Friday, February 19, 2010

Original Sin on Wall Street

I spoke with John Bogle a couple of months ago, and got a feisty earful about not only Wall Street's foibles, but also how budding analysts, managers and other market professionals could benefit from more exposure to the writings of Dante, Homer, and the Roman philosopher and statesman, Seneca.

"I think a lot of [the financial crisis] could perhaps have been avoided if our business leaders had a broader vision," Bogle told me. "I'm skeptical about the narrowness of the business school curriculum. I happen to believe it should have a much greater liberal arts emphasis, and even a much greater emphasis on the classics. The Odyssey will tell you an awful lot about human nature and life, and therefore about business, and societal values. Read the Odyssey. Read Dante's Inferno. You can also learn a lot by reading Seneca's essay on the shortness of life or Montaigne's essay on vanity."

What makes a study of history and the Classics so important for business?

"It involves critical thinking," Bogle explained. "It involves some kind of perspective, it involves some ability to think 'you know, this has happened before and it could be happening again now.' It would certainly shun the argument that this time is different when the stock market goes to an all-time high. And, as Einstein said, 'there are some things that count that can't be counted, and there are things that can be counted that don't count.' There's a lot of terrific stuff out there that gives you an understanding of the broad world in which we live, rather than the very narrow world in which we play our games.

Continue Reading