A philosopher recently explained what’s wrong with Wall Streeters in the context of basketball and Kobe Bryant.
The New York Times’s JM Bernstein says Wall Street’s inherent selfishness is like Kobe Bryant’s, a basketball All-Star who’s known for his winning scoring record as much as his selfishness on the court.
The series of events leading up to near economic collapse have shown Wall Street traders and bankers to be essentially knights of self-interest — bad Kobe Bryants.
They’d both be horrified to know that their selfishness is based on the same wrong assumption that their foil – the selfless Saint – makes, says Bernstein.
The defender of holier-than-thou virtue and the self-interested Wall Street banker are making the same error from opposing points of view.
Each supposes he has a true understanding of what naturally moves individuals to action. The knight of virtue thinks we are intrinsically good and that acting in the nasty, individualist, market world requires the sacrifice of natural goodness; the banker believes that only raw self-interest, the profit motive, ever leads to successful actions.
Both are wrong because, finally, it is not motives but actions that matter, and how those actions hang together to make a practical world.
The mistake isn’t costing Wall Streeters or Bryant any money – obviously – it’s costing their lives a sense of meaning.Actions are elements of practices, and practices give individual actions their meaning.
So how can Wall Streeters and Kobe Bryant get their meaning back?
The banker must have a world-interest as the counterpart to his self-interest or his actions would become as illusory as those of the knight of virtue.
Actually, Bernstein’s solution isn’t nearly as appalling as keeping the world’s interest at heart.
Without the game of basketball, there are just balls flying around with no purpose. The rules of the game give the action of putting the ball through the net the meaning of scoring, where scoring is something one does for the sake of the team.
A star player can forget all this and pursue personal glory, his private self-interest. But if that star — say, Kobe Bryant — forgets his team in the process, he may, in the short term, get rich, but the team will lose. Only by playing his role on the team, by having an L.A. Laker interest as well as a Kobe Bryant interest, can he succeed. I guess in this analogy, Phil Jackson has the role of “the regulator.”
His solution is regulation, which, Bernstein says, bankers would welcome if they had any real brains.
If Wall Street brokers and bankers understood themselves and their institutional world aright, they would not only accede to firm regulatory controls to govern their actions, but would enthusiastically welcome regulation.
And a big part of that necessary regulation is pay reform, which shares the same problem as the NBA.
Regulation that should reward bankers for making good investments — no big bonuses for investments that lose money.
That’s a little like paying a player for wins, instead of points scored (which is still the biggest factor in determining NBA salaries), says the ESPN blog “Go,” which first brought this article to our attention.