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Saturday, March 08, 2008

The bigger they are, the harder they fall

Michael Panzner refers us to a Financial Times article on the (overdue) dwindling confidence among our youngster trading community. The piece includes this paragraph:

Unlike past housing crises, the banking sector is far less well equipped to cope with the fallout because of the wave of banking consolidation in the last decade. [...] This means the pain has become concentrated among a small handful of institutions, all of whom play a crucial role in keeping all markets liquid.

I recently quoted this Contrary Investor article, which includes a graph of the ballooning exposure of American banks to credit default swaps (CDS), under which arrangement everybody insures everybody else. The risk is 99%+ concentrated into only SIX banks.

Who benefits from such concentrations? I commented on Panzner's site:

Concentration of finance into an ever-smaller number of giant banks is inherently dangerous. You reduce the risks of small hazards, but you increase the potential damage from a Black Swan / fat tail event. Systemic safety is in diversity, dispersion and disconnection.

There is increasingly a conflict of interest between those who benefit from concentrations of power and wealth (think of the bonuses and cushy jobs), and the general populace. Wasn't the US Constitution itself specifically designed to prevent such concentrations?

In my view, the sub-prime contagion is not only spreading to other sectors of the economy, but beginning to call into question how big government, high finance and monstrous companies impact on the fundamental values of our (systematic and real in the USA, ramshackle and sham here in the UK) democracies.

It seems to me that small-scale democracy-cum-economy is not only an historical reaction to the centralist authoritarianism of George III (who meant well, I am sure), but a kind of imitation of Nature, which has endured the most massive disruptions (a planet encased in ice, or burning from a massive meteor strike) because of my alliterative trio of survival traits: diversity, dispersion and disconnection.

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