Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Postmodern disaster theory

Revenge of the Goldfish

Sandy Skogland, Revenge of the Goldfish (1981)

Jim Chen, Postmodern Disaster Theory (September 5, 2012). Downloadable at or

Legal preparedness for disaster consists of implementing the optimal portfolio of rules for managing catastrophic risks. This article extends the simpler model of modern disaster theory,, into a more ambitious model of postmodern disaster theory. A complete account of disaster law and policy based on an extended analogy to quantitative finance must address all aspects of that discipline, from the beautiful symmetries of modern portfolio theory to the disturbing behavioral insights and the vastly expanded mathematical arsenal of the postmodern critique.


Postmodern disaster theory represents a comprehensive account of catastrophic risk management. It organizes its postmodern agenda for legal management of risk and uncertainty according to higher statistical moments. Skewness has inspired alternative ways to measure risk-adjusted performance. To illustrate how the problem of fat tails and excess kurtosis confounds the measurement and management of risk, this article conducts parametric value-at-risk (VaR) analysis with the logistic distribution, a leptokurtic analog of the Gaussian distribution. Incomplete statistical models of risk dangerously blind the law to certain sources of financial or environmental peril.

Risk management through quantitatively informed legal tools is the unifying principle that harmonizes disaster policy in all domains, from the regulation of systemically important financial institutions to the prevention and mitigation of natural disasters. Postmodern disaster theory exploits the full range of sophisticated methods analogous to those used in quantitative finance. Comprehensive quantitative understanding promises to place disaster law on the efficient frontier of legal preparedness.


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