Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Fall of Saigon

The Lines are Drawn

In the battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh, defeated the French forces occupying Vietnam and controlled the north.  At the 1954 Geneva Conference, it was decided that Vietnam would be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel and democratically elect its own leaders. There would be a first election, conducted separately in North Vietnam and South Vietnam, and a general election to determine the Prime Minister of a united Vietnam. The Viet Nimh, led by Ho, complied and withdrew from conquered territories.  Ho won handily in the first election (source). 
A poster celebrating victory over the French

The French had warned that Ngo Dinh Diem was “not only incapable but mad.” He was nonetheless favored by the U.S. because he presented himself as pro-Western, a capitalist, and a staunch anti-communist. In the first election, he ran against the French colonial puppet Bao Dai. Diem’s ballots were red and Dai’s were green. Voters were instructed at the polling stations to put the red ballots in the ballot box and throw out the green ballots. A few who disobeyed were followed outside the polling station and badly beaten (source). 

Despite being warned not to make such an implausible claim, Diem announced that he had won the first election with 98.2% of the vote. He quickly set about building the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (AVRN). Privately, President Eisenhower expressed the concern that, if the second election were held, Ho would win 80% of the popular vote. 

The North Vietnamese government reminded Diem that a General Election for the whole of the country was due in July, 1956. Diem refused to accept this and instead began arresting his opponents. In a short period of time, approximately 100,000 people were put in prison camps. Communists and socialists were his main targets but journalists, trade-unionists and leaders of religious groups were also arrested. Even children found writing anti-Diem messages on walls were put in prison (source).
A Rich Man’s War

The Vietnam War was called, by its detractors, a “rich man’s war.” This characterization is apt for a number of reasons.  Lower income voters were more likely to oppose the war than upper income voters (Harmon, 2010). Secondly, college-age youth had a better chance of avoiding the draft if they were from upper income families: they took advantage of college deferments and preferential stateside deployments.  Thus, lower income voters were more likely than upper income voters to suffer the loss of sons and brothers in the war. 

Wealthy and politically influential families could avoid combat duty

The Vietnam War could be aptly described as a “rich man’s war” for other reasons as well. As Martin Luther King pointed out, one of the casualties of the war was Lyndon B. Johnson’s ambitious anti-poverty program, the “Great Society.” 

This confused war has played havoc with our domestic destinies. Despite feeble protestations to the contrary, the promises of the Great Society have been shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam. The pursuit of this widened war has narrowed domestic welfare programs, making the poor -- white and Negro -- bear the heaviest burdens both at the front and at home.

Initially, the public supported the war in Vietnam. Americans were fervently anti-communist, and the war was presented to the public as an ideological struggle against communism. Later, when Richard Nixon claimed,"If we don't fight the Viet Cong in the jungles of Indochina, we will have to fight them on the beaches of California," many Americans believed him, even though the Viet Cong did not have a navy.  The so-called “domino theory” held that, if Chinese, Russian, or homegrown communism took hold in Vietnam, it would spread to other countries in the region. 

In public addresses, the president and members of Congress emphasized the moral imperative of supporting “democracy” against communist subversion. Behind closed doors, greater emphasis was placed on the strategic and economic aspects of international Cold War rivalry.  This is revealed in the Pentagon Papers, a set of classified documents that had been leaked to the press bit by bit starting in 1971.  

In these documents, there is a discussion of the “extensive American and British investments” in Indonesia that might be endangered if communism were to spread throughout Southeast Asia.  As noted in the Pentagon Papers, “Southeast Asia, especially Malaya and Indonesia, is the principal world source of natural rubber and tin. Access to these materials by the Western Powers and their denial to the Soviet Bloc is important at all times and particularly in the event of global war.”  This case was pressed by groups such as The International Tin Study Group and the National Rubber Bureau.
Daniel Ellsberg was instrumental in making the Pentagon Papers public.

Elsewhere in the Pentagon Papers, it is written, “Indonesia is a secondary source of petroleum whose importance would be enhanced by the denial to the Western Powers of petroleum sources in the Middle East.” In 1956, the Western Powers (notably, the U.S., Great Britain, and France) were alarmed about the risk of losing access to the vital Suez Canal, and wanted a contingency plan.
It is also noted in the Pentagon Papers that Malaya, one of the “dominoes” that might fall if Vietnam falls, “is the largest net dollar earner for the United Kingdom, and its loss would seriously aggravate the economic problems facing the U.K.” The U.S. was also concerned about Japan: disruptions in the import of rice and other goods from its Southeast Asian neighbors would make country even more dependent on U.S. economic aid. 

Incongruously mixed in with the papers, one may find unexpectedly sympathetic portrayals of the enemy in the north. 

