Sunday, July 8, 2012

Big

I’m trying to decide when “bigger” becomes “badder.” An article in the newspaper recently referred to larger entities –commercial entities—trying to climb on board the organic bandwagon. And as usual, the larger entities were beginning to absorb (swallow) some of the smaller entities, as large entities are wont to do. The article was all about one of the smaller entities, EdenFoods , and how they are working hard to avoid being swallowed.  See, we all know what happens when large, in this case food companies, take over smaller ones. All of the standards by which the smaller entity maintained its essential goodness, are eventually discarded because they conflict with-- guess what-- making profits (see Wal-Mart).

And if it isn’t some corner of the food industry, it’s banking. And if it isn’t banking, it’s clothing. If not clothing, then I don’t know, housing. It doesn’t seem to matter much. Whenever a business entity gets beyond some size, the rules of behavior seem to change automatically, like some evolutionary rule.
In days of yore, just after dinosaurs had ceased roaming freely, banks used to be limited to a single state. And there used to be rules which prevented those single-state banks from engaging in, say, on-line gambling. Then something changed and banks were allowed to open in any state, gobble up local banks at will, and engage in on-line gambling. And what happened? Well, the banking industry collapsed, and we the people were forced by our government to rescue them by borrowing money from China to prop up these indecent entities.
Now was that implosion caused by size? In my mind, size was the driving factor, because beyond some size, intelligence seems to fail. At some stage, the Peter Principle (remember that ironclad principle??) seems to engage firmly and the very large entities begin operating as if on autopilot (you know . . . the way republicans want the world to operate). And, while autopilot works in limited situations in things like airplanes, it rarely works in complex situations.  For example, you really cannot fight a war successfully using the autopilot mode (see the Charge of the Light Brigade, Vietnam, the unnecessary war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan). And apparently, you cannot operate the world’s financial systems while on autopilot (see Citibank, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, et al).  Instead, you evidently require actual human intelligence, which is capable of detecting particularly stupid forms of greed and that other problem that seems to affect banking, LBS—the little boy syndrome. The little boy syndrome is a state of being in which we decide to give all of our money to greedy little boys, while telling them to go play nice on the street. Then, when they inevitably lose all the money because they are greedy and stupid, we pretend to be shocked at their behavior.  So, we need actual human intelligence to detect that the LBS has kicked in, requiring adults to intercede, assuming always that some adults actually exist within the banking industry (I wonder whether that is a scientifically testable hypothesis).
So, maybe we need protections against size, or against Big.  Maybe, for a start, we need to go back to some first principles. For example, maybe banks should be limited to single states again. Breaking up banks might even be fun. I’ll bet we could devise some kind of video game based on breaking up banks, and Apple could devise an App for the I-Phone, letting us all play “Break the Banks”.  Oh, and let’s not forget gambling. Yeah, assuming we all still think that on-line gambling is generally a bad thing, morality-wise, why would we let our banks engage in activities we know to be amoral at best? So, no on-line gambling for banks.
And then we can return to those wonderful days of yesteryear, when too big to fail meant too big to exist, and we can begin again operating our anti-trust regulations, preventing all commercial entities from getting “too big to fail”.  And the little companies that produce organic food stuffs can continue to produce according to their organic quality standards, without fear of being swallowed.
Yeah, that would be nice.
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