Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street’

Don’t Go for the Blonde

February 17, 2009

“If we all go for the blonde, we block each other and make the other girls mad at us.”

That’s how John Nash’s great insight into “governing dynamics” came to him, according to the movie A Beautiful Mind.  His insight was that Adam Smith’s fundamental model — the one capitalism is based on — was flawed.  Contra Smith, the best outcome doesn’t come from every individual acting purely on rational self-interest; it comes from every individual acting rationally in the interest of both self and the group.

That’s the lesson our Wall Street bankers need to learn.

As this article details, the banks receiving billions of taxpayer dollars under TARP are not lending that money out, as congress had hoped (maybe even intended); instead, they’re hanging onto it.  Why?  Because that’s what maximizes each bank’s own individual interests: in an unstable, recessionary economy, you hang on to the money you’ve got; you don’t put it at risk.

Looked at strictly on an individual level, that is the rational thing to do.  It’s what best serves your bank’s shareholders.  However, looked at on a collective level, it’s ultimately devastating to all the banks’ shareholders, along with the rest of us.  A continuing credit crunch further weakens demand.  Weakened demand causes a shrinking GDP.  And that, ladies and gents, is a recession.  Which causes banks to be even more tightfisted and risk-averse.  Which makes the recession still worse, and so on.  And that, ladies and gents, is a recession spiraling into a depression.   Everybody loses, including — maybe especially — banks and their shareholders.

It’s a textbook collective action problem.  The thing that’s best for the group as a whole is not the thing that’s best for each player individually.  As long as everybody is acting purely on rational self-interest, the thing that would be best for everybody never happens.  In fact, everybody will end up in the crapper.

So how do we get the banks to do what’s best for everybody, instead of what’s best for each of them individually?

Brain Dump

January 28, 2009

I saw that one prominent blogger periodically publishes “Tab Dump” posts — lists of links to items he had open in Firefox tabs, but didn’t have time to read or blog.  So I thought I’d do a brain dump post — things floating around in my head that don’t rate their own posts.  This one is mostly political.

Early Obama: the jury is out.  He’s done some excellent things, but he’s also done some very questionable things.  The 2 shiniest examples of the latter are the defense industry lobbyist and Wall Street lobbyist he exempted from his own executive order forbidding such people.  Dumb.  Very dumb.  Both on substantive grounds — his executive order was the right policy — and on political ones.  He’s instantly made himself into a hypocrite, and introduced a whiff of corruption into his administration almost before it was old enough to crawl.  And in 2 departments of the government with existing bad reputations for corruption.  Clean that up, Mr. President.

One thing I liked very much was his interview on Al-Arabiya.  Good strategic thinking, if you ask me.

Stimulus Bill: it looks like we’ll have one.  The House just passed its version.  The version the president eventually signs probably will be quite a bit different, but the same in general outline.  Every Republican in the House voted against it.  Every single one.  I understand that they wanted it to look like a Republican bill, and I do wish the House Dems had made more of an effort to bring them along, but there’s a saying the GOP repeated frequently over the past 8 years: elections have consequences.  (The best line I’ve seen on this bill: “Yes, it’s dangerously compassionate. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good policy.”)

I don’t think any Republicans would have voted for it no matter how many compromises it contained.  They’ve made their political calculation: either the stimulus will succeed, in which case the credit will go to Obama, not them; or it will fail, in which case the blame will fall on Obama.  That leads to the following Pascal’s Wager: either it works and we get no credit for it no matter what, or it fails and we can take credit for having said it would fail and voted against it.  That’s an easy decision for a politician to make.

The question now is whether Obama, et al., can make them pay a price for having opposed it, if it works.  Frankly, I doubt it.

Wall Street: isn’t there some way we can finagle an economic recovery while putting these thieves in the poor house?  These people . . . I hardly ever quote trees, but there is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for this treachery.