As I was boarding my usual end-of-the-year overseas flight I could clearly hear the arguments of a heated debate: “Do values matter and are they supposed to create the rules or should the rules create the values of the world order?” Like in the years past I knew that one more time I was lucky enough to learn from some of the greatest minds that have been shaping our thoughts and actions.


Milton Friedman seemed a little agitated. His question/epitome of his work of whether or not money matters in creating a stable macro-environment or is the main cause of instability was taking a turn away from his thesis that “only money matters”. Cincinnatus who was sitting across from Friedman could sense the agitation and decided to take over the conversation – as he did of the Roman affairs about 2500 years ago – and as a statesman like few who ever lived reminded us all what civic virtue is all about.


“Civic virtue is absent nowadays in the era when truth is irrelevant” Empedocles stated, to continue “you Cincinnatus took power and complete control of the state, but once you stabilized the state you relinquished all power and return to your small farm”. Empedocles wanted us to see that in the current era which is characterized by illiberal education – where universities opt for training students rather than pointing to the unity of the truth – our intellectual capacities have diminished to the point that we are incapable of separating illusion from truth. “We have been retreating into an image-based existence that deforms our minds and destabilizes our democracies” Empedocles added.


“This is a powerful statement” Virgil shouted. “While I was guiding Dante through the gates of the inferno and the purgatory, he kept whispering to me of a vision he had about a society that is comforted by an epistemology of images, eschewing real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives which are made up.”


“Propaganda now masquerades as ideology and that leads to bankrupt philosophies and policies whether in monetary, fiscal, educational or foreign affairs” Ibn Rushd (a.k.a. Averroes) declared. Of course, we owe to Ibn Rushd the revitalization of Western scholarly interest in ancient Greek philosophy which in turn gave birth to the Renaissance. “Truth is no longer discovered, but rather is manufactured. The instruments of policy making are designed to create a public ecstasy of emotions and impulses –subliminal or not – that lead into a state of mindlessness that is concerned about the present neglecting that the present is only the past the remembers the future.”


“Welcome to post-Leviathan” Hobbes declared. “In this post-literate world the image-lovers remain as powerless are ever before. Our brave new world values artificiality and an indulgence into narratives of pre-ordained absurdities. The post-Leviathan state of things has made us feel good to the point that we can no longer think, since we are at constant war either with ourselves or with others. The degradation of standards is the outcome of a culture where the marketization of everything covers up the risks of self-destruction.”


“How about those charlatans?”  Spinoza asked.  “To whom are you referring to?” Cincinnatus demanded a clarification. “Oh you know, all those charlatan preachers, politicians, television celebrities, gurus and demagogues who have been hijacking reality and endow society with a spectacle that judges endlessly, kills the mind effortlessly, dispenses morality and creates an unholy trinity of the self, the I, and the me.” Cincinnatus now understood why Spizoza was excommunicated from his Jewish community.


“Do you think that technology has also contributed to the feeding of the mind with illusions and the power of self-deception?” Canaletto, the famous painter asked. “In my paintings and especially in the Stonemason’s Yard, I tried to show that if we desire to move our societies forward we have to be cathedral thinkers. We build for the future that we cannot see and of which we are not partakers, otherwise we construct towers on sand. I know that those towers are sanctified by celebrities, but they are simply mirages who cannot heal our brokenness”.


“In The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry tells us that the attractive packaging of deceptions becomes a feature on which the culture is hooked” Doremus Jessup reminded us. The protagonist of another book written in 1935, Jessup knew it well that fascism (which was rising in Europe at that time) can happen anywhere. “By inducing in them little panics of boredom, powerlessness, sexual failure, mortality, paranoia, they can be made to buy or vote for virtually anything that is attractively packaged”.


“Doremus, is right” Cincinnatus proclaimed. “In his case, that charlatan Democratic senator by the name of Windrip took complete control of the government and became a protégé of fascism”. “You, on the contrary relinquished all powers once you restored order” Doremus added.


“Nowadays, consumption and entertainment provide a lethal intoxication to the spirit of world order. The sheer endless pleasure of emancipation from reason, from responsibility, and from all the other bonds that restrain an unfocused and an undisciplined mind, have taken over policy making. The result is disorder and a disequilibrium that follows the law of entropy”, Empedocles added.


“Does that mean that ‘Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate’ (abandon all hope those who enter) is the order of the day?”, Virgil asked rhetorically.  “Odysseus finally reaches his Ithaca, so hope dies last indeed!”  “For hope to die last, a precondition needs to be met, and that is an orderly teleology” Ibn Rushd declared. “Values should drive the rules in order to achieve progress and the desired teleological outcome which itself is the product of collaboration rather than being a priori determined as illiberal minds would have us thought.”


“Exactly my point” Milton Freidman said. ‘Mind the gap between the monetary base and the actual money supply. The declining money velocity shows that the teleological order cannot be sustained unless rules are allowed to rule. Value creation requires wealth creation and the bubbles created by securitizing worthless paper is indicative of the disorder that has prevailed”.


As we were listening intensively to this enlightening discussion, the pilot announced that for our landing we will be using the new runway called Derivatives Superhighway II whose first several hundred yards are titled Banca Monte dei Paschi, constructed by engineers of Deutsche Bank.


Happy New Year!