Bottom-up design....and subprime

I didn't really expect to be relating software to subprime "affordable housing".

But I read Mike Tsao's Angry Rant about the Mortgage Crisis and find myself inspired.

The American Dream is living in a country where you get to go to school instead of working in a factory through your childhood. It's having someone answer the phone when you dial 911. It's getting a job and keeping it in spite of the fact that your religion, race, place of birth, or last name is different from that of your boss. It's having an impartial court instead of a baseball bat to enforce legal contracts. It's starting a business without having to bribe corrupt officials.

The American Dream is not about having. It's not even about earning. It's about living in a place where earning is even possible. It's certainly not about promising to pay a mortgage of $4,000 a month when you earn $55,000 a year because the "american dream" entitles you to do so.

He's spot on, but more than that, affordable housing should be attacked by the old proverb: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

We actually see the same software.

In software?

Well, I'm a big proponent of knowing the big picture ("We want to accomplish this goal.") but attacking it through building some really great core technology ("We need to build X and Y, but Z and W we already have.")

In the subprime world, the "technology" that was needed to enable more affordable housing was really great jobs for people who haven't previously had really great jobs. The Bush administration managed to split the rich and poor even further than before--zero wage growth for anybody but the rich in the last 8 years. The investment in the "bottom-up" piece (getting people better jobs) was non-existent, and you could say, regressive.

Even if one was so bald-faced as to say that the end goal was to enrich people, it should have been done by giving them more opportunity, not by giving them more liability.

In software, things that get made this way ("just ship the prototype") tend not to even launch, because they fall apart in years of shipping late, bad performance, and tangled bugs that nobody can figure out.

In effect, projects built on shaky foundations just don't work. Investors in such projects don't get a lot of their money out. Where have I heard that recently?

The dot-com analogy is pretty amazing here, and it's been said that Wall Street had to "invent" something to continue the huge speculative returns they'd been getting in the late 90s. But technology is by its nature somewhat speculative: it works well if you try a bunch of things and only a couple succeed. Mortgages, not so much.

Probably I've taken a weak analogy too far, so I'll leave it at that.

1 comment:

  1. Fine analogy. As they say these days, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."