Saturday, October 10, 2009

Selected Thoughts on The New Yorker October 5 2009

Selected thoughts on the 5 October 2009 edition of The New Yorker:

Rational Irrationality (by John Cassidy)
Cassidy offers another interesting article about the big-picture roots of the 2008 economic melt down. Like others, this piece gets at the larger questions of how economies work:
A number of explanations have been proposed for the great boom and bust, most of which focus on greed, overconfidence, and downright stupidity on the part of mortgage lenders, investment bankers, and Wall Street C.E.O.s. According to a common narrative, we have lived through a textbook instance of the madness of crowds. If this were all there was to it, we could rest more comfortably: greed can be controlled, with some difficulty, admittedly; overconfidence gets punctured; even stupid people can be educated. Unfortunately, the real causes of the crisis are much scarier and less amenable to reform: they have to do with the inner logic of an economy like ours. The root problem is what might be termed “rational irrationality”—behavior that, on the individual level, is perfectly reasonable but that, when aggregated in the marketplace, produces calamity.
Examples that Cassidy gives include the issuing of subprime mortgages, of buying into a bubble, the one-upmanship nature of competition among finance firms, and the short term nature of incentives on Wall Street. A year after the height of the crises meaningful regulatory change appears increasingly unlikely. Listen to the hybrids: this has all happened before and it will all happen again.

Veiled Threat (by Anonymous)
This piece explores the role played by women in the ongoing protests in Iran. It is quite remarkable. Reading the piece reminds me that the unrest in Iran has not gone away. Interesting times indeed.

Fiasco (by Alex Ross)
It seems that every self-regarding theatre goer laments the ubiquitous standing ovation. It is in that vein that I'm joyed by Ross's recounting of the Metropolitan Opera's recent production of Tosca. Not because I'm glad to read about a bad production staged, but because it is reassuring to now that, even in the most rarefied circles, some are willing to admit the obvious.

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