Bankers in the Lion’s Den

“Don’t forget, there’s a big gladiator show coming up the day after tomorrow. Not the same old fighters either. They’ve got a fresh shipment in. There’s not a slave in that batch. Just wait. There’ll be cold steel for the crowd, no quarter and the amphitheatre will end up looking like a slaughterhouse. There’s even a girl who fights from a chariot.”

Petronius in AD 60
(History Learning Site)

“The wild beast hunts, two a day for five days, are magnificent. There is no denying it. But what pleasure is there in seeing a puny human mangled by a powerful beast or a splendid animal killed with a hunting spear.”

Cicero in 50 BC
(History Learning Site)

Do you know how Daniel kept from being eaten when he was thrown into the lions’ den?

He told the lions they would be expected to say a few words after dinner.

Fear of public speaking wouldn’t have deterred the Congressmen in Wednesday’s (February 11) Roman-circus attempts to humiliate large-bank CEOs. In fact, public posturing and ranting for the benefit of constituents was an important part of the charade. The sadistic Congressmen may have nicked the bankers, but they didn’t come out looking so good themselves. Why do politicians with enough ability to get themselves elected think that a public display of meanness and uninformed sadism is a cool thing? 

On the other hand, the Congressmen may have been onto something since many of the TV commentators expressed disappointment that the hearings were too tame. Looks like the politicians aren’t alone in their willingness to pander to the ongoing orgy of populism. They should be careful lest an unleashed populist beast decides that they, too, are overpaid.

Maybe I’m just squeamish. I’ve never had a desire to watch bull fights, dog fights, rooster fights, or even thugs fighting out behind the gym. Blood and guts don’t do it for me. If you are wavering on rooster fights, you probably haven’t heard the ballad of Gallo del Cielo.

I recall with revulsion my first tour of the Tower of London, featuring tales of public beheadings and the treks the country folks made into town to enjoy the entertainment of rolling heads. Do you remember “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe” and the games they played: get the guest, humiliate the host, and . . . oh, well? At least no blood was shed.

Public officials and CEOs with public relations staffs are usually advised to go into the lion’s den steeled to take anything thrown at them with humility and contrition. If you see a line, get in it to say you are sorry. The safe rule is not to talk back, nor correct your betters. I know because I’ve had that advice.  

I also know the powerful urge to cowboy up and defend your dignity against the onslaught. It rarely happens, but it did happen last week in Texas. A member of the University of Texas Board Of Regents-a good man who has worked tirelessly for the university at zero pay-finally decided there was a limit to the abuse one should have to tolerate in order to serve the public. He did what most of us only fantasize about. In effect, he spoke the words immortalized for all of us by Johnny Paycheck: “Take This Job and Shove It.”

Comments (1)

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  1. prophets says:

    Bob:

    I share your viewpoint with the spectacle we witnessed on TV last week. It made me grimace more than once. I was hoping that at one point that Jamie Dimon, or someone with the credibility for having navigated the current climate well would have shot back at the congressmen and said:

    “Where is your investigation into the self-dealing and lack of action from Congress/OFHEO on Fannie and Freddie?

    If this economic crisis begins and ends with housing and cheap credit (from a savings glut)… where is your scrutiny of these bad actors, along with our trade policy with China and others who pushed down yields in the credit environment?”

    I’m really sick of looking at bureaucrats/lawyers in Washington mismanage our country’s finances and then point the finger at business as the source of our problems. Not everyone on Wall St. is a choir boy, by any stretch but it’s so hypocritical…. grrrrrrr.

    anyway, good post.