This post initially appeared on Science Blogs

I'm in the process of reading All the Devils are Here, and just got The Big Short for my birthday.

It would seem that the story of the financial crisis, the resulting economic slump, and the battles over how to fix it are stories of human greed, striving for self-interest and reckless (self-imposed) ignorance. Why?

Mencius went to see King Hui of Liang.

The king said, "Venerable sir, since you have not counted it far to come here, a distance of a thousand li, may I presume that you are provided with counsels to profit my kingdom?"

Mencius replied, "Why must your Majesty use that word 'profit?' What I am provided with, are counsels to benevolence and righteousness, and these are my only topics.

"If your Majesty say, 'What is to be done to profit my kingdom?' the great officers will say, 'What is to be done to profit our families?' and the inferior officers and the common people will say, 'What is to be done to profit our persons?' Superiors and inferiors will try to snatch this profit the one from the other, and the kingdom will be endangered....

"Let your Majesty also say, 'Benevolence and righteousness, and let these be your only themes.' Why must you use that word -- 'profit' ?"

Mencius, Book 1, part A, chapters 1-4, 6. Trans. James Legge.


(h/t Dan via James)