The current financial crisis reminds us of the virtues and the dangers of the world we live in: it is increasingly a virtual world, that is to say the signs are more and more invasive, particularly in three domains: in music, the internet and finance. The first two are almost purely virtual and mature indefinitely without harming anyone. The third often forgets that it is nothing but actual interface; and in the end it is reminded of its limits: those of rarity. Deregulation works for the first two, not for the third.
These three domains are also, and not by chance, privileged places where one finds the usage of a cdrug that purports to increase intellectual and creative capacities tenfold, to increasingly damaging results: cocaine. There are more and more cocaine addicts around the world, particularly among very young people; many more than the cowardice of adults will allow them to recognize. Even if the price of each dose is plummeting, the sales in this industry is in huge growth, higher even than that of oil, and only for, it seems, 1000 tons of the product.
Known in Europe for over five centuries, cocaine is particularly adapted to those who seek to escape the pressures of reality, to dare and try what one’s unhappiness or rationality forbids, especially in a world of intense competition. Being addicted to cocaine is to develop a virtual brain, which must be fed more and more, euphoria in free fall, as the real brain atrophies; soon it will not perceive moral restraint or a state of lawfulness; it will permit neither limits nor brakes; it believes itself to be endowed with absolute intelligence, and thinks it is capable of resolving every difficulty; it even thinks it is immune to pain, fatigue, and hunger. It believes it is invincible and that its judgment is infallible.
The world of finance is a reflection of this lawless state, where everything is possible, in a world of optimism and absolute virtuality; a world of extreme competition in all markets, running 24/24. It is then the perfect setting for the expression and actions of cocaine addicts, euphoric sleepwalkers: not surprising that they are so numerous in the trading rooms, not surprising either that so many risks were taken there. The coke-addicted trader never doubts his own decisions, decisions that are more and more erratic, which prevail in absurd investments then languish in pessimism, depression, paranoia and panic. Exactly what happened in the markets. The financial crisis is the pronouncement of what the world would be like on cocaine: a nightmare of euphoric irreality, oblivious and suicidal.
One of the elements in resolving the crisis would be therefore the effectual ban on drug use in trading rooms, yet it is difficult to see the G20 making this a priority…
More generally, the answer to the crisis will require a kind of detoxification in the realm of excessive debt, a social drug that permits one to live in irreality. No detoxification is easy. And this one will be less so than any other.