Can 147 people perpetuate economic injustice – and make it even worse? Can they subvert the workings of democracy, both abroad and here in the United States? Can 147 people hijack the global economy, plunder the environment, build a world for themselves that serves the few and deprives the many?
There must be some explanation for last week’s economic madness. Take a look:
Cyprus: The European Union acted destructively – and self-destructively – when it tried to seize a portion of the insured savings accounts of the citizens of Cyprus. They were telling anyone with a savings account in the financially troubled nations of the Eurozone: Forget your guaranteed deposits. If we need your money in order to bail out the big banks – banks which have already gambled recklessly with it – we’ll take it.
That didn’t just create a political firestorm in Cyprus. It threatened the European Union’s banking system, and perhaps the Union itself. The fact that the tax on deposits has been partially retracted doesn’t change the basic question: What were they thinking?
The Grand Bargain: The President and Congressional Republicans reportedly moved closer to a deal that would cut Social Security and Medicare while raising taxes – mostly on the middle class – without doing more to create jobs. A “Grand Bargain” like that would run counter to both public opinion and informed economic judgement.
Who would impose more economy-killing austerity when there’s so much evidence of the harm it does? Why would the White House want to become the face of a deal to cut Social Security, killing its own party’s political prospects for a generation?
Him again: Washington reporters once again sought the opinion of Ex-Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, a vitriolic blowhard with no discernable knowledge of either economics or social insurance, and then wrote up his opinions on those topics in flattering pieces like this one.
Derivatives, the Sequel: Four short years after too-big-to-fail banks nearly destroyed the world economy, as the nation continues to suffer the after-effects of the crisis they created, a Congressional committee moved to undo the already-insufficient safeguards in the Dodd/Frank law.
Within days of a Senate Report which outlined the mendacity, extreme risk, and potentiality criminality surrounding JPMorgan Chase’s “London Whale” fiasco, the House Agriculture Committee approved new bills that would legalize trades like the “Whale’s.”
Above the Law: The Attorney General of the United States remained silent as the controversy continued over his recent admission that banks like Dimon’s were too big to face prosecution. And yet there were no moves to change either Holder’s policy or the size of these institutions. Politico, the Washington insiders’ tip sheet, ran a piece entitled “Why Washington won’t break up the big banks.”
Dimon Unbound: The Senate report also provided evidence that JPMorgan Chase’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, failed to manage his bank’s risk and concealed information about its losses from regulators. We learned last week that regulators lowered their rating of Dimon’s bank after chastising the bank’s leadership for management failures that included inadequate safeguards against money-laundering, poor risk management, and failure to separate the banks’ own investments from those of its customers.
Illegalities during Dimon’s tenure as CEO have cost his shareholders billions in settlements and fines. Poor risk management (and additional potential illegalities) cost it another $6.2 billion in Whale-related losses. And yet last week Dimon’s own Board “strongly endorsed” his dual role as CEO and Board Chair, an unusual concentration of power at what is (by some measurements) the world’s largest bank, and commended itself in a proxy filing for the “strength and independence” of its oversight, adding: “The Firm has had strong performance through the cycle since Mr. Dimon became Chairman and CEO.”
All this, in just seven days. Has the world gone insane? What is everybody thinking?
That’s where the number “147″ comes in.
Anthropologist Robin Dunbar tried to find out how many people the typical person “really knows.” He compared primate brains to social groups and published his findings in papers with titles like “Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates.”
Dunbar concluded that the optimum number for a network of human acquaintances was 147.5, a figure which was then rounded up to 150 and became known as “Dunbar’s Number.” He found groups of 150-200 in all sorts of places: Hutterite settlements. Roman army units. Academic sub-specialties. Dunbar concluded that “there is a cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.” (more…)