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By Samir Amin

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Most outside the world of finance view the term as a largely irrelevant and intangible construct of academics and Wall Street rocket scientists. But derivative securities have become an integral part of the financial world, and numerous innovations that people take for granted, such as low-priced and flexible mortgage financing, depend on the use of these synthetically created instruments. indb 39 1/2/07 4:52:28 PM 40 Financial Armageddon Unfortunately, they have also turned out to be, to use an old expression, the “tail wagging the dog” in many equity, fixed-income, and commodity markets, a situation that has created significant risks for Wall Street and Main Street.

Indb 25 1/2/07 4:52:26 PM 26 Financial Armageddon Although the FDIC was structured as an insurance program, with fees levied on participating financial institutions to cover the risk of loss, the ultimate responsibility for making good on depositors’ accounts rested with the federal government. And for a long time, the system seemed to work, with less instability and fewer bank runs than had once been common. But eventually the so-called benefit will turn out to have been seriously destabilizing because of the “moral hazard” problem.

They have not ended the tendency of markets to [undergo] occasional periods of mania and panic. They have not eliminated the possibility of failure of a major financial intermediary. And they cannot fully insulate the broader financial system from the effects of such a failure. Mr. Geithner has raised concerns in a number of speeches about operational deficiencies that were undermining the rapidly growing credit derivatives market. He also arranged a series of meetings with senior executives at leading financial institutions to address an alarming backlog of unsettled trades.

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