Saturday, 28 April 2012

Placing the Blame for the Financial Crash

At last the BBC has found the real cause of the Crash, and the resultant travails in the world economy. It wasn't the bankers, and it wasn't the politicians. It was in fact the mathematicians.

I've always suspected the mathematicians. While the Chemists were slaving in the Dantean conditions of the Dyson-Perrins lab, and the future Prime Ministers were playing tennis or trashing restaurants, the mathematicians would simply not bother getting up till tea-time, slop around in cable-knit sweaters, then get drunk and set fire to themselves on electric bar-fires. They were clearly unable to accept responsibility, and would sit around until the early hours plotting, as it turned out, revolution.

We shouldn't underestimate the power of mathematicians. Jealous of the ability of Physicists to attract the oppostie sex; without the ambitious intensity of a PPE student; not being in a subject that had the potential for explosive catastrophe like Chemistry, or smirking at the fate of the Younger Despenser - what wry amusements did mathematicians enjoy?

Well, it turns out that all along they were planning the downfall of the economic system. As time went by, the complexity of trading systems were such that computers were used, rather than the gut-feel trading that we see in documentaries such as "Trading Places".  The basic foodstuffs on which the whole world depends were made dependent upon futures options, derivatives, options on derivatives - the real world where farmers grow wheat, which people buy and make bread from, was submerged under increasing depths of ever more complex financial models. Yet the computers that crunched the numbers that underpinned the models had the ability to decide who had grain and who had not; who lived and who starved.

And everyone was forced, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead,  so that no one could buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or his number.

Oh... sorry, I seem to have gone all apocalyptic there. Now, I'm not saying that mathematicians were in the power of the Dark One. But it does seem to me that somehow, like a thousand geeky Sorceror's Apprentices, the mathematicians set upon the world something which the capitalists thought that they could use, but which they couldn't control. If computers are able to manage who owns the food supply, they are literally able to decide - in their blind, uncomprehending way - who lives and who dies.

It is an irony perhaps that a world that started through a Word could be brought to ruin by a Number. I don't really know what to do about it, though - unless perhaps we all get allotments?


  1. I always thought that Mathematicians were responsible for everything?

    Ever since I got past simple arithmetic in school, and had to learn about the relationship between letters and numbers and curious squiggles on a chalk board, I've been mystified by mathematics and those strange, geeky people with spiky, uncontrolled hair, Joe Ninety spectacles and wispy, beards. (Just realised that this seems bit of a self portrait:( ).

    So, I'm not at all surprised that they are responsible for the economic collapse around the world.

    Ever since I visited a Mathematician, who set himself up as a financial advisor and kept saying Eureka during our discussions about whether I should empty my piggy bank and entrust it to some strange, fly by night commodity traders, I've doubted their abilities to connect with the real world of finance. His advice to invest in The White Star Line, just didn't seem appropriate on the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic.

    I actually blame Direct Debit for the failure of the economic system. Once bill paying was made painless for businesses, although painful for the consumer, we've lost sight of our money. Our mattress banks have been denuded and cash has become a dirty word (try handling it for long, filthy hands involved).

    So, perhaps shared between mathematicians and the man who invented Direct Debit.

  2. I'm afraid I got lost in the BBC article. I think I confused the Black-Scholes formula with the Duckworth-Lewis method. Which was responsible for the economy again?

  3. The Duckworth-Scholes method is in fact that which is used in determining the scoring method on QI, an early variant of which was used to calculate videoplus numbers, for those who remember them.

    However, not enough attention has been paid to mathematical denominations. The pure mathematicians never did anyone any harm. They did some good at times of crisis (c.f. Bletchly Park) but for the most part they are inert. It's those who investigate statistics that were the progenitors of the meltdown.

    Don't blame the physics-based applied mathematicians. We're the good guys; if somewhat living in an orthogonal world.

  4. Have you been reading "The Fear Index"? I think it's by Richard Harris and anyway it explains everything and why are are all doomed. By mathematicians. It's because once you get past school everything is done in Greek. I lost interest when we had finished up the Greek alphabet and got started on the Hebrew one. That just seemed too silly to me; unfortunate as I was doing a Maths degree at the time.


Drop a thoughtful pebble in the comments bowl