Friday, July 13, 2012

Greed, arrogance and hubris

Jamie Dimon, the JPMorgan CEO, skips letting the sun shine on his bank’s huge losses but admits to the human condition of greed, arrogance and hubris to explain how a bank can commit such egregious mistakes. And it was a great PR gambit that turned US senators into teddy bears. But he must have lifted a page from the play book of the US Catholic Church as he continued to push back on the Volcker rule – which he perceives as inimical to the financial goals of the industry. The church can't be greedy but it has been fighting state legislations (i.e., statute of limitations) in the search of truth re sexual abuse cases – because it perceives them as inimical to the financial stability of the church. [NY Times 14th Jun 2012.] The only difference is the church won't admit to arrogance and hubris (unlike Dimon) and so it continues to offend even deeply committed nuns, beyond learned theologians?

A group of psychiatrists have applied the rigor of their science to understand the seeming nonchalance of Mitt Romney to mouthing blatant lies that have been pointed out to him. [Time Magazine, 13th Jun 2012.] And they stumbled upon Mormon teachings that don't stand to simple scrutiny but which the faithful would utter matter-of-factly. It is about faith over evidence – which in fact shouldn't be mind boggling? As Catholics we aren’t surprised when people matter-of-factly express elements of their faith – e.g., unwittingly interchanging faith and institutions, for instance, is not uncommon? And thus those who run institutions become infallible – notwithstanding the risk that they have been clothed with arrogance and hubris that no longer represent the faith? And which is precisely why, given the human condition, that transparency in institutions is imperative!

The writer is brought down to earth when transparency, as a topic, is brought up by ex-socialists, his Eastern European friends. "Our school system is so old school. One of our smartest people had decided enough is enough and so after university he chose to teach. But he was pilloried by other faculty members: "You are still wet behind the ears; we drew up this system from knowledge gained over many years. Left unsaid is: "We're about subservience not academic freedom.” And worse, our teachers are like unmotivated factory workers. Given what we've been through – centuries under Ottoman rule and decades under communist rule, and then 20 years of transition, and counting, as a democracy – how could our educators cling to the old? For example, we were led to believe that we had a great system and a great life. There was no transparency at all. We never learned to question, only to accept. And so we even accepted the corruption that characterized the first 20 years of our transition as a democracy."

"The good news though is that because poverty to us is normal the average household is not heavily in debt. And so while our neighbors are suffering amid the Great Recession because of their unaffordable debt levels, we are still soldiering on. In fact our banking system is strong and no bank has gone under. We’ve had our own share of the recession but foreign investors have not abandoned us – because we embraced them with open arms. [With a population less than 10% of PHL, they have almost 2X in FDIs, > $25 billion more; which makes our efforts to attract FDIs still pathetic?] And our prime minister seems committed to demonstrating to the EU that we’re serious about fighting corruption and organized crime that they have resumed supporting our infrastructure program. And we know the president. He is from the private sector. We in fact wondered why he wanted to be government and asked him point blank. He said he had accumulated enough wealth from his stint with a German MNC and national pride is driving him to fix his country. Beyond the massive infrastructure efforts, the president has met with the CEOs of the largest tech companies in the West and they have started coming – and they want to follow up on making us a technology center in the region.

"And the president regularly dialogues with the private sector. He acknowledges that he is one of us – no arrogance and no hubris. And he believes that together we should be driving the economy – and that their role is to create the environment that is conducive to investment and technology development. Our model must be small countries like Finland and Sweden, able to successfully compete globally in this day and age of technology. It’s a long road but we must stay the course.”  

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