Monday, March 13, 2006

30 Seconds Flat

One of Robert DeNiro's best lines was written by director Michael Mann.
"You want to be making moves on the street? Have no attachments. Allow nothing to be in your life that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."
Kerrie and I were discussing finances one day when she explained the sunk cost principle. She said people will often ride crashing stocks all the way to the bottom on the logic that since they've already lost half their investment, they might as well see it through. These folks originally bought stock to make a profit, after all, and they can't profit if they sell for a loss; so rather than cut their loss and take what's left elsewhere, they'll cross their fingers and just keep watching the price tumble.

It reminded me of "loss aversion" — which is another financial principle, but it's also a lesson taught to every covert agent in CIA. "No asset is more valuable than your cover. You can always walk away." An agent who has spent months courting an asset becomes fixated on getting results, and although he may suspect his cover is being compromised he'll be tempted to push a little farther to get that payoff.

The Bush administration has made any number of blunders in the past nine months, the most embarrassing of which were the Harriet Miers nomination and the Dubai ports deal. Any objective observer knew five minutes into each that the effort would fail, and yet the White House clung to both as they sank like stones. And now, with approval ratings that make Jimmy Carter look like a war hero, the president has just been called out on the floor of the Senate by a Wisconsin Democrat jockeying for position in 2008.

It's ironic, because the Republicans' best hope of defeating Hillary might have been the president's brother Jeb. He might not be anyone's ideal candidate; but neither was our president and in the end, money took the prize. If the current administration hadn't tried to squeeze every last nickel from their eight years, they might have kept shearing this sheep until 2016. But they blew their cover.


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