Posts filed under “Really, really bad calls”

Ayn Rand: The Boring Bitch is Back

There is a substantial take-down of pedantic bore Ayn Rand in GQ. They tease it thusly:

2009′s most influential author is a mirthless Russian-American who loves money, hates God, and swings a gigantic dick. She died in 1982, but her spawn soldier on. And the Great Recession is all their fault.

I love that because it is both funny and touches upon so many subtle truths; Here is a longer, funnier excerpt:

“This is because there are boys and girls among us who have never overcome the Randian infection. The Galt speech continues to ring in their ears for years like a maddening tinnitus, turning each of them into what next year’s Physicians’ Desk Reference will (undoubtedly) term an Ayn Rand Asshole (ARA). They constitute a relatively small percentage of Rand readers, these ARAs. But they make their reading count. Thanks to them, the Rand Experience is no longer limited to those who have read the books. It’s metastasized. You, me, all of us, we’re living it. Because it’s the ARA Army of antigovernment-antiregulation puritans who have spent the past three decades gleefully pulling the cooling rods out of the American economy. For a while, it got very big and very hot. Then it popped. And now the rest of us have to spend the next decade scaling the slippery slopes of the huge suppurative crater that was left behind.

Feeling fisted by the Invisible Hand of the Market lo these past fifteen months? Lost a job lately? Or half the value of your 401(k)? Or a home? All three? Been wondering whence the too-long-ascendant political and economic ideas and forces behind Greenspanism, John Thainism, blind Wall Street plunder, bankruptcy, credit-default swaps, Bernie Madoff, and the ensuing Cannibalism in the Streets? Then you, sir, need to give thanks to Ayn Rand Assholes everywhere—as well as the steely loins from which they sprang.”

Brilliant.

I haven’t read Rand’s work for decades, but I do recall two things: A) It was a giant pedantic bore; 2) Debating it with people in College was always a hoot. The thing that struck me most was the lack of rigor in the arguments — it was more religion than logic, more wishful thinking than reality based observations of how humans actually behave.

You can the concentration of ARAs in a certain groupings. These are the folks who blame the CRA for the collapse of the economy; ARAs tend to be hardcore idealogues; many are rabidly partisan. All too many are deeply uninformed. They breathje co0gnitive dissonance they most people breathe oxygen. When confronted with facts, data, reality that challenge their ideology, they make up new facts.

I imagine that Freud would bluntly use Randian logic to note they inhabit a guise of superiority in part to compensate for vast and deeply felt inferiorities and insecurities. That’s right, those of you who feel compelled to talk about how big your junk is are typically are sporting selections from the wee person’s aisle.

Malcolm Gladwell is a guy who knows how to write compellingly readable stories. The takeaway in his book Outliers The Story of Success is quite unRandian — it is that luck plays an enormous factor in out-sized success. That is a factor the Randians prefer to ignore.

What I find so weird about Rand is that there are more than a few people I respect who gobbled up her work. These are not ARAs — but are otherwise rational folks who never quite went full tilt into ARA-hood. But they have a huge respect for her work. Me? I prefer “lessers” like Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson and John Maynard Keynes.  I prefer John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle of Liberty over Rand’s Objectivism.

Dangerous Minds contextualizes the pedantic bore portion of the Rand legend:

“It’s Rand’s dialogue that seals her reputation as an author you just can’t take seriously. To be fair, she was writing in her second language, but the problem with her books is that no one actually speaks to one another, they just make speeches at each other. Hectoring, long-winded speeches. It’s fine to read stuff like that as a teenager, but when I crack open one of her books today, I shake my head in disbelief at how bombastic and horrible her writing is.”

Bombastic and horrible? You are being too kind . . .

My actual problem with Rand — behind her blindingly horrific prose — is that she was pushing back against a totalitarian system in the Soviet Union, a corrupt and morally indefensible system she had every right to be infuriated by. But she applies that righteous fury and outrage to a Democracy, whose economy is Free Market based. Hence, rather than challenging the politburo, she challenges Unions. Cooperative behavior seems to be hard for her to grasp. One suspects she would have disliked Consumer Reports, or Zagats, or Amazon’s user ratings.

