Friday, October 24, 2008

Computer models and the credit crisis

This is more political than normal, but it touches on tech so I'm putting it here. Basically, in the Congressional hearings, Alan Greenspan blamed computer models in large part for the mortgage and credit crisis. I'm sorry, but that's not so. The fault isn't even with the data fed to the models. The fault lies with the people in the banking industry who looked at the models and said "What do we need to feed these models to get the results we want?". They didn't just feed the models wrong data, they outright manipulated the data they were feeding the models to insure the models gave them a specific answer. That's always a recipe for disaster. They knew the models were telling them those sub-prime loans were bad bets, so they created "stated income" rules so they could feed higher incomes to the models and make the models say the loans weren't as risky. They created credit-default swap instruments that they could factor into the models to make the loans appear less risky, and then decided not to factor in the risk of those credit-default swaps also failing.

The banking industry decided what answers they wanted, then hunted around until they got models and inputs that produced the desired result. You can't do that with any sort of model. And if you do, don't blame the models and the techs for your failure to listen to what the models were telling you when that didn't agree with what you wanted to hear.

But then, we see that in IT from management all the time. The techs say "If we do X, we're going to see these problems.". Management berates the techs for being obstructive and standing in the way of doing X when the rest of the company's agreed on it. Then all the predicted problems occur, and management berates the techs again for allowing those problems to happen. PHBs in action.

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