Deflated expectations?

January 22, 2015 at 8:13 am 1 comment

The biggest news of the last decade isn’t that investment banks brought the nation to the brink of recession only to resume paying astronomical bonuses to their top executives less than two years after the economic disaster; it isn’t that some of these same banks conspired to indirectly set the interest rates that consumers pay on their HELOCS or the interest on municipal bonds by manipulating the LIBOR rate;  it isn’t even that the major credit rating agencies are quietly settling charges that they manipulated the ratings they gave securities such as mortgage-backed securities so they could get more business.  No, the biggest news of the decade, at least judging by the frenzy that has engulfed the nation, is “Deflate Gate.”

You have undoubtedly all heard about it whether you want to or not.  Evidence is mounting that the New England Patriots violated league rules by deflating the air pressure in footballs they used in the first half of the AFC championship game against the Colts last Sunday.   There is no direct evidence implicating specific persons yet, but considering that this is the same team that was fined after secretly videotaping opponent’s practices, and that it is ruled over with an iron fist by Bill Belichick you can bet that a pretty big name in the Patriots organization orchestrated the deflation.

Why is it that this deflation gets people more outraged than other  controversies that actually impact their lives? For one thing it’s easier to understand a deflated ball than the nuances of investment banking.  But there is an even more troubling answer.  We like to tell our kids that “cheaters never win and winners never cheat” but increasingly as a nation we don’t believe that’s true and have given up trying to do anything about it.   Sports are the last place where we still expect successful people to play by the rules and be held accountable when they fail to do so. Consider that Lance Armstrong is now a despised steroid cheat but that some of the same executives who oversaw the mortgage meltdown are still respected captains of industry: I rest my case.

The Patriots have a lot of the attributes of a top investment bank and Belichick has a lot of the attributes of a top investment bank CEO.  He is smart enough to innovate; he isn’t afraid to surround himself with smart people; he cultivates a culture of high expectations and is ruthless about getting rid of people who no longer fit into that culture. The Patriots don’t have to cheat to win but apparently just can’t resist the temptation to get an advantage no matter how slight.  Their attitude is no different from the attitude displayed by bank executives who brazenly flout regulations because they know “everybody does it” and if they get caught the occasional fine is a price worth paying.

In sports we see a microcosm of the ideal capitalist society where individuals chosen for their excellence play by the same set of rules and succeed or fail based on their talent, teamwork,   leadership ability and intelligence.  At its best it is the ultimate meritocracy.  We react viscerally  to cheating in sports because it is one of the few places where we expect the rules to be followed and can hold people directly accountable when they are not.

In contrast I’m afraid we have lowered our expectations for society as a whole.  Make enough money and the rules don’t apply to you.  If you believe they should you are a hopeless idealist who doesn’t understand the way the game is really played.    Winning isn’t everything it’s the only thing.

Entry filed under: General. Tags: , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Richard Wagner  |  January 22, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Colts should be given the win and sent to the Superbowl

    Reply

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association.

The views Henry expresses are Henry’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association.

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