what we learned from the financial crisis

April 23, 2010


The economy is shaping up and looking a lot ‘better’ comparatively to 2008. It has been said to ‘be moving toward escape velocity..’ But, I asked myself, what have we ultimately learned from this slow down and reality adjustment? The answer is absolutely nada, zilch, null. For one, we are infatuated at talking about events that already happened and quick to render and dish out ex-post analyses about how the inescapable was just looming to happen.

Uninterestingly, the crisis had nothing new about it that could have caught anyone off guard. Its scale was just larger than most. Yet the same fools are pouring over forecasts that were manufactured by the same individuals who are convinced that they can see the future.

To elaborate, Nicolas Taleb adds:

Over the past twenty-five hundred years of recorded ideas, only fools and Platonists (or, worse, the species called central bankers) have believed in engineered utopias. We see that the idea is not to correct mistakes and eliminate randomness from social and economic life through monetary policy, subsidies, and so on. The idea is simply to let human mistakes and miscalculations remain confined, and to prevent their spreading through the system, as Mother Nature does. Reducing volatility and ordinary randomness increases exposure to Black Swans-it creates an artificial quiet.

Complexity in the markets has indeed risen to a point where it’s become ever more difficult to explain to most the daily businesses of a bank. It is this increase in complexity which I can gladly welcome due to the nature of complex systems:

In such systems, there is no way to make things a little bit simpler – the whole edifice becomes a huge, interlocking system not readily amenable to change. Tainter doesn’t regard the sudden decoherence of these societies as either a tragedy or a mistake-“[U]nder a situation of declining marginal returns collapse may be the most appropriate response”, to use his pitiless phrase. Furthermore, even when moderate adjustments could be made, they tend to be resisted, because any simplification discomfits elites. When the value of complexity turns negative, a society plagued by an inability to react remains as complex as ever, right up to the moment where it becomes suddenly and dramatically simpler, which is to say right up to the moment of collapse. Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification.