The Fourteenth Banker Blog

July 21, 2010

A Word From William James

Filed under: Running Commentary — thefourteenthbanker @ 8:50 PM

If there is anything which human history demonstrates, it is the extreme slowness with which the ordinary academic and critical mind acknowledges facts to exist which present themselves as wild facts with no stall or pigeonhole, or as facts which threaten to break up the accepted system.


  1. I bought a copy of a new translation of Sun Tzu with Commentaries today. Just glancing, I ran across the idea that all strategies require deceit. Even the most positive strategy deceives someone. The ordinary academic is blinded by his knowledge that makes his/ herself an academic in the first place. The ordinary academic’s very strategy is acceptance by peers. Deceit is then guaranteed. The peers criticism is the straitjacket of the creative and the balm of the ordinary academic in phalanx with his peers.

    Might this be the reason societies burn out and choose to die as presented in Jared Diamond’s work?

    Comment by Jerry J — July 21, 2010 @ 9:28 PM | Reply

  2. It isn’t only academics. Most of us travel in our bubbles of illusion.

    Comment by The Raven — July 22, 2010 @ 1:43 AM | Reply

  3. To Jerry’s point, then there’s the little issue of getting published……….

    Fresh Air had David (I think) Appelbaum on last night, explaining the Financial Reform Bill. A couple of things bothered me about his explanation. Terri Gross asked him, in effect, what made the financial sector such a powerful player in the economy today, and he said they generated 43% of the profits of the US economy. Since my background isn’t in finance or business, forgive me if this is a stupid observation, but my take is that 43% of the profits has little to do with the actual contribution of the sector to the economy and everything to do with the layers of very high-margin fees, etc. that are generated by the deals done. I was also disappointed that he never addressed the issue of the interconnectedness and extreme leverage that brought it all down. This is one area David Wessel covers well, I thought, in “In Fed We Trust”.Appelbaum’s comments also reminded me of the excellent piece someone here linked to Andy Grove’s essay on Bloomberg about how we’ve lost our edge in innovation by not producing things here anymore. The companies who “produce” the widgets that are actually made overseas may have wonderful profits, but that does little to nothing for what I think of as our economy.
    On another issue, I heard one of the Republican senators recently complain that part of Obama’s stimulus was a tax cut which didn’t stimulate because people saved it, rather than spending it. And yet this senator later said that we need to extend the Bush tax cuts to the top 10% because “these people save and invest”, creating jobs. ?!?!??!?!?!
    (Never mind that Mr. Grove has already shown where those jobs are being created.)

    Comment by Sandi — July 22, 2010 @ 11:16 AM | Reply

  4. It seems to me , based on long observation, the doers now exhibit great animosity to academics. We have indeed lost our creative edge. There was once a direct connect of creative theoreticians to the doers they worked with. One little example is Bell Labs, Western Electric and American Telephone and Telegraph in it’s entirety. The captive research wing of US manufacturers was where the creative juices really flowed. They still do too. Look at the recent introduction of the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell. The SOFC is in it’s infancy yet. The criticism machine goes after the product by comparing it to full blown use as if the SOFC were in it’s mature stages of use to dismiss it.

    What is little discussed is the highly deleterious nature of university bureaucracies and the extreme possessory aspects of university academics. This is to be expected because survival means competing for funds. Captive research has it’s areas of inquiry defined for it by the company to further it’s business goals.
    This leads to more creativity in a narrower sphere and the introduction of huge amounts of gadgetry and such.

    Both seem to be burning out in the United States , so the common problem must be a common sense of pointlessness other than get yours now and get out to do your own thing. That goal in an aging US is more and more a type of retirement among the upper middle class aped by the lower middle class I call Cocooning. I know people whose retirement goal is to get their retirement house featured in Architectural Digest. Just look at the glossy marketing catalogs , websites and stores catering to cocooning. Oddly, one can make a case that the same cocooning phenomenon existed all over Europe in the generation before the Great War. The peak was the Edwardian Era in Britain which I am most interested in. The great Marxist writers waxed poetic about the bourgeoise during this period.

    A friend often chides me that my coccoon reminds him of being a mini home in Dorset or Oxfordshire designed by a retired British Field Marshall after Knighthood in 1919.
    I just have to put some silly humor in this stuff.

    In short: Dropping out from effort being pointless.

    Comment by Jerry J — July 22, 2010 @ 2:12 PM | Reply

  5. I should add though that corporate creativity is still out there. I spend a lot of time looking into creative energy projects of oil and other energy related companies. One rather important little company is called Ivanhoe Energy. Ivanhoe has now perfected a process where very heavy oil, as in the Orinoco deposits, are rendered into light oil for transport and refining. This is done , on site, where the residual heat is used to extract the heavy oil. All this is done within the price differences between very heavy oil and light crudes. The fuel sources are local too. The fuel would be used any way to remove the very heavy oil by SAGD, ( Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage).

    Another project , stymied now , is the use of portable Fischer Tropsch devices to directly convert stranded gas to very high grade distillate at a loss of 50 %. The units fit and operate on 53 foot trailers and the product is pumped directly into a 53 foot tank trailer. No pipelines. The product has been tested by the Air Force and they are very happy with the performance of the distillate. This company is called Syntroleum. There are local pockets of gas all over the US West and elsewhere where the distillate could be directly used by diesel locomotives at nearby railroad fueling stations. This stranded gas was previously considered worthless. I could detail many more. There are parallel efforts in the Middle East. The Saudi’s have some quite successful projects going to.

    We have all kinds of innovation going on outside the university cat fight mileau.

    Our problem is social disintegration from breakdown of commonwealth.

    Comment by Jerry J — July 22, 2010 @ 2:36 PM | Reply

  6. Jerry sez:
    Our problem is social disintegration from breakdown of commonwealth.

    Indeed. I couldn’t agree more.

    Comment by Sandi — July 22, 2010 @ 5:26 PM | Reply

    • Sandi, our situation is ” eternal”. Here is an 11 th century poem by a follower of the Chan Buddhist Master, in China, Mingjiao.

      The enlightened and good get things done only from time to time
      While petty bureaucrats always support one another
      Once slanderes and flatters get their wishes
      Sages and philosophers are deterred.
      The Great Process makes myriad beings
      Of countless types.
      Fragrant and foul are not put together
      The humane and the violent apply different norms.
      If you put them together
      How can they get along?

      Absolutely nothing new here but exhaustion of human relationship organization and a dying social contract wrought by too much change and complexities humans cannot long abide.

      This poem was written about the time Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade.

      Comment by Jerry J — July 22, 2010 @ 10:10 PM | Reply

      • Gee, Jerry, I feel so much better now. Bit,

        Comment by Sandi — July 23, 2010 @ 10:06 AM

  7. OMG! I’ve discovered a most interesting candidate to replace Chris Dodd in the Connecticut senate race. A self-described Tea Party Democrat his name is Warren Mosler. He gets respect from Ritholtz, Bill Black, James Galbraith … and even Fox Business New (?)

    This man is following his passion, his integrity and having fun in this Senate race.

    Now I need to figure out what MMT is.

    Comment by tippygolden — July 24, 2010 @ 12:14 PM | Reply

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