of the enterprise.

It’s an interesting idea and I’ll think about it more. I have two concerns off the bat though. First, the blog (I didn’t read the paper) acts like CDS can be honestly taken as a proxy for likeliness to default. However in the real world everything is juiceable. So this scheme will give people more incentives to push for, among other things, fraudulent accounting to avoid looking risky. My second concern is an add-on to the first: the insiders, who benefit directly from low CDS spread, will have very direct reasons to perpetuate such accounting fraud. Somehow I’d love to see (if possible) a scheme put forth where insiders have incentives to ferret out and expose fraud.

———

A beautiful post about the metamovement of which OWS is a part, by Umair Haque. A piece:

In a sense, that sentiment is the common thread behind each and every movement in the Metamovement — a sense of grievous injustice, not merely at the rich getting richer, but at the loss of human agency and sovereignty over one’s own fate that is the deeper human price of it.

He links to We Are the 99 Percent. Check it out if you haven’t already seen it.

———

Interfluidity blogs about how yes, the bankers really were bailed out. Big time. Great points, here is my favorite part:

Cash is not king in financial markets. Risk is. The government bailed out major banks by assuming the downside risk of major banks when those risks were very large, for minimal compensation. In particular, the government 1) offered regulatory forbearance and tolerated generous valuations; 2) lent to financial institutions at or near risk-free interest rates against sketchy collateral (directly or via guarantee); 3) purchased preferred shares at modest dividend rates under TARP; 4) publicly certified the banks with stress tests and stated “no new Lehmans”. By these actions, the state assumed substantially all of the downside risk of the banking system. The market value of this risk-assumption by the government was more than the entire value of the major banks to their “private shareholders”. On commercial terms, the government paid for and ought to have owned several large banks lock, stock, and barrel. Instead, officials carefully engineered deals to avoid ownership and control.

———

Next, read this Newsweek article if you’re still wondering what Mayor Bloomberg’s personal incentives are for letting OWS complain about crony capitalism and the power of lobbyists. The scariest part:

Let’s say a lobbyist for a coal company wants to squash any legislation that affects his employer’s mining operations. He logs onto BGov.com (the cost is $5,700 per year) and is automatically alerted to breaking news of a just-introduced energy bill. The data drill-down begins. BGov shows the lobbyist how similar legislation has fared, what subcommittee the new bill will face and when, who the key congressmen are, and how they have voted in the past. The lobbyist calls up information on the swing vote’s upcoming election contest: it’s competitive, and the congressman is behind in fundraising. Lists of major donors—who might be induced to contribute or, better yet, place a call to the officeholder himself—are a click away. These political pressure points and a thousand more are how lobbyists make their mark, and Bloomberg thinks BGov can deliver them faster than the competition.

———

Finally, a very nice blog about the Alternative Banking group and David Graeber by Joe Sucher. Here’s an excerpt:

I know the usual naysayers will nay say until they are blue in the face about changing the so-called system. “It will never happen, never will, so let’s wait for things to settle down and go back to business as usual.” These folks, I’d venture to say, may be exhibiting a fundamental crisis of imagination.

I remember an elderly immigrant anarchist reminded me (when I was naysaying) that if you were to tell a 14th century European serf, that some time in the next few hundred years, they’d actually have the ability to cast a vote that mattered, no doubt you’d be met with a blank stare. The thought just wouldn’t compute.

——–

updated: Jesse Eisenger of Propublica wrote this interesting article in DealBook, where he talks about the insiders on the Street who are frustrated by the rampant corruption. I agree with a lot he says but he clearly needs to join us at an Alternative Banking group meeting:

It’s progress that these sentiments now come regularly from people who work in finance. This is an unheralded triumph of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s also an opportunity to reach out to make common cause with native informants.

It’s also a failure. One notable absence in this crisis and its aftermath was a great statesman from the financial industry who would publicly embrace reform that mattered. Instead, mere months after the trillions had flowed from taxpayers and the Federal Reserve, they were back defending their prerogatives and fighting any regulations or changes to their business.

Perhaps a major reason so few in this secret confederacy speak out is that they are as flummoxed about practical solutions as the rest of us. They don’t know where to begin.

Um, there are plenty of very good places to begin. It’s a question of politics, not of solutions. Start with the very basics: enforce the rules that already exist. Give the SEC some balls. We’ll go from there. Sheesh!

Categories: #OWS, finance, news
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