Thought for the Day - Rhidian Brook
With the Italian economy on the brink, the phrase ‘too big too fail’ is getting a lot of air-time. It’s been floating around public discourse ever since the last financial crisis three years ago when a bank, that was supposedly too big to fail, failed. But it’s more than just a colloquial term. It’s a theory in which certain financial institutions are deemed to be so large and interconnected that they must receive beneficial policies to keep them alive. Their bigness, if you like, must be protected at all costs because their demise would apparently be a disaster for us all.
Given the long history of really big things failing, it’s odd that this kind of thinking still has such credence. Lehman Brothers. Enron. General Motors. Real Madrid. The Titanic. The Roman Empire. The Tower Of Babel. That dinosaur whose head got too big for its body. The list of things or people deemed way too strong, too successful, too rich, too important to fail but did is, well, enormous.
It suggests that our reverence for the big isn’t some kind of sophisticated economic principal but something quite primitive and irrational. Mankind may have stopped worshipping the monolith but he still adores the monolithic. Big is best. Might is right. In large we trust. The great danger of this is delusion. Like the fading actress in Sunset Boulevard who, when told ‘You used to be big,’ replies ‘I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.’ Pride inverts our perspective. We are no longer able to see the pathway to redemption because it seems too small and insignificant to us.
Could it be that size isn’t all its bigged up to be? Even Allan Greenspan the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve implied that there were limits to scale when he said ‘if they’re too big to fail, they’re too big.’ What if we inverted the phrase and said of countries, or companies, or even people that they were ‘too small to fail.’ Instead of protecting the powerful from their own failures we let them fail in order for small things to make their way in the world, not out of some romantic egalitarianism, but because small really is beautiful – and is where the foundations of our welfare and well-being lie.
When people built the tower of Babel and said ‘Let us build a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens,’ they were sure their project was too big to fail. Seeing their hubris, God intervened, confused their languages, and the people were scattered all over the world as a result. His interjection is sometimes perceived negatively; but by letting Babel fail God was actually scattering the seeds of a future hope. Whilst man’s big plans lay in monolithic ruin, God’s plan was only just beginning. Man wanted to get to God my bigging himself up. But God’s plan involved a total inversion of this. In order to save mankind He had to make himself too small to fail.