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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Leadership vs. Management: Change vs. Constancy?

In the "leadership vs. management" dichotomy, "management focuses on getting work done on time, on budget, and on target--in other words, steady execution and control--while leadership focuses on change and innovation." However, this contrast of implementation and innovation is a different dichotomy. Abstractly speaking, a category mistake may be involved in this false dichotomy. Change would be occurring in the execution of an innovative vision. In the realm of change alone, formulating and selling it can be distinguished from making the change. Therefore, the “leadership vs. management” distinction does not reduce to “change vs. status quo."

Material from this essay has been incorporated into The Essence of Leadership: A Cross-Cultural Foundation, which is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Leadership in Europe: A Recipe for Reducing Legal Uncertainty

Concerning the legal environment of business, the lawyers who teach as full-time instructors in American business schools affirm that managers would rather have a challenging environment that they know than one that is characterized by headlines such as, “Legal Uncertainty Imperils EU Agreement.” At the E.U.’s parliament, which represents the E.U.’s citizens, the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, said in the wake of the agreement, “An intergovernmental treaty was not my first preference, nor that of . . . most of the member states . . . It will not be easy, also legally speaking. I count on everybody to be constructive, bearing in mind what is at stake.” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal was also reporting that investors were “largely dismissive” of the Council meeting  at which the extra-E.U. agreement on strengthening the enforcement mechanism of state deficit and debt limits had been reached at the end of the previous week. Alan Brown, chief investment officer at Schroders Investment Management, which had at the time almost $300 billion under management, said of the results of the Council meeting, “Yes, it was what I expected, and yes, I was disappointed.” Schroders was backing up this view with a modest bet against the euro. Relatedly, Barclays was forecasting the currency to fall from $1.30 on December 13, 2011 to $1.25 by June 2012. Besides the pessimism on the “intergovernmental treaty” as well as a possible increase of funds from the $500 billion cap on the agenda at a Council meeting in March 2012, the sheer uncertainty described by Van Rompuy lowers the value of the announced agreement and the outlook concerning the viability of the euro as well as the E.U. itself.



              Federalismus in Action: Jose Barosso of the E.U. Commission and Angela Merkel of Germany / NYT

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Visible Hand: Markets Forging a Stronger E.U.

Joschka Fischer, a former foreign minister of the state of Germany, said the agreement under which 17 state governments accept more oversight and control of their budgets by the European Union “was a big step, which was pushed on the Europeans by the markets.” Such pressure was necessary, given the conflict of interest bearing on state officials working at the federal level on a deal that would add a new competency to the E.U. “(I)n the end,” Fischer added, “the markets have limited the options of the political leaders, especially of Merkel, and pushed her into giving more support for the euro.” Giving more support for the euro meant giving more power to the E.U. at the expense of the state-level where Merkel has most of her power. From this vantage point (i.e., the power that state officials have at the E.U. level), it is amazing that the E.U. has been able to acquire any additional competencies.


The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Democracy Deficit in Nominating Presidential Candidates

“Newt Gingrich is up, Herman Cain is out, and the attacks are getting sharper as the GOP primary campaign enters the final month.” The final month, that is, before “Iowa launches the contests that will choose the challenger to President Obama.” This has the ring of before time began, or before the beginning. That anything is decided before the beginning may seem metaphysically impossible even if it applies politically. One might demur, claiming that anything without a foundation ought not to be able to exist, let alone to stand. Can Americans borrow anything from the E.U.'s presidents that might improve how the U.S. president is selected?

The full essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Dilemma for the E.U.: A Convention or an Amendment?

In November 2011, European leaders began to talk about amendments to the E.U. that would “change the fundamental structure of the union.” Complicating the talks was ambiguity concerning the nature of the E.U. itself at the time. Foremost among the changes being discussed was the idea of a form of centralized oversight of the budgets of the state governments, with “sanctions for the profligate.” The existing E.U., while more than the American Articles of Confederation, was at the time found to be insufficient in keeping the debt crisis from spreading from state to state and engulfing the union itself and its currency. “The survival of the euro zone is in play,” one senior European official said. “So far it’s been too little, too late.” In this respect, the pressure for “ever closer union” was like that facing the Americans in the mid-1780s. Because the nature of the union was itself an issue, a convention composed of delegates—not state officials—directly elected by the people for the purpose might seem best suited. However, I contend that while rethinking the E.U. was not without merit at the time, the specificity of the planned amendment argues against the idea.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Decadent Management: Burger King Dethroned

When a major company like Borders or Pan American declares it is going out of business—bankruptcy being all too often just a way to force creditors and unions to renegotiate—the public is often stunned. Indeed even a week before such an announcement, managers can assure customers under the veneer of an expressionless face or even a comforting smile—that the company is focused on “driving strong expansion in its many markets around the world” and will “strongly position” its brand. Driving expansion? Strongly positioning? An astute person will instinctively detect the scripted, vacuous jargon as the patina of a rather strange, if conformist, mentality that presumes to invent or misuse words with impunity, as if from a superior position in society. The quoted expressions are from Miguel Piedra, a spokesperson of Burger King, reported in a Wall Street Journal piece on Wendy’s being “positioned” to replace “the King” as number two in sales. If Piedra’s bureaucratic response is not enough of a red-flag, a visit to a Burger King restaurant might give the impression of a company that—absent the cushions of name recognition and capital—is on the verge of going out of business.

The full essay is in The full essay is in Cases of Unethical Business: A Malignant Mentality of Mendacity, available at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An American President Meets the E.U.: Corrective Exigencies of a Debt Crisis

Political protocol can take some time to catch up to changed political realities. For over two hundred years, it has been assumed that U.S. presidents have met with their counterparts in E.U. states such as Britain, France, and Germany. During the European debt crisis, the New York Times reported, “in numerous private conversations and increasingly forceful public statements, [American] policy makers are urging their European counterparts to take big steps and move fast to reassure markets.” It was undoubtedly assumed that the counterparts were at the state level in the E.U., rather than in E.U. governmental institutions. So how are we to situate Barak Obama’s meeting on November 27, 2011 with José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission; Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council; and Catherine Ashton, the European foreign policy chief? 

