Elliptical Research Contribution 2008.6:
Greenspan’s Monstrous Love Child – A Grim Bedtime Story
Timothy D. Kailing
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived an old wizard named Greenspan. Great and mysterious
power had he; love and fear he inspired in equal measure. His name was known throughout the land.
This great Greenspan had strange habits. He would slumber in his bathtub for hours at a stretch, dreaming
of scrap metal and interest rates and other alchemical subjects. He hid behind enormous, uncomely glasses,
so that his visage might be obscured. His speech was magical too. His words were like flying insects—right
there before you, plain as day—but if you tried to truly grasp them with your mind, their substance disappeared
and you found yourself with only questions. These charmed words seldom organized themselves into rational
sentences. They were more like riddles, or nonsense, or spells. His deceptiveness should have been a clue
and a warning, but it went unheeded.
Yet Greenspan’s era seemed, for a while, a largely good and quiet time, and all was mostly peaceful. But, as
is often the case, things were deceiving. Evil was growing.
You see, it is true that during the height of his fame, Greenspan seemed almost ethereal; indeed, hardly
made of flesh. Yet it was also rumored that long ago, while young and greedy of heart and mind, he had fallen
deeply in love with a mad siren called Ayn. Those days seemed long ago, but somehow, through some terrible
magic, Greenspan produced a monstrous child out of this love—a child clearly begat of this reckless siren.
The details are sketchy. This black magic is now mostly lost. The story which is strangest, yet rings true, is
that Greenspan, while chanting incantations in the tub, somehow managed to animate a soap bubble, and then
set it loose upon the world. This monstrous child was named in full: the Derivatives Bubble. But Greenspan
fondly called him Derbub.
At first this Derbub was small and even comely. In fact, it is true that he did useful work on occasion. He
helped those in need, if they had paid tribute to him first, and helped smooth out the bumps of life, as it were.
But Greenspan did an evil thing: he so dearly loved his Derbub, the bastard child of his beloved Ayn, that he
could not help but spoil him. He fed him a liquid diet of credit and money, nourishing foodstuffs hardly known to
us today. When Derbub threw a tantrum—when he was still small enough to be controlled—Greenspan did not
guide him and teach him. Instead he reacted like a hysterical mother. He even encouraged Derbub’s tantrums
by feeding him to excess. You see, even after he became fearsome, Greenspan long viewed his monster like a
fragile and beloved child. Like the worst of parents, he bragged about Derbub’s smallest good points, and
ignored all the rest.
Derbub grew large and monstrous indeed. Trillions and trillions, by the hundreds, were needed to measure
him. In fact, he was so enormous that most people, even sophisticated people of the day, simply ignored him.
Derbub was too big to grasp with either mind or heart. Still, Greenspan coddled him and fed him his liquid diet,
and he grew yet larger.
The greedy in the world, and those who were both clever and without scruple, were drawn to Derbub’s
power. Some, they say, even worshiped him as a god. If they pleased him, and learned his ways, they too could
sup from the nourishing liquidity that fed him—he was too big to care or even to notice. This went on for a long
time, and many of the wicked grew powerful indeed, building great palaces with ice rinks even, and flying private
jets fueled by dinosaur bones, they say. Yet, though they loved Derbub, most of his worshippers had little deep
understanding of his ways, and they saw not the danger he posed. Or they ignored it.
Some of the common people were worried. “Where will all this lead?” they asked. But they were hushed or
ignored by the people in the jets and, really, their voices could hardly be heard. Derbub and his people were
confident and brash, and they were noisy in their revels. Also, Derbub was just so out of scale with a mere
woman or man that, strange to say, most people hardly noticed him. He was like a forceful ether. Everywhere
and powerful, yet hard to make sense of. No wonder some worshiped him.
Indeed, this monstrous Derbub, at his zenith, had grown so large that he spanned oceans and tied the world
together with his own body. His very appetite, his constant ravenous search for liquid food, tied the world
together as though it were his own circulatory system. Even Greenspan himself could no longer fully
comprehend Derbub’s power. Some say, before the end, Greenspan had begun to worry himself—despite his
bewitchment by Ayn—about what might come of their horrific love child.
Still, a few of those mighty enough to be heard above the tumultuous revels did sound warnings. Especially,
there was one named Buffett, who was a wise man and rich as Croesus—though still a flea in comparison to
Derbub and his minions. This Buffett declared Derbub a weapon of financial destruction, and sounded the
alarm. But very few heard. Certainly not Derbub’s worshipers, who by now were a multitude and powerful. And
really, by this point, Derbub was so huge: could anyone have stopped him? They did not, at any rate. They did not.
