Friday, January 29, 2010

Success and Excess - II

Somehow success and excess always seem to go hand in hand. A while ago when the China - Arunachal Pradesh conflict was at its peak, the visa issue, the rock painting fiasco and so on, elicited 'Power, Politics, Success and Excess'. A talk about ethics and transgressions and how you always have a choice came out in 'How much is too much'. And today, again, on the topic of where to draw a line, here are some thoughts.

One of my professors mentioned a very interesting trend in hedge funds . He said, "Some firms are engineered to blow up." He spoke of LTCM and Bear Stearns' 2 funds that were forced to fold. LTCM failed in a macro sense because of a black swan that no one expected. No one dreamt that Russia, America's cold war nemesis and erstwhile feared superpower would default! But one can always argue against such exigencies and ask why risk management practices weren't more robust to prevent even the rarest of rare events from causing damage. Then when we speak of Bear Stearns that broke because of massive exposure to subprime lending and the subsequent drying up of credit markets, one asks again, isn't it a manifestation of excesses? Why didn't people stem the exposure long before the situation went beyond salvage? Take GM. Why do entities need to blow up to 'bailout size' and then justify bailouts saying that they are too big to fail?

Take hedge funds again. We came to know that John Merriweather of LTCM, recently floated his third or fourth fund after busting subsequent funds! Who would have lent him money, you ask? Well, every fund makes some money for some (to the tune of several millions) and loses money for some others. Those who make money, do so thanks to discerningly or luckily removing their money from the fund at the right time and they will lend to these fund managers in their new escapedes, despite the previous fund's having folded! They get the guts to lend again, thanks to the confidence built by having several million dollars of disposable income! The poor, loyal, unsuspecting bunch end up on the left tail of the bell curve, and these are the scapegoats who bear the brunt of irrational exuberance displayed in excesses by successful managers, or they are unfortunate souls who think that their pot of gold just needs an ounce more ! And these people, well, many-a-time, aren't able to reach even 50% of their starting baseline level of affluence! And the story goes on and on.

So more often than not, success leads to excess and this excess can catapult some to untouched heights, while thrusting some others into the chasms of lonely failures. So is regulation the key? Now apparently there are thoughts of regulating some hedge funds by a central authority. Being a strong proponent of efficient markets and classical economic theory, all I can say is - entities that have thrived through self regulation are better off being left alone. Humans never interfere in the laws of the jungle, but somehow, a justice system exists and functions (more efficiently) in the wilderness. So we are better off observing the beauty of self-regulation, Darwinian theory of selection, machinations of the wheels of fortune and the extremes of successes and excesses playing out in front of our eyes, rather than pillage the same with concrete barriers that can destroy this beauty.
Such are the ways of the world. Every black has a white, every God has a satan, every right has a wrong and every winner has a loser.

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