Ho [Chi Minh] ... was quick to appreciate how his country was being robbed [and] kept in economic penury ... While the French took cut rubber or rice or whatever else they wanted and sold it in the world market at a high profit, the Vietnamese lived under a system in which only human labor and not money, in any international sense, counted; goods were in effect bartered for subsistence.
In time, the goal of the U.S. was to ease France out of Vietnam, and assert its own influence over the country’s economy and development. However, Ho Chi Minh did not want Vietnam to be the colony of any foreign power. He sought independence for his country.

Diem the Tyrant

During the early 1950s, Diem visited America and, a devout Catholic, made friends with the influential Cardinal Frances Spellman and Senator John F. Kennedy. In a country that was 70% Buddhist and only 10% Catholic, Diem would furl the Vatican Flag on public occasions. Under French rule, Vietnamese who became Catholic were rewarded. “Catholics had always held a privileged position in Vietnam. The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country and most of the officials who helped administer the country for the French were Catholics (source).” Diem would continue the practice of favoritism toward Catholics.

His closest advisor was his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, “an opium-addicted neo-Nazi who lived alongside Diem in the presidential mansion (source).” By 1956, 

Diem’s government had taken shape. Though it presented itself to the world as a developing democracy, in reality it was anti-democratic, autocratic, corrupt and nepotistic. There was a ‘representative’ National Assembly, though rigged elections meant it did little more than rubber-stamp Diem’s own policies. Freedom of the press was curtailed; writing or protesting against the government often produced a prison sentence, or worse (source).
He consolidated power by siding with the large plantation owners whose lands had been confiscated by the Viet Nimh. They supplied him with funds to bribe officials and pay the salaries of private soldiers. 

Diem demonstrated his anti-communism by hunting down suspected communists throughout the south. Thousands of suspected communists were rounded up, deported, tortured, thrown in prison or executed (source). In 1959, he passed a law stating that falling under suspicion of being Viet Nimh would be punishable with death. 

On May 8th, 1963, Buddhists assembled in the city of Hue to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. Police were sent to disperse the crowd, and ended up killing one woman and eight children. As a protest against these murders and the campaign of discrimination against Buddhist Vietnamese, monks volunteered to immolate themselves. A photographer managed to capture one such monk, who calmly doused himself in gasoline and lit a match. An eyewitness reported, “As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him (source).”

Diem’s response was to declare that he’d clap his hands each time a Buddhist chose those action, and offer free gasoline. At that moment, John F. Kennedy realized that the reunification of Vietnam would be impossible. 

Thich Quang Duc
Unresponsive to Western calls to moderate his actions, Diem retaliated against the Buddhists' protests by brutalizing and arresting thousands of Buddhist monks. Once arrested, many would never be seen again. But 1963 would be his last year in power. When he was assassinated, people rushed into the streets of Saigon and celebrated.   

Diem’s tyrannical rule succeeded in creating galvanizing South Vietnamese opposition to the government and to American intervention. Men and women joined the National Liberation Front (NLF). The NLF, also known as the Viet Cong, engaged in rigorous military training and built well-concealed and extensive underground bases.  
Men and women fought together in combat
The Viet Cong were very effective as guerilla soldiers. They had popular support. Their opponents, AVRN soldiers, weren’t particularly motivated to fight or risk being killed. They received support from the Viet Nimh in the north. Although American troops were being deployed in ever increasing numbers to support South Vietnam, the Americans had difficulty detecting the Viet Cong’s movements in the thick jungles of Vietnam. If pressed, the Viet Cong slipped past the border into Cambodia.

Frustrated by the difficulties of waging jungle warfare with an enemy that knew the terrain intimately, the American military resorted to increasingly drastic measures. They deployed Agent Orange, a defoliant, to clear the jungles. This substance, produced by Dow Chemical, contained dioxin and caused horrific birth defects in Vietnamese children. The military also deployed napalm, which could set broad swaths of jungle on fire in an instant. The weapon was indiscriminate, and killed and maimed an unknown number of non-combatants. 

Children fleeing a napalm attach. Many were seriously burned.
Diem realized that the Viet Cong were receiving food and material support from villagers. In response, he instituted what he called “agrivilles,” or the forcible resettlement of villagers into communities where they could be kept behind barbed wire fences and prevented from having any contact with the Viet Cong.  The scheme was later taken up by the Americans, who called them “strategic hamlets.”   

The strategic hamlets were moderately effective at keeping villagers separated from small 3 to 5 person bands of marauding Viet Cong – at least, during the day. After dark, Viet Cong bands were able to approach the villages as frightened AVRN soldiers hunkered down in their distant barracks. Villagers were given radios to contact the AVRN, but they wouldn’t come in time. Villagers were offered guns that they could use to defend themselves, but many refused. They knew that the Viet Cong desperately needed weapons, and would be willing to kill villagers to take their guns away from them. 

