The blog came into existence quite by accident and was inspired by the Cyprus Banking crisis of March 2013. It rapidly morphed into a more ambitious attempt to look at topical issues in slightly different way. Hence the title of the blog, Gestaltz, and the allusion to Gestalt psychology. The purpose of the blog is to stimulate rather than complete thought. Attempts have been made to explain some difficult specialist ideas but only in the interest of making the blog more accessible. It inevitably reflects my background and philosophy of knowledge.
I was an undergraduate in Political Economy from 1971-1974. These dates proved important in retrospect. They mark the end of Bretton Woods. They seem to mark the point when economics went from political economy to mathematical economics. My postgraduate study in economics was quite different to my undergraduate study. My understanding of economics was formed in my undergraduate years and never left me.
I harboured ambitions to be an academic and achieved this through a switch to Financial Economics or Finance as it was generally called. My interest was, ironically, in the banking system as a source of economic crisis. My years as a finance academic taught me nothing of relevance as the subject largely assumed the possibility of crisis away in order to keep the maths tractable. I drifted into commerce, first as a corporate planner with an oil major, and then with a series of investment banks.
My functional roles included research, fund management and proprietary trading. I had varying degrees of success though my comparative advantage lay in research. Most of the people with whom I worked saw their time in banking as a career and kept ‘score’ through annual earnings. Money was an end in itself. For me it was a job and money was a means to an end. Needless to say I was uncomfortable in my work environment. I stuck at it but I changed firms often. Towards the end of my career I availed myself of the excellent teaching facilities of the Open University and whilst working managed two degrees in Psychology.
The main achievement of my time in banking was an understanding of the role of the banking system in financial crises. The crisis of 2007 came as no surprise and only the form that it took was perverse. It was entirely predictable and avoidable and reflected a gross failure in regulation as well as some seriously unethical behaviour. I was located in the eye of the storm when it struck in August 2007 and had a very clear view. Moreover as I was working for a supranational organisation I remained in the eye of the storm. It was a stressful and informative time during which I also completed an MSc in Psychology. I fulfilled my initial ambition to understand the role of banking in financial crises. My observations are scattered throughout this blog.
My philosophy of knowledge veers towards the relativist position. This does not however mean anything goes. I start from the position that human society cannot collectively acquire knowledge because in the last analysis it also defines what is knowledge. I treat all knowledge as provisional. I proceed as if something is true even though I know it probably is not. So how do I choose what to accept? I apply usefulness as a criterion. Is this notion, idea, assumption, useful? If yes proceed as if true. If no, place on shelf but keep in mind in light of further development. Regrettably some people internalize ideas as fixed universal truths and it can be quite difficult to change their knowledge even when the ideas become counterproductive. Hence the Gestaltz blog. It aims to show those with fixed convictions that not only is it possible to view things differently but it may serve a purpose to do so. Keep an open mind.
This approach makes few friends because one is always challenging. It is also fairly pointless because no one wishes to be challenged. Fixed views are comfortable and reassuring. But one can only be oneself.