So the problem should have been foreseen, but it was not. It is obvious now that this Derivatives Bubble, this
Derbub, was not the efficient and rational god that both his father, Greenspan, and his worshipers believed him
to be. Instead he was still a spoiled child, and his heart, such as he had, was full of deceit. Indeed, he was
capricious and he loved games—especially cruel ones. Buffett had warned of this, but he was ignored. A little
known science called game theory knew much of Derbub’s cruel and inefficient ways, but it was widely denied, if
acknowledged at all. Soon there was neither rule nor regulation powerful enough to curb the caprices of this
monstrous child. Both Greenspan and his worshippers still publicly maintained that Derbub was good through
and through, and needed no hand to guide him. Though in secret, I think, they too must have quailed at his
enormity. Trillions and trillions by the hundreds he loomed, until he eclipsed all the mighty of the world. And still
he was ravenous.
The story of the end is curious and strange. At his peak, Derbub had few playmates who could join in his
games. His hunger was too dangerous. But there were two named Fannie and Freddie who, while hardly
equals, continued to play games with him. But before he played Derbub always demanded payment of a tribute
of liquid nourishment. (You see, Derbub’s very existence depended on continual growth, so he himself was
trapped, in a way, although I can find no sympathy for him in me.) Only if they fed him, would Derbub consent to
play. But one day, Fannie and Freddie had caught a little flu themselves, and were out of liquidity to feed him.
They, too, were addicted to liquid food by this time, and they needed it to survive their illness.
When they denied him, the massive Derbub was displeased. He was angry. He was terrible. In truth, he was
desperate. Now, if Derbub had given his playmates a month, or a week, or even a day, perhaps the horrible end
would have been postponed, inevitable though it was. But it was Fannie and Freddie’s insult that provoked the
Derbub’s response was terrifying to behold. He was angered beyond reason. He punished Fannie and he
punished Freddie, too. Derbub himself was panicking. Though indeed powerful, he was more fragile than he
appeared. He was gorging on almost the whole world now, and yet hungrier every day. He had grown too big. He
knew it could not last. He was in fear for his life.
So Derbub desperately tried to survive. By this time he was drawing liquid nourishment through pipes
leading from every continent, every nation, even from pipes leading to dark precious liquid underground. When
first he raged, the mighty, worshipers or not, actually tried to feed him more and placate him. But they did not
have enough. He was wounded now, and cornered. In his fear and his hunger, Derbub devoured anything
connected to him. And still he needed more. He ate stocks and bonds and houses and jobs. He ate years of
work and hopes and dreams. Still he was hungry. Pity those who stood in his path. It must be true that even his
worshippers had begun to fear him, for their reactions were quick. Some, against all their theories and
pronouncements, tried, too late, to rule Derbub and curb him. But in vain, for without Derbub, they were nothing.
He was the very source of their power. For the most part they simply ran and panicked themselves, which made
the destruction all the worse. Indeed they were actually a part of Derbub’s body now, and feared perishing with
him. His worshipers’ indulgences, which they had formerly swapped by the trillions—believing them to be like
gold, the fools—were now worthless as Derbub raged. They saw his favors would never be redeemed. He
became a slow motion maelstrom. So his priests sold everything else they had—even things of real value—in a
vain attempt to salvage what they could. This just added to the storm.
In his death throes, Derbub began to rend himself into pieces, tearing off parts of his own body and
devouring them, trying to survive. Anything connected to him—which was nearly everything—was ripped and torn,
too. He ate them all, and he ate himself, but still he was not sated. For those who could reason at all, the only
question was whether anything would be left when Derbub was finished and finally dead.
The common people of the land were caught in the terrible destruction. It is true that some of these folk had
fed Derbub unknowingly, but they were little to blame otherwise, and did not deserve his wrath. It is also true that
some commoners did panic during the destruction (some of the wicked even tried to pin the blame on them!),
but they were not the cause. It was Derbub himself, and his worshipers who were part of him, who were the
cause. Perhaps if Buffett had been listened to. Perhaps if the game theorists had been heard. But they were not.
Something would survive, surely. But at the height of the maelstrom even the wisest knew not what. Though it is
true that this Derivatives Bubble was, at core, a fraud and a figment—which is why it needed to grow to survive—
still the destruction was quite real. Such times had never been seen before, not in living memory anyway.
During this dark time, reason had little value. The best one could do was to write fables, in the desire that,
perhaps, the next generation would be wiser. So, for a time that seemed like eternity, everyone lived in fear, and
waited for the storm to pass. People huddled in their houses, they cared for their children, and they hoped, as
best as they could, that, when the destruction was finally over, there would still be a world to bequeath to them.
Copyright © 2008 Timothy D. Kailing