Friday, 13 March 2009

Systemic Risk And The Circus

There has been a lot said about risk, systems breakdown and the rest, and it all seems very complicated. But not necessarily. Think of jugglers in a circus, several, each with three items acting independently. If one or two fail to keep it up, the others will remain in action. When they begin to interchange, however, this changes and the risk of failure rises according to the complexity. If the interchanges are relatively simple and supportive, a failure could leave most of the jugglers effectively in action, although some could be compromised.

When the interchanges become complex however, the risks rise substantially, since then each becomes dependent on the other. If a failure occurs most could be affected, although some might remain more or less functioning, and they may revert to independent action. However if the Ringmaster is not watching carefully, or loses interest, or finds other things to do, then the risks increase dramatically. The jugglers may try to speed it up, or to add extra items to spice up the action. They begin to deliberately advance the risk, putting each other under pressure, shutting their eyes, or inventing new ploys to test the others.

Then a failure becomes almost certain, and it is not a case of "if" but "when" and how bad. The risks are such that most of the jugglers will fail leaving only one or two carrying on, but in a limited fashion. Then the Ringmaster has to step in, with his assistants to sort it out, if they can. The worst thing they can do is try to juggle themselves, or to supervise the juggling in detail. The real need may be to reduce the number of jugglers, getting rid of the high risk ones, and curtail the actions of the others. What the Ringmaster must not do, is to tell a surviving active juggler who is managing, let us say Lloyd, and tell him that as well as doing his own job would he kindly pick up the the items that HBOS has strewn around the floor, and add them to his act. This will not work, and Lloyd will quickly become inactive.

In the circus, of course, when things in the Ring go badly wrong, or a disaster occurs, the standard procedure is to Send In the Clowns. They may well try juggling of course but it will be only a crude comedy turn with the items flying all around the Ring. It may or may not raise a few laughs, but it is all the Ringmaster can do while be dances round the Circus trying to persuade the audience that this is the show they paid for. So will our present bunch of clowns be able to do a bit of juggling, and will the audience stay to watch?

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