Happy Enough: Finance is Regulated As Much As We Want It To Be

Like any sensible person, I view Tyler Cowen and his work at Marginal Revolution with a mixture of envy and awe, the first arising from his prodigious intellectual gifts and the second from the professor’s incredible productivity. The bi-weekly “What I’ve been reading” posts point to a ridiculous breadth of knowledge on literally hundreds of complex topics. One wonders if he ever sleeps, particularly in light of the fact that he returns all of his emails from readers. (It occurs to me that he might not be happy I mentioned that).

One Marginal Revolution reader once asked Cowen to explain how he remained so productive. He responded, I think paraphrasing someone else, that:

The first step in time management is understanding that right now you are doing exactly what you want to be doing.

How can this be in the absence of both Mila Kunis and a Fijian beach? The professor’s point, to the extent I understand it, is that each moment is a reflection of the extent of available options, in a context generated by all previous decisions.

The average American male is 5’9 ½”, 191 lbs, has a BMI of 27.8 (18.5 to 24.9 is “normal” range according to the hardly-unbiased Livestrong) and watches 28 hours of television per week.  For most, this implies a need to separate “what you want to be doing right now” from “optimal”.

There are people on both sides of the argument, but any survey will tell us that no one regards the current state of financial regulation as optimal. The question that follows from professor Cowen’s philosophy is then the extent to which the current status quo reflects an aggregate “exactly what we want to be doing”, a homeostasis of conflicting political and economic points of view.  Outside of the rent-seekers themselves, there exists little support for ongoing levels of corruption but, on the other hand, there is no support for widespread obesity either.

There are ten different ways to take this, but it seems to come down to an assessment of whether there is a pent-up willingness to sacrifice shorter-term gains for longer term, closer-to-optimal outcomes. If shown direction, does the social will exist to fight the long, arduous battle to curb the financial industry’s clear success at regulatory capture? I suspect that the average level of determination among American citizens in this direction is building, possibly but not probably inexorably. It will depend of the frequency and strength of political and economic catalysts.

It is also infinitely possible that we are “happy enough” with the status quo for all its faults, unable to let go of higher corporate profits, underwriting, big bonuses, televised drivel or Baconators in favor of some egghead-derived reflection of full-employment Utopia. Either way, the exercise of looking at finance, politics, media and anything else as potentially “exactly what we want to be doing right now” has been a really interesting one, at least for me.

10 thoughts on “Happy Enough: Finance is Regulated As Much As We Want It To Be

  1. […] Interloper, “(N)o one regards the current state of financial regulation as optimal. “  (Interloper) […]

  2. kris says:

    The fact that I cannot formulate a quick thought about this post makes me upset. I’d have to think further.

  3. kris says:

    As per Oscar Wilde (I think), imagination is copying, critical thinking is creative.The Point of View is very experiential and shows critical exploration of oneself at different angles to create the POV. I’m afraid I should dig critically deep in past experiences, particularly financial ones to agree or disagree with the POV.

  4. kris says:

    In christian theology:
    History = reaction of humanity (by use of free will which can be controlled) to the perennial call of God (cannot be controlled).

    The learned professor has understood that the only thing he controls is his “will” (so has Mark Cuban-see link below). He can’t control time, but he can react to (or manage) time, which is equal to managing “reality”. The professor very wisely chooses (highlight “chooses”) to want only what he can control.
    He controls his free will and he chooses to answer all emails that in turn teach him what other people actually want.

    As to the general economy, all surveys show that americans agree that the current lifestyle is not sustainable (Mathematical Reality), however americans DO NOT want any social benefits be cut (Will). The outcome will depend on the group choice (highlight “choice”) which in the current system is called democracy. It is still a choice between Will and Reality and cannot be prophesied.


    Final Thought: My definition of mental depression is “mismatch of wants and independent reality”, hence Retail Day Trading (or otherwise known as suckers).

  5. Dennis says:

    with respect, having tenure frees up a lot of time. and being a professor means you receive excellent books for free.

    As to your specific question, “does the social will exist to fight the long, arduous battle to curb the financial industry’s clear success at regulatory capture?” well, since society still does not understand (a) what the financial industry does (b) how it does it (c) and how the regulatory state functions I doubt it. Most people live day to day, even among the educated.

    • Interloper says:

      Thanks for commenting. To be clear, my point was not that ppl should follow prof Cowen’s habits, just recognize that whatever they are doing, it is the result of a series of personal choices. These choices are not by definition good or bad. I’m not suggesting obese ppl are even irrational, just that they have decided that the short term rewards of eating outweigh the longer term effects, for them. To the extent this has become “day to day” habit, at some level the decision has been made to continue the habit, or that the energy to question it is not worth it in terms of cost/benefit. This decision could be entirely correct in terms of realizing the highest possible level of happiness, again FOR THEM.

    • kris says:

      Society is composed of free willing individuals. There isn’t one single moment in the whole human history that “the whole society” understood what’s going on. It is impossible. Each one looks after his ass as reflected on each one’s expectations or free will.

  6. Rudolf Dreikurs says:

    The Adlerian psychologists believe that people do exactly what they want ALL the time.

    • kris says:

      On an individual basis, that is a fact. On a society as a whole, it’s idiotical to even imagine a set group of people doing simultaneously what they want.

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