Traditionally, banks and other financial institutions have succeeded by managing risk, not avoiding it. But as the world has become increasingly connected, their task has become exponentially more difficult. To see why, it’s helpful to think about power grids again: engineers can reliably assess the risk that any single power line or generator will fail under some given set of conditions; but once a cascade starts, it’s difficult to know what those conditions will be – because they can change suddenly and dramatically depending on what else happens in the system. Correspondingly, in financial systems, risk managers are able to assess their own institutions’ exposure, but only on the assumption that the rest of the world obeys certain conditions. In a crisis it is precisely these conditions that change in unpredictable ways.
Traditionally I’ve been a “Jump You Fuckers” kind of guy. I’ve never really understood what motivates people who work for financial institutions, besides the presupposed notion of greed. I mean, when does it end? You can make all the money in the world but it never actually ends. There is always more to make always more to be had. I think if I were faced with that kind of proposition I’d get sucked in to some kind of circular-mind-vortex. If your ultimate goal feeds itself but is entirely unattainable, how do you get up in the morning?
Reading Duncan’s article has given me a little more perspective. The global economy is infinitely unfathomable in scale and complexity. How the hell do you plan for anything when absolutely nothing is certain? How could you feel anything but helpless? You can’t make decisions based on your understanding of the paradigm as it currently exists because who the hell knows what it’s going to look like the next day and whether your actions will yield a positive or negative result.
However I guess all of this could be said for any kind of profession or action.
Wow! It’s hurting my mind-cicles. Although I’m glad I came across Duncan’s article, given that several members of my family are in the business of making money.