Dominoes and popcorn

September 9, 2013

We’ll be arguing about Lehman 50 years from now, just as we’re arguing, even now, about what we should have done during the Depression in the 1930s. Should we have saved Lehman, or let it fail? The argument for saving: Look what happened. The argument against: Maybe it would have been worse. Outside of Dr Who, we’ll never know. 

Here’s one contribution, ostensibly to terminology, but I think it frames the issue pretty clearly. Andrew Ross Sorkin quotes economist Ed Lazear saying:

The model was not dominoes; it was popcorn. When you make popcorn, you heat it up in a pan and, as the kernels get hot, they pop. Taking the first kernel to pop out of the pan doesn’t do anything. The other kernels are still getting hot, the heat is on, and they’re going to pop no matter what.

Could be right, could be wrong, but it’s a great metaphor.

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