We seem to be unable to punish bankers for their scandalous behavior because our moral instincts can’t cope
Sorry, but this piece over simplifies the reality.
The claim made that “What is beyond debate is that in the case of major corporate crimes an ancient approach to making justice serve the greater good is creaking and groaning, and that new answers must be sought” can in some contexts be seen as containing some truth, yet in other contexts be seen to be denying a much deeper truth.
To understand something of those contexts one must understand a little of the sorts of strategic responses that work most effectively in different contexts (the formal name for it is games theory, and in the broadest of brush strokes it is relatively simple).
If we look at some simple cases, then go to more complex environments that involve many different cases, one can get a feel for what is going on.
In its simplest form, there are two very broad classes of strategies possible, competition or cooperation. And I will acknowledge now that real life is rarely that simple, and usually involves complex mixes of competitive and cooperative contexts and strategies.
What sort of strategy delivers the greatest payoff depends very much on the context, and lots of different factors are important in setting context.
And breaking things down to the simplest of notions, if there is sufficient for all, then cooperation will always deliver greater benefit than competition; but if there isn’t enough for all, then competitive strategies win. And usually, there is some size of group for which if that group wins, there is enough for all of them, so cooperation to the level of that group size wins, so pure strategies are rarely present.
Throughout our evolutionary history, it seems that most of the time circumstances have been such that for quite large groups it has always been more beneficial to cooperate than to compete, so we have many heuristics that make us a very cooperative species; and games theory is also clear that pure cooperation is always vulnerable to invasion by “cheating strategies” (that are less than cooperative) and so we require attendant strategies to detect and remove cheating strategies – so there can develop a sort of “evolutionary arms race” spiraling up and out through levels and domains and classes of strategies (in the deepest sense of the infinite mathematical space of possible strategic sets). There is a very real sense in which the ancient maxim “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance” will likely remain true for the rest of eternity. And provided we exercise such vigilance, to the best of our individual abilities and with a frequency appropriate to the context, then it appears that we have the technological and physical capacities to deliver a sufficient context of reasonable abundance to everyone on the planet for as far into the future as anyone can gain any sort of reasonable confidence.
And our evolutionary history is also replete with periods of scarcity, so we all carry the shadows of those times, in our ability to compete hard if the context calls for it.
And it does seem reasonably probable that we will be able to develop technologies to effectively mitigate the risks of any such time of scarcity occurring again in our future (and absolute certainty does not seem to be available to any in a world with the sorts of fundamental complexity and uncertainty that do in fact appear to be aspects of this reality we find ourselves in). And such a context makes it possible to cooperate with everyone (provided we have effective strategies for removing cheats, at every level).
Yes, there are many senses in which the entire finance sector can be though of as a cheating strategy, a cancer on the body politic of humanity, and that applies to the systems, not necessarily to the people present within those systems (though certainly some of them have been conscious of the cheating nature of the strategy sets they were using, I suspect that number is actually quite small as a percentage of the total number of people involved). And that is becoming less possible to claim as this awareness spreads.
The much deeper issue, is that markets generally are based in exchange, and exchange values are based in scarcity, and fully automated technology allows us to eliminate scarcity.
So we are now at the point that technology will shortly allow us to eliminate scarcity, but that would break the economic systems we have at present.
Scarcity (markets and money) has to go.
Universally available automated systems really do change everything.
How we manage that transition is the key issue of our age.
It seems that in the broader strategic sense, there are an infinite class of possible strategies that could work.
It would seem that risk mitigation would encourage us to sample as broad a set as possible, and accept the exponentially expanding diversity that must result from any free exploration of any infinity.
So yes – finance has had its day, and yes there may have been some conscious cheating, and for the most part, no.
And we need to move past money and markets, and into the realm of universal abundance, and develop new models of what it means to be free individuals, within a context of social and ecological responsibility.