Monday, July 13, 2009

What Rhymes With Villian?

don't blame the rich, it was the one armed man!

The Price of Innovation:

Two pieces worth reading on health care innovation. First, Glenn Reynolds on his family:
*irrational gigglefit*
Veterinary spending is rising just about in line with human medical spending. Kudoes [sic] to AEI for publishing a graph that seriously undercuts one of the major conservative arguments about health care: that the main problem is consumers who don't bear their own costs. Veterinary spending is subject to few of the perversities that either left or right suppose to be the main problems afflicting health care spending. Consumers pay full frieght [sic] most of the time. They are price sensitive, and will let the patient die if keeping him alive costs too much. There is no adverse selection. There is no free riding on mandatory care. Government regulation is minimal. Malpractice suits are minimal, and have low payouts. So why is vet spending rising along with human spending?
I think my brain just broke. I... yep, broken. I try to begin to respond to the previous, but it's an infinite loop of uhhhhh, what?

Villains of the Piece:

We all know how this goes; Megan gets roundly mocked for writing something abjectly stupid, only recognizes she's getting attention for it, and tries to make it worse so she'll get more attention.
A woman gets into her car, and waves at her husband, who is crossing in front of the car. Pressing the pedal to the ground, she puts it into gear . . . and steams forward at full speed, crushing him against the wall of the garage.
Is she a villain? It rather depends, doesn't it?
Scenario #1: she's angry because she found out he had an affair, and decided to kill him "by accident" for the insurance. Scenario #2: she thought she was stepping on the brake, and stepped on the gas instead. The former is a crime, the latter a tragedy. But you can't divine which simply by knowing that something terrible happened.
So even if Goldman Sachs was in the driver's seat to some degree, it didn't mean to speed forward and crush the economy in the blink of 8-10 years, their collective foots slipped. And the personal wealth accrued along the way is like an insurance payout. Those brokers loved the economy, they need those townhouses and vacation homes and mansions in the woods to grieve in dignity and privacy.
Ritholtz is not, in many of these cases, describing villainy. He is describing "being wrong", which is not a crime, thank God. Villainy involves people who know, or should have known, that what they were doing was likely to lead to the awful results.
I mean, you can quibble and say "You should have known that that was the gas pedal", and indeed you should have, but if, for whatever reason, your senses deluded you, you're not a villain. No, even if you were thinking about the presentation you had due at work--or how angry you were at your husband for having a fling with his secreatary [sic]--rather than concentrating on your driving.
I'm embarrassed for Megan, this is so weak. I can't believe she put this up. Oops, their collective foots slipped for about a decade? What the fuck?
When something is common enough, I think it definitionally isn't villanous [sic].
Hi, genocide, racism, antisemitism, physical abuse in a family, and fucking etcetera.
I have no reason to love Goldman Sachs, and I don't. I didn't like them when I was interviewing for investment banking internships in business school (worst interviews by far were sponsored by Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns).
How about when they sponsored those Atlantic salons, Megan? (No, I don't know that they did so, specifically, but the odds aren't terrible.)
But while it is irksome that bankers thought they were geniuses who had somehow magically made risk disappear, while it is vexing that they made so much money taking so many systemic risks, none of these things are actually illegal.
... because Megan says so.
And while their arrogance and greed were certainly a necessary precondition of the crisis, they were not in any way sufficient. They needed cooperation from moronic Asian savers who lent them the money, regulators who thought--just as the bankers did--that they'd gotten too smart to have a financial crisis--and homeowners who had come to view homeownership as a way to get rich without working. Everyone who said "renting is throwing your money away" is a guilty party in this. And that's . . . almost everyone.
Everyone who bought a house is EVILBADGRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRYOUKILLEDMYBROTHER!!!!!!!! The bankers are blameless, the... Asians forced the executive class to do these things and become fabulously wealthy and enjoy a life of unimagined luxury and privilege. How can you not just pity these poor used bankers, you heartless bastards?
Stopped clock moment:
Oh, the crisis has produced villains, or rather, exposed them. Bernie Madoff, Allen Stanford, et al are genuine human sewage as far as I can tell. But the crisis would have gone on just the same without Bernie Madoff, and Bernie Madoff would have gone on just the same without the housing bubble. At any given time, there is a certain amount of garden variety financial fraud going on. It tends to emerge in financial crisis not because they're actually connected, but because falling asset values expose the con.
And yet these are the only people you've ever expressed any desire to punish in any way. Isn't ownership of a completely refurbished brownstone on 74th off the park punishment enough?
But I think the case needs to be a leetle bit tighter than the fact that bankers make stupid decisions, bankers get paid a lot, and we just had a financial crisis. I'd like to see someone make the case that they did things that were actively, knowingly, illegal and morally turpitudinous, rather than simply totally moronic. Because with the total moron thing, they had an awful lot of company.
Yeah, all these morons did was manage to personally enrich themselves while doing massive financial harm to millions of people, how could anyone think they knew what they were doing?
Dear David Bradley, can't you do better than this? You really think this is worth what you're paying? There are far better liars and cheerleaders for the rich in the world.

