“The cocktail party is easily the worst invention since castor oil” ~Elsa Maxwell
Every time I am at a dinner party or talking with a group of people the conversation quickly gets around to the same big issues. The two that come up most regularly are “the lack of values in our young people” and “the banking crisis” (that tells you something about the people I associate with).
The conversation about the anti-social behaviour of young people today and their lack of society-enhancing values and respect for others tends to focus on the declining quality of the education system, poor parenting, lack of “positive” role models and the overall “me first” behaviour of public and political figures. The debate (actually it is more like complaining) is always heated with many pointed fingers and fault-finding. But honestly, I get bored very quickly and tend to either tune-out or move on. Why? Because bitching is not solving! And quite honestly, some people don’t want a solution, mostly because the medicine to solve it is too uncomfortable.
The other hot topic that gets lots of air time is the banking crisis. Most people see the excesses of those like Bernie Madoff, Sir Fred Goodwin, “rock star” big bank CEOs, and obscene trading floor bonuses larger than many town council budgets, and blame the situation on greed. Demonizing greed makes for good movies and sells newspapers, but doesn’t help much. Greed is a natural element of the human condition (just read your history) that is hard-wired into our gene pool. So blaming the problem on greed and shallow leadership principles is like blaming the hammer that smashed your finger as being too hard (of course it’s hard, that makes it a proper hammer).
You can overcome anything if you don’t bellyache. ~Bernard M. Baruch
All my life I have been wired to find solutions, not find blame. I may not always get there, but I definitely make more progress than those who engage in endless debates to find someone to blame.
Okay, back to our complaining cocktail party chatter: declining social values and the banking crisis.
I have two solutions that will go a long way in getting at and eliminating the root cause.
Number One: reinstate National Service for all those between the ages of 18-20. Let’s look at the facts. Those countries with mandatory national conscription have a greater sense of national and social cohesion. Switzerland is a prime example. The military has a long tradition of excellence in education and training for teamwork, camaraderie and strong values. I personally would like to see our military budgets focused on society building and character building, as well as defence. The military is already geared up for this, it wouldn’t take another government agency and all the costs that would entail. So you tell me, where else are young people going to get a shared experience of positive team and social values? We can’t change the parents (it’s too late for them), we can’t change the tenure system or education funding overnight. We can’t even agree on a common education curriculum. But the opportunity for some length of compulsory national service for all is available, right now.
Second Issue: Since we can’t eliminate greed and personal aggrandizement from our physical and social DNA, attack the ongoing dysfunction of the banking industry a different way; take away the easy temptation of banks to behave like casinos. Reinstate the division between Commercial and Investment banking. In other words, bring back the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. (In November of 1999 Congress repealed the GSA with the establishment of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which eliminated the GSA restrictions against affiliations between commercial and investment banks.) In essence, reinstating the GSA would remove the massive amount of money the investment banking “casino” has to gamble with. It would make them play with their own money, not the money of depositors or others from the commercial banking world. Believe me, if Bob Diamond, Vikram Pandit and the other investment bankers had to play “big bucks” roulette with their own money, their appetite for risk would be decidedly different. This solution does not take a lot of new laws and the precedent is already set. But it would definitely upset the bankers!
Too harsh a medicine? It works better than what we have now! (for an excellent look at the origin of today’s crisis in the financial services sector, read this short article by Demetrie Comnas.)
So in my mind, it’s either continue complaining or get started on some real solutions. Are these perfect solutions? Nope. But there is no perfect solution, only ones that move us forward in a positive manner. And as we get started on the root causes, we learn and then can improve the process along the way. Or, just join the rest of the complainers!
Tight Lines . . .