Thursday, March 20, 2008

How Wall St lost its Marbles

I've had a hard time trying to describe the current credit crisis to friends and family. They sense my panic, but they just don't get. Heck, I don't get it half the time!

But Steve Waldman at Interfluidity has written a primer for kindergarteners. Here's how it starts:

Alice, Bob, and Sue have ten marbles between them. Whenever one kid wants another kid to take over a chore, she promises a marble in exchange. Alice doesn't like setting the table, so she promises Bob a marble if he will do it for her. Bob hates mowing the lawn, but Sue will do it for a marble. Sue doesn't like broccoli, but if she says pretty please and promises a marble, Bob will eat it off her plate when Mom isn't looking.

One day, the kids get together to brag about all the marbles they soon will have. It turns out that, between them, they are promised 40 marbles! Now that is pretty exciting. They've each promised to give away some marbles too, but they don't think about that, they can keep their promises later, after they've had time to play with what's coming. For now, each is eager to hold all the marbles they've been promised in their own hands, and to show off their collections to friends.

But then Alice, who is smart and foolish all at the same time, points out a curious fact. There are only 10 marbles! Sue says, "That cannot be. I have earned 20 marbles, and I have only promised to give away three! There must be 17 just for me."

But there are still only 10 marbles...

This is where it gets interesting. As they say, read the whole thing.

Needless to say, writers as creative as Waldman are few and far between. I'll be checking Interfluidity daily from here on out.

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