                                                                   Doug Mills/NYT


Monday, November 28, 2011

A Syrian Offensive: Taking on International “Enforcement” of Human Rights

In Geneva on November 28, 2011, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria presented its report, which had been requested by the UN Human Rights Council. According to the report’s summary, the “deteriorating situation in the Syrian Arab Republic prompted The Human Rights Council to establish an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged violations of human rights since March 2011.” The Commission interviewed 223 victims and witnesses. The Commission was able to document “patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, including sexual violence, as well as violations of children’s rights.”One might suppose that the Syrian government would have been seeking to placate the international organization and other governments.

The full essay is at "Taking on International Enforcement."


Source:

Neil MacFarquhar and Nada Bakri, “Syria Calls Arab League Sanctions ‘Economic War.’” The New York Times, November 28, 2011. 



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Supercommittee’s Failure: Obama’s Too?

In the wake of the failure of the joint congressional committee that was tasked with coming up with a proposal to reduce federal deficits over a decade by $1.2 trillion, Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, said at a news conference, “It’s the chief executive’s job to bring people together and to provide leadership. I don’t see that happening.” The mayor may have been wrong. Take the word executive: literally it is to execute, or implement, which implies management rather than leadership. Put another way, implementation depends on a goal already established, presumably by a leader. To lead is to formulate a vision of social reality that is an ideal, and thus consisting of goals rather than actualities, and then to persuade others to accept that social reality. Once the directionality is established, the means, or strategies, can be executed by managers (i.e., those who manage the implementation).

Even Dan Pfeiffer the White House communications director at the time, may have conflated management with leadership in remarking, “A president’s job is to lay out a plan and then rally the country to that plan.” The word plan is key. A plan is a means to get from here to there. It is therefore not the same as a goal, which is only an end-point. So once again leadership, which is oriented to formulating and selling a vision, is being conflated with strategy, which belongs with management, which implements goals by making and executing plans. Pfeiffer went on to refer to the president’s $3 trillion deficit reduction plan, whose specificity renders it clearly within the executive purview of the chief executive, rather than the leadership function of the president. Whereas to preside is literally to sit before (from the Latin), which is consistent with formulating and selling a vision, to execute is to draw up (or have drawn up) specific plans and negotiate on the basis of them.

The U.S. Presidency is a strange bird in that it contains, among other roles, the leadership of presiding and the management of executing. It is no doubt a tricky business balancing these two hats (among others, such as commander in chief). If the chief executive gets too caught up in negotiating particular plans that require legislation, his leadership function can suffer, as can the separation of powers that is vital to the proper functioning of the U.S. Government. That is to say, if the chief executive becomes the chief legislator through his minute legislative-committee involvement, he has gone far beyond the minority role represented by his veto pen. That veto is a check on congressional legislative power rather than an encroachment on Congress’s main function. Therefore, the chief executive should not have been an active part of the “super-committee” on the deficits.

The plans that the chief executive draws up should be oriented to the post-legislative implementation, or enforcement, of legislation, with only advice given to congressional committees as per the minority role of the presidential veto. In a sense, the American President is both before and after the Congress; the leader’s vision is as though the tip of an arrow pointing where the country is to go, whereas the executive’s plans are means of implementing legislation, which is ideally in line with the leadership vision’s goals and principles. Admittedly, in a governmental system of separated powers, the broad directions and principles, strategies as laws, and executive plans are not necessarily in sync. Perhaps this is reason enough for the U.S. President to keep straight the distinctive functions of leading and managing.


Source:

Jackie Calmes, “Obama Weighed Risks of Engagement, and Decided to Give Voters the Final Say,” The New York Times, November 22, 2011. 


Monday, November 21, 2011

The African Customs Unions and the E.U.: On Currencies

The East African Community (EAC) is Africa’s “most advanced regional trade bloc,” according to the Wall Street Journal. As of the journal’s report in late 2011, the EAC was already a customs union that guaranteed the movement of goods and the right to work across Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. The parliaments were working at the time on synchronizing immigration and tariff laws. “We want to develop this corridor vigorously and collectively,” Mugo Kibati, director of a Kenyan government program, said. The journal notes, however, that the EAC and other trading blocs in Africa, such as the Southern African Development Community, were “backing away from one prominent aspect of Europe’s economic union: a common currency.” Aside from any vague similarities that the fiscal differences between Greece and Germany may have to those between Zimbabwe and South Africa, the currency question itself is out of place for a NAFTA-like trade agreement.


The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Should the E.U. Represent Its States at the UN?

In 2010, it was proposed that the E.U. have an increased role at the UN in order to boost Europe’s profile as major player at the international level. One proposal would have given the E.U. the powers enjoyed by fully-fledged UN members, such as the right to make proposals and submit amendments, the right of reply, the right to raise points of order and the right to circulate documents. While there is no demand in the draft for a more prominent seating position for the EU, it was possible that the E.U. could have been moved to the center of the UN’s assembly chamber. Wherever the E.U. would have been situated, additional seats alongside a new European UN ambassador would have been made available for High Representative Catherine Ashton, the E.U. Foreign Minister, and her staff. Experts believed at the time of the proposal that such a role for the E.U. in the General Assembly would not significantly enhance the E.U.’s ability to influence policy at a UN level; instead, the proposal would have provided an opportunity for the E.U. to portray itself as a unified power on the international stage.
 

The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On the Role of the European Central Bank in Ending the Debt Contagion

According to the Wall Street Journal, “That the [ECB] has been forced to step into the power vacuum left by a fractious political class underscores the increasing centrifugal forces unleashed by the debt crisis.” Yet that pressure was being applied to the central bank to issue Eurobonds and buy more state government bonds in spite of the objections of German officials suggests that there were also centripetal forces acting on the center at the expense of the state capitals, even Berlin. It is important to view the E.U.’s “management” of its debt crisis through the prism of the history of European integration since the Shuman Plan in 1951, which called for ever closer union so as to obviate war and give Europe a stronger economic and diplomatic power in the world. The history of the European project can be characterized as a series of fits and starts, punctuated by momentary crises—each proffering potential ruin to the union itself. For example, France’s veto of Britain’s accession as a state must surely have struck some people as portending the end of the EC—the forerunner to the E.U. Yet from the vantage point of 2011, the conduct of the accession seems a mere hiccup on a much longer road of hills and valleys. Regarding the extent of integration by 2011 (e.g., monetary union), the question is whether European efforts to come to grips with the contagion of over-burdened state debt signify merely another valley, or an inherent contradiction or fault-line in the E.U. itself. Whatever the answer, the outcome will no doubt come about incrementally, as one might expect from E.U. history.

