A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial Innovation by Richard Bookstaber Download (read online) free eBook .pdf.epub.kindle

A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial Innovation

Inside markets, innovation, and risk Why do markets keep crashing and why are financial crises greater than ever before? As the risk manager to some of the leading firms on Wall Street-from Morgan Stanley to Salomon and Citigroup-and a member of some of the world’s largest hedge funds, from Moore Capital to Ziff Brothers and FrontPoint Partners, Rick Bookstaber has seen th

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    Ross T

    Jul 25, 2012

    rated it
    really liked it

    Marvellous read. Bookstaber gives the reader an interesting and unorthodox theory of why financial crises occur, as well as an in-depth account of some of the scandals and failures that have been associated with financial innovation in the past few decades.

    The most valuable chapter of the book is on the nature of accidents and their origins in complexity. The enabling cause of crises may be exogenous, such as through new information, but the fundamental cause is endogenous within the structure o

    The most valuable chapter of the book is on the nature of accidents and their origins in complexity. The enabling cause of crises may be exogenous, such as through new information, but the fundamental cause is endogenous within the structure of markets themselves. Markets are vulnerable to crises because they consist of many interlinking parts which change quickly and uncontrollably. In such systems, small changes can lead to large effects.

    In finance, the product of a complex and coupled market is liquidity. Liquidity has many benefits, not least facilitating the allocation of capital across the financial sector. However, liquidity also enables higher leverage and can therefore increase the vulnerability of the financial sector. For a highly levered firm doesn’t require a large (exogenous) push to knock it over. A trivial exogenous shock could lead to the collapse of a highly levered firm, through a heightened demand for liquidity and a downward spiral of mark-to-market losses. In the context of the recent financial crisis, subprime was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The exogenous causes are not a sufficient source of explanation; there was an endogenous vulnerability in the financial sector.

    The downside of the book is that there are not many prescribed solutions other than applying the brakes on financial innovation every now and then and reducing leverage. Perhaps these broad guidelines follow from believing in a chaotic view of markets which makes targeted regulation ineffective (and counterproductive). Nevertheless, it doesn’t make for a very satisfying conclusion.

    But I am strongly persuaded to believe that Bookstaber’s view of markets is right. And even if it isn’t, then the book is worth reading for the fascinating insights on the structure of financial markets which you be unlikely to find in popular economics books.
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    Steve

    Here is where the inadequacies of the rating system comes into play. In terms of writing, I would give this book 2.5 stars. While the prose itself is acceptable (not great, but workmanlike), the book has serious problems with its structure. It is definitely NOT a book for a novice in this field. John Cassidy’s HOW MARKETS FAIL or Michael Lewis’ THE BIG SHORT (the latter I have *not* read) would be much better choices. Other choices would include Sorkin’s TOO BIG TO FAIL (in my queue but not read

    The problem is four fold.

    First, the book is not written for the layman. I was able to absorb it fairly quickly because I already have extensive knowledge of the topic. A novice would find him or herself buried under a lot of jargon and all too briefly explained financial history.

    Second, the book really needs a stronger narrative core at its center. It tends to drift from topic to topic and it doubles back on it self chronologically several times. This would NOT be an issue had the book possessed a clear central thesis. But practically speaking, it is the reader who is left creating a theme for the work. This is simply poor writing.

    Third, the writer is shackled by his roots as a financial professional. I am not sure whether he is trying to sugar-coat his conclusions such that they are accepted by ‘fiscal conservatives’ and his fellow Wall Streeters or if he himself is caught in an ambivalent situation mentally and philosophically between admiration for the ingenuity of the finance industry and horror at its wastefulness.

    Fourth, I am very annoyed when he introduced the idea of Normal Accidents later in the book and did not attribute this concept to its originator, the sociologist Charles Perrow in the MAIN text. He relegates this information to the end notes. At best, this is an overzealous attempt to keep the theory non technical, at worst, this may be an attempt for Bookstaber to ‘toot his own horn’. It would have detracted very little from the book to properly attribute this theory to the man who put it on the map. I also think that Bookstaber borrowed ideas from James Chiles’ INVITING DISASTER but did NOT attribute this in the endnotes. I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse Bookstaber of plagarism, but certainly he is sliding down that slippery slope.

    So, given those critiques, why did I assign the book four stars? Simple, there is actually a lot of good material here for any person interested in the topic of financial crises and who is relatively proficient with the field. Bookstaber actually has a number of interesting notions, particularly about the nature of liquidity in financial markets that are VERY important. The book is worth reading precisely because Bookstaber was trained to be an economist but ended up working in the finance industry. He thus possesses practical knowledge of how financial markets ACTUALLY WORK. That is, they work NOT AT ALL as economic theory predicts.

    For an expert or at least a non-novice in this area, I highly recommend this book as a source of useful ideas and information. It will, however, take a careful reader to mine this information from the flawed structure of the book.

    I fully admit that I am a very hard case about the structure and editing of books. I went through such treatment for years in graduate school and I am happy to ‘pay it forward’. But in truth, structure and good writing DO matter. After all, our lifespans are limited and we shouldn’t work harder than we have to when we choose to read non-fiction. But that is just my opinion.


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    Jeffrey

    Jan 18, 2009

    rated it
    really liked it

    This is not an easy book to understand if you are not a trader or involved with financial engineering on an everyday basis. Upon first read however, I sensed that Bookstaber’s overall argument is spot-on for the historic financial crisis of 2008. For example, he explained how a liquidity crisis could be precipitated, ironically, by a demand for liquidity itself.

    Once we move away from many of the technical nomenclatures in Bookstaber’s book, the underlying backbone of this book argues that the fi

    Once we move away from many of the technical nomenclatures in Bookstaber’s book, the underlying backbone of this book argues that the financial markets, derivatives, liquidity options and other tightly-coupled financial mechanism–literally and all the products of human design–are extremely risky because they are too complex and their interdependent dynamic interactions are beyond what we can ordinarily perceive and react to.

    To make this argument, Bookstaber must have relied on Chuck Perrow’s seminal “Normal Accidents” (1984) and Dietrich Dorner’s “The Logic of Failure” (1989; Deutsch), neither of which he explicitly gave credit to. While Perrow argued that complex technologies inevitably fail, Dorner argued that human cognition tends to short-change our decision making process especially when faced with non-linear interactions.

    In short, this is a valuable book with great insights (even though I do not understand much of it) despite Bookstaber’s implicit denial that he must have stood on the shoulders of Giants to construct his thesis. Particularly relevant for the Financial Crisis, this book at least does a better job in explaining the demise of LTCM technically than N.Taleb’s terrible “went bust” in the ‘Black Swan’.
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