Tuesday, 13 October 2009

More Nobel Kool-Aid

The awarding of the The Nobel Prize For Economics to two researchers in the United States, Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson, for work on "economic governance" is reported in the China Post (reprinting an AP piece by Karl Ritter and Matt Moore) in light of the relevance their research has for the current economic crisis:
Issues of governance have been at the heart of the ongoing world economic crisis. The failure by boards of directors, for instance, to police excessive compensation, or prevent bonuses that reward excessive risk taking, can be considered a corporate governance issue.

There are two things that annoy me about this quote. First, the application of the modifier "excessive" to other people's judgements of appropriate levels of risk and reward betrays a misunderstanding of the origin of values. Value cannot exist independently of a person (or company of people) facing a choice between different courses of action. What level of risk and reward is to be considered "excessive" is a question exclusively for those bankers and financiers deciding how to pay their employees. Were Karl Ritter and Matt Moore to start telling me that my intake of coffee, for example, was "excessive" I'd quite rightly tell them to get stuffed (there is no category error in this comparison - don't fall into that hole).

Second, other aspects of the economic crisis, including monetary policy for example, are not even mentioned as contextual limits to the importance of Ostrom & Williamson's research. Would such corporate governance problems have arisen to such a degree had the US Federal Reserve not kept interest rates so low for the best part of the last two decades? One does wonder...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment moderation is now in place, as of April 2012. Rules:

1) Be aware that your right to say what you want is circumscribed by my right of ownership here.

2) Make your comments relevant to the post to which they are attached.

3) Be careful what you presume: always be prepared to evince your point with logic and/or facts.

4) Do not transgress Blogger's rules regarding content, i.e. do not express hatred for other people on account of their ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation or nationality.

5) Remember that only the best are prepared to concede, and only the worst are prepared to smear.