I have made the point before that we are entering an Interregnum, that pause between eras when the old king of neo-conservatism is dead, but the new king has not been named. This afternoon, the Wall Street Journal nailed up another signpost. The headline reads–Has the Financial Industry’s Heyday Come and Gone?
For the past three decades, finance has claimed a growing share of the U.S. stock market, profits and the overall economy.
But the role of finance — the businesses of borrowing, lending, investing and all the middlemen in between — may be ebbing, a shift that would redefine the U.S. economy. “The role of finance in the economy is going to come down significantly in the coming years,” says Carlos Asilis, chief investment officer at Glovista Investments, a New Jersey money manager. “From a societal standpoint, we got carried away with finance.”
Two distinct ethical systems govern human behavior, Jacobs proposed. When they collide — as they have lately on a grand scale in Washington, Philadelphia and Boston/Las Vegas — a monstrous hybrid is born.
One system she called guardian culture. Guardians protect. They work in the military and police, government legislatures and courts, churches and schools. They work in art museums too, where they protect our collective artistic patrimony. Guardians have no profit motive.
The other system is commercial culture, where profit is the aim. Elements of guardian behavior are displayed by all animals, but commercial culture is novel. Trade and the production of goods are uniquely human endeavors.
The book has the virtue of neither demonizing commerce nor glorifying guardians. Each is simply what it is. Both are essential. And when they follow their intrinsic ethical guidelines, they help societies prosper.
What’s good for the guardian is generally bad for the commercial order, Jacobs wrote, and vice versa. Each system claims a discrete — and contradictory — ethical system.
When commercial culture operates according to guardian morality, or when guardians adopt commercial ethics, all hell breaks loose. Conflicts erupt. Decadence follows.
Obviously the two cultures have coexisted but often clashed as when Jesus throws the moneychangers out of the Temple or when Eisenhower warned us that the Military Industrial Complex would compromise our democracy. These dichotomies are even evident in arguments about open source software.
I’ve long maintained in my free and open source software talks that we have understood communities since “you had a campfire and I wanted to sit beside it.” That metaphorical campfire perfectly frames the value systems debate as well. Am I allowed to sit beside the fire because you’re acting as protector (guardian)? (And when will you begin to tax me firewood?) Or did I trade to sit beside the campfire.
Obviously the Trading culture has dominated the Political (guardian) culture since the early 50’s as the World War II guardian culture dominance subsided. If the Wall Street Journal is right in picking this moment when the power of the trading culture begins to wane–then we are in an Interregnum. What would the reassertion of Guardian Culture look like? Could it be a kind of Fortress America strategy, where we make sure our own needs for security,education, food, energy and manufactured goods are met either internally or from close alliances (maybe defined by our hemisphere)? In that world, we would pull back our troops from the thousands of foreign bases and openly trade our surpluses.
So the trading culture would not go away and could continue to grow. But it would no longer be in control of the political culture. I’m not sure how this will play out, but I sense that we are at a moment of change.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.