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May 2010
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Complexity—Or Simple Greek?


We hear the cry of complexity a lot these days; especially with the health-care system and global warming. Our banking system, Wall Street and the economy are all highly complex, broad areas to address, and difficult to predict or change.

Yes. Sounds like Greek to me. Time to go home and take a nap. Unfortunately we are home and for many of us it’s our homes we are talking about. Fortunately there are a few voices of clarity we should know about and some underlying issues to focus on.

Rather than complex financial instruments, it comes down to simpler issues—ethical and moral ones—about who we are and what we will allow others to do to us/US. Fortunately there are enough people who say that the tail shouldn’t be wagging the dog so this can be addressed.

This isn’t about understanding complex financial agreements, but deciding whether we should allow the desires of a few to affect the world’s economy.

What’s getting clearer about “it’s too complex” is that it’s more predictably a cry we hear from those who don’t want a to closer look. We hear that cry from those people, and the moonlighting U.S. Congressmen they support.

Have you noticed that when business comes under scrutiny that they’d love to explain how their business works, but it’s Greek to them too? In fact, with the economy, it’s downright magical how it all comes together. It’s that Invisible Hand of the market place that adjusts things all by itself—as long as we get out of the way and don’t muck it up.

What often comes next is the argument that the worst thing we can do is hastily rush in with good intentions to correct some perceived inequity. Let the Hand do it. It will, in time.

If we do rush in and make changes we risk waking up the law of unintended consequences, and who knows what could come next? Certainly something worse and something to fear, we’re told.

On the other hand, does anyone doubt that whenever changes are made, there will be loose ends left to address? They’ll stand out even more. That’s not failure—if we adjust.

While understanding how every little piece of the world’s economy fits together is a grand goal, no one does. If our under-fire financial institutions knew how the world economy worked, why did they get in trouble and need a bailout in the first place? Don’t forget that these are our “financial advisors”—and they still consider themselves so.

So how much do we need to know about? Are things too complex or too simple? If complex, does that mean we can’t address obvious problems? Aren’t there clearly issues to be addressed? Looking at what we know for sure could be an approach worth considering. Instead, some politicians have resorted to partisanship and class warfare.

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property—until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

Oops, wrong quote. That was Thomas Jefferson in 1802. I have a more recent one here somewhere, humm. Did Jefferson envision credit cards and the Fed?

What we can learn from Jefferson is that trying to control those who would control the economy for their personal benefit is not new. Throughout our history we have done just this. We’ve passed antitrust legislation instead of declaring a business too big to fail. Both political sides agreed to the concept. We’ve always been leery of those who grab too much.

In recent years the fields that banks could do business in have changed dramatically. We’re looking at the effects of that, not changing ancient traditions. One result is we have a large group of bought and sold Congressmen. That’s happened in our history before as well.

Certainly with financial messes it’s easy to cry complexity because most us believe it’s Greek to begin with. But almost every day we’re discovering examples of how it’s more about Greed that Greek.

We’re finding out that financial institutions bet that the housing market in the US would fail. They bet and cheered when it did. If they didn’t make up the instruments of trade that created the mess, you might say that The Hand did it and they just took advantage of the flow. But we know now that they helped it along, which totally violates the basic principle of all followers of The Hand—that is, Hands Off!

Isn’t it interesting how greed seems to have a life of its own? It’s almost as if it wants to be noticed. Remember during the health-care debate when one company raised their insurance rates 40%?

When asked about the bad timing of it, the insurance executive pointed to the The Hand as the one that dictated what had to be done. I’m sorry, but I didn’t get that one. Did they say they can’t control their company’s policy or they can’t control themselves?

The methods used by financial institutions are now described as a casino game. Instead of betting red or black, they bet up or down. When they bet down and have a sister company that helps it go in that direction, it’s fraud. When this gets to the point that it affects all of us—the world’s economy—it’s everybody’s business. Because there are people who believe it’s fine to grab all the marbles and let the chips fall where they may, control is not only justified; it’s vital to add stability for all of us/US.

Regulators who were supposed to be watching were not. Not watching is the same as having no regulations, and given the result, we can see that having no regulations is not an option.

There are some very good descriptions of this process that can be taken in small doses. William Black is an expert in white-collar crime, a lawyer and was a bank regulator during the Savings and Loan crisis. If you want short understandable clips of him defining what is going on with the economy and bank industry see

The above link has a series of interviews 5–10 minutes long.

In an 8-minute clip he told Congress what happened at Lehman Brothers.

And Goldman Sachs: Black was also on “The Journal” with Bill Moyers April 23. See

Until now Wall Street has bounced back just fine—thanks to the bailouts. Problem is, the rest of the economy has not. Now the controls under their gaming tables have been exposed. They tried to become The Hand.

More is coming out daily that what happened was criminal. While it’s not easy for me to study or get into, I think it important because of how much these institutions directly influence our everyday lifes. President Jefferson saw the consequences of ignoring it. We can’t, or we get robbed.

Overall, while we, myself included, may consider it complex or tough to get into, if much of it is also becoming predictable too, then maybe it isn’t so complex after all. It’s not Greek, it’s Greed. Instead of wanting others to fix the economy for us maybe we need to step up to the table and notice what’s going on.

Have a great month,