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Saturday, December 20, 2008

"A Solution to the Principal-Agent Problem"

How to solve the moral hazard problem involved in body swapping:

The Bible Meets Science Fiction: A Solution to the Principal-Agent Problem, Suggested by Lawrence H. Officer, JPE Back Cover, vol. 110, no. 1: “Next, you and the Martian Gentleman will both sign a Reciprocal Damage Clause. This states that any damage to your host body, whether by omission or commission, and including Acts of God, will, one, be recompensed at the rate established by interstellar convention, and, two, that such damage will be visited reciprocally upon your own body in accordance with the lex talionis.

“Huh?” Marvin said.

“Eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” Mr. Blanders explained. “It's really quite simple enough. Suppose you, in the Martian corpus, break a leg on the last day of Occupancy. You suffer the pain, to be sure, but not the subsequent inconvenience, which you avoid by returning to your own undamaged body. But this is not equitable. Why should you escape the consequences of your own accident? Why should someone else suffer those consequences for you? So, in the interests of justice, interstellar law requires that, upon reoccupying your own body, your own leg be broken in as scientific and painless a manner as possible.”

“Even if the first broken leg was an accident?”

Especially if it were an accident. We have found that the Reciprocal Damage Clause has cut down the number of such accidents quite considerably.” [Robert Sheckley, Mindswap (New York: Dell, 1966), p. 17.]

Instead of borrowing somebody's body, Wall Street borrows their money. But when they do the equivalent of breaking your leg - when they damage the deposits they are holding - they don't always suffer any consequences. In fact, many of them get to keep the large bonuses they earned for managing the money so poorly, e.g. see Krugman's latest column. A broken leg clause is a bit on the thuggish side, of course, financial penalties are more acceptable, but this does make clear the need for money managers to "feel your pain" in order to get the incentives correct.

    Posted by on Saturday, December 20, 2008 at 09:36 AM in Economics, Financial System, Market Failure | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (35)


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