Financial Engineers and Financial Writers

The gap between this video of Michael Lewis talking about writing, and this article by Emanuel Derman talking about working as a financial engineer, is striking.

Here’s Lewis: “The minute I get away from the idea that mainly what I’m supposed to be doing is delivering pleasure to a reader is the minute I get in trouble. The minute I start thinking my opinion is important, that’s when I get in trouble.”

Here’s Derman: “Like it or not, most of us run on ambition and vanity. Mailer’s ‘look at me’ attitude is a large part of what drives any writer or scientist—and capitalists. We struggle to compete, to exercise our egos, to shout ‘Me Me Me’ or
‘Mine Mine Mine.’ That’s human nature.”

I think Derman’s apologia is not particularly convincing. He cites his and Paul Wilmott’s ‘Modeler’s Hippocratic Oath’:

The Modelers’ Hippocratic Oath
∼ I will remember that I didn’t make the world, and it doesn’t satisfy my equations.
∼ Though I will use models boldly to estimate value, I will not be overly impressed by mathematics.
∼ I will never sacrifice reality for elegance without explaining why I have done so.
∼ Nor will I give the people who use my model false comfort about its accuracy. Instead, I will make explicit its assumptions and oversights.
∼ I understand that my work may have enormous effects on society and the economy, many of them beyond my comprehension

You’ll note that the actual Hippocratic Oath says, among other things, that I will do no harm. By contrast, for Derman, financial engineering boils down to a combination of ‘this is interesting!’ and ‘I’m hopefully not ruining the world.’

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