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Wall Street Establishment Going Beyond Blue

The financial upheaval of the past few years exposed faults in private and public sector institutions alike. The meltdown in the mortgage market, the collapse or near-collapse of important financial institutions, and the subsequent damage to public and private portfolios hit both Wall Street and the Blue government establishment. As we have noted at Via Meadia, in times like these, there is a strong and understandable urge to try to fall back on what has worked in the past. That might not always be the best way forward, though.

It seems that the leaders of some of those old institutions are coming to that realization, based on this report from the WSJ on former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack’s busy post-retirement. Mr. Mack, who shepherded the bank through the darkest days of the financial crisis, has joined the boards of several young business ventures, including one that uses the web to match lenders directly to borrowers and another that gives people without bank accounts access to pre-paid debit cards. By eliminating traditional banks as intermediaries, these ventures have the potential to upend the old financial system’s way of doing things. As Mack told the WSJ:

“What I really enjoy, clearly, is the technology of it,” Mack said. “I told my wife, ‘These young entrepreneurs think differently than the way I grew up.’”

The jury might still be out on whether these new businesses accomplish their objective of making it cheaper and easier for people to borrow and save, but Mack has one thing right: we need to be paying attention to and encouraging people who are willing to think differently about the future. The leaders of the old system got some things wrong, but they also have a lot that they can teach the next generation.

He understands something else: we have not yet fully captured the potential of the information revolution. The software lags the hardware, and the vision of how the new technology can change our institutions and improve our lives lags behind software development. The next generation have grown up with technology; the best and the brightest of this generation will be able to imagine new uses for technology — new killer apps that will change the way we all live. Reaching out to the entrepreneurs and the visionaries of the rising generation, and giving them the benefits of experience and connecting them with capital is an enormous service to the world.

Via Meadia applauds Mr. Mack’s open-mindedness, and hopes more of our country’s leaders will follow his lead.


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  • Luke Lea

    Here’s a nice book: “The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers–and the Coming Cashless Society” by David Wolman

    I was surprised to learn that cash is the enemy of the poor: those without bank accounts have a much harder time in this world.

  • Anthony

    WRM, the rising generation calls it “New Routes Through Capitalism – Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley (the narrow alleyways of SoHO and Tribeca); young talent looking towards the future via high-tech.

  • Glen

    The Internet is changing everything. Just like the telegraph, the Gutenberg press, the development of writing and the human evolutionary adaptation for language, revolutions in communications technology drive (and explain) every major development in human history.

    The biggest short-term impact of the Internet is the obsolescence of bureaucracy and the end of the competitive advantage of economies-of-scale. From the development of writing (which enabled large-scale agriculture and the creation of the first cities), hierarchies have been the most efficient organizational form. Only hierarchical organizations (whether headed by Egyptian Pharisees, Catholic Popes or multinational CEOs) could leverage the control and coordination benefits of the written word (and numbers). For five thousand years, they allowed the human population to grow exponentially by providing economically efficient production of vital resources.

    The Gutenberg press eliminated the need for a priesthood of scribes, but did not lessen the efficiency of bureaucratic hierarchies for undertaking ever larger and more complex endeavors. The invention of the electronic telegraph in the 1830’s marked the end of the mercantilism: now anyone anywhere could benefit from real-time information about prices, production, schedules, staffing, and political and legal developments. While hierarchies were still the most efficient organizational form, there was no continuing benefit to all-encompassing (nation-state) hierarchies. The electronic telegraph created the modern industrial corporation.

    The Internet, however, does much more than point-to-point (or multicast) communication; it enables coordination and control to a degree heretofore unachievable except by large organizations. Most of the developments in Internet-enabled coordination and control have been in the technologies of the Internet, such as software development. Open Source software development exemplifies how many independent actors can be actually be more productive and efficient without any centralized management — if there is an alternative control and coordination mechanism.

    The Internet empowers individuals (and groups of individuals) to be more productive and efficient than any of yesterday’s multinational corporations (and governments). It does this by eliminating the need for vast management bureaucracies. As a more efficient organizational form, Internet-enabled endeavors are displacing traditional hierarchical undertakings everyday (e.g., Ma Bell vs. skype, vertical integration vs. flexible supply chains, etc.). It is likely that the largest practical organization size will be soon be near the size of the largest Paleolithic hunter-gatherer tribes: 150 persons or less.

    This is the real dynamic that is driving the obsolescence of the so-called Blue Social Model. Business and government bureaucracies are facing increasing competition from more productive and flexible organizational forms. Deindustrialization is a related yet different phenomena; manufacturing will continue to exist, but in the form of much, much smaller organizations that are more efficient and more automated. And eventually, society will adapt, too. In a few generations, everyone alive will only know of massive corporations and leviathan governments by studying history.

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