08 October, 2008

Financial weapons of mass destruction

So here's the thing.

This is just a quick post, just to make a recommendation.

As you'll all be aware, the financial world is all collapsing rather quickly. But the issues are rather complex and technical and who really understands what exactly is going on. So I think many people may just be going around knowing things are bad, but not quite knowing why. If you have wanted to understand exactly what was going on, I can think of no better place to go than a couple of episodes of This American Life.

Now, I've written previously about my enjoyment of the This American Life radio show - a really brilliant show that I do encourage you to listen to. A few months ago, they ran an episode called "The Giant Pool of Money" (which you can still listen to through streaming audio). That episode explained how the sub-prime mortgage crisis occurred - not just how the crisis itself occurred (if you lend money to people that can't afford to repay the loan, of course you're going to have trouble), but how the sub-prime mortgage market started in the first place, and why no-one said anything about how dumb it was to lend $500,000 without requiring proof of income or assets. It's an excellent episode, that explains everything really well - you don't need an economics degree to understand it - and it describes how it all happened by telling the stories of individuals involved, from the mortgage-broker buying $1000 bottles of champagne with Tara Reid, to the guy about to lose his house. So it's interesting to listen to - it's not some overly technical dry academic economic discussion, it presents real people discussing what they did.

Anyway, they've just dedicated another episode to examining the financial crisis, this time looking at what actually happened in the last couple of weeks, and just why it is that the bailout is needed. That episode, called "Another Frightening Show About the Economy", is available to download for the rest of this week, and afterwards will be available for streaming audio. As with the earlier episode, it's very accessible, very interesting and enjoyable (if a little scary) to listen to.

SO I just wanted to alert people to the episodes. If you're befuddled by what you see on the news, take a couple of hours, listen to these shows, and you'll feel better equipped to grasp the situation.

And then you'll really worry.


eT said...

Surprising how little is being made of the US national public debt during the presidential election campaign. No-one's allowed to mention it, I guess, for fear of being labelled a tax-hiker or program(me) cutter.

Still, what's $10 trillion between friends?


Matthew L said...

I see they ran out of digits on the debt clock, and had to shove the dollar sign across in order to fit the first 1 onto the board.

eT said...

Good point - GMTA in fact, as I'd already blogged about that story on the VFE. (VFB is more accurate, but VFE has the ring of tradition)

Matthew L said...

So you had. I haven't checked the VFE in a couple of days, so I hadn't seen your post, but The Daily Show had a news report about the debt clock as their "moment of zen" a couple of nights ago.

(And you're right. VFB is just wrong.)