Saturday, January 30, 2010

Archimedean Theorem IV – One More Question

My dear friend Larry Stay forwarded me the text of Clayton Christensen’s February 12, 2009 Harvard Law School address, “The Importance of the Right Question.” Christensen’s central thesis is best summarized in his early observation, “unfortunately, too many of us are so eager to debate and get on with the right answer and the solution, that we often forget even to think about whether the right question has been asked.”

In the last two weeks, we have watched countless assaults on our collective sense of morality and, remarkably we’ve stood by with no voices raised, no “town hall” “tea parties” – in short, those with a moral center have been complicit in their silence. A few observations…

In response to the outpouring of latter day compassion for those impacted by the Haiti quake, past presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush led the calls for people to reach out generously – with money. “Don’t send tents and blankets, don’t send food and water, send money.” Did anyone stand back for a moment and consider the fact that it was the animation (the act of imparting life or spirit to that which is without the same) of money which created the indifference that created the tragic loss of life in Haiti? Did society consider that maybe, compassion of hands and heart, sweat and blood – while more “inefficient” – would more likely render permanent a connection between the people who have so little living so close to those with so much?

Americans blankly looked at the headlines on Friday, January 29, 2010 and puzzled over the news that the American economy grew by much more than economists predicted. And, if they would have actually read the U.S. Commerce Department data, their puzzle would have deepened. Though the GDP grew by 5.7%, much of this “growth” was not actually impacting the average American. And, missing from the truth in the report was that the only sectors of alleged growth were those where the Federal Government was offering economic stimulus injections which artificially inflate the actual GDP. The consumer spending, decoupled from tax and incentives offered by the U.S. government, not only fell but probably was more accurately measured by the compression of inventory and decrease in imports. Since GDP has been a crude measure in the best of times and an utter failure in indicating economic future performance, why do we continue to measure that which does not explain or prognosticate? As politicians stand in faux incredulity lauding economic progress that none of the electorate can perceive, where is the call for metrics that convey meaning? Given that the most ubiquitous purchase made by American families is food and energy, why does the U.S. Commerce department continue to perpetuate the measurement of consumer price growth excluding food and energy? Oh, and by the way, if you read the fine print, the real news – ignored by ALL the media hype about the 5.7% growth in the final quarter was that Real GDP for the year of 2009 was -2.4%. The reason why we don’t feel better off is because we are not.

We listened as the Tax-Collector-Evader-in-Chief testified in Congress that saving AIG was a decision made for the best interest of the American people. As our elected leaders grilled the Secretary, he stood his ground and, ironically, probably told most of the truth. However he was shielded from the whole truth by a Congress which is incapable of, or unwilling to, ask the right questions. How did the Treasury and Fed actions actually ameliorate the toxic behavior of AIG when all they did was cover the recklessness by moving it to other balance sheets? No pension is more secure, no bank more stable, and the U.S. taxpayer is worse off by their actions. In fact, one year later, the SAME toxins are still in the system – they just have cute names and the Fed and Treasury are shareholders and guarantors of what AIG once originated. In all the hype about the “main street” rage about bank bonuses, did anyone look at the fact that the bank profits in 2009 are Ponzi profits? If you look carefully, you find that the banking profits are being reported only where U.S. government equity interests (including a need for Treasury and Federal Reserve Balance Sheet profit reporting) are present.

And where are people of conscience, patriotism, or any other broader sense of responsibility when, just last week, the Federal Reserve Board’s Federal Open Market Committee reinforced the likely criminal incompetence that aided the financial raiding of the U.S. economy by enshrining Moody’s Investor Service, Fitch, and S&P as the arbiters of economic risk? These Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations (NRSRO) are incapable of acting with independence due to the imposition of FOMC credit and collateral rating rules. In short, the very organizations which give them their anti-trust-flaunting capability of legal market collusion dictate the minimum capital and collateral conditions to prop up the illusion of financial stability. Given that NONE of these organizations provided any independence prior to the market collapse by offering true ratings of risk, why are we not demanding that the public interest be served by establishing a meaningful criminal investigation into these organizations and their incentives? Further, why are we not agreeing, as a public, to no longer accept these organizations’ inputs into our pension, banking, and investment products?

The answer is quite simple. Since our puritanically inspired inception as a nation, we have been taught to advance into the future with faith. Faith that a beneficent, vindictive omnipresence is watching out for us. Faith that the institutions that are established for our guardianship actually have our interest at heart. Faith that when we see overt evidence that a thing is not as promoted, it is our perspective that is wrong – that a wiser, higher being must understand a greater complexity than we can apprehend.

Friedrich Nietzsche observed that all things are subject to interpretation and that the prevailing interpretation is based not on truth but on power. While observing a truism in humanity, Nietzsche seemed to avoid the extension of this observation into what I propose is Archimedean Theorem IV – humanity achieves no transformation or advancement so long as assumptions are unquestioned. The awakening of new possibilities and realities is only possible when we learn to courageously assert our intuition by freeing ourselves from the laziness of answers and dive deeply into the perpetual discipline of the unasked, unconsidered question.

Haiti will then have pilgrims of conscience who will work to create social and economic systems which link people with purpose. Metrics of consumption will be replaced by metrics of replenishment and future productivity. Monetary authority will stand impotent against network exchanges where community benefits flow without capriciously imposed interest rates on Ponzi debt. Risk rating will be far less interesting than productivity and obsolescence accountability and transparency. Accountable stewardship will find quarter where faith has enjoyed unconsidered sanctuary.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave