The global economy has come close to total collapse on a number of occasions. Whilst its inherent design means the fractional reserve banking system is as fail-safe as they come – and far safer than a world on a gold standard, for example – there have nonetheless been glitches along the way.
In recent years, we have witnessed liquidity crises (e.g. LTCM, 1998), bank runs (Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual), government receivership (Landsbanki), economic collapse (Argentina), silent runs (Wachovia), institutional collapse (Lehman), to name just a few. Fortunately, the likes of Goldman Sachs has entered the fray at the last minute and saved the system with massive bail-outs and assuming counterparty positions.
The above events, though fortunately rare, make ordinary people question the solidity and longevity of the modern financial system. Are my savings safe? Will I be able to retire with a decent pension? In extremis: Should I go to the store and buy guns, ammo, tinned food and water filters?
At the heart of each of the above crises is a sudden lack of confidence and something else – critical thinking. Whilst most people are happiest when acting as part of an unquestioning herd, accepting whatever they read in the accredited press or see and hear from their TV sets, for some reason known only to them, there exist individuals who prefer to think for themselves. As a general proposition, individual thinking is subversive, unhealthy and positively harmful to society as a whole. We can see this played out in the case of the financial crisis.
In the case of bank runs, for example, depositors have always known that banks only hold a fraction of their assets in liquid form. Most people don’t think about this at all and simply trust their ATMs to disgorge bank notes on demand or make internet payments using PayPal. Alas, events sometimes come into play which threaten the status quo.
When confidence is low because of some crazy rumor (e.g. because people read alarmist news on the alternative media that ABC Bank is leveraged to the hilt and embarking on an aggressive derivatives strategy and is sure to collapse), such conspiracy theories move to the forefront of peoples’ minds. Depositors at ABC Bank reason and figure they will only get a return of their money if they are at the front of the queue. So they rush to the bank and withdraw their savings. Inevitably, upon hearing of this lack of confidence and rush to withdraw funds, everyone else wants out. That is how you get a bank run, followed by the collapse of ABC Bank, followed by global financial crisis.
The key message from the above is that critical thinking and challenging the established narrative endangers us all. If, like Deutsche Bank, ABC Bank had issued a press release declaring that they had no liquidity issues, that the conspiracy theory touted by Zero Hedge was tinfoil nonsense, and the fall in share price was overdone, people should be prepared to accept this and move on.
Alas, some people like to ‘think for themselves’, think ‘creatively’ and ‘challenge the status quo’. They believe it is somehow cool to be outside the herd and this makes them superior. Unfortunately, this individuality appears increasingly to be encouraged by irresponsible employers who demand that their staff ‘think outside the box’ and engage in ‘blue sky thinking’.
This will, however, end in tears.
Let us imagine for a moment that critical or creative thinking was open to all. How might society look?
– you might have a heart surgeon who would wonder what it would be like to operate on someone using an electric screwdriver and some garden shears. Would you be willing to trust such a surgeon with YOUR life?
– an astronaut might decide to replace his fellow-astronaut’s oxygen canisters with helium just to hear his colleague speak to ground control in an ‘amusing’ high pitched voice. Funny? Possibly, at least until the astronaut dies of oxygen deprivation. Not so hilarious now.
There is obvious safety in numbers. We are closer as a community or a society when we tread paths that were trodden long ago. Arrogant is the one who thinks for xerself, who rejects ideas that have stood the test of time. Do we need to reinvent the wheel?
More insidious is the ugly reality that critical thinking is a rejection of others’ ideas. To reject another’s intellectual output is equivalent to mental rape. Perhaps worse. Critical thinking is non-vocalised hate speech. It is subversive, dangerous and harmful to us all. It needs to be banned for the good of us all.