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Market Mechanism: Complicit in E.U. Debt Crisis

According to the New York Times, “How European sovereign debt became the new subprime is a story with many culprits, including governments that borrowed beyond their means, regulators who permitted banks to treat the bonds as risk-free and investors who for too long did not make much of a distinction between the bonds of troubled economies like Greece and Italy and those issued by the rock-solid Germany.” In going through these culprits and how they interrelated, it should not be lost that the market mechanism itself can be held as suspect, for at the very least it enabled the furtive games to be played for far too long. Indeed, the market itself did not do a good job for years in providing accurate risk-return relationships.

The full essay is in, "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon. 


Monday, November 14, 2011

Monti and Papadernos in the E.U.: Leadership in Technical Expertise or Democratic Deficit?

“The moment of truth has come.” This was said by the head of state of the E.U.’s third largest state, Italy, in a televised address just after Berlusconi had resigned as the prime minister. Although the statement could be interpreted as referring to the need to reign in the Italian profligate system of public-sector patronage (which includes private contractors), Giorgio Napolitano could also have been referring to the credibility of his state at the E.U. level. “We need to restore confidence with investors and European institutions,” he continued before turning to the more tangible point that the state would need to refinance nearly 200 billion euros in government bonds before May, 2012.



                             Monti and Barroso                                    John Thys/Agence France-Presse/Getty

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Contagion Beyond the Headlines: Portugal and Eastern Europe

The E.U. states of Greece and Italy were grabbing headlines during the first two weeks of November 2011, given the dramatic resignations of Papandreou and Berlusconi. The only other state to get some attention was France. The Wall Street Journal noted on November 12th that concerns had been quietly building about France. According to the paper,“French bond yields rose to four-month highs, one day after Standard & Poor's Ratings Services erroneously issued a message saying it had cut France's triple-A credit rating. The yield on France's benchmark 10-year bond climbed 0.02 percentage point to 3.46%. That was 1.66 percentage points over yields on comparable German government bonds. France now has the highest government bond yields among its triple-A-rated peers in the region.” However, it seems overly dramatic to say that a .02 percent increase evinces a climb. Moreover, 3.46% is well under 7 percent, which is the level that was presumed at the time to signify the need for a bailout. Relative to the changes in the Italian yield, those of the French bonds could be viewed as relatively moderate, The French yield was still closer to that of Germany. Although not a red herring, the concern over France masked some real sleepers that were poised to take a hit in 2012. 



Eclipsed by the headlines, Portugal’s expected GDP for 2012 was revised downward by the E.U.’s executive branch in November from the May estimates of around -1.8% to -3% with an expected unemployment rate of nearly 14 percent. The 2011 numbers were also revised downward, from about -1.9% to around -2.1 percent. Meanwhile, Portugal’s semi-sovereign 10-year bond yield was at just over 12 percent, well over Italy’s “point of no return” rate of 7.5 percent, which was hit for a day during the second week of November. With an expected contraction of 3% in 2012 and a 12% yield in November of 2011, Portugal could be expected to face stronger head-winds in being able to make its interest payments in 2012. I suspect that the press had become so captivated with the circus of personalities in Greece and Italy that the iceberg lying in front of Portugal was simply not seen.

Besides Portugal, some of the states in Eastern Europe faced icebergs of their own—though not necessarily of their own making. These too were receiving too little press coverage in November of 2011. Specifically, the state leaders of the “euro zone” had decided in October to give the “zone’s” major banks until the following summer to raise their capital reserves. With that amount of time, the banks could avoid issuing new stock (which would dilute the holdings of their existing stockholders) and get the added reserves together by cutting back on lending to Eastern E.U. state governments instead. Morgan Stanley figures that Poland, Romania, and Hungary are most vulnerable to a loss of “euro zone” bank lending. Roughly 1 trillion euros of “euro zone” bank assets were in Eastern Europe at the time of the change in governments in Greece and Italy. Hungary’s exposure was the largest, with loans held by the banks amounting to about 37% of GDP. According to the Wall Street Journal, any hit to the E.U.’s eastern states, whose economic growth had been powered the global recovery, would only worsen the E.U.’s economic outlook and its ability to service its debts. That is to say, enabling the “euro zone” banks to raise additional reserve capital by reducing lending rather than raising equity may have been in the banks’ interest, but choking the eastern states could already in November be expected to make it more difficult for Greece, Italy, and Portugal to service their respective debts from reduced economic output in 2012. 

It would have been wiser on the journalists’ part to put France in perspective and take a look at Portugal and Eastern Europe than to have fixated so much on the plights of Papandreou and Berlusconi as they struggled to maintain power only to ultimately lose it.

Sources:
Matthew Dalton, “Europe Slashes Its Growth Forecast,” The Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204224604577029442286713940.html

Kelly Evans, “Eastern Europe Vulnerable in Debt Crisis,” The Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203537304577030422025545822.html

Neelabh Chaturvedi, Stelios Bouras, and Liam Moloney, “Europe Pulls Back From Brink,” The Wall Street Journal, November 12-13, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204358004577032401682551744.html?mod=googlenews_wsj


11/11/11

In Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate on 11/11/11 in 2011, costumes were the norm in the evening as revelers celebrated the numeric convergence. I suspect that unlike the Chinese, the Europeans were struck by the convergence itself, rather by any good luck attached to the numerology. I myself was struck by the convergence alone. Both at 11:11am and 11:11pm, I was surprised that other Americans around me seemed to be either ignorant of the alignment or utterly indifferent to it. It occurred to me that just as a given time-date system is artificial, so too are human cultures—which include political and economic values that are stitched together by leaders who peddle meaning to the masses. Both our systems and our ideologies are all too limiting, yet we can find meaning in them. Perhaps this is ultimately why we have them and the leaders that trumpet them or suggest new ones. I contend that 11/11/11 too plays into the human instinct for sense-making, especially in terms of visual and cognitive symmetries.

