Friday, October 17, 2008


Most architects must have a fulfilling life. You design, you build, and you and others admire for years to come. With respect to the financial system, loud calls are being made for a new architecture. How did we get here and where do we go?

Alan Greenspan has been referred to as the "intellectual architect" of current policy and financial structure. That makes him "similar in profession" to his mentor Ayn Rand's most famous character, Howard Roark. Maybe not in the completely uncompromising, unconventional way, but no doubt Rand/Roark's influence made its way into Greenspan's laissez-faire, free market philosophy.

The other name to invoke here is Adam Smith. Greenspan is again a long-time admirer of the 18th century economist/philosopher. Trust the invisible hand, and society will maximize its potential.

A key distinction must be made, however, between free market commerce and free market finance. When Greenspan was mastering his craft, pouring over thousands and thousands of pieces of data, figuring out mathematical relationships and dissecting economic indicators, he was engrossed in the real economy. When he became Fed Chairman though, he inherited power and persuasion over financial markets. Quotes from the late 90's show that he was clearly in favor of extending the invisible hand throughout the financial system and limiting the reach of regulation.

By now it is clear that the financial architecture is going to undergo change. Speculation and leverage have different systemic implications in the financial markets than they do in commerce, and steps are being taken to prevent the current crisis from reoccurring once we have all conveniently forgotten the missteps of the recent past. I sincerely hope though that the current architects keep the spirit of Greenspan's philosophy alive, albeit with a humble acknowledgment that trust and transparency are key characteristics of a sustainable financial system.

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