Emanuel Derman

Ten Principles for Recapitalizing Capitalism

Emanuel Derman
Nov 22, 2011 16:29 UTC
Everyone is a grownup and no one is more grown up than anyone else. Your words are as valuable as money. A few things are illegal; the rest is up to you. If you want the benefits of taking risk, you must also suffer the disadvantages. Printing or throwing money cannot solve political or spiritual problems. It can only postpone them. Don’t treat only some people’s insolvency as illiquidity. Optimization in human affairs is an illusion. You always need more capital than you think. Corporations are neither governments nor people. Provide golden parachutes for no one; provide tin parachutes for everyone. “If you believe that capitalism is a system in which money matters more than freedom, you are doomed when people who don’t believe in freedom attack using money.”*


* Quote courtesy of Edward Lucas’ book The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West.

Volker Schlöndorff and Europe

Emanuel Derman
Nov 18, 2011 12:51 UTC

I like many of the movies of the German director Volker Schlöndorff, whose first film I saw as a grad student a long time. It was called Young Törless and was an impressive adaptation of a book by Robert Musil, catching the sadness and confusion of adolescence and longing, and its attraction. Looking at his filmography, I realize now that what he’s really good at is movies that come from good books: The Tin Drum, for example, and Swann in Love, which I took to watching for inspiration and momentum when I mired down in the early part of Proust vol 1. It got me through to the end of that volume. As you can see, he’s got a very European sensibility.

I mention this because the other night I rented Voyager,  the English marketing name for a 1991 movie that in German was called Homo Faber, from a 1957 book of that title by Max Frisch. The movie stars an oh-so-young-and-beautiful Julie Delpy, with Sam Shepard as cold Mr Faber, and in a smaller role, Barbara Sukowa. It’s a strange and implausible story of coincidence and destiny, but it hangs together, ending in Athens in Greek tragedic fashion. I won’t give the ending away, which I knew in advance from the book.

It’s set in 1957 and beautifully filmed. The story is ultimately melodramatic, but it confronts what could be melodrama so flatly and matter-of-factly that it moves along like a fable and doesn’t make one question the plausibility, part fable but somehow real.

Good to go

Emanuel Derman
Nov 10, 2011 15:50 UTC

Everyone avers that honesty, ethics, morality, art, literature, science, etc. are good, but if you look at the way people behave most of the time, their actions give the lie to their beliefs.

The difficulty is essential: we struggle against each other, to compete, to survive, to exercise our egos in bursts of short term volatility, to shout Me Me Me or Mine Mine Mine, and each Me Me Me refers to a different Me. But we all know that those Me’s are made out of the same matter, and are progeny of the same human and even animal antecedents. Our brother or sisterhood isn’t a metaphor, it’s a fact.

The tension of society comes from the antagonism between each individual’s strong sense of a unique personal self and the fact that everyone has their own one.

Margin calls

Emanuel Derman
Nov 3, 2011 14:11 UTC

Two movies this week, one new — “Margin Call” — and one old a second time — Alan Pakula’s “Klute.” Both didn’t live up to what I expected or recalled.

“Margin Call” got off to a phenomenal start. I’ve never seen any movie capture the feeling of being at a large U.S. investment bank better: the swearing, the repeated expletives, the English traders sprinkled among the Americans, the let’s- fire people-and-talk-about-them-no-more days, the perpetual fascination with how much money other people are making. But then it went on a bit too long and got a little too improbable. A friend of mine claimed it wasn’t improbable at all, just an accelerated one-day version of what happened with mortgages over  six months, and that may be true, but it lost my interest towards the end. Nevertheless, a very accurate portrayal of the trappings of a culture.

I also watched “Klute” from Netflix. Good to pass the time, but less convincing and cornier than I remembered. Very dramatic music but not that much genuine tension. And Jane Fonda, the prostitute turning tricks who is ultimately won over by someone’s care? She is great at playing a tough woman, but very unconvincing as someone with a meltable  heart of gold. The only way you know that she’s been touched by Klute’s care is that she tells her shrink about how touched she is, repeatedly. But she doesn’t look or sound touched at all.