Bullying is akin to drug addiction.
- Most people do not do it.
- Everyone is susceptible to doing it.
- Some are more susceptible than others.
- It activates the same dopamine pleasure centers in the brain.
- Once you develop a taste for it, it becomes a hard habit to break.
Okay but let's go the next step:
- Most activity on Wall Street is a form of organized bullying.
- Austerity (such as the austerity that EU bankers are forcing on Greece right now) is bullying for pleasure.
- The Republican Party is an entire political party based on bullying.
- The low prices for consumer goods and high profits for U.S. firms are often a result of U.S. bullying around the world.
So: much of our economy, much of economic policy, and nearly a third of Americans are in the throws of this destructive behavior that is akin to addiction.
Neoliberalism as an ideology, much of the pundit class, and most academic economics departments exist to give cover to bullying. David Brooks' entire career is based on giving polite intellectual cover to bullies (and he is well compensated for his services).
So if we were going to do something about it, what would be the steps?
Well, like drug addiction, we:
- educate people about the dangers of bullying (whether that is on the playground or on Wall Street or in Congress.);
- take steps to nip it in the bud when we see it (arresting Wall Street Bankers for their role in the housing bubble and collapse would be a good start);
- set up a system of rewards and punishments such that people are rewarded for cooperation and excluded from polite society if they show signs of bullying (anti-trust laws, Glass-Steagall before it was repealed, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are attempts to stop economic bullying through law and policy).
Of course another way to stop a bully is to become a bigger bully. But that just starts the whole process all over again with a different set of actors on top. The great failures of communism in the 20th century all stem from trying to become the bigger bully and from not realizing that in addition to winning -- you actually have to change the game (by replacing bullying with intersubjectivity). The great genius of Jesus, Gandhi, and King are that they realized that in addition to winning, you actually have to change the game.