Thursday, August 11, 2011

Man or beast?

Why is the economy a mess? Is it all Wall Street's fault? Are successful investment bankers good candidates for leadership positions in government and education?

My son recently read Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis  and so I have been dipping in to it. The book describes the author's experience as a bond trader with Salomon Brothers in London the 1980's. It also discusses some of the broader issues associated with the role and influence of Wall Street. This was all written before the Global Financial Crisis.

I have given up reading the book because I just cannot engage with the tedium of some of the characters acting like complete animals. Indeed one of the chapters begins with a brilliant quote from Samuel Johnson, "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."

But here are few random thoughts that the book prompts:
  • we have a great ability to self delusion
  • man can have an insatiable greed for money
  • some people make a lot of money purely by luck [by being at the right place at the right time]. Hence, we should be wary about investing in such people or thinking they have any great economic insight.
  • perhaps rather than being surprised that the world is mess we should be surprised that it is not a bigger mess!
  • good governments constrain evil. we need strict regulation of financial institutions.

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