'tis the end for Going Private and, though those with the taste for more of my musings can find them heretofore on finem respice (it is still in beta, be gentle to it), I thought it fitting to give you all the end of The Spiral as a little parting gift. YouTube seems so, pedestrian, however, so, instead, attached below is the full, Directors Cut of "The Spiral" including the brand-new final chapter. Caution: It is not for the faint of bandwidth. The Spiral was, without a doubt, the number one generator of email commentary and I'm pleased to tie off this particular "loose end" in the last entry of Going Private. The series also generated a number of reader questions, answers to most of which I typed up some time ago in a piece I planned to post with the finale. You will find it below. Hopefully, it has been worth the wait.
Q. What inspired the connection between Hitler and the credit crunch?
A. Actually, it was less about the personage of Hitler, or Himmler and the like and more about the tone of those times. There is this latent, and eventually very blatant, desperation and despair in Oliver Hirschbiegel's original 2004 film "Der Untergang." This group of supposedly brilliant and rational people, stuck in the Führerbunker, awake for 18-20 hours a day, constantly at odds with this unbridled enthusiasm, unwavering loyalty, indeed the cult of personality that surrounded National Socialism. I think insomuch as Der Untergang is about the painful conflict between rationalism and this charisma driven mysticism, it is a perfect analogy for the credit crisis. You have this unwavering belief that modern portfolio theory and Gaussian distributions, are realistic models of the world all the time. That asset prices can only go up. Forever. And there is this huge confirmation bias built into the system. I mean, when you have people repeatedly ignoring five, six and seven sigma events, instead frantically pointing to a model based on efficient markets theory, what's the difference between that and the National Socialist wonk who insists, "Aber, das ist ein Führerbefehl!" ("But that is an order from the Führer!")? Interesting, that there was actually a word in German for an order from the Führer. Today we might call it a "normal distribution."
But it was always the people, not the models that were at fault. I listened to these CDO managers just insisting that their structure couldn't possibly fail, all evidence to the contrary, and I couldn't help but think of Hitler's absolute conviction that Army Group Steiner, SS Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner's almost entirely fictional force, would attack the encircling Russians and "make military history." That, on top of the fanatical, myopic loyalty of his senior officers. You get these situations where the likes of Generalfeldmarschall von Rundstedt, tasked with telling Hitler the Eastern Front was about to fold for want of gasoline, comes out of that meeting eight and a half minutes later convinced that they will win a decisive victory. If that's not a rather direct parallel to some of these senior managers in finance over the last 18 months, I don't know what is.
Q. Don't you feel some twinge of remorse at casting Dick Fuld as Hitler?
A. Well, two things. First, "the firm" in the clips is not necessarily Lehman, or Bear Stearns, or any other bank in particular, though I do poke fun at some of the institutions that loom large in finance, Harvard, Goldman, The Treasury, Cain. Second, I think it is easy to see the image of a banker you are looking for in the characters because, for good or for ill, they all act like bankers to some extent. Really, the characters fit alarmingly well. I think that's why it works.
Q. I take it you've gotten a lot of reader mail since posting the series?
A. People seem to overestimate the amount of mail I get quite a lot. What I have noticed is that there is this class of financial Schadenfreunde who not only are eager to delight in the woes of others, but who are inclined to exaggerate (or even create) the Schaden themselves. I have gotten a couple of emails from people enthusiastically convinced that I am a left-leaning anti-capitalist because all they have seen of my blog is the videos, and they write in the erronious belief that they have found a kindred spirit. Of course, it is quite a shock to them when I refuse to agree with them that were are in, for instance, the down-cycle of the latest 50 year Kondratieff-wave, or that Kondratieff-waves or any other 20-50 year cycle indicator is worth the paper it's printed on. The reaction can be quite violent. An email exchange that started off with "love the blog, genius stuff, hey, what do you think of K-waves" turns quickly into "you fucking poser snob" when I won't join the "it's all coming down on our heads because of the reverse rainbow formation in my chart" crowd. Ironically, these are people who are replacing one dogma, modern portfolio theory, with another less academically grounded worldview- macro-technical analysis. Ugh.
Q. Where did you get the idea to subtitle "Der Untergang?"
A. Of course, I wasn't the first person to re-subtitle "Der Untergang." Not by a long shot. So it leaves something to be desired as an "original work." Lots of readers seem to enjoy pointing this out. What can I say? I stand on the shoulders of giants.
Q. So you don't think the sky is falling? Isn't "The Spiral" about how bankers blew it for the rest of us?
A. I think capitalism eventually punishes the consistently reckless. I think capitalism eventually punishes those possessed of fatal doses of hubris. With respect to both of these, I include central planners dedicated to e.g., the "American Dream of Home Ownership"- and these are far more sinister as they ply their myopia from the moral high ground. At least capitalists don't try to tell you the urine on your head is rain. All of these fantasies, from Gaussian distributions to price controls and "fairness," are excuses to be consistently reckless. Any time you hear someone telling you "this time it's different" run, do not walk, away- and head straight for your broker to buy deep out-of-the-money puts. Western equity investors have been spoiled beyond recognition. I mean, if you really just want prices to go up all the time (except on certain commodities, because that would be bad), and you want to beat the stuffing out of short-sellers, why not just institute price controls on everything? Either admit that you want a system based on bullshit that always does what you want (or what the ruling class wants), or a system based on free markets. You don't get to have both free markets and endlessly appreciating asset prices. You are not entitled to an eight percent return every year. You should not be able to sue someone when you don't get it or get bailed out when you blow your fortune on opaque securities that not even a forensic accountant understands.
The Spiral isn't about bankers destroying wealth. The Spiral is about the consequences of buying into the fantasy that you can have "soft capitalism." Or "capitalism lite." You can't. It will bite you and everyone else on the ass if you try- no matter if you are a banker, a mortgage broker, a regulator or a legislator.
It has been a great pleasure writing Going Private these three years, mostly because of the many readers I have communicated with. Thank you for that. Enjoy the Director's Cut before Typepad decides that I am using too much bandwidth, and I will see you, I hope, on the new blog.
Download The Spiral (The Director's Cut) [00:35:20 - 178.9 MB .mov file]
Some administrative notes:
Sometime in the next few days the equityprivate -commercial at- hushmail address will be set "whitelist only" to stave off spam. If we've talked there before, it will probably still work for you. Be this as it may, you should use the new email address listed on the new blog to contact me. I will be phasing out hushmail slowly.
I will leave Going Private up as a reference as long as it seems prudent to do so. Eventually, the entire site will be shifted to an archive on the <em>finem respice</em> domain. That day, however, is months (years?) away.
The removal of a link to the Director's Cut of The Spiral is probably a much closer event. Act now, supplies are limited.
Finally- Some interesting statistics: After three years and almost twenty days, Going Private houses 445 posts, 9 comments and 89 "trackbacks." As of this writing the blog has had just over 2.5 million page hits and, near as I can tell, around 1,500 direct links point here. I have no idea where this ranks among blogs, except that it probably isn't very high given Going Private's particular niche.
Acta est fabula, plaudite!