A series of excerpts from FINANCE AND THE GOOD SOCIETY, the new book from economist and New York Times Economic Scene columnist Robert J. Shiller, is running this week on Bloomberg View. Yesterday’s piece, “Walt Whitman, First Artist of Finance,” is already generating quite a discussion and today’s “Finance Isn’t as Amoral as It Seems,” already is sure to continue . Stay tuned thoughout the week for more slices from the book.
Walt Whitman, First Artist of Finance
One of the myths surrounding economic inequality in our society is that high incomes are often the result of selfishness and narrow-mindedness, rather than idealism and humanity. We tend to think that those in careers other than our own are fundamentally different kinds of people.
Personality and character differences are, indeed, somewhat associated with occupation. But we tend to attribute the behavior of others to personality differences far more often than is warranted.
We tend to think of philosophers, artists or poets as the polar opposite of chief executive officers, bankers or businesspeople. But the idea that those involved in business have personalities fundamentally different from those in other walks of life is belied by the fact that many often combine or switch careers. Consider a few examples.
Walt Whitman is one of our most revered poets, and his poetry is among the most transcendent. But he could not ignore more material concerns; he had to make a living. To do so, he turned to fiction — more marketable than poetry — and made his name with a commercial novel called “Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times”….