In many instances, these strategic hamlets were set up near the border with Cambodia. This turned out to be a disastrous decision: even if the hamlets could fend off small bands of Viet Cong, there were entire battalions camped just across the border inside Cambodia. They’d sweep in and overwhelm the hamlets (source). 

A U.S. Marine, Lieutenant Colonel William R. Corson, observed the situation and conceded that the U.S. puppet regime in South Vietnam was fit only to “to loot, collect back taxes, reinstall landlords, and conduct reprisals against the people (source).”

The Fall of Saigon

The purpose of this essay is not to provide a comprehensive account of the war in Vietnam. Instead, it is meant to present evidence in support of the argument that the people of South Vietnam faced an untenable situation. Even if they supported the South Vietnamese government, they risked being imprisoned, tortured, or killed if they fell under the suspicion of supporting the NLF. They were forced to live in strategic hamlets – de facto concentration camps -- where there wasn’t enough land to farm. They lived in fear of Viet Cong raids. Many innocent civilians became “collateral damage” in U.S. strikes against the enemy. Because the Vietnamese people could not choose safety, because they could not choose a government that actually cared about protecting their lives and liberties, they no longer had anything to lose. They became implacable enemies, and powerful enough in their resolve that they were eventually able to defeat a force of over 500,000 well-equipped American soldiers. They lost approximately 4 million lives in the process. 

Over 58,000 American service members lost their lives in Vietnam


In the early 1960s, only a minority of Americans spoke up in opposition to the war. In time, most Americans were convinced that the war must be ended as quickly as possible. Energetic and massive protest marches helped goad the government to comply with the will of the people. And it seemed, for a while, that the people of the United States had been so chastened by the horror of this war that they would never tolerate another imperialistic military adventure overseas.

Yet, as the years wore on, the burden of guilt began to weigh heavily, and Americans wanted to feel proud and powerful again. The people woke up one morning to discover that Grenada had been successfully invaded and at little cost, and began to take small steps toward rediscovering their martial fervor. The people went to sleep, and unconscious, dreamt of violence.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, China went to war against its erstwhile ally, and the Vietnamese, despite their war-weariness, successfully drove off the attack. China returned, several years later. In Bac Ninh, a city 40 kilometers north of Hanoi, there was once large rice fields, but "they have been replaced by multinational companies and their local subcontractors (source)."

Samsung's Bac Ninh-based factory is its largest in the world, with 9,600 workers. Canon employs 8,500 workers, and Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, employs 5,600.The most popular destinations for these giant firms are Bac Ninh and, ironically enough, Ho Chi Minh City.

A Nike production facility in Vietnam.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Reagan/Thatcher, or the Perils of Being Reasonable

Some of my readers will be familiar with my fondness for the word “canard.” I’ve been studying the origins of the word and discovered that mother ducks (French: canard) will feign a broken wing to lure predators away from her young. A duck may be peacefully afloat on a lake and suddenly duck out of sight. People who say a lot of impressive things that aren’t necessarily true – according to German idiom -- quacks like a duck. Hence, the English slang “quack.” In English, one connotation of the word “canard” is “to lie convincingly” or to be more exact, “a lie that is exceedingly and cunningly effective.”

Understanding canards is, therefore, essential for the student of politics. In this short essay, I plan to discuss a particular moral and intellectual failing that creates an opening for endless canards to acquire the appearance of credibility. This failure is belief in the virtues of being reasonable. On this point, I find myself agreeing with Barry Goldwater’s assertion, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” 

Political moderates and centrists are especially keen on extolling their own reasonableness. Those who study logic know that the argument to moderation, aka argumentum ad temperantiam, or the middle ground fallacy, posits that the truth or the ideal position exists as a compromise between two opposite positions.
Thatcher and Reagan. Meant to be Together.

In fact, there is something morally unsound about being moderate. King Solomon exposed the false plaintiff by offering to cut a baby in half. The moderate is the enemy of the idealist. And it is evidence of the success of the moderate worldview that the very word “idealist” is used derisively. “Idealism” is now synonymous with “impracticality,” “utopianism” or “sentimentality.” 

The negative connotations that are ascribed to idealism are not balanced by equally negative connotations of the word “moderate.” I will propose that the supposedly sensible moderate politician is all-too-often an advocate of realpolitik: that is, a value-free political philosophy that is grounded in the desire for material acquisition and the expansion of power. It brings to mind one of the meretricious charms of Ayn Rand libertarianism, the opportunity to exclaim, “I see things as they really are,” or “I will never again be hoodwinked by lofty ideals,” “I can’t rely on other people for help,” or even, “I am morally justified in caring only about my own narrow self-interest.”    

