Saturday, January 7, 2012

Solve the Problem or Punish the Perpetrator

When you have a problem you also have a choice.

You can set out to solve the problem. Or else, you can find someone to blame and punish him.

You can’t do both at the same time.

If you have a personal problem, a coach-- whether a life coach or a business coach or a relationship coach-- will work with you on solving the problem.

If you consult with a Freudian psychoanalyst he will not even bother to examine the problem. He will want to look for the root cause. He will help you to find out who is to blame.

Any psychotherapist who suffered Freud’s influence will assume that your problems were caused by current or past abuse. Once your abuser is punished, you will, presumably, feel better.

You will not have solved your problem. You will have learned how to ignore your problems and hope that they solve themselves.

In strictly Freudian therapy you will learn that you are the culprit you are looking for. Think of the unfortunate Oedipus.

Then you will learn that you can only solve your problem by punishing yourself. Think again of the unfortunate Oedipus.

Individuals facing personal problems can choose between solving their problems and finding someone to blame and punish.

The same applies to our political leaders. Faced with a crisis political leaders have a choice. They can try to solve the problem or they can find someone to blame.

The first approach is pragmatic. The second is demagogic, especially when it involves scapegoating. 

For the past few years our financial system and our economy have been in crisis. Ask yourself whether our political leaders, especially Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats have been working to solve the problem or have been trying to blame the bankers.

The Schumpeter column in The Economist reminds us that the administration and its foot soldiers in the Occupy movement have been playing a very dangerous game by blaming Wall Street for the financial crisis.

After all, the movement began as Occupy Wall Street, not Occupy Rodeo Drive.

The administration’s so-called solutions to the crisis are really efforts to blame bankers and retain power.

As long as he has been in power Obama has been denouncing the fat cat Wall Street bankers. As a seasoned demagogue he is more than happy to scapegoat someone else for problems that he does not know how to solve.

Now, his theory has received support from an academic researcher named Clive Boddy. Previously, people with a background in the psycho sciences have labeled the bankers as narcissists.

Boddy raises the ante by declaring them to be psychopaths.

Supposedly, narcissists are treatable. Psychopaths are not. They are conscience-free criminals who need to be locked up. Pinning the label psychopath on the bankers is not an innocent academic exercise. It lays the groundwork for more direct forms of punishment.

Schumpeter reports: “In the August issue of the Journal of Business Ethics one Clive Boddy argues that the financial sector has been taken over by psychopaths: ‘people who, perhaps due to physical factors to do with abnormal brain connectivity and chemistry’, lack a ‘conscience, have few emotions and display an inability to have any feelings of sympathy or empathy for other people’.”

If you want to set a group of people up for persecution and punishment, you start by defining them as subhuman criminals, as enemies of the human race.

Of course, the exercise bears a very close resemblance to traditional anti-Semitism. Schumpeter grants that the Occupiers are not anti-Semitic, but he also knows that you do not have to be a bigot to propagate bigotry. Typhoid Mary never got typhoid.

In Schumpeter’s words: “Railing against the 1%—particularly when so many of them work for companies with names like Goldman Sachs and N.M. Rothschild—can unleash emotions that are difficult to cage. A survey in the Boston Review in 2009 found that 25% of non-Jewish Americans blamed Jews for the financial crisis, with a higher percentage among Democrats than Republicans.”

Might this explain why more and more American Jews are rethinking their allegiance to the Democratic Party? We can hope that they have finally gotten the message.

For now, the banking industry is being punished with increasingly onerous regulations. Obviously, more regulation means more money spent on compliance. That, in its turn, leaves less money available to lend to businesses and to grow the economy.

The rhetoric of Obama and the Occupiers is fomenting anti-Semitism. It is also endangering the American economy.

In Schumpeter’s words: “This prejudice has proven dangerous. Without money to grease them, the wheels of commerce turn slowly or not at all. Civilisations that have eased the ban on moneylending have grown rich. Those that have retained it have stagnated. Northern Italy boomed in the 15th century when the Medicis and other banking families found ways to bend the rules. Economic leadership passed to Protestant Europe when Luther and Calvin made moneylending acceptable. As Europe pulled ahead, the usury-banning Islamic world remained mired in poverty. In 1000 western Europe’s share of global GDP was 11.1% compared with the Middle East’s 8.6%. By 1700 western Europe had a 13.5% share compared with the Middle East’s 3.4%.”

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