Worst of all, Rand’s Objectivism has become the rationale for all manner of morally repugnant behaviour. However, I did take one personal lesson from Atlas Shrugged to heart: Anytime I see a parked car with a John Galt bumper sticker, I like to knock off one of the sideview mirrors, and leave it on the hood. I include a note stating my selfish, random act made me feel good, and therefore should be a perfectly fine act in their world.

I assume the recipients miss the irony . . .

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Sources:
The Bitch is Back
Andrew Corsello
GQ, October 27, 2009

http://www.gq.com/entertainment/books/200911/ayn-rand-dick-books-fountainhead

Ayn Rand Assholes
Dangerous Minds, 11.11.2009

http://www.dangerousminds.net/index.php/site/comments/ayn_rand_assholes/

Category: Psychology, Really, really bad calls

Hubbert Peak Theory of Oil Rock

Long standing readers of TBP know I like to try to slip in a lesson or two. The humor and money making market commentary is used as a device to keep you coming back and learning, despite yourself. Today, I require no pretense for the edumacation. Instead, I will demonstrate one of my favorite peeves,…Read More

Category: Really, really bad calls, Technical Analysis

Jim Chanos’ presentation at the Virginia Value Investing Conference: > Chanos Presentation: Ten Lessons From The Financial Crisis That Investors Will Soon Forget (If They Haven’t…

Category: Psychology, Really, really bad calls, Think Tank

Worst Idea of 2009

Shorter Floyd Norris: “Goldman Sachs is trying to arrange to buy tax credits from Fannie Mae. Obviously, it would buy them at a discount. Goldman, you may recall, was saved with taxpayer money when the panic spread last year. A naïve person might think such a company would see a patriotic virtue in paying taxes….Read More

Category: Bailouts, Really, really bad calls

The Hubris of Economics

On Tuesday, the 2nd most emailed article on WSJ.com was Crisis Compels Economists To Reach for New Paradigm.

It is an intriguing look at the problems of the the field of economics. It went, however, way too easy on both the profession and its practitioners. The article fails to ask some very basic questions about the soft science, and does not discuss the fundamental incompetency of many economists.

Given the failures of the profession — failing to anticipate the worst recession in decades, missing the warping effect of the housing boom, not recognizing the credit collapse until too late — a damning indictment of the dismal science might have been more appropriate.

Perhaps I can be of assistance.

There are many areas I would have liked to see the Economics Crisis article explore: The lack of Scientific Method, the mostly awful performance of economists, its misunderstanding of the value of modeling, the bias inherent in Wall Street variant of economics, and lastly, the corruption of economics by politics. I will just touch on some of these; you can fill in much of the blanks yourself.

Let’s start with the basics. Hard “science” — Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and all variants thereto — begins humbly. They try to describe the universe around us by creating theories, and then testing them. These theorems are always preliminary. Even when testing validates them, Science is always prepared — even eager — to replace them with newer theories that are proven to be even more valid.

The humility of science begins with an admission: We know nothing. We seek to learn through experiment and logic, and constantly evolve more and more accurate explanations. Scientific belief evolves gradually over time. Nothing is assumed, presumed, or hypothesized as true. Indeed, research is a presumption that current theories are inadequate or incomplete. The practice of science is a an ongoing search for better explanations, more proof, further verification — for Truth.

Science is the ultimate “show me” state.

Economics has a somewhat, shall we call it, less rigorous approach. Indeed, the arrogance of economics is that it is the polar opposite of Science. It begins with a few basic assumptions, many of which are obviously untrue; some are demonstrably false.

No, Mankind is not a rational, profit maximizing actor. No, markets are not perfectly, or even nearly, efficient. No, prices do not reflect the sum total of all that is known about a given market, sector or stock. Those of you who pretend otherwise are fools who deserve to have your 401ks cut in half. That is called just desserts. The problem is that your foolishness helped cut nearly everyone else’s 401ks in half. That is called criminal incompetence.

Where was I?  Ahhh, our sad tale of the practitioners of the dismal arts.

Starting from a false premise that fails to understand the most basic behaviors of the Human animal, economics proceeds to build an edifice of cards on a foundation of sand. (How could that possibly go astray?) Like a moonshot off by a few inches at launch, by the time the we reach further into time and space, the trajectory is off by millions of miles . . .

