Gotham Diary:
Here will we sit…
25 October 2011

I could say that Kathleen beguiled me into staying up late, listening to a new Schubert CD and an old favorite by Vaughan Williams, but I didn’t actually go to bed at any very late hour. Rather, I didn’t want to get up this morning. I was more comfortable in bed than I knew I’d be when I got up, and had to begin the day, as I always begin the day now, with the selection of a photograph for this entry. I had chosen a picture last night, but it was a case of making do, and I wasn’t happy with it. So I stayed in bed until all hours (after nine!), and when I got up the first thing I did was mount the camera on the tripod and look for a subject.

The crotona plants in the living room took me by surprise. I was interested in a tree behind a building on First Avenue; it is the only tree whose leaves have turned color so far. But the morning light was all wrong; I’ll have to wait until this afternoon, and even then it may be too sunny. I cast my gaze around the balcony, but nothing tempted me, and I kept turning, and voilà, there, right at my side, was this profusion of shiny, variegated leaves, begging to have their picture taken.

That was hours ago. My apologies.


 The Epicurean Dealmaker has written a great piece about the Volcker Rule mess. It prompted me to resume my serious thinking on regulation and how to go about it. Our standard model regulatory agency, with its commissions, staffs, rule-making procedures, enforcment provisions and fees is about as up-to-date as the rotary-dial telephone. The model itself is arteriosclerotic; decades of usage and abusage have fermented a Washington culture of bureaucrats that make the Middle Kingdom’s mandarins look like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. We need a new game.

While Kathleen got dressed, I sketched a few ideas. One of the Epicurean Dealmaker’s points for further discussion is the possibility that our systems are too complex to be managed. One way to simplify systems without abandoning the benefits of complexity is to break things up into smaller, self-supporting units. For example, regulatory commissioners could be drawn from a college of professional regulators without portfolio. They would be tasked to address a current problem: are markets fair? Is corporate governance suitably transparent? Has an industry or economic sector succumbed to monopolistic practices? These commissioners would appoint free-standing, independent-contracting teams of investigators, and vest them with subpoena power. The teams would consist of accountants, lawyers, economists, psychologists, environmentalists — not too many of any, but enough to get to the bottom of things and to produce an enlightening report. The commissioners would then empanel hearings, appointing a senator, a congressman, their and state- and local-level  correlatives, and any other appropriate judges. This panel would issue a legislative mandate, calling for the implementation of specific amendments to existing laws. It would also, where appropriate, hand over its findings to district attorneys.

As I spoke, it seemed that these ideas were coming to me out of the blue, but in writing them down I see that, with the exception of the last part — the bit about the panels and the hearings and the mandates — what I’ve described is the modern complex surgery, much like the operation performed on my neck in 2007 at the Hospital for Special Surgery. I remember being wheeled into a room that looked more like Steve Jobs’s sometime garage than an “operating room,” and it was full of people. Two of them, I understood, were neurological consultants who never touched me but constantly monitored my responsiveness. I don’t know about the rest, aside from the head surgeon and the anaethesiologist. It was a complex, one-shot attempt to solve a serious problem, and I have to say that the team did a great job.

The regulator in the case was my internist, who didn’t even look at the X-rays. He knew whom to call, though.