Friday, April 02, 2010

Contagion effects

One interesting topic of financial research in recent years has been the concept of "contagion". This is the effect whereby (for example) financial troubles at one bank can lead to a "domino effect", potentially bringing down the entire damn economy...

(This sort of thing is very important from an actuarial perspective - it goes back to my discussion of stochastic asset models. It's common to try to invest in a low-risk fund when a policyholder nears retirement; however, in a contagion-ridden market, there may be no such thing as a low-risk fund!)

I have three comments on this:

1) At the same time I was in Cambridge last week, they were holding a conference on this very subject. I've been reading through some of the papers, and they're rather cool - I might summarise some on this blog later.

2) There seems to be a strong link to principles of ecosystem collapse (see for example this excellent paper from PLoS CompBio). I'm surprised there's not more cross-research going on. (Or maybe there is and I just haven't found it?)

3) Some kind of contagion principle seems to apply to the use of the term "in respect of". You can measure how heavily-regulated someone's industry is just by seeing how often they employ this phrase. After some consideration, I have decided that it can almost always be replaced with the word "for". This, of course, is vastly shorter, thus saving wear and tear on keyboards.

OK, so that third point didn't really relate to the other two, but it's been bugging me for a while. As someone with a love of the English language and its intricacies, I really hate it when people try to fake linguistic sophistication by use of stock phrases and pompous legal jargon. It's like I'm a fan of automobile engineering and they're the blokes from "Pimp My Ride".

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