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Predicting the Next Wall Street Disaster

Wouldn’t it be great if the U.S. had a heat map of the entire financial system that could alert it to vulnerabilities and approaching calamities before a global crisis struck?

While members of Congress squabble over a move in the House to erode provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a 64-year-old Wall Street veteran and MIT-trained economist named Richard Bookstaber is quietly working on an ambitious project that aims to do just that. “Most people in government don’t even know this is going on right now,” Bookstaber tells Newsweek of his work at the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research (OFR).

Using what are called “agent-based models,” Bookstaber’s project focuses on how the actions of individual agents—such as banks or traders on Wall Street—create chain reactions that cascade through a much wider ecosystem in ways that can threaten the global economy. “One of the earlier and simpler inspirations for agent-based modeling was looking at the migrating of birds,” Bookstaber says. “It’s not like they decide, ‘Hey guys, let’s make this V-shaped pattern.’ The birds are acting relative to the bird next to them. They’re in these patterns that can change in a second, and they just shift in a different direction. If you have a bird acting based on what the other birds are doing, you get this very complex, group-based behavior.”

via Predicting the Next Wall Street Disaster.

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