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concoctions of fantasy
October 25, 2010, 8:44 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags:

This article called Hegel on Wall Street describes two characters:  the knight of virtue and the self-interested banker.  They both exist in the world, but their existence is rendered illusory, naive, fantastical by their respective inability to engage the reality of the world and thereby gain traction for purposefulness.  Both characters are, without effective engagement, rendered silly, useless players on a stage we are all watching crumble before us. 

I don’t want to watch it just collapse, do you?  The solution, for those few of us looking for one, says Hegel, is for each player to reengage in the world which neither, robed in his respective ideology and illusion, wants to do.  The Knight of illusion must understand how the world and its institutions work, and the banker must look for significance beyond self-actualization.  Regulation rights the banker from profit-taking to wealth creation, which is in the interest of the world. 

Hegel’s emphatic but paradoxical way of stating this is to say that if the free market individualist acts “in [his] own self-interest, [he] simply does not know what [he] is doing, and if [he] affirms that all men act in their own self-interest, [he] merely asserts that all men are not really aware of what acting really amounts to.” 

/…/

The knight of virtue thinks we are intrinsically good and that acting in the nasty, individualist, market world requires the sacrifice of natural goodness; the banker believes that only raw self-interest, the profit motive, ever leads to successful actions.

Both are wrong because, finally, it is not motives but actions that matter, and how those actions hang together to make a practical world.  What makes the propounding of virtue illusory — just so much rhetoric — is that there is no world, no interlocking set of practices into which its actions could fit and have traction: propounding peace and love without practical or institutional engagement is delusion, not virtue.  Conversely, what makes self-interested individuality effective is not its self-interested motives, but that there is an elaborate system of practices that supports, empowers, and gives enduring significance to the banker’s actions. 

/…/

Hence the banker must have a world-interest as the counterpart to his self-interest or his actions would become as illusory as those of the knight of virtue.

/…/

What market regulations should prohibit are practices in which profit-taking can routinely occur without wealth creation; wealth creation is the world-interest that makes bankers’ self-interest possible.  Arguments that market discipline, the discipline of self-interest, should allow Wall Street to remain self-regulating only reveal that Wall Street, as Hegel would say, “simply does not know what it is doing.”

/…/

regulation is the force of reason needed to undo the concoctions of fantasy.

Hegel on Wall StreetBy J.M. BERNSTEIN

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