(ok, ok, quiet update in response to an email. yes, the [sic] in the title was intentional, but it's ok if you don't believe me, I'll make a genuine mistake soon enough.)


Anonymous said...

You missed my favorite quote of this piece. Piling the stupid onto her wife-runs-over-husband analogy:

"We don't punish people merely because, through a fluke of circumstance, the one time THEY did it happened to be fatal."

Yes, we do, you idiot. It's called involuntary manslaughter. Why do I get the feeling that Megan once "accidentally" ran over somebody?

freq flag said...

Oh, for fvck's sake...this is just more of the same feeble no-one-could-have-predicted garbaggio that they came up with as their explanation/defense for September 11.

I don't know which is more frightful: that it's the best they can do with or that it sells.

"Garsh, Mickey, who coulda knowed? Ah guess we're *all* sub-prime now...whatever that means! A-hyuk!"

John B. said...

When I read this--

Ritholtz is not, in many of these cases, describing villainy. He is describing "being wrong", which is not a crime, thank God. Villainy involves people who know, or should have known, that what they were doing was likely to lead to the awful results.

--I thought back to those early-'70s boardroom meetings at the Ford Motor Company where the subject was the Pinto's disturbing habit of exploding in rear-end collisions, and the debate was whether it'd be better (read: cheaper) to re-engineer the car or to litigate lawsuits as the occasions arose. Subprime mortgage bonds--legalized Ponzi schemes in their essence, if you think about it--were the '73 Pintos of the financial markets: so long as they didn't blow up, what was the problem?

Nope: no villainy here. It's not that these people, by Megan's reckoning, knew or should have known--they just flat didn't know what was actually in those bonds but traded in these things anyway . . . and so long as they were all making money, they didn't care. I guess callousness or greed are no worse than being wrong in Megan's ethical calculus, seeing as neither seems especially villainous.

Libertarians must sleep well at night.

bulbul said...

But you can't divine which simply by knowing that something terrible happened.
Which is why in the criminal justice system, the People are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. I have yet to see Jack McCoy cut out an animals liver to determine whether he should prosecute such a crime.
To sternly criticize and then completely dismiss something that no sane person would ever think of / that just never fucking happens is something of a signature move of our Lady of teh 2x4.

bulbul said...

And to elaborate on Anon's point: Our Lady of teh Overpriced and Ultimately Worthless Education makes it seem like there are only two options: accident and murder. As Anon points out, there is also involuntary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter. And then there's Jack McCoy's favorite, especially when dealing with corporations: depraved indifference, murder two.
Oh sweet Jesus:
Megan: Let me put it a different way: slaughtering (or slandering) jews is always and everywhere wrong. Stepping on the gas, not.
She just really doesn't get it, does she?

Anonymous said...

I honestly think she got confused by the definition of "villain” in movies, like the ones with big guns or super powers who KILL fictional people and smile.

So here we go. Nobody is villain.

I found this when I was thinking of starting the exact same blog. No need now. Thanks. And I met her once. She was "such a blond".....kind of like that other megan m(ccain)....what's up with those names.

clever pseudonym said...

What is the thing with conservatives always thinking their personal anecdotes are some kind of data that supports one side of an issue that's much, much larger than their own private experience?

As much as I wish to have been spared the details of the Reynolds Clan medical history, if only the Professor could imagine someone suffering those things who did not have health insurance. Or someone who has an HMO that decides those treatments are elective or unproven. He'd be writing about the flowers at their funeral, not the innovative treatment they received.

And for goodness' sake, those of us calling for medical and insurance reform aren't doing so because we don't like innovation and improvements in treatment. We're opposed to the greedy bastards who would use it to exploit the sick and weak. We're opposed to the idea that it should only be available to people with lots of money. Megan points to Reynolds "argument" as if it were some kind of "A-HA!" proof that universal health care would be the death of medical research, and that's all she's backing it up with. The Reynolds family's medical charts.

Dhalgren said...

Not My Real Name's silly comment deserves a response. Or maybe not.

Is he seriously suggesting that Megan got her numbers correct only because the cost increase percentages are similar, while the population data and cost scale was ignored?

I answered my own question. I guess in Megan's world, calling a troll 'innumerate' when he points out an obvious statistical flaw somehow works?

Sadly, No! said...

I liked this the best:

"But in 1950, I couldn't have afforded it, even if it had been available."

Right on, Megan.