Hawking Up Hairballs

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For The Greater Good

You know, I sometimes wonder how the rich sleep at night. They just keep right on plundering the world's economies, sending the overwhelming majority of the rest of us into ever more misery, and they scarcely even miss a wink. Are they all a bunch of psychopaths who just plain don't give a damn? Maybe some of them are, but I'm inclined to believe that most of them are just like everyone else. They have their reasons for behaving the way that they do. They just don't bother telling the rest of us what those reasons are, perhaps for fear that we would call them out.

Well, along comes one Lord Griffiths in Olde England. That's right, it's "Lord" Griffiths, like I'd ever call the man "Lord" if I came face to face with him. Anyway, this Griffiths, who is vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International and former advisor to the Dragon Lady, Margaret Thatcher, told the Guardian newspaper that, when it came to the outrageous bonuses paid to Goldman executives, the British public should "tolerate the inequality to achieve greater prosperity for all."

The "good" Lord goes on to explain that if such bonuses weren't paid to bank executives in Great Britain, the banks would relocate and everyone would be worse off. I've heard that one before. Back in the Sixties, I recall a Harvard economist trotting it out to explain that a certain amount of poverty was necessary in order to ensure the greatest common good. I may not be brandishing the fashionable little red book of Mao anymore, but I still don't buy that argument. It was specious then, and it's specious now, in particular when it comes to the financial industry. That particular industry, and especially its trading sector, does nothing to create wealth or value, but continually tries to come up with ways to scam money from those who do.

Maybe it's time for a little old-fashioned class violence. Look what the deaths of some fifteen hundred French aristocrats did for the people of that country. It still has a tradition of economic egalitarianism, at least relative to the US. Yes, it would be a shame if some of the Wall Street boys ended uphanging from lamp posts, the hangman's noose being the American populist version of the guillotine, but it's like Griffiths said, sometimes one should tolerate a bit of suffering to ensure the greater good in the long run. You see, that kind of argument cuts both ways.


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