At 11:11am on 11/11/11, I limited my “celebration” to sending out some emails to some friends and a general tweet to mark the moment for posterity; curiously, the people around me did not seem aware of the convergence. At 11:11pm, I was at a bar/restaurant listening to a band of old geezers play classic rock (and, sadly, a few Jimmy Buffett songs) from the 1970s. The only convergence in the 1970s was inflation and unemployment in the double-digits. In spite of my protestations, even the people I sitting with seemed utterly indifferent to the coming convergence—even as I took off my watch for emphasis! Still nothing—like watching a train go by on its own momentum. A few people across the room were checking their cellphones and blackberries, but, alas, for more pedestrian purposes than to keep an eye on the coming cosmic convergence. As I rather blatantly went to the lighted doorway to better see my watch at “the moment,” I felt utterly alienated from my own people. It was a case of the one and the many.
When the moment came, as I watched the five numbers on my digital watch all briefly display “11,” I felt like I was on Mars enjoying the thrill of my own private “Earth” moment while the Martians continued to sip their red brew. No, I was not drinking so I did not really think I saw aliens (they are all in Arizona, after all). Rather, I was struck by the divergence in values even amid the convergence in numbers. There wasn’t even a clock in the room! Had I been the manager there, I would have tried to arrange a date-time digital “clock” on a screen. Would the people have counted down the seconds? Would they have paid any attention to it? Walking back to my seat, I wondered whether I wasn’t some reincarnated European reborn in the Midwest as some bizarre joke from Descartes’ divine deceiver, or perhaps I was over-estimating the Europeans’ interest in the convergence. Perhaps it’s simply that I’m too innately unique—a man destined to forever be without a country.
About thirty minutes after 11:11pm, I was chatting with a middle-aged man who had been fired as a band teacher at a local high school. Our conversation came around to political economy. “Greed is good,” he stated in perfect seriousness with his eyes as though bullets aimed directly at me. I reacted as if I had been stunned by a taser gun. No wonder the guy’s students obeyed him. As for the gaping inequality in wealth in the U.S., he insisted that people should be allowed to accumulate without limit—even when they already have tens of billions of dollars. “That’s what America is all about,” he nearly shouted above the din of the band. How dare this even be questioned! The man was indeed voicing values held by enough Americans that he was expressing a major strand of American culture that I could not dismiss as an aberration or quirk. When I claimed that representative democracy itself could be at risk if private wealth gets even more concentrated in a few hands, he replied that the rich would never let America be ruined because they have a vested interest in the system. “The rich created this system,” he reminded me. Sure enough, the delegates at the U.S. constitutional convention in 1787 were creditors deeply concerned over Shays’ Rebellion over debt that had just occurred in Massachusetts a year earlier. That the debtors had fought in the war without being paid yet they still had to make payments on their farm debt made no nevermind to the “Founders.” Was American founded by selfishness and greed? The former band teacher replied, “Yes, of course” as if there were no a thing wrong with that. I was absolutely stunned. I felt like I had been transported to Mars. I countered that even if a bunch of rich guys founded the United States, greed can result in people acting against their own self-interest, paradoxically as they are narrowly obsessed with it. “America can collapse from its own weight on top,” I added as though it were a fact. As I said this, I had already concluded that I was horribly at odds with a major plank in the American lexicon—namely, that economic liberty should not be limited, even at hundreds of billions of dollars being held by one person. In fact, the lack of limit, even when a constraint would be for the good of the system itself, is held by many as a virtue—something to be proud of. That a signature of greed is its lack of limitation is no problem because greed itself is a virtue. I found myself as though I were visiting another planet, though this time without even my own private amusement in watching 11’s match up on my watch. Beyond the cultural ideology, I saw in the leader of the band a sordid selfishness that could only be utterly unapologetic given its nature. All I could say was, “Well, we just disagree. Have a good night. Nice to have met you.” I wondered if the rest of the world had come to say the same thing to the American “tourist” (i.e., ideology) even while admiring our political stability and wealth.
Of course, people can get carried away not only with power and money, but also with convergences such as 11:11 on 11/11/11 in terms of luck, causality and metaphysics. In this respect, American culture is more solid than, say, that of the Chinese. As David Hume argues, we do not understand causality as much as we think. Hence, superstition is as though a perennial temptation—especially in religion, where the lapse is almost always invisible to the beholder. In numerology, the number one represents a beginning or gateway. Having several number ones presumably reinforces the validity of the “beginningness” quality. In other words, the “vibrational frequency of the prime number” increases its power such that its attributes are multiplied.  In the case of the number one, the attributes of “new beginnings” and “purity” are significantly magnified in power in 11/11/11, presumably reaching its zenith at 11:11 (a.m. and p.m., or just once on the 24 hour clock). The fallacy, which I suspect took hold in China, is to say that the increase in power means that there is more apt to be a beginning empirically and even metaphysically. We can resist this temptation to get carried away with even rare line-ups in our own systems, which, after all, are artificial because they are invented and instituted by people. In other words, even though it is a human instinct, sense-making need not over-flow and eventuate into metaphysical significance. We cannot say that acknowledging 11/11/11/ opens up a gateway in one’s life. Rather, a person can actively start something irrespective of the numbers, even if only by spotting and seizing an opportunity.
A numeric alignment can hold its own significance within its own system for the human mind. That is, the significance can be felt even as it is known to be contrived and thus arbitrary from outside the system. As I stood in the lighted doorway waiting for my watch to briefly line up its various numbers to 11:11:11 on 11/11/11 as the rest of the room was fixated on the band (or the walls, or themselves), I presumed no metaphysical significance at all in terms of some beginning about to occur in my life; rather, it was the convergence itself—the fleeting and rare alignment—that galvanized my interest. The sudden turn from 1999 to 2000 was a similar sort of significance in terms of numbers in a particular dating system. People did not need to presume the issuance of a new era or good luck to get excited at 11:59pm on December 31, 1999 about the next minute being so different. Yet was it? Something can be felt as significant even as it is known to be arbitrary, yet such significance can be easily relegated.
Admittedly, it was more difficult to get excited about New Years’ Eve in 2005 or even 2010, given the significance of 2000. Similarly, on 11/11/11, a sense of complacency could have set in regarding convergences of ones. The year 2011 alone contained an extraordinary number of them:
1:11:11 on 1/1/11     
11:11:11 on 1/1/11      
 1:11:11 on 1/11/11     
11:11:11 on 1/11/11     
 1:11:11 on 11/1/11       
11:11:11 on 11/1/11
1:11:11  on 11/11/11      
11:11:11 on 11/11/11 
However, how many of these did the average person observe? I myself completely missed 1:11pm on 11/11/11 even though I was fixated on 11:11am and 11:11pm. I must have been “out to lunch” at 1:11pm. Although it would be 100 years before 11/11/11 would happen again, it would be “only” 10 years and a few months before 2:22pm (forget 2:22am!) on 2/22/22. Technically speaking, missing a “2” (2/ rather than 22/) means that the multiplied power of the “2” will be somewhat less. Trinitarians will have reason to get excited over 3/3/33 at 3:33pm, which will be the day after Ash Wednesday in 2033. However, the number of 3’s is one less than the number of 2’s in 2/22/22. Barring significant life-extending advances in medical science, 11:11 on 11/11/11 in 2011 was the best it could get in terms of the number of numbers in a numeric date-time convergence for those adults who happened to witness that convergence.
That this topic holds any significance whatsoever is I suspect due to the propensity of the human mind to seek and admire order. In terms of symmetry alone, the eye naturally gravitates to 1111111111 rather than 1645564336. The gambling machine that has three windows with a variety of pictures spinning around, we are naturally astonished when the same picture is shown in all three windows. Even so, three lemons does not mean bad luck any more than three apples means good health in the coming year. 11/11/11 is not an alignment by chance, even if the Gregorian calendar itself need not have been adopted when it was. Even so, the planned or arranged alignment, being both of, is inherently pleasing to the eyes and holding significance to the mind, especially if the convergence is rare and fleeting. It is as though everything makes sense, but only for a moment and then it is past. In fact, it is this basic feature of the mind—that which I call the sense-making instinct—that is the basis and appeal of a leader’s vision to followers and an organization or society as a whole. The social reality that is formulated and preached is like a series of ones in a chaotic world of fractal order and disorder.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Industry Self-Regulation: Too Idealistic for Futures

