Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Deserving

Anagram - 4 Request Armchair
Any prophetic nerve-endings I have resonated in deep foreboding this last week. The “Occupy” protest drones on, many protesters simply crying ‘foul’ with no clear idea of the rules, with ethical fluff from the Church – bishops who are losing the argument invariably turn to prayer. 
The guilds system on which the City was originally based has been hijacked by the buccaneers, the free market thinkers, rogue traders and others whom most consider undeserving of the largesse heaped upon them. Eye-popping bonuses and wealth beyond the dreams of avarice is brought about by the illusion of skill over and above that possessed by ordinary, hence poorer, mortals.

Lead trumps?
If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself  with skills you don’t have with outcomes for which you weren't responsible. Many of those who are rich today got there because they found themselves in a position to capture certain jobs. Without sour grapes, this owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.

The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, prick the financial high-fliers' balloons. He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers across eight years and found that the consistency of their performance was zero. "The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill." Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.

Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund managers throughout Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. So much for the financial sector and its super-educated analysts. I have often asked myself whether my boss is possessed of superior intelligence, judgment and  vision or did they get there through a combination of luck, bluff and bullshit.

In a study published by the journal Psychology, Crime and Law, Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon tested 39 senior managers and chief executives from leading British businesses. They compared the results to the same tests on patients at Broadmoor special hospital, where people who have been convicted of serious crimes are incarcerated.
From the outside
On certain indicators of psychopathy, the bosses' scores either matched or exceeded those of the patients. In fact, on these criteria, they beat even the subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders. The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly closely resemble the characteristics that companies look for. Those who have these traits often possess great skill in flattering and manipulating powerful people. Egocentricity, a strong sense of entitlement, a readiness to exploit others and a lack of empathy and conscience are also unlikely to damage their prospects. Consistently, team players are deemed less valuable than competitive risk-takers, hence psychopathic traits are more likely to be selected and rewarded. The conclusion is straightforward.  If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a poor family, you're likely to go to prison. If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a rich family, you're likely to go to business school.
Bishop of London and banker
What, I wonder, should the Church be saying? To my surprise, the Vatican has issued via its Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace a document suggesting the creation of a new global authority empowered to make economic decisions for the common good rather than individual national interest.  In keeping with the principle of subsidiarity, which advocates always dealing with problems at the lowest, most local level of authority possible, such an authority should intervene in global matters only when “individual, social or financial actors are intrinsically deficient in capacity, or cannot manage by themselves to do what is required of them.” 
Oh, dear.  Why are small shivers running down my spine?


  1. "A new global authority..."? Having grown up with said Church inevitably referred to as "The Whore of Babylon" I am not inclined to think favorably on any sort of global anything proposed by the guy in the big hat. Mind you, I'm not so much for global domination by long beards and short dishdashas, either. Or finger pointing, Book shaking, tie-wearing corner preachers.

    Hmmm... am I courting the new atheism, do you suppose?


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