A Poem for Cooperative Designers

I was sitting through a somewhat disjointed lecture. Jeffrey Race was describing his latest book in which he discusses the topic of public policy disasters such as the 2008/2009 financial crisis. That reference got my attention. He stated the issue in his slide as follows:

“The decisions leading to these [public policy] disasters were made by very intelligent people with degrees from top universities, with great staffs and almost limitless information. And they were amply warned. The scientific question is why does this pathological behavior exist and what can we — must we — do about it?”

His answer was not simple. He described filters, rules and feedback loops. But the most interesting reference was his asking the attendees who had read Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Gods of the Copybook Headings? What was the relevance to his core topic?

This artistic query prompted me to look up the poem. The voice in the poem portrays the fads and fallacies that appear in the “Market Place” and the political arena. These motivations end in inevitable disaster, again and again in human history. Whereas the wise sayings that appear in the children’s copybooks remain viable throughout time.

Selected stanzas that directly cite the insatiable allure of the market include:

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all. . .

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things. . .

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

The Cooperative Question

Are your credit union’s efforts driven by the Gods of the Market Place, or the verities of a children’s copybook?

P.s. His analytical approach to the 2008/2009 financial crisis will be the subject of another blog.

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