Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Collateralized Mortgage Obligations

New York Magazine has a fascinating article about one of the computer programmers that designed the software that allowed investment banks to create bonds from mortgages. I highly recommend it.

Here is a great excerpt that has meaning far beyond our present financial crisis:

"The drive to simplify the user’s contact with the machine has an inherent side effect of disguising the complexity of a given task. Over time, the users of any software are inured to the intricate nature of what they are doing. Also, as the software does more of the “thinking,” the user does less."

and

"The other day, Professor Gesiak brought me a pitcher of his basement-brewed beer, bartering for oysters. He mused that the U.S. government would, like Poland’s, make the currency worthless. What do we have, I wonder, that like the vodka in communist Poland, can be counted on to hold its value in this age?"

That is the problem, isn't it? Nothing really holds value when currency is not backed by anything. What can hold value under such circumstances?

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