Felix Salmon

Rattner’s Overhaul

I’m a fan of Steve Rattner’s book about the auto bailout, Overhaul, and I’m also a fan of Malcom Gladwell’s very tough review of it.

from Justin Fox:

Economists respond to incentives

Here's my short take, following on Barbara's post Wednesday, on economists:

1. The single most valuable and durable lesson of economics is that incentives matter. Monetary incentives don't always matter more than other motivations, and sometimes people's behavior regarding money is a little nutty. But as an organizing principle for a social science, incentives matter is pretty good.

from Barbara Kiviat:

Volcker’s rule on rules

Former Fed chairman Paul Volcker has some advice for financial regulators writing rules to define new limits on banks' ability to trade for their own accounts: be as vague as possible. At least that's the message in this WSJ piece by Deborah Solomon (for which, to be upfront, Volcker declined to comment).

from Justin Fox:

Is all quantitative financial risk management bunk?

The comments to my post here last week on Benoit Mandelbrot were for the most part significantly more sophisticated than the post itself. So, since my days at Chez Felix are numbered, I thought I should avail myself of the brilliance of his commenters while I still can to ask a very basic question: Is the practice of quantitative financial risk management one big con job?

from Justin Fox:

What Gretchen Morgenson is good for

New York Times business columnist Gretchen Morgenson is Terry Gross's guest on Fresh Air today. I caught about ten minutes of the conversation while out driving this afternoon, and it reminded me of why I'm not a big fan of Gretchen Morgenson's work. She's just not very interesting to listen to, or read: Too flat, too broad-brush, too predictable, lacking in cleverness and nuance and curiosity. That's why I'd take a Joe Nocera column (or a Felix Salmon blog post) any day over a Morgenson offering.

How to clean up the muddy mortgage mess

Felix Salmon has written extensively about the ongoing mortgage crisis, from the problems with mortgage bonds to the impact of foreclosures on bank stocks. Here is a new video in which Felix offers a potential solution, in the form of principal reduction.

from Barbara Kiviat:

Why economists are(n’t) the answer to all our problems

Over at the Curious Capitalist, my former colleague Steve Gandel asks me to react to this NYT article about how economists manage to disagree on such fundamental questions as whether the government should spend more or less money in response to economic malaise. I've been perplexed by this sort of thing before. In this post from August, I worried about the influence of ideology, and then decided that maybe the bigger take-away is that we should spend less time listening to economists, who, after all, represent just one possible lens onto the world of human behavior, decision-making and social dynamics:

from Barbara Kiviat:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not the same thing as American business

I don't understand why everyone is so surprised to find out that large corporations are funneling massive amounts of money to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Last week's NYT report has been making the Internet rounds, and while I appreciate the point that the Chamber is much more partisan than its non-profit status would suggest—70 of the Chamber's 93 midterm campaign ads either support Republican candidates or attack their opponents, despite the Chamber's promise to the Federal Election Commission that it only talks about issues—there's also a curious amount of wonderment at big-company donations. Yes, Wall Street firms sent millions of dollars to the Chamber when financial re-regulation was on the table, and the insurance industry got out its checkbook when it was time to talk healthcare reform. Why would anyone be surprised?

from Justin Fox:

What’s really behind that $1.3 trillion deficit?

The Treasury Department reported on Oct. 15 that the deficit in fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30, was $1.294 trillion. That's less than FY 2009's $1.416 trillion, but it's still really really big. Why is it so big, though? Is it because of all that stimulus and bailout spending? Or is something else going on?