Noam Scheiber says yes:
I don’t doubt this is the case. My point is just that the cultural change is as important as the intellectual change, if not more, in creating our dodgy financial system. That is, the problem isn’t smart people per se. It’s smart people driven to use their brainpower and creativity to outdo the other guy, something even the smart guys from the earlier, inbred era (and there were a few of them) didn’t often attempt. It was the creation of a meritocracy, which rewarded intelligence and encouraged competition.
Now, as I said in the previous item, I’m a huge believer in meritocracy and in including previously excluded outsiders. And I think that cultural change had real benefits on Wall St., too. The only problem is that meritocracy can lead to excesses–too many people trying to outdo one another–and excesses can be really, really costly when it’s the global financial system you’re talking about. So I mention the old lazy, self-satisfied days not to suggest we restore the WASP establishment. But to suggest we rearrange things so there’s a smaller premium on entrepreneurialism and innovation in the financial sector.
There’s probably something to this. Part of the way the well-regulated Canadian banking system works is that it’s essentially a closed cartel. In part that makes it easier for regulators to monitor. But it probably also means that it attracts lazy, self-satisfied types to go work in it. Which, in turn, makes their antics easier to keep track of. And I would say the problem isn’t so much that “meritocracy can lead to excesses” as it is that bankers’ excesses wind up getting paid for by taxpayers. Silicon Valley has a lot of hard-charging meritocrats and a lot of excesses, but when Pets.com crashes and burns that’s not my problem.
The good news is that as best I can tell, we Jews are getting lazier and more self-satisfied. My parents even joined a yacht club. So perhaps the real question is whether we can avoid an influx of hard-working Asians. Alternatively, the popularity of Mad Men may inspire the whole society to start acting like lazy, self-satisfied WASPs and start drinking at lunch again, thus solving the problem. After all, I believe the French banking system has proven to be pretty sound despite the scarcity of WASPs, suggesting to me that lunchtime alcohol consumption may be the real key.