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« Political Linkage | Main | Jim Kalb's Book Is Now Buyable »

October 25, 2008

Quote for the Day

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

"When the Fed insists it has no choice but to print up hundreds of billions of new dollars and when the keepers of accounting standards bend in the face of criticism that market prices hurt, what they are really saying is the that financial truth is too awful to bear," writes the ultra-prudent James Grant.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at October 25, 2008




Comments

financial truth is too awful to bear

I think that this is *exactly* accurate. If we simply walked away right at this very moment, the truth would be too hard to bear (i.e. the truth of the current situation would effectively destroy us).

So what?

We all know that the system runs on confidence. The only reason I'm not starving to death is that the store accepts these oddly coloured pieces of paper for food because they're confident that other people will be confident in them. Destroy that confidence and instantly everything collapses without a single thing having to change.

Sure the attempts to fix the financial system are part of a shell game to keep us believing, but then collective belief is pretty much essential for any society above subsistence agriculture. And we've been running very successfully on that collective belief for a few thousand years.

Posted by: Tom West on October 25, 2008 9:38 AM



Tom -- Even so, there's a worthwhile distinction to be made between confidence and delusion, no?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 25, 2008 3:32 PM



There may be a distinction, but I don't think anyone in this crisis knows for sure. If anyone *truly* believes that they unequivocally have the answer, take a 100:1 bet against them. If they don't accept it, then obviously they're not sure either.

If I was making decisions, I'd be looking at the table (where bailout includes changing accounting rules, etc.):

No bailout, economy truly collapses: I'm ripped limb from limb for destroying the USA when I could have saved it.

No bailout, we survive with difficulty: I'm voted out of office for causing unnecessary suffering

Bailout, economy truly collapses: At least I tried our best. I may not be torn apart.

Bailout, we survive with difficulty: Wow, we narrowly averted disaster due to quick action. Maybe people won't curse my name forever. Hell, I may even be the next FDR!

Well... what would you choose?

Posted by: Tom West on October 25, 2008 6:00 PM



Tom, you are confusing two distinct meanings of "confidence", re money. There is the confidence in a proxy (in this case, "these oddly coloured pieces of paper") when it has, over time, been empirically demonstrated to be a proxy for real value. Then there is "confidence" as in "confidence game". Like a person, a proxy can coast on its reputation for a while after its underlying character or real value has declined or disappeared. At that stage the con-men can, ah, leverage the former kind of confidence with their own type of confidence...for a while. But while psychology does play a role in markets, bubbles do not inevitably pop for psychological reasons, and the latter type of confidence cannot be sustained in the long term, no matter how fervently and sincerely everyone believes in the existence of the Tooth Fairy. Not even when all the smart people start believing in six impossible things before breakfast.

Posted by: Moira Breen on October 27, 2008 12:38 PM






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