Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » March 2005 » Thought for the Day:

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03/18/2005: Thought for the Day:

A bonus two-fer, because I've been thinking about the 10 Commandments issue:

No. 8. Displaying the Ten Commandments as a way of trying to improve the social order reinforces a magical view of religion.

Proponents say that if we display the Ten Commandments, children will behave better in school and our nation will be blessed for acknowledging God.

Thinking this way reduces the Ten Commandments down to the level of a lucky rabbit's foot. The impact of the Ten Commandments comes when they are taught by faithful teachers, not when they are dangling from a keychain.
--James L. Evans ["10 reasons not to post 'Big Ten'"]
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has issued a very worthy report about corporate governance—an admirable effort to make sense of the excesses of the 1990s and the regulatory and market reaction to them. One suggestion that emerged from the report is that investment bankers could agree to abide by a new voluntary ethics code that, as the Wall Street Journal put it, "like the Hippocratic Oath, might be taught in schools, framed and hung on office walls and called upon when arriving at life's ethical crossroads."

Now that you have stopped giggling, let's talk about this.


Like our canine friends, investment bankers respond extremely well to rewards. Have you ever seen a bunch of greyhounds booking around a race track? They furiously jockey for position in pursuit of a shiny object—an underwriting assignment? an advisory gig?—that's held just out of reach. When they cross the finish line (the end of the year), they get patted on the head by their bosses and receive rewards (bonuses) based on how they placed. They devour the bonus quickly—summer house, Ferrari, and Vail—and get ready to start again.

Dogs and investment bankers both respond to the harsh stick rather than gentle persuasion. They will not modify their behavior through appeals to a higher moral sense, but they will respond to a rolled-up newspaper (Sarbanes-Oxley), or to a tough trainer who makes it clear precisely what they can and cannot do and who swiftly metes out punishment to those who transgress (New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer).

With both dogs and investment bankers it is important to lay down very specific rules about what constitutes acceptable behavior, because dogs and bankers will otherwise act in ways that defy common sense and disrupt social order. When I was a child, we had a dog who routinely drank out of the toilet, jumped on the dinner table, gnawed furniture, and ran out into the street. Posting a code of good-doggie behavior and reading it aloud daily would have had no effect on him. The same holds true for investment bankers.
--Daniel Gross ["Why Bankers are Like Dogs"]

Len on 03.18.05 @ 07:13 AM CST

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