People have a bad impression of finance, and that’s mostly worrying because its often justified, says Harvard Business School professor Mihir Desai. The sector is in dire need of rehabilitation, and there are several ways it can be done. The first is to realize that turning money into more money is a shortsighted investment. To play the long game, the system needs to focus on and reward value creation, which drives innovation and the economy. The second is to demystify finance (which is what Desai’s new book The Wisdom of Finance is all about).
Desai explains that finance got into its current state because it's more complicated than it needs to be, which makes it harder to control, given the general lack of understanding among the public. To remedy that, Desai taps into the brain's own strengths: humans process stories much better than they process logic, so narratives from history, literature and philosophy can be used to teach and demystify finance. As an example, the The Parable of the Talents from the Bible teaches value creation as well as a finance textbook can. The philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce can teach risk management and insurance. Mel Brooks can teach fiduciary responsibility. Finance has become demonized, but it's not a system that we can live without. It's becoming more pressing than ever to make reforms that increase value in society, rather than wealth. Mihir Desai's most recent book is The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return.
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The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return
"A fascinating new perspective on modern finance," --Oliver Hart, 2016 Nobel Laureate in Economics
"Lucid, witty and delightfully erudite...From the French revolution to film noir, from the history of probability to Jane Austen and The Simpsons, this is an astonishing intellectual feast." --Sebastian Mallaby, author of The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan
In 1688, essayist Josef de la Vega described finance as both “the fairest and most deceitful business . . . the noblest and the most infamous in the world, the finest and most vulgar on earth.”
The characterization of finance as deceitful, infamous, and vulgar still rings true today – particularly in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. But, what happened to the fairest, noblest, and finest profession that de la Vega saw?
De la Vega hit on an essential truth that has been forgotten: finance can be just as principled, life-affirming, and worthy as it can be fraught with questionable practices. Today, finance is shrouded in mystery for outsiders, while many insiders are uneasy with the disrepute of their profession. How can finance become more accessible and also recover its nobility?
Harvard Business School professor Mihir Desai, in his “last lecture” to the graduating Harvard MBA class of 2015, took up the cause of restoring humanity to finance. With incisive wit and irony, his lecture drew upon a rich knowledge of literature, film, history, and philosophy to explain the inner workings of finance in a manner that has never been seen before.
This book captures Desai’s lucid exploration of the ideas of finance as seen through the unusual prism of the humanities. Through this novel, creative approach, Desai shows that outsiders can access the underlying ideas easily and insiders can reacquaint themselves with the core humanity of their profession.
The mix of finance and the humanities creates unusual pairings: Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope are guides to risk management; Jeff Koons becomes an advocate of leverage; and Mel Brooks’s The Producers teaches us about fiduciary responsibility. In Desai’s vision, the principles of finance also provide answers to critical questions in our lives. Among many surprising parallels, bankruptcy teaches us how to react to failure, the lessons of mergers apply to marriages, and the Capital Asset Pricing Model demonstrates the true value of relationships.
THE WISDOM OF FINANCE is a wholly unique book, offering a refreshing new perspective on one of the world’s most complex and misunderstood professions.