Sunday, June 27, 2010

Good Sunday Morning, Everyone. We did enjoy the farmers' market. All we bought was a couple of tomatoes. The first of ours are a few days away from being ripe. I will stop by again on Tuesday when I make my usual trip to the local library which is only a few blocks away. I got some very nice lettuce the last time and that vender is only there on Tuesday.

I am glad you enjoyed The Reformed Broker, Kay. And I hope you will be able to get the site, Lois. Most of the economic bloggers I read are on the pessimistic side. I find their observations tally most closely with my own experience and observations in my position so far from the Olympian heights of Wall Street and Washington. The 'mainstream' economic pundits keep talking about a recovery I have yet to see.

I have finally finished Michael Lewis' The Big Short and I would recommend it highly. It is well written though there are some very confusing sections in it. The Wall Street meltdown was a confusing episode that economic historians will be writing about for the next century or more. A few things stand out for me. First, I was amazed how much of our so-called economy has drifted into abstract, ephemeral 'products.' They weren't selling a house, or a car, or shoes. Nothing tangible. They were selling the debt on the house, or car, or shoes. And they weren't just selling this debt--they were selling it many times over, sliced up six ways to Sunday and repackaged again and again.. A couple of the bloggers I read regularly made the observation that, to create real wealth, you have to produce something, transport something, or sell something. The operative word there is 'something' meaning something tangible. Most of what has been traded in the stratospheric regions of our economy is smoke and mirrored reflections. It was an inverted pyramid balanced on a very unstable tip just waiting for a big wind to topple it. Second, I was also amazed at how utterly ignorant so many of the 'bright' boys and girls were of the exact nature of the products they were peddling. They did not know what components made up their abstract product and they didn't care so long as one of the ratings agencies rated them as safe. They made a lot of money being incredibly lazy. Third, and this ties into the behavior of BP and other oil companies, they simply could not imagine a situation in which their 'safe' investment vehicle would fail. (BP couldn't imagine a scenario where their various redundant levels of protection all failed, with or without human error.) Even when the flaws in their constructed packages was pointed out to them by analysts who had thoroughly investigated the investments and connected the dots and imagined the cases in which a failure would be likely--they refused to believe the worst could happen. I will bore you with only one more aspect of this story that amazed me--how slender the margin was between abysmal failure and spectacular success (success defined as making a s**t load of 'money.') At one point, that was a mere three percentage points. If 7 percent of the components of the packages (CDOs or CDSs) failed the bank would make money. But it 10 percent failed they would (and did) lose billions. I prefer the odds in Vegas.


Looking to the Stars said...

Great post!!! My hubby and I talk often about the fact nothing is real, its all paperwork. Not a good way to do business. Whats worse is, these people are our future. Not good.

take care :)

Kay Dennison said...

I can afford to gamble in Vegas either. I buy an occasional instant lottery ticket. The other day I won 5 bucks. That's pretty much my speed. I wouldn't know how to be rich.