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Economics has had a justifiable inferiority complex versus real sciences the past century. It has attempted to overcome this by throwing lots of smart mathematicians at its practice, in an attempt to make the social art seem more “sciency,” and thus  more credible. This had led to lots and lots of formulas and models. The problems is, Economics places way too much weight on these. It creates an illusion of precision where none exists. The belief in their models led to all manner of mischief, from subprime to derivatives to risk management.

Economics forgot George E. P. Box’s most basic rule:

“Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful”

Box was a statistician who recognized the fundamental truth of all attempts to depict the universe mathematically: They are inherently flawed.

He also understood that these flawed attempts can at times have value. His insights contextualize what mathematical modelers do — and fail to achieve.

Economics fails at this often.  The belief in the validity of their models — like the theories they are based upon — is the Achilles heel of the profession.

This is not to say there are not good, even great economists (some are even friends of mine!) who foresaw the coming crisis and warned about it. Many are aghast at the rigor mortis in the academic establishment; some are horrified at how poorly the profession has done. Forget forecasting the future, too many economists cannot accurately describe what happened yesterday.

The Behaviorists have been fighting the mainstream for decades now, trying to correct the errors of the basic building blocks of the dismal science.

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Excerpt after the jump.

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Previously:
The Mystery of the Awful Economists
RealMoney.com, 3/2/2005 3:42 PM EST

http://www.thestreet.com/p/rmoney/barryritholtz/10211333.html

(If you cannot access the Real Money piece, click here).

Mystery of the Awful Economists, part II (April 8th, 2005)

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2005/04/mystery-of-the-awful-economists-part-2/

Mystery of the Awful Economists part III (April 13th, 2005)

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2005/04/mystery-of-the-awful-economists-part-iii/

RIP Chicago School of Economics: 1976-2008 (December 23rd, 2008)

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2008/12/chicago-repudiation/

Why Economists Missed the Crises (January 5th, 2009)

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/01/why-economists-suck/

The Big Picture: On the Efficient Market Hypothesis (2005-09)

The Big Picture: On Prediction Markets (2004-09)

Source:
Crisis Compels Economists To Reach for New Paradigm
MARK WHITEHOUSE
WSJ, NOVEMBER 3, 2009

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125720159912223873.html

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Category: Markets, Mathematics, Really, really bad calls

Uh-Oh: Economists Say Recovery, Market Gains Solid

No worries! The same people who missed the worst oncoming recession in 80 years, the credit collapse (worst in US), and the market crash are now telling you the recovery is for real. Gee, why does this — Economists expect recovery to stick, see slow, steady GDP rise — not make me more comfortable? “Nearly…Read More

Category: Contrary Indicators, Really, really bad calls

Wolf vs Siegel: EMH Smackdown

You might have missed yet another smackdown yesterday: A debate on the Efficient Market Hypothesis in the FT vs the WSJ: • Martin Wolf: How mistaken ideas helped to bring the economy down (FT) • Jeremy Siegel: Efficient Market Theory and the Crisis (WSJ) My read is Wolf trounced Siegel, but as a non-fanboy of…Read More

Category: Markets, Really, really bad calls

Reckless Strategies Doomed WaMu

It seems to be Real Estate Monday, as a series of intriguing articles have broken recently. First and foremost, the Seattle Times has a fascinating two parter, that you must not miss:  A series of interviews with former WaMu executives and employees, as well as a survey of internal company documents, reveals that management plotted…Read More

Category: Credit, Real Estate, Really, really bad calls, Regulation

Reaganomics vs. Obamanomics

Category: Economy, Really, really bad calls, Video

CATO: Sub-Prime, Rates, Leverage Did NOT Cause Crisis

You gotta love the hard core ideologues: Its almost cute they way they stick to their theories, facts be damned. Cute, except for the amount of damage they caused. (Hmmm, this Kool aid is delicious!) Case in point: The latest work of fantasy from the CATO Institute. They are now insisting that a stricter fed…Read More

Category: Bailouts, Psychology, Really, really bad calls, Regulation