At the time of MF Global’s collapse amid hundreds of millions of dollars in lost customer funds, commodities and futures trading had for decades been “largely policed by the exchanges where they trade, setting up a potential conflict of interest,” according to the New York Times. The paper continues by pointing out that those exchanges, including profit-making companies such as CME Group, the parent company of the Chicago and New York Mercantile Exchanges and the clearing house used by MF Global, “oversee the very futures firms they rely on for business.” The Times refers to this conflict of interest as one centered on industry self-regulation. 
 
The full essay is at Institutional Conflicts of Interest, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

The Essence of Leadership

According to DePree (1989, p.19), the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. This might seem metaphysically esoteric, but I believe DePree hit the nail on the head. Even though far less has been written in leadership research about the importance of viewing reality and interpreting it than about traits, styles and situational factors, defining reality is the fundamental task distinguishing leadership as a phenomenon (Caldwell, Bischoff & Karri, 2002, p. 153).

 Material from this essay has been incorporated into The Essence of Leadership: A Cross-Cultural Foundation, which is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. 


Sources:

Caldwell, C, S.J. Bischoff, and R. Karri: 2002, “The Four Umpires: A Paradigm for Ethical Leadership,” Journal of Business Ethics 36, 153-163.
De Pree, M.: 1989, Leadership Is an Art (Doubleday: NY).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Greco-Roman Achilles’ Heel: Democracy or Leadership?

In assessing the abilities of the E.U. states of Greece and Italy to manage their respective debt-loads as expected by E.U. leaders, the impacts from the governance systems can be distinguished from the impact from compromised or failed leadership. In general terms, a forceful, visionary leader can leverage an existing governance system to “produce.” However, it is also true that a faulty system can make transformational leadership difficult if not nearly impossible.

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Greece & Italy: Undercutting Market Confidence in the E.U.

As a federal system, the E.U. can be expected to contain a certain amount of economic disparity. The state bond yields in October 2011, for example, were—one could say—“diversified.” Investors relishing high risk-return could partake in Greek bonds while retired investors could safely stick to the German variety. A healthy federal system proffers something for nearly every taste, while constraining the outliers for the sake of unity.


The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

On the E.U. Debt Crisis: Lessons from the Early U.S.

In the March 2, 2010 issue of the New York Times, Roger Cohen illustrates how useful EU-US comparisons can be. He is careful to compare the E.U. of his time not to the contemporaneous U.S., but, rather, to it a few decades into its founding. In other words, he corrects for the impact of time on political development. This is not to say that the E.U. in 2010 was akin to the U.S. under its Articles of Confederation. The Articles treaty evinced far less integration politically and economically. For example, whereas the Articles sported only a common council of delegates from the states, the E.U. in 2010 had a presidency (the European Council, whose president was Van Rompuy), an executive branch (the E.U. Commission, whose chief executive was Barroso), a bicameral legislature (the E.U. Council (of Ministers) and the E.U. Parliament), and a supreme court (the European Court of Justice, or ECJ). In fact, whereas under the Articles the American republics held governmental sovereignty, the ECJ held in 1963 and again in 1964 that E.U. law is supreme over state law and state constitutions. In short, whereas the Articles did not split the atom of governmental sovereignty, the E.U. in 2010 was a federal system of dual sovereignty. Like that of the U.S., the E.U.'s federal system is itself on the empire level; its republics being commensurate with the early modern kingdoms.


