Monday, April 12, 2010

Fearful Bargain

"The bond salesmen from the forty-first floor who spoke to us were by definition leaders in the firm, and they might have provided me with a role model, but their smooth metal surfaces offered nothing to cling to. They expressed no interests outside selling bonds, and they rarely referred to life outside Salomon Brothers. Their lives seemed to begin and end on the forty-first floor; and I began to wonder if I wasn't about to enter the Twilight Zone.

More different types of people succeeded on the trading floor than I initially supposed. Some of the men who spoke to us were truly awful human beings. They sacked others to promote themselves. They harrassed women. They humiliated trainees. They didn't have customers. They had victims. Others were naturally extremely admirable characters. They inspired those around them. They treated their customers almost fairly. They were kind to trainees. The point is not that a [aggressive, ambitious trader] was intrinsically evil. The point is that it didn't matter one bit whether he was good or evil as long as he continued to swing that big bat of his. Bad guys did not suffer their comeuppance in Act V on the forty-first floor. They flourished (though whether they succeeded because they were bad people, whether there was something about the business that naturally favored them over the virtuous are separate questions). Goodness was not taken into account on the trading floor. It was neither rewarded nor punished. It just was. Or it wasn't."

-Michael Lewis in "Liar's Poker", describing the sorts of people he encountered on the trading floor at Salomon Brothers in 1985.

It's no surprise to us that sometimes the bad guys win in life. What's startling is to realize that the so many of these systems we humans organize our efforts around are structured in such a way as to make virtue and kindness superfluous, because other qualities matter more to the goals of the individual and the goals of the group. We promote values that don't make people better people.

Rather reminiscent of a military band whose members honor and respect the most fearsome warrior of their number even though he is a bad man. His skill and energy strengthen them as a group, and hopefully make it more likely that they all get home.

Get home you may - perhaps even weighted down with riches and glory. But what sort of person will you be when you get there? That matters far more than most people seem to realize.

1 comment:

Tuittu said...

Thank you for that! Since you care I can hope that some others do too, in this world.