Overweening Generalist

Thursday, October 27, 2011

#Occupy Everywhere as of the Morning of October 27th: The Banker Question

With the police actions of the last 48 hours, I fear the movement has already reached a tipping point. Has the worm turned? Are we heading towards mass violence? Who among us actually believes that what happened - as seems to still be ongoing as I write this - in Oakland will make things better? We seem to be very very sophisticated but poorly wired robots who learn nothing from history, much less how to fix our own wiring (which I actually think we are capable of doing, at least theoretically).
What's going unsaid?

What is the function of a banker, really? Why are they allowed to function as more than a civil servant? Someone please answer that question for me.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, for my "money" (ha!) one of the most interesting philosophers alive, on October 18, was on Bloomberg TV, afraid that it's "too late," that violent class warfare will now open like a running sore (my words, not Nassim's), that banks really should be more like public utilities, and that the gross bonuses and salaries bankers are paid is absurd, and that this needs to be fixed ASAP. It gets wildly interesting - for me - when Nassim starts explaining a part of Hammurabi's Code and how we ought to model banker's behavior. You need to devote about 14 minutes of your time here, but you might find it worthwhile; I know I did. Here it is:

Some of the take-away points regarding bankers:

      • "They caused the crisis, we know that. Last year, they had a record bonus. This is not something that is rational."
      • "They are hijacking the American economy then saying that you need to pay us bonuses'."
      • "The core of this situation is a problem concerning bank compensation."
      • "The only information you get from bank earnings is the compensation. Only valuable information you can get from [bank earnings] is how much they pay themselves."
      • "Anything above zero is too much money....if we bail you out, you should not be paid a bonus."
      • "If you are a banker, and we will bail you someday, then you cannot earn more than a civil servant of a corresponding rank."


Anonymous said...

I am glad there are sober people like nassim talib and douglas rushkoff on this planet. all these Bullet points to me are just basic common sense, but common sense seems to be what people have to be reminded of most of all.

michael said...

Funny you mentioned Rushkoff along with Nassim: I was going to combine some Rushkoff stuff in that post, but thought my posts have been far too long lately.

What I wonder is: this news about bankers isn't hard to find, but what do people imagine that bankers DO to "earn" those absud sums?

When I looked into bankers many years ago, I realized these guys do virtually NOTHING to create real wealth that people need. Hell, even real estate agents do more than they do.

Is there something in the American popular mind that says, if you're getting paid X you somehow are really worth it?

SatoriGuy said...

I think Rushkoff is ahead of the curve once again. If you haven't read his Life Inc.,(which he wrote 2 years ago) it's basically a bible for the Occupy movement. His prediction of top down corporate structures being replaced by a peer-to-peer ethic seems similar to what is happening right now(hopefully). His recent CNN articles have been bang on as well.

As to your point about overpaid bankers, I think it's a pretty complex issue obviously. But it seems like it is intimately tied into the educational system in America.

When kids are tought from a young age that school is just a path to getting a job they will tune out any subjects that don't have any immediate real world corresponding careers. It seems as if the brightest students are being corralled into passing over the liberal arts, and hard sciences for business and commerce related programs. Why put the effort into learning about philosophy or engineering when two-thirds of the economy revolves around the financial services sector?

As a result, we have had a cancerous yuppie class dictating educational and cultural trends. Maybe the people of the occupy wallstreet movement are the antibodies fighting off this corporate malignancy?

Anonymous said...

I'm not very well versed in american popular culture and popular media. i read rushkoff for his general insights and nassim taleb because he's just straight talking and incisive. a lot of the particularly american references are lost on me. it's just too bad that england doesn't have a lot of writers like rushkoff, taleb, chomsky. the list would go on etc i think the closest we get is a guy called mark curtis, who does really thought-provoking material about the impact of psychiatry on media and politics. maybe i'm not looking hard enough.

michael said...

@Satori Guy: I consider Rushkoff's Life, Inc one of the underrated books of the last ten years...and it's only been out about 4 yrs. I think it will prove to be his magnum opus.

I hear you on the yuppie business majors. But isn't the deeper problem the articulation of values? Lip service is paid to "Americans" and "jobs" and "education," but it's become increasingly apparent that the rich don't give a crap about any of that. When the Republicans came in last Nov and Boehner said their priority would be "jobs," I said "Bullshit. They're going ot do nothing to create jobs. They will do the opposite: say no to anything the Admin comes up with and try to gut environmental legislation, calling THAT a 'jobs' project." How am I doing?

I like the metaphor of antibodies and cancer.

Stay strong, man!

michael said...

@Homing Bohm: Do you mean Adam Curtis and those docs like A Century of the Self? That's tremendous stuff! I'd watch anything that guy comes up with.

Your guys Dawkins and Hitchens have really helped open up the God-fearing Americans to a debate about the role of faith and religion in public and private life.

Nassim is a Lebanese transplant, and I'm glad he's writing in English, no matter where he chose to go.

I know they both moved to the US and lived here for a long time, but the influence of Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts on the counterculture has been ginormous here. Maybe throw John Lennon in there, too.

michael said...

One of the things that Rushkoff says that blows my mind - and he's not the only one, this goes back to much of the anarchist tradition - is non-hierarchical structures.

I've always loved those ideas in fiction and in anarchist tracts, but I have LIVED in an intensely hierarchical world, with the thousand and one built-in, taken-for-granted assumptions about how the world "really" works, how we create value, what life is for, etc. (When Reagan first got elected, he joyously proclaimed that he wanted to create an America where "anyone can get rich," and that's such a HUGE obstacle to overcome: the idea of "I've got mine, jack!" Wanting to be rich has NEVER appealed to me; I wanted to be free from hunger, cold, etc: I wanted to create and play, figuring the money would be there. I did not play the game by their rules and I'm fairly screwed right now...

I find when I read Rushkoff the implications that have to do with changing our basic orientation about what living life is about...it's a dizzying modification of values. Thrilling, fly-by-seat-of-pants modes of action. DIY, collaborate creatively, barter, change the discussion, hack this and that, share what you've learned, etc: this is major, major stuff.

As Rushkoff shows, going back to the Renaissance, we have about 500 years of deep cultural conditioning to overcome. I think we're seeing the first positive steps on a wide scale just now. The whole deal is just breathtaking to me. And I frankly fear the bloodshed brought upon us by the Old Order. They will not go quietly, and I think they feel like the Alpha Male baboons of the human tribe: they need to feel "on top," superior, and "winning." But life is what James Carse called a Game Without End. And to keep it going, every now and then you must tinker with the rules. We have arrived at a point where what is being called the 1% have everything stacked in their favor, they re-wrote the rules to favor themselves. And almost all of the other players want to keep playing, but not with these rules. These rules have become intolerable. These rules? Not any more!

Let us see how it shakes out for homo "sapiens" over the next ten years.

A side note: the influence of McLuhan, RAW, and Fuller on Rushkoff in Life, Inc cannot be underestimated.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

his name is Adam Curtis. there is a Mark Curtis, actually, who is worth reading, a political journalist, who documents the major involvment of britain in overseas terrorism. another is anthony shaxson, who makes a convinving point that world economics is still dictated, or at least majory influenced by the City of London Corporation. when i mention people like taleb and rushkoof and the lack of the same kind of people here, it would take me forever to clarify what I mean; there's a certain amount of verve and engagement with culture that dawkins and hitchens don't have.

by the way, i didn't know Alan Watts was british.

Anonymous said...

Maybe i just prefer american "counter-culture"