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

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CHAPTER 1

INTRODUCTION: THE PARADOX OF MARKET RISK

While it is not strictly true that I caused the two great financial crises of the late twentieth century—the 1987 stock market crash and the Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) hedge fund debacle 11 years later—let’s just say I was in the vicinity. If Wall Street is the economy’s powerhouse, I was definitely one of the guys fiddling with the controls. My actions seemed insignificant at the time, and certainly the consequences were unintended. You don’t deliberately obliterate hundreds of billions of dollars of investor money. And that is at the heart of this book—it is going to happen again. The financial markets that we have constructed are now so complex, and the speed of transactions so fast, that apparently isolated actions and even minor events can have catastrophic consequences.

My path to these disasters was more or less happenstance. Shortly after I completed my doctorate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and quietly nestled into the academic world, my area of interest—option theory—became the center of a Wall Street revolution. The Street became enamored of quants, people who can build financial products and trading models by combining brainiac-level mathematics with massive computing power. In 1984 I was persuaded to join what would turn out to be an unending stream of academics who headed to New York City to quench the thirst for quantitative talent. On Wall Street, too, my initial focus was research, ...

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