Monthly Archives: October 2012

When Worlds Collide

Last month I presented a paper to the Society for Descriptive Psychology’s Annual Conference: “When Worlds Collide: Origins of Intractable Value Problems.” This is a long (38 pages) conceptual piece with many practical applications. It explicitly uses a great deal of the Descriptive Psychology canon, and breaks some new ground. I worked hard to make it as fun to read as this sort of exposition can be.

A pre-publication reading copy has can be found by clicking on this link. Any feedback you may have can be left as comments to this post.

Here’s a brief sample:

It’s a simple fact: people differ, much of the time, on matters ranging from the trivial to the profound.

Vanilla or chocolate? Coffee or tea? Issues of personal taste are not actually issues at all since one can’t be right or wrong in such choices; as the ancient maxim reminds us, “De gustibus non disputandum est.” Upping the stakes a bit, we encounter myriad everyday disputes: Shall we invest the IRA in stocks or in bonds? Is midnight too late for a 16 year-old’s curfew? Was the receiver out of bounds when he caught the touchdown pass? People of good faith, looking at the same situation, come to different conclusions, and we have a reliable stock of practices to resolve the differences, e.g. consulting advisors, negotiation, instant replay. No guarantee of success is offered for most of these practices other than the practical one: we often succeed in resolving such conflicts, and so it’s at least worth a try.

Some disputes are not so easily resolved, such as bargaining between labor and management, passing budget legislation, and carving up the assets in a hotly contested divorce. Appeals to shared standards and interests may not be enough to overcome the simple fact that resolution requires someone – perhaps everyone – to lose something they hold dear. Such negotiations can be bitter, drawn out and in the end unsatisfying to all parties – but typically negotiations do end, and everyone makes the best of the world they now find themselves in.

But not all disputes can be resolved. Some differences appear intractable, in that none of our known ways of resolving them work, no matter how long or hard we try.

Consider: Continue reading When Worlds Collide


The Timber is Dry. Watch Out for Sparks.

In January I posted an analysis of panic, contagion and mass market movements in which I suggested that what actually happens in these is a shift from an outcome being “theoretically possible” to being “actually possible” needing only a precipitating event to make it real and therefore widespread. I asked then: “Has major Western government default become actually possible in the market’s eyes– or are we still just flirting with a theoretical possibility?”

It is now without a doubt “actually possible”. That warning sign is flashing red. Here’s one example of many: “Fifteen months ago when we started looking at this, we said it was unthinkable,” said Heiner Leisten, a partner with the Boston Consulting Group in Cologne, Germany, who heads up its global insurance practice. “It’s not impossible or unthinkable now.” (NY Times, 9/2/2012). He was speaking of Greece being forced to leave the Euro zone, but he may as well have been speaking, as many are today, of sovereign nation default.

Be clear: I am not referring just to the truly terrifying structural linkages by which, say, default by Greece would inevitably take down numerous European banks and probably a few other countries. These are “hard-wired” into the system and only require occurrence of the initial unthinkable event to set them off (and many, including the European banking system and BCG’s clients, have been scrambling to disconnect linkages and shore up defenses against such collapse – perhaps to some good effect.) I am suggesting that a mass market movement in response to these events is now virtually certain.

I have no inside information about when or whether Greece or anyone else may default. As a citizen I sincerely hope we dodge this particular bullet. But make no mistake: the unthinkable is now not only thinkable. It is rapidly on the way to being seen as inevitable.

It might be wise to invest accordingly.