Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ineffectual warning signs for the greedy

I was in stitches this morning, laughing my head off about a new gadget that a major company is launching to temper the greed of financiers and bankers, and others who deal with money. The gadget is some kind of instrument that measures the galvanic skin response and turns the readings into a colour scheme. Some colours (I suppose red) signal to the wearer of the gadget that he or she is getting too emotional, and should ‘cool it’. This, the makers believe, will make the financiers more risk aversive.

But this does not take into account that greed is a powerful emotion, and that such gadgets cannot control it through their warnings. Those whose greed and rapacity is above normal (which I suppose is true of many if not most financiers) can hardly be expected to be put off by some warning light, when they are prepared to risk ignominy, imprisonment and disgrace – and even the possibility of losing their entire fortune. After all, many of those currently in prison for financial mis-demeanours have had far more forceful warnings than the one delivered by a gadget strapped to the wrist.

It is like telling someone who is madly in love that they should desist because of some warning sign. It wouldn’t work, and never has. Part of the reason is that, in states of deep love, large parts of the cerebral cortex become de-activated, though the deactivation and consequent suspension of judgment is specific to the loved person. I have suggested elsewhere that with greed, too, there is a cortical de-activation and suspension of judgment, this time specifically related to the money to be made.

Under such conditions, and faced with the prospect of making millions, nay billions, one would hardly expect a banker to notice a red light telling him that he is getting too greedy.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that bankers are laughing all the way to their own banks, because of the huge amounts they are making owing to the imbalance between the interest they give on deposits and the interest they charge on loans. I have read that bankers in England are braced for huge bonuses, somewhere in the region of 5 billion pounds because of this artificial success.

But there are warning signs – far more potent than ones that come from wrist strapped gadgets. The latest comes from Nouriel Roubini, who was once referred to as the ‘prophet of doom’ because he was one of the very few who predicted the recent economic crisis, but who is now regarded as an economic guru, because he was one of the few who predicted it. He told the BBC a few days ago that another economic problem may well be on the way.

Is anyone listening? Probably not. With greed ruling, much of the judgmental part of the collective cerebral cortex is simply inactive, and therefore impervious to such warnings, be they from a grand guru or from a wrist gadget.

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