Will derivatives kill us or make us stronger?

Commentary about business and finance.
May 13 2003 6:04 PM

The Root of All Evil?

Will derivatives kill us or make us stronger?

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Partnoy thinks derivatives are crack cocaine—a cheap, potent drug with the potential to deliver a more powerful high and cause greater damage. Shiller sees them as Tylenol—a cheap, off-the-shelf analgesic that can alleviate the pain caused by chronic conditions. In reality, they're more like prescription drugs such as Viagra and Valium—legal drugs that improve the quality of life for many. But when used recklessly or to excess, derivatives—like Viagra—can have some nasty side effects.

Daniel Gross is a longtime Slate contributor. His most recent book is Better, Stronger, Faster . Follow him on Twitter.