Thought Possible

notes & magnifications, by J.E. Robertson
FEBRUARY 16, 2009 10:50AM

Economic Martyrdom Spreading Bad Faith Paradigm

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We have hashed out the details of how finance became a shell game and our major banks lost track of what was real money and what was speculative. And now, we have the consequent malaise, rippling out and flooding underfoot. People are infused with a sense of urgency and intoxicated by the beguiling qualities of the concept of their own martyrdom.
 
It's harder to pay the bills, but since I'm a victim of the greed of fat cats, I'm entitled to be pushy and hostile. Maybe so, or at least it appears so much a given truth that we find ourselves believing it is so. A lot of people seem more tolerant of hostility among strangers these days, because they find it "understandable".
 
Paul Krugman wrote this fall of an impending return to "Depression economics", driven in part by the downward spiral of consumers unwilling to spend as a result of mounting instability in their own financial standing. But there is a psychology that goes along with this that is (in large part martyrdom-based) the bad-faith economy. 
 
Bad faith is very tempting in hard times: we throw up our hands, feel hurt, express disbelief at the selfishness not only of the powerful but of those hurt by their misdeeds. But bad faith cannot build anything and cannot be the foundation of a prosperous civil society: it is an agent of entropy, and it attacks, as a matter of principle, each of the strengths that would allow us to accomplish anything (such as trust, imagination, perseverence, follow-through, a sense of community, purpose, hope or self-confidence).
 
Bad faith is an economic paradigm, or an anti-economic paradigm, best for throwing whole systems out of balance and into something more like a cynical array of useless, destructive, spirit-crushing cock fights, where the loser is told they're getting the best deal possible. Recovery is somehow inconceivable if we give in to the bad faith paradigm. 
 
As Edward Carr writes in The Economist, "financial instability feeds on itself". Part of the reason for this is that everyone wants to bury their own debt in the remote past and no one is more astute in making the bad news look good than financiers engaging in "creative accounting". But that's where the house of cards shows itself, and teeters...
 
Once the lie gets too big and reaches into too many people's pockets, the game is up and we all get slammed. The debt is not buried, it is dispersed and that angers millions of people. As it should. Namely because they don't enjoy such opportunities fromt hose same financial institutions when they feel a need. 
 
Somehow, though, someone has to break the cycle, stop acceding to the relentless contagion of malaise and avarice, and bet on good faith. It's just that: there needs to be a system that privileges and rewards good faith and somehow eliminates the threat from pirates, money-hoarders and cheats. The good instinct we find in a moment of clarity or in affection for those around us should guide our social-level actions, lest we fall into a kind of limited solidarity that promotes tribalism, division and bad faith. 
 
The election of Barack Obama showed that tens of millions of people were calling for such a better approach, for a way forward in which the humanity of individual people is also the interest of the collective human energies of society. To "not miss the forest for the trees", we need to see clearly how bad faith inches its way into our midst, how it undermines our best intentions, how it works against us, when powerful institutions decide it should be the rule. 

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Not untrue (and, in fact, there is a little more text coming to this piece). I've seen a kind of camaraderie among people just "getting" that times are hard for most people nowadays, but I keep observing genuine manifestations of aggression, in people's driving, in the amount of patience people have for slow or incompetent service, the way even when there is solidarity, people are tempted (it's more the temptation than the outright reality of bad faith that's worrying) to just abandon kindness or trust as social virtues.
I think so. I think it's not so much that there's anything wrong with recognizing victimhood and decrying the crimes that led to it, but rather that when we project such feelings out into the future, when we alter our own behavior in an effort to somehow "correct" past injuries by punishing random future counterparts, we set ourselves up for the much higher risk inherent in a system based on people NOT willing to trust or collaborate with others. And in that way, a misplaced feeling of entitlement to vengeance can sometimes give even more power to those who would prosper by cheating.
Good point. Calling the end of the world isn't really going to help the economy. But I would also like to add that there might be some good things about being pissed at white collar asswipes who created such a turmoil - we need to change, and going back toward a system that doesn't work in the first place is not necessarily the solution to our problems.

Ironically, Krugman works for NYTimes, one of the first publications to jump on the bandwagon of "oy vei, how do we shop without money" articles.

And The Economist is certainly not recommending any real changes to the way things are.

On the other hand, we seem to have a problem, and pretending that we should just go back to "good ol' days" isn't really going to help us in the long run anyways.
Irma you make a great point. I'm not saying things shouldn't change or that people shouldn't be angry about real abuses. There has been sweeping amounts of unethical and maybe illegal behavior, and the system needs to be repaired so that the cheaters don't keep the upper hand.

My central point is that we too often allow the hard feelings that spring from one part of our life to be redirected out to other people who are not responsible for those hardships. So people end up spreading the sort of hostility and me-first thinking that big-shot cheats take advantage of, by being hostile to someone at the grocery store, or the driver of a car in front of them, when the hostility is more appropriately directed at one's bank, one's broker, one's political representatives, or one's own flawed judgment.
Also, while very few publications are more informative, the Economist does seem to have a very strong bias toward "free market" ideas, which sometimes clouds the publication's ability to see what economic reforms would be most viable, given the failings of the system.
Yeah, I got a phone call from a estate agent inviting me to a FREE seminar or how to survive and make a killing out of the bad times??? He assumed I had a house to mortgage because I am on rural property. I think if we stop the usury and slow down the production of useless crap at high prices we may last until the population problem grinds us to the eventual halt in the human experiment. Evolution will just continue and we will be compost again.(the best a human can give to the planet is to compost again.

there must be many answers to recovery of our demise but I fear that the system of greed will not lie down in many of us, I mean without my second computer I will have to get up and let my wife and children use it. Maybe we could have done with one ?? and one car or walked my advise ! slow down grow food walk and dance a lot.