The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On the Allure of Popular Suffrage

In the European singing contest/show in which Susan Boyle competed, she lost the top spot to a teenage rap group. The method of selection made all the difference. Rather than having a three-judge panel of experts on singing determine the winner, the general public could “text” via cell phone or other device to vote. That one of the judges explicitly advocated for Boyle after her final performance (just before the voting) was no never mind to the general public that submitted a majority of the votes. To be sure, there were certainly non-music reasons to vote against her. Most notably, the suggestive comments she made on stage just before her first performance, including, “I’m 48, and that’s not my other half” (as she was swinging her hips as if she were sexy), were downright emetic, if not utterly bizarre. So it is possible that the voters put her personality defect above her excellent singing. It is also possible that the “texters” responsible for a majority of the votes simply preferred rap music. I do not like rap “songs” that include shouting and swearing; I do not even regard such “songs” as music. Otherwise, I could sing a song simply by yelling at you. From what I saw, the rap group in the competition was not swearing, but the “singing” did sound at times like shouting to me. Moreover, the group members seemed more oriented to dancing than singing. It is possible that the votes for that group went for any of the fads being represented rather than to singing per se.

A tension, or even an outright contradiction, can exist between meritocracy and direct democracy, or popular sovereignty. Plato and Aristotle both claim that there is a dark side to each system. Meritocracy can slide into aristocracy and democracy into mob rule: government by a selfish and uninformed mob swayed by the passions of the moment over even the people’s own best interests. What struck me about the results of the singing contest was that the rap singing wasn’t good singing whereas Susan Boyle sang very well, yet even so, the group won. It can be safely assumed that most of the voters probably were not experts on good singing. They were not trained to separate their own tastes from a critical perspective focusing on the singers’ voices. The judges presumably could have done this, but they were relegated to proffering their views before the voting—views that the voters could ignore without any imprecation. Indeed, the selection method itself—popular sovereignty—tacitly "disvalues" expertise. In one person, one vote, no one is assumed to be any better qualified to render a decision than anyone else. Differences in effort and talent among the electors are irrelevant unless particular voters care to take them into account.

Lest it be assumed that people in Western democracies necessarily privilege popular sovereignty or the will of the people refracted through elected representatives, it should be noted that power-elites are tacitly permitted to run our political, commercial and non-profit sectors. When Greece’s prime minister, George Papandreou, proposed a referendum in which the Greek people would decide whether to accept the latest debt-deal negotiated at a meeting of the European Council (consisting of heads of the E.U.’s state governments), leaders of France and Germany as well as E.U. appointed officials bore down on the prime minister, perhaps even undercutting his influence with members of his own party in the Greek legislature. Although defending the euro currency from a collapse assumed likely without the implementation of the latest debt deal, the E.U. leaders (including Merkel and Sarkozy) sent the message that direct democracy, ironically in Greece, could not be tolerated given the severity of the economic challenges involved. Experts at the E.U. level, such as the head of the European Central Bank, were included as the E.U. leaders met with Papandreou to pressure him to drop his proposal or change the question to being on the euro zone (rather than on whether to accept the latest E.U. debt deal). Disrespect for direct democracy, or popular sovereignty, was very much implied in the stance being taken at the impromptu E.U. meeting before the G-20 meeting. Yet strangely, the “gang” got away with it. Europeans did not stand up for the voice of the Greek people to be heard directly. Not even the Greek parliament resisted the E.U. “gang” by sufficiently backing the prime minister’s proposal. Instead, leaders of some of the E.U.’s big states and maybe even some E.U. appointed officials may even have pressured members of Papandreou’s own party to bring him down lest he not relent and do what was being deemed necessary to save the euro and the E.U. itself.  Indeed, even Papandreou, when he was caving on the referendum, betrayed his earlier appeal to popular sovereignty by stating that the referendum had value only as long as the opposition was opposing the debt-deal.

I contend that in the E.U., as well as in the U.S., all too often lip-service is given to popular sovereignty and representative democracy, when in fact people still look up to expertise. The Oscars, whose awards are decided by members of the film academy who have expertise in the various fields of filmmaking, is more esteemed than are the People’s Choice Awards. The Oscars are more likely to recognize Maryl Streep’s acting ability than is the People’s Choice.  I would argue that the results of the Oscars are more credible because expertise is not chucked for a flavor of the month. For instance, in the 2010 Oscars, Hurt Locker beat Avatar for Best Director and Best Picture. Hurt Locker was largely an Indie (i.e., on the fringes) film, whereas Avatar broke box office records and was no doubt much more popular with the general public. The Academy members were able to weight improved 3D effects, story and direction without allowing the technical dazzle to overshadow. Indeed, Avatar did receive the Oscar for its development and use of new 3-D technology, even as the members of the academy recognized that the most technologically-advanced film is not necessarily the best.

Of course, Oscar voting is not perfect. The 5000 plus membership may be sufficiently small that cronyism or, its opposite, grudges, may play a role. Avatar’s David Cameron, for example, was apparently not the best-liked man in Hollywood at the time, and his ex-wife just happened to be the director of Hurt Locker. I saw a television clip a few months before the 2010 Oscars showing Cameron being very rude to a fan who simply wanted an autograph at LAX, so I was rooting for his ex-wife and her movie even though Avatar was one of my favorite movies at the time. The lesson is perhaps that no selection process, or person for that matter, is perfect.

My point is that the case of Susan Boyle and the Oscars both point to there being drawbacks to popular suffrage. The E.U. suggests that efforts to bracket direct and even representative democracy are tolerated by the general populous even in democracies. Maybe we are not as much the democrats as we think we are. Maybe there is good reason to leave some things to experts. Even so, at least with respect to political judgment, there may be good reason not to cut off the will of the people. Hence, the U.S. has its Electoral College and the European Council appoints its president, while the U.S. House of Representatives and the E.U. Parliament have elected representatives of the people. In binding the Electoral College to popular vote, the U.S. has moved to the democratic pole, even while tolerating the influence of “big money” in politics. In looking the other way while E.U. leaders undercut state government vetoes and referendums, the E.U. have moved subtly away from the rule of law as well as democracy, even while the salience of state-level elected officials at the EU level (via the European Council) emphasizes “first order” representative democracy (over “second order” selected by the first order). Ideally, neither expertise nor the will of the people are eclipsed, with the rule of law protecting both. The E.U. and U.S. could both take a lesson.


