Nassim Nicholas "Black Swan" Taleb has an NYT op-ed arguing that the best way secure the financial system from future collapse is to eliminate bankers' bonuses altogether. Taleb says bonuses reward risk-taking behavior without any counterbalancing punishment for bad risks, which provides an incentive for bankers to take stupid risks and hide their mistakes with financial engineering and book-cooking.
Bonuses are particularly dangerous because they invite bankers to game the system by hiding the risks of rare and hard-to-predict but consequential blow-ups, which I have called “black swan” events. The meltdown in the United States subprime mortgage market, which set off the global financial crisis, is only the latest example of such disasters.
Consider that we trust military and homeland security personnel with our lives, yet we don’t give them lavish bonuses. They get promotions and the honor of a job well done if they succeed, and the severe disincentive of shame if they fail. For bankers, it is the opposite: a bonus if they make short-term profits and a bailout if they go bust. The question of talent is a red herring: Having worked with both groups, I can tell you that military and security people are not only more careful about safety, but also have far greater technical skill, than bankers.
The ancients were fully aware of this upside-without-downside asymmetry, and they built simple rules in response. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Hammurabi’s code specified this: “If a builder builds a house for a man and does not make its construction firm, and the house which he has built collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death.”
This was simply the best risk-management rule ever.
End Bonuses for Bankers
(Image: IMG_0624, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 11201702@N06's photostream)
Lax enforcement from the SEC has allowed the biggest companies in America — 90 percent of the companies in the S&P 500, led by the faltering energy sector — to ignore the “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles” (GAAP) in presenting their financial information to investors, manufacturing nonexistent profits in quarters where they suffer punishing losses.
I have a first-world problem: I stay in a lot of hotels.
Reuters reports that VW is about to tell the federal judge in San Francisco in charge of its case that it will offer to buy back nearly half a million of its diesel vehicles from owners who were deceived about the cars’ emission standards and performance when the company engineered its cars so that they […]
Almost everyone has their smartphone in a case of one kind or another. Beyond simple protection, finding a case that can charge your phone on its own, but doesn’t feel like it’s also adding a couple pounds to the phone’s weight is the tricky part. Billed as the world’s thinnest battery case, the ThinCharge iPhone […]
You never know when new projects, ideas or opportunities can drop into your lap at a moment’s notice. That may require you to learn a new programming language like Python. Or maybe you need a primer on 3D game development. Or you might realize you could use a serious brush-up on iOS mobile creation.Point is, […]
Isn’t it about time to stretch what your Mac can do? I mean, you’ve got plenty of great programs now…but don’t you think you could use some new tools to get your creative, analytical and organizational juices really flowing? It’s spring, so we cleaned up a whole bunch of super-cool apps lying around and packaged […]