Physics Can Fix This

One of the NCAA pools I’m in has a copy of Obama’s bracket entered, and the last I checked, I’m a couple of games up on him. This means I’m as qualified as anyone else to offer a plan to fix the financial crisis, and I have just the plan we need.

On the question of the AIG bonuses, I’m pretty much in agreement with the people who say that it’s not worth making too much fuss over less than a tenth of a percent of the total bailout funding they’re received. Passing laws to punish specific individuals is a lousy precedent, and it’s not worth corrupting our principles for such a pittance. Let the executives at AIG and the other companies have their lavish and undeserved bonuses.

Then fire them. All of them. Every trader who bought or sold a mortgage-backed security, every manager who signed off on the buying and selling of credit default swaps, every CEO of every company now in need of a federal bailout, everybody who ever shook hands with Bernie Madoff. It’s well established that they’re thoroughly reprehensible, so good riddance to bad rubbish. Do not pass go, do not collect $2.4 million, you have two hours to pack your personal belongings into a milk crate, and then security will escort you to your helicopter.

Of course, we need somebody to take over those jobs, and I’ve thought of the perfect replacements: physicists.

I’m not talking about the ex-physicists who are sometimes blamed for teh whole thing. We fired them a couple of paragraphs ago– they’re long gone. This isn’t a “reward the people who got us into this mess” scheme.

I’m talking about people who are currently underemployed as physicists– current grad students in theoretical physics, people toiling in second and third post-docs with no real prospect of a tenure-track position, adjuncts and soft-money researchers at big universities. We fire all the current financial services executives, and replace them with physicists, thus killing the maximum possible number of birds with the minimum number of stones: we get rid of all the worthless financiers, and we clear out the physics job market at the same time.

“But wait,” you say. “The current mess is a hopeless web of incredibly complicated transactions, and there’s lots of money to be lost if you don’t have experienced financial professionals to unwind things.”

This is wrong on several levels. First and foremost, the people who are pushing that line the hardest are the people who stand to benefit most from large windfall payments to the current financial industry. Which is to say, the people who have wrecked the economy by failing to understand the most basic facts of the underlying market. They have lots of experience, to be sure, but the bulk of their experience is in being wrong about everything. They lost billions to a Ponzi scheme, for God’s sake.

And, seriously, do you really think that these transactions are too complicated for physicists to figure out? We’re talking about people who have spent the last several years thinking about folding and twisting strings in eleven dimensions. Unless the transaction records are all encrypted in some private cipher, they’ll have no trouble figuring it out. And even if they are encrypted, that will only slow things down a little– given what we know about the rocket scientists on Wall Street, the cipher key is probably written on a Post-It stuck to the computer. With a magnet.

Better yet, they’ll be cheap. We’re talking about theoretical physics grad students and post-docs– most of them are currently working for less than Vikram Pandit spends on shoes. The pre-bonus salary given to a typical financial executive is more money than they can reasonably expect to make in their current line of work. It’ll be a major blow to the over-priced restaurant industry in lower Manhattan, but they’ll rebound once they learn to mark up Ramen noodles a thousand percent.

And best of all, we don’t have to worry about them getting greedy and wrecking the entire global economy in order to make some short-term gains. We’re talking about people who, to this point, have completely sacrificed their financial well-being in pursuit of higher mathematical truth. They’re used to working toward the long-term success of abstract goods.

The only question remaining is what to do with the captains of industry who have been replaced by physicists. But, hey, if we go with this plan, there will be lots of openings for people studying string theory and TA’ing Physics for Pre-Meds…

Then again, maybe that’s too cruel.