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April 11, 2009

Comments

James Bowery

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/bonnie_bassler_on_how_bacteria_communicate.html

"Smart" bacteria...

Who says there isn't a "working" control system?

djlewis

Let's be serious here -- only ~some~ of the people involved actually believed it would go on forever. You can't tell me "the smartest guys in the room" were really that dumb.

Nope, the smart ones really were smart and talented -- and they knew exactly what was going on (See the famous Michael Lewis article at http://bit.ly/8ZzgL). They played the game for enormous personal profit, hoping to lock in their take, and many did.

The scary thing about them, however, is their utter lack of a moral compass. On the other hand, who could have resisted the wealth?

I'd say, "good riddance," but unless the ~system~ is drastically changed and fixed, those folks will be in a position to do it again.

Sure Thing

Those brilliant minds who ruined the world's economy are fleeing like rats from a sinking barge.

James Bowery

djlewis: "The scary thing about them, however, is their utter lack of a moral compass."

My point about bacteria is not that they lack a moral compass but that they have one in the sense of a control system -- and that's the _really_ scary part.

They aren't rats abandoning a sinking barge. They're pathogens migrating to the next host.

They would deserve a more generous evaluation if they had used the knowledge and wealth they acquired to fix the host's control system rather than furthering the virulence of the more primitive control system. But it seems they almost never do.

djlewis

Pathogens exist all around -- and in -- us. They are controlled by numerous complex biological and cultural mechanisms. When one or more of those mechanisms are disrupted, intentionally or accidentally, someone gets sick, sometimes a lot of someones.

When that happens, it's not terribly useful to portray the pathogens as acting morally or immorally. They are just doing their thing.

Likewise, greed, skill and ingenuity are just out there, part of the world. Capitalism harnesses those forces, supposedly for greater common good. But it also requires control mechanisms to avoid killing the host(s).

And when that happens, again it's a systemic failure, not a failure of the components (though there is a moral component to them, since they are humans). In this case, the breakdown is the growing co-location of political and economic power that breached the control/regulation mechanisms.

But again, it's people who make the choices, and there ~were~ a few, very few people, who could have acted, bravely, to stop this. The most prominent of those is Alan Greenspan, one who would ~not~ have been fired had he raised the alarm while it was happening, as he finally did when it was too late.

Also, Warren Buffett could have gone on a campaign after his now famous 2003 epiphany about derivatives, and turned a lot of heads. But he chose to hang back and do his private, low-key money-making thing.

Also, there may have been a few newspaper executives who could have pursued it, especially after Buffett's remark in 2003, but did not, for whatever reason.

The question before us now, is, will the pathological mechanism -- the co-location of political and economic power -- itself remain in control, reconstitute the disease, and actually open a way toward a healthy system with a future. Or, as Marx said, but not the way he said, will it destroy itself by the force of internal contradiction.

djlewis

Whoops... last paragraph should be...

The question before us now, is, will the pathological mechanism -- the co-location of political and economic power -- get purged and actually open a way toward a healthy system, with a future. Or, will it remain in control, reconstitute the disease, and destroy its host by the force of internal contradiction (as Marx said, but not the way he said).

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