What Happens in the Global Financial Crisis Stays in the Globe

What’s the global financial crisis got to do with a fluff Hollywood summer date movie? A lot, it turns out.

In “What Happens in Vegas”  Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher separately go to Vegas on a whim, party hearty, and wake up together—to their mutual chagrin—married. Then they hit a slots jackpot.

Problem: how to split the money. They rapidly end up in court, where the judge sentences them to several months of—marriage. Cue the fights, which get nasty. But once they’ve had to get along together, they fall in love. Cue the violins.

Hold that thought. Flip the metaphor to Wall Street. From the Financial Times:

David Gergen, who heads the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, said Monday’s vote marked a high-water mark of public distrust in US leadership.

His centre shows that, of the five least trusted institutions in the US, four were involved in the financial crisis – Congress, business, the presidency and the media. In 2005, 65 per cent of the US public said there was a crisis in the leadership, a figure that has now risen to 77 per cent.

“Over the last few years the trust between the public and the elites has completely collapsed,” said Mr Gergen. “The failure of the bail-out package is a direct result of this leadership vacuum – the failure of any of the players, not just President Bush, to explain to the public why this package was necessary.”

Trust is a multi-faceted thing (see Trust in Business, the Core Concepts). One of those things is the simple fact that trust can only exist in a relationship. Robinson Crusoe had no need of trust; and a competitive “relationship” is an oxymoron.

The business world—particularly the US, and particularly finance—has increasingly been defined by short time frames, expressed in transactions, with an absence of long term relationships, holistic perspectives, and commonality of interests, buoyed up by an increasingly tortured interpretation of Adam Smiths’ Invisible Hand.

Nobody was vested in the big picture. Nobody had an interest in the long term. Everybody was valuable to everyone else only insofar as they could be hustled and turned over to the next sucker before the music stopped.

Kind of like Ashton and Cameron in Vegas, whose lives also became petty, selfish and fear-based.

The dominant fact of today’s world is that we cannot afford any longer to pretend we live separately. The financial world is far more intertwined than the masters of the universe want to pretend. Worse, finance links to economics. We can still run, but we can no longer hide—from each other. Butterfly wings may not drive hurricanes, but the metaphor is actually understated in the business world.

Trust isn’t an outdated idea; it’s ever-more timely and critical. We cannot afford the childish self-infatuation that comes with ideologies of “competitive advantage,” wars-on-the-enemy-du jour metaphors, and the "courage of his conviction" of dumb-asses. While Southern California Republicans channel Ayn Rand and Democratic unionists re-fight the battles of the 60s in the US Congress, banks are failing in Europe.

And so on.

We all need to learn to play nicely in the sandbox, or we will all foul it together. Which of course is just what the judge (played by the deliciously-cast Dennis Miller) ordered Ashton and Cameron to do.

In the movies, it worked.

Where’s our real-world Dennis Miller? (Barney Frank’s trying hard to audition, but…).

We will not regain trust in our institutions, our selling, or our business relationships until we come to grips with the fact that we are flat-out stuck with each other. We all just need to get along. Because what happens on planet Earth stays on planet Earth.