Sources:

 Richard Corliss, “Oscar Wrap-Up: Why Avatar Lost,” Time, March 8, 2010. http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1970502-1,00.html

Marcus Walker and Alkman Granitsas, “Greece Blinks on Euro Threat,” The Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203804204577016213985874218.html

Having It Both Ways: American Culture or Merely Congress?

Under the terms of the debt-ceiling budget agreement enacted during the summer in 2011, members of a joint Congressional committee, evenly divided between the parties as well as between the two chambers, had until Nov. 23 of that year to recommend ways to reduce budget deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Both houses had to vote on the package by Dec. 23, 2011. If no legislation is enacted, the government would automatically cut almost $500 billion from military spending, with an equal amount from nonmilitary programs, between 2013 and 2021.

As negotiations in the “super committee” were becoming mired in November, some Democrats were becoming “increasingly concerned” that some Republicans on the committee, in declaring that they would not be able to accept new revenues toward deficit reduction, were calculating that they would be able to reverse the triggered cuts. Not just any cuts—only those from military spending were loathed by the Republicans. Even as the joint committee was still meeting, Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees were “readying legislation that would undo the automatic across-the-board cuts totaling nearly $500 billion for military programs, or exchange them for cuts in other areas.”

“Republicans should not count on taking the easy way out if they continue to resist a balanced deficit deal that includes revenue increases,” warned Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the joint committee, said the attempt to undo the triggers “reflects a total lack of seriousness.” Adding that such efforts would not be successful, he said they were “the result of people trying to escape the fundamental choices before us, and one of those choices is whether or not we are willing to end special interest tax breaks to pay for defense.” Interestingly because he is a Republican, the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, said he wanted the joint committee to succeed, but that he would not tamper with the mechanism for automatic cuts. “I would feel bound by it,” he said. “It was part of the agreement. The sequester is ugly. Why? Because we don’t want anybody to go there.” That’s just the point; the default of automatic cuts was put into the agreement as an incentive for the joint committee to reach an agreement. Consisting of both parties equally, both sides would have to give. I contend that the Republicans were much less used to giving, so they were less tolerant to the hard choice that the default they had voted for foisted on them.

The porous path of least resistance is often easy to spot. Republicans being forced to choose between agreeing to tax increases and defense cuts found themselves between a rock and a hard place—that is, between anti-tax lobbyists such as Grover Norquist and defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin. “There is more fear this time,” Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, said about the anxiety being expressed by military contractors in his district. Simply put, the Republicans were used to being able to satisfy both Norquist and Lockheed, so the lawmakers went after what they perceived as a false choice. The Speaker was being a statesman in refusing to support such efforts.

When all of a sudden getting things all one’s way is no longer possible, perception itself can be affected—such as in viewing the defense cuts as unfair or disproportionate even though they were equal to the non-defense cuts that the Democrats would have to swallow in the absence of an agreement in the joint committee. In other words, that the Democrats were not trying to change the mix of sequestration cuts even though half of those cuts were politically noxious. This suggests that the Republicans may have felt more entitled to getting things all their way than did the Democrats. Tolerance for being in a tight spot is easier if one is not used getting one’s way and thus does not necessary expect it. In other words, respect for even one’s own rules tends not to hold up to a mentality that privileges getting 100% of one’s position.

That more Americans are conservative than liberal may have been providing the Republicans in Congress with a “playing field” leaning in their favor. Hence, they could typically avoid being the side to blink. For example, during the summer of 2011, they successfully kept raising taxes off the table. When suddenly faced with pressure to give even a bit on this point, the ongoing mentality seeks to deconstruct the default giving rise to the pressure rather than to respect the hard choice and the structure undergirding it.

Beyond partisan politics, it is legitimate to ask whether the American cultures (and there are several, as in Europe) unduly support or even value the mentality wherein a person demand his own way. “My way or the highway” is a common expression in the U.S. I contend that it is particularly salient in American business. Perhaps Republicans coming from or representing that sector of society are so used the self-serving rigidity of “corporate policy” that they won’t even sit down to discuss a deal unless it fits with their “ground rules.”  I suspect that the instinct to deconstruct anything that pressures a choice that involves not getting everything one’s own way is engrained in American managerialism and corporate culture.

I suspect that people reading this essay who have visited the U.S. and are from other regions may be nodding in agreement, Yes, that’s how the rest of us see you guys, but you don’t see it. Americans are perhaps so used to the entitlement of my way or the highway and so used to evading rather than respecting even self-imposed hard choices the mentality within is hardly even recognized, much less expunged in any meaningful way. I see my fellow Americans so used to the rigidity and selfishness of employees (and managers) in retail sectors of American business that it can scarcely be imagined that customer (or, falsely, “guest”) relations in the states might be severely dysfunctional in terms of social psychology.

If I am correct here, then the way the chronic deficits are dealt with may be as problematic as the fiscal imbalances themselves, for both evince a jejune mentality that refuses to grow up and face adult decisions.

Source:
Jennifer Steinhauer and Robert Pear, “Lawmakers Aim to Stop Defense Cuts if Debt Panel Fails,” The New York Times, November 5, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/05/us/politics/lawmakers-aim-to-stop-pentagon-cuts-if-deficit-panel-fails.html

Friday, November 4, 2011

GlaxoSmithKline: Born Again Ethically?

GlaxoSmithKline, a drug company based in the E.U., agreed in 2011 to pay $3 billion to settle the U.S. Government’s civil and criminal investigations into the company’s Medicaid pricing practices and sales practices, including illegal marketing of Avandia, the diabetes drug linked to coronary problems. The settlement amount surpassed the previous record of $2.3 billion paid by Pfizer in 2009. Even so, it is doubtful that $3 billion proffered enough of a punch to motivate either Glaxo’s board or CEO to do what would be necessary to extirpate a corporate culture perhaps too comfortable with cutting corners.

The full essay is in Casesof Unethical Business: A Malignant Mentality of Mendacity, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Downfall of MF Global: Implications for Banks Too Big To Fail

Here is an alphabet-soup of regulatory agencies that let MF Global, a financial services company that specialized in futures-trading, engage in much, too much, risk: SEC, CME, CFTC and FINRA. On one level, regulators will never be able to stop practitioners from making risky or simply bad decisions; a business system populated only by firms above average is by definition impossible. As long as their managers have any freedom of movement at all, some firms, including some in the financial sector, will inevitably fail. The question I want to pose is whether this means that firms too big to fail (TBTF) should be allowed to exist at all. In short, although MF Global itself was not TBTF, the risk Corzine (who had been chairman of Goldman Sachs) permitted suggests that human nature might be insufficiently disposed to support mammoth concentrations of private capital whose fall could mean the collapse of the financial system itself. Ultimately, I suppose, human nature can only go so far, organizationally speaking.

