Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Don’t let banker-bashing hide the beauty and importance of finance

IN SPITE of all the ugly criticism that the financial community has been getting since the financial crisis began in 2007, there is something beautiful about finance. It can charm those who see beauty in abstraction or who are impressed by the complex systems that make our civilisation work.

When I teach introductory finance to young people here at Yale University, as I have been for 25 years, I tell the students that the sense of beauty is not to be neglected when choosing a career. One ought to live a life genuinely involved with one’s economic function, and so the aesthetics matter.

Mathematical intricacies are part of the beauty of finance. There is a natural aesthetic in systematisation and generalisation of our quantitative intuition, in the finality of proofs and their revelation of a transcendent reality.

Mathematicians also tend often to find themselves interested in finance. It is a curious historical fact that Thales of Miletus, the man often acclaimed as the world’s first real mathematician, c.624-c.547 BC, was so interested. Aristotle described him as a successful speculator in options on olive presses.

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