No, not skinny models, mathematical models. Katrina Lamb writes:
As I see it, the problem with the financial market meltdown is not that David Li published an article in the Journal of Fixed Income Securities on the Gaussian copula function, or even that in his article Li, then an analyst with JPMorganChase, identified the price of credit default swap (CDS) contracts as a seemingly elegant proxy for the mortgage market – a proxy that greatly reduced the immense complexity of modeling values and risks in this market but, as it turned out, lost a great deal of critically important information along the way. No – the real problem was with the incremental decisions practitioners made to adopt this model wholesale, to leverage it up to 50 or more times the worth of the underlying assets, and ultimately to heedlessly employ it as a path to untold riches. In other words it was the people who used the model, not the model itself. It was the rating agencies who, in conferring the AAA ratings without which the securities would have never been as widely distributed as they were, assumed that housing prices would never go down. It was the investment bankers who successfully shouted down the warnings of their internal credit risk departments so that they could sell ever higher volumes of CDOs, with ever-higher levels of leverage, in order to maximize their year-end bonuses.
…A model did not take down Wall Street. Models do not “screw up” – they do exactly what they are supposed to do once they have their inputs. The screw-ups occur solely in our application of models to inappropriate situations or to situations which we do not fully understand. The predictions may not reflect reality outcomes as precisely as we wish, but that possibility of error needs to be accounted for by the ultimate decision makers. The output of a model should be an input in any decision process, not the entire decision process.
It never ceases to amaze me the extent to which some math coupled to software can cause people to shut their brains off. Mathematics is a language, and fluency matters. But it’s only trillions of dollars…