MF Global admitted to $630 million in missing customer funds. Although accounting errors and bank-cushions could account for the discrepancy, MF Global used customer funds to loan itself money. To be able to do so, the former U.S. Senator and Governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, met personally as head of MF Global with federal regulators to get them to relax their proposed rule that would have forbid such a loan. According to the New York Times, financing by borrowing customer funds is not unheard of on Wall Street, but is “carries substantial risk.”

Corzine’s influence with the regulatory agencies may have been similar to the role that Madoff’s status played in his dealings with the SEC. It would seem that regulators are readily “captured” by high status alone—never mind relying on the regulated firms for information and possibly even being influenced by political contributions via elected officials acting on the behalf of big donors. Given the riskiness in borrowing customer funds without the traditional banking oversight of lending, the regulatory “status lapse” syndrome is dangerous—particularly if a firm TBTF is involved. In other words, might we be rolling the dice in Dodd Frank by relying so much on regulators? The possible mix of duplicity and risky multi-billion dollar bets at MF Global should drive home this point.

People at an exchange that cleared trades for MF Global have indicated that Corzine’s firm might have moved money out of customer accounts “in a manner . . . designed to avoid detection” as the firm headed toward collapse. CME Group, the parent company of the Chicago and New York Mercantile Exchanges, indicated that it appears that MF Global dipped into customer accounts after CME finished an onsite review of the securities firm during the last week of October, 2011. The CME statement read in part, “It now appears that the firm made subsequent transfers of customer segregated funds in a manner that may have been designed to avoid detection insofar as MF Global did not disclose or report such transfers to the [Commodity Futures Trading Commission] or CME until early morning on Monday, October 31, 2011.” CME served as a clearing house for trades that were made through MF Global, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, questions regarding MF Global’s $6.3 billion bet on E.U. state debt and the scrutiny by regulators were mounting, according to the Journal. That any bet would be for such a sum ought to raise a red flag for the firm making the bet. Although MF Global was not TBTF, the managers’ willingness to take on such risk suggests that the mentality to take on extraordinary risk carries on in the financial industry. This finding may render the very existence of financial firms deemed too big to fail as something we might want to revisit through legislation. In other words, if bets worth billions of dollars on European government debt were going on through the E.U. debt crisis, the risk alone (to say nothing of the utter stupidity) may suggest that financial-sector firms that are too big to fail are also too big to exist—especially if regulatory scrutiny is insufficient. The risk and the numbers may have reached a dangerous level, given how human nature treats risk (and the limits of human cognition).

Paul Volcker admitted on Charlie Rose in late October 2011 that he never thought he would talk in terms of trillions of dollars, but there it is, that day had arrived and with it, the horrendous risk of banks being too big to fail. Whereas Citigroup had $1.63 trillion in total assets at the end of June 2006, the bank had $1.94 trillion at the end of the third quarter 2011. Comparable figures for Bank of America are $1.45 trillion and $2.22 trillion. JP Morgan Chase: $1.33 trillion and $2.29 trillion. Wells Fargo: $500 billion and $1.3 trillion. Where is the lesson on TBTF from September 2008? It is as if the credit crisis and fall of Lehman Brothers had not happened. Thomas Hoenig, former Kansas City Fed chairman, said in a speech in February 2011, “We must break up the largest banks.” He said the government could do so by restricting the activities of government-backed banks “and significantly narrowing the scope of institutions that are now more powerful and more of a threat to our capitalist system than prior to the crisis.” According to the Wall Street Journal, regulators “can ultimately force a firm to sell off parts of itself if they don’t believe a firm could be wound down without threatening others.” Although Hoenig said he is not against BIG, just too big to fail, so it is possible that the biggest banks could show that “they are manageable, that their risk will not impact the taxpayer in the future,” I contend that the mere existence of concentrations of $1.94, $2.22, $2.29 and $1.3 trillion is inherently dangerous to the financial system and the greater economy. If even one of those should go under all at once, assuming losses are involved, investors, business managers, bankers and even consumers would surely hear a subtle fiscal “thud” and react aversely, even if in a self-fulfilling prophesy. If Wall Street bankers did not learn a lesson from September 2008, however, that “thud” could be far more than psychological. The example of MF Global may suggest that the bankers on Wall Street did indeed continue on in being all too willing to make risky multi-billion-dollar bets, having “slept through” the shrieking “wake-up call” of the financial crisis of 2008. The resumption of the extravagant bonus culture strongly suggests that the bankers still had an incentive to bet big with little regard for risk.

Treating the mega bank as too big to exist as a mega bank does not depend on regulatory scrutiny, which can be subject to the “status syndrome”; rather, once a firm hits the pre-established threshold, the regulators would simply come in and orderly “smash the atom” such that smaller firms result (with different owners, managers and employees—unlike the case of the companies coming out of Standard Oil, which had the same ownership and whose executives were even allowed to continue working in the same building!).

I think perhaps we presume too much regarding human nature, given the edifices we build ever higher and higher, as if in testament to the self-idolatry of our presumption that we cannot be wrong. Lest we come too close to the sun and turn our cities into deserts, we might want to fly our chariots a bit closer to the ground.
                                                
Sources:

Jean Eaglesham, Aaron Luchetti, and Jacob Bunge, “Regulators Enter the MF Fray,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203716204577013753464771104.html

Azam Ahmed and Ben Protess, “As Regulators Pressed Changes, Corzine Pushed Back, and Won,” The New York Times, November 4, 2011. http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/as-regulators-pressed-changes-corzine-pushed-back-and-won/
Victoria McGrane, “Banks’ Critic Poised to Be Head of FDIC,” The Wall Street Journal, November 18, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204517204577044461881272398.html?mod=googlenews_wsj