At 78 pages of scholarly, somewhat jargon-laden prose, Trade-Off: Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion by David Korowicz is not quick reading, nor is it light reading, but it is important reading. It puts a lot of definition to the concept of cascaded failure, in which financial collapse inexorably leads to political and economic collapse with no possibilities for arresting this process or even altering its course. This may seem like a terribly pessimistic message, and, indeed, it is hard to imagine that it would provoke a cheerful reaction in any sane person. But for those who feel that it is important to understand what is unfolding, Korowicz offers a large dose of realism. Still, a fair warning is called for: “Abandon all optimism all ye who enter here!”
Most of us face a number of mental roadblocks when we think about such matters. First, our experience is one of gradualism: an action produces an equal and opposite reaction; after a disturbance, equilibrium is eventually restored; human institutions have permanence and evolve slowly. Second, our experience is compartmentalized. If the subject is sovereign defaults, then experts in finance are there for us to consult; if it is the failure of global trade, then we turn to experts in business. Sociologists will tell us about the negative effects all of this has on society, while psychologists will talk about individual patients but cannot address the societal causes of their problems. But systemic collapse is an interdisciplinary problem that defies all attempts at compartmentalization. It promises to sweep away such highly specialized domains of knowledge by driving down social complexity. Third, there is the question of motivation: what, beyond intellectual curiosity, would compel people to invest time and effort in a detailed study of a depressing subject which has no practical application? The topic tends to attract people who have plenty of free time and a morbid imagination. Still, I feel that there is great value in being able to foresee how events will unfold: a foreseen nasty development is still much better than a nasty surprise.Read all of article » .