At the beginning of each new year I’m always drawn to the practice of reading the Bible in a year through the help of a daily Bible reading plan. I might try using YouVersion | 1 Year Bible Reading Plan — though I am loath to put too many personal reflections into the Web application, not so much because of privacy concerns, but more because of data lock-in. In other words, I don’t want all the writing I have stuck in youversion.com. (Note: there is the promise of a public API in the new year.)
Besides getting angry, what can one do in response to the outrageous behavior of irresponsible people in the financial services sector — which was well dissected by Krugman in The Madoff Economy:
- The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation’s income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it’s not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.
Is any way to get reform enacted to keep the Wall Street fat cats from driving the system off the cliff again, often still collecting bonuses they didn’t deserve? Or am I just unfairly singling out bankers for something we all share collective responsibility? That’s the argument put forth recently by Henry Blodget in The Atlantic Online Why Wall Street Always Blows It?:
- Who’s to blame for the current crisis? As usually happens after a crash, the search for scapegoats has been intense, and many contenders have emerged: Wall Street swindled us; predatory lenders sold us loans we couldn’t afford; the Securities and Exchange Commission fell asleep at the switch; Alan Greenspan kept interest rates low for too long; short-sellers spread negative rumors; “experts” gave us bad advice. More-introspective folks will add other explanations: we got greedy; we went nuts; we heard what we wanted to hear.All of these explanations have some truth to them. Predatory lenders did bamboozle some people into loans and houses they couldn’t afford. The SEC and other regulators did miss opportunities to curb some of the more egregious behavior. Alan Greenspan did keep interest rates too low for too long (and if you’re looking for the single biggest cause of the housing bubble, this is it). Some short-sellers did spread negative rumors. And, Lord knows, many of us got greedy, checked our brains at the door, and heard what we wanted to hear.
But most bubbles are the product of more than just bad faith, or incompetence, or rank stupidity; the interaction of human psychology with a market economy practically ensures that they will form. In this sense, bubbles are perfectly rational—or at least they’re a rational and unavoidable by-product of capitalism (which, as Winston Churchill might have said, is the worst economic system on the planet except for all the others). Technology and circumstances change, but the human animal doesn’t. And markets are ultimately about people.
Should I stop dealing with banks? pull my money out of the stock market? treat bankers with disdain? How should I put my anger to productive use instead of just ranting against the fat cats who were supposed to know what they were doing?
An interesting coincidence this morning: as I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers, skimming through The New York Times and struggling to focus my attention on important things, I came across David Brooks’ latest column on Gladwell and the topic of focus, which includes the following key excerpt:
- Most successful people begin with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so. They were often showered by good fortune, but relied at crucial moments upon achievements of individual will.Most successful people also have a phenomenal ability to consciously focus their attention. We know from experiments with subjects as diverse as obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferers and Buddhist monks that people who can self-consciously focus attention have the power to rewire their brains.
Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them. They can choose from the patterns in the world and lengthen their time horizons. This individual power leads to others. It leads to self-control, the ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses. If forced to choose, we would all rather our children be poor with self-control than rich without it.
It leads to resilience, the ability to persevere with an idea even when all the influences in the world say it can’t be done. A common story among entrepreneurs is that people told them they were too stupid to do something, and they set out to prove the jerks wrong.
It leads to creativity. Individuals who can focus attention have the ability to hold a subject or problem in their mind long enough to see it anew.
It should be noted that Gladwell argues that successful people are products of their environment to a greater degree than commonly acknowledged in Western society….
As spotted at a children’s Christmas pageant at church: a girl in sheep’s clothing – running rogue – brings a smile to the Good Shepherd.
Infinity plus one is still infinity.
Yet You let not one sheep fall into the abyss.
Are You less than infinite — or yet more?