Friday, September 16, 2011

Aristotelian Bankers

Harry Mount on what today's bankers should have learned from the Medici:
If Fred the Shred had spent his millions on something so high-minded and useful, he might not have got it in the neck so badly. That’s the depressing difference between 15th-century Florence and 21st-century banking. Here, gazillions passed through Wall Street and the City in the golden years of the last two decades, and there’s barely anything to show for it.

Walk around central Florence and you are walking through a city of buildings largely commissioned by 15th-century bankers. Santa Maria Novella, Florence’s first great Renaissance church, still has the name of its banker builder, Giovanni Rucellai, inscribed across its facade in foot-high letters.

Walk around London and New York, and, a few skyscrapers apart, you could be forgiven for not noticing that both cities had just been through the bonanza years. 
Harry rightly attributes religious motivations to the Medici. But it wasn't just religion - it was also philosophy. The Florentine princes were imbued with the ethics of Aristotle: how the higher good emerges from the unified harmony of virtue, truth and beauty.

I guess our modern bankers fail on all three measures. Not that the Medici were saints of course!

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