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In which I disagree with Krugman (o_O)

This has never happened before. I’m shocked. However, I’ll try to pull myself together and explain.

In The Market Mystique, Krugman says:

Underlying the glamorous new world of finance was the process of securitization. Loans no longer stayed with the lender. Instead, they were sold on to others, who sliced, diced and puréed individual debts to synthesize new assets. Subprime mortgages, credit card debts, car loans — all went into the financial system’s juicer. Out the other end, supposedly, came sweet-tasting AAA investments. And financial wizards were lavishly rewarded for overseeing the process.

But the wizards were frauds, whether they knew it or not, and their magic turned out to be no more than a collection of cheap stage tricks. Above all, the key promise of securitization — that it would make the financial system more robust by spreading risk more widely — turned out to be a lie. Banks used securitization to increase their risk, not reduce it, and in the process they made the economy more, not less, vulnerable to financial disruption.

… I don’t think this is just a financial panic; I believe that it represents the failure of a whole model of banking[.]

Yes, it represents the failure of a model of banking, but I think Krugman is wrong in saying that securitization — the process of juicing and producing new investments — is at fault.

The reason the sweet-tasting AAA investments were sold as such was due to the estimate of risk they carried. Knowing the risk associated with an investment is central to pricing. If there’s a big risk that you’ll lose your money, you get a higher rate for its use. Supremely complex and secret models were used to assess the supremely complex risks of hundreds of mixed investments. (The secrecy, I think, is a big deal. If they hadn’t been secret, specialists outside the industry would have been able to review them and sound warnings.) The models found layers of the juice that were “sweeter” than other layers, assigned low risk to them, and pension funds snapped them up.

But since nobody (except maybe the quants who invented them) understood the models, nobody actually knew how much risk they were taking on. When it started to look like the risk assessments were wrong, all hell broke loose as everyone tried to dump investments that had nobody-knew-how-much loss mixed into them.

Had the securitization been done in an open and reviewable way (I know, laugh all you want), then that process by itself would not have created disaster. What created disaster was obscuring adequate risk assessment. We could get rid of securitization, and wind up in this exact same place when some genius came up with a new way to obfuscate risk.

Obfuscating risk is what needs to be stopped. Not the red herring of securitization. Or not just that red herring.

Keep your eye on the ball for us, Paul! We need you!

Tags: Krugman, financial, crisis, risk, quants, securitization

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What’s with my car dealer?

I go to the lot and flag down the last salesman they haven’t fired yet. He’s got nothing to do and races right over. I show him the picture.

“I want this,” I say.

super-thin, green, alien-spaceship-looking wheeled vehicle with a sail, which looks like it doubles as a rudder, at the back

“It runs on wind,” I point out, “which is about what I can afford right now. But it still looks cool. So, how much?”

He tries to sell me a Chevy Tahoe.

greenbird, wind racer, cars

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Ada Lovelace Day

The BBC reminds me that it’s time to give a tip of the hat to one of history’s greats.

Portrait of the mathematician, Ada Lovelace. c. 1840


Hulton Archive photo c. 1840


Augusta Ada Byron was born in 1815, the daughter of Lord Byron she is now known simply as Ada Lovelace. A skilled mathematician she wrote the world’s first computer programmes for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

Years ahead of her time she realised that the Analytical Engine “might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

She died, aged only 36, on 27th November 1852.

Technorati Tags: Ada Lovelace, mathematician

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Hummingbird Love

Updated 2009-03-21 from post of 2006-09-18. Links fixed, some new photos included.)

Hummingbirds, as far as I’m concerned, are the most marvelous creatures out there. (Well, them and mariposa lilies, especially Calochortus catalinae.)


So, ignoring all the impending doom for the moment, time for a hummingbird break…

Anna’s hummingbird male, starting to take a bath during one of the first rains of the season.


Anna’s male preening on the same tomato cage. It helps to have a neck with 14 vertebrae.


hummingbird stretched out on wooden deck to warm up in the morning sun Anna’s hummingbird, warming up in the morning sun by hunkering down on the wooden deck and stretching its wings out. They don’t hover all the time.


hummingbirds in red crocosmia Two hummingbirds absolutely furious with each other for sitting in the same shrub. They’re threatening each other by moving their heads back and forth and making ticking noises like an overactive Geiger counter (and probably more in the ultrasonic).


Hummingbirds do a lot of fighting. Mostly, they seem to do nothing but fighting. Cute, but deadly.


A traditional hovering hummingbird at a classic red sage flower.


hummingbird in lavender Traditional hover, but less classic lavender flower. Once they decide that your garden is a good place to look around, they’ll visit anything, including dandelionsand promising-looking bits of old rubber hoses.


Sparkling violet-eared hummingbird, at home in the San Diego Zoo hummingbird house.


Anna’s hummingbird, taking a breather on the flowering stalk of a small succulent in a pot, sitting about four feet away on the other side of a screen door.


Allen’s hummingbirds are the other main species we get here on the coast of Southern California. They’re a bit smaller than the Anna’s and even feistier. This one is a juvenile male just starting to molt in his adult plumage. The little blighter stopped hanging around two days after he was fully plumed in and finally looking magnificent.


Allen’s juvenile male shrieking defiance at passersby.


Collecting nest material.


More hummingbird pics at my photo page.

Also some phenomenal ones, by Acreepingmalaise:

Technorati tags: hummingbirds, Anna’s hummingbirds, Allen’s hummingbirds, Costa’s hummingbirds, blue, Iochroma, tree tobacco

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Remember Tibet

Fifty years of occupation. Colonizing a neighbor instead of another continent doesn’t make it all right. Having an empire now instead of two hundred years ago doesn’t make it all right.

Fifty years of non-violent resistance. The powers-that-be insist that’s the right thing to do. Then they ignore the hell out of anyone who actually does it because quiet people aren’t a problem. Don’t ask why there’s so much death and destruction in the world. Ask why there isn’t more.

Buddhist monks in Japan holding a vigil for Tibet

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