In A Farewell To Arms, Hemingway wrote, “Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage ... were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the number of roads, and the names of rivers.” He described the experience of disillusionment, brought on by witnessing the senseless slaughter that occurred during the First World War. This nihilistic stance conveys a new kind of rugged masculinity, which Hemingway felt compelled to invent after the old masculinity – which subsisted on fighting for honor and glory – expired on the battlefield. All this is to say that the hard-nosed realist is just as sentimental, in his or her own way, as the idealist. And realism is the brave face worn by someone who is morally defeated.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, as he rose to national prominence, Ronald Reagan exuded masculinity. The contrast in demeanor between himself and President Jimmy Carter gave him a powerful advantage. And when Reagan delivered a speech, he was a master at appearing to be reasonable --- as in, he appeared to hold an unembellished, unsentimental and realistic perspective on domestic and foreign affairs. He was not a man to publicly display ambivalence or doubts about his own views. He valued simplicity over complexity and clarity over nuance. 

Jimmy Carter was easily caricatured as a "soft" liberal.

Reagan elevated the "folksy delivery" to an art form. He seemed to offer America an opportunity to escape from the mindset of the 1970s. Instead, he capitalized on the 1970s current of self-absorption and put a happy face on it. 

Reagan’s success as a politician wasn’t due solely to his personality. He was the beneficiary of a lengthy, deliberate campaign to mold popular opinion. Universities, think-tanks, the mass media, and finally political parties were enlisted to define standards for defining a course of action as “reasonable” or “unreasonable,” “efficient” or “wasteful,” “necessary” or “by choice.” The idea of unrestrained personal freedom – a negative freedom based on freedom from constraints, rather than a positive freedom to realize one’s potential as a member of society – was re-invented as a desirable, practicable, and universal aspiration. Regulation, in every sense of the word, is bad. The absence of regulation is categorically a virtue.

All this is discussed at length in David Harvey’s cogent book, A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Harvey goes on to suggest that diverse manifestations of American values, evidenced during the 1970’s onward, all stem from this long campaign to create a new understanding of what constitutes a “reasonable” or “common sense” view of society. 

According to the new common sense, unrestrained personal freedom is a blessing to all. It is common sense that some people will make more of this freedom than other people, and become wealthy and influential members of society. It is common sense that some people squander their opportunities and possess insufficient drive to succeed in life. We can each see it in ourselves; we’ve made decisions about the trade-off between work and family. We may look back on our lives and decide, “If I’d tried harder, I would have gotten farther.” But this mooning over our own past selves is a part of the problem I am discussing.

The zealous pursuit of personal freedom elides with a state of hyper-individualism. Consumerism, identity politics, multiculturalism, paranoia, and the Balkanizing “culture wars” will flourish. Rock music and peace signs, symbols of protest and incipient revolution in the 1960s, were reduced to the status of consumer goods in the 1970s. 

In the 1970s and 1980s advocates for social justice became divided: some fought for women’s rights, some for Affirmative Action, some for gay rights, and others for social welfare programs; and all of them eventually became so absorbed in their own separate causes to become oblivious to the fact that a new class system was being built around them. Affluent crusaders for women’s rights or racial equality were now free to exercise their humanitarian urges without feeling at all embarrassed about their economic privilege, and today, universities charge $60,000 in tuition to teach about inequality. 

When Citibank decided, in 1975, to no longer service New York City’s debt, the city was sent to the brink of bankruptcy. Jobs were lost, crime rose dramatically, and the infrastructure deteriorated. 

Between 1973 and 1976 the city had lost 340,000 jobs….Black and Hispanic teenage unemployment was hovering at 70 and 80%, respectively…There had been seventy-five felonies committed every hour in New York in 1976, making it the worst crime year in the city’s history (source).

Pretty soon, Citibank’s role in this was forgotten, and what people remembered was that New York City government lacked fiscal discipline. Ever since, many Americans continue to associate debt with frightening conditions that existed in the New York of the 1970s, and more than a few Americans have learned to associate crime with racial and ethnic minorities. 

New York in the 1970s

However, relatively few have learned to associate declining social conditions with the decisions made by financiers. Thomas Edsall, a journalist quoted in Harvey’s book, said,

During the 1970s, business refined its ability to act as a class, submerging competitive instincts in favour of joint, cooperative action in the legislative arena. Rather than individual companies seeking only special favours … the dominant theme in the political strategy of business became a shared interest in the defeat of bills such as consumer protection and labour law reform, and in the enactment of favourable tax, regulatory and antitrust legislation. 
It was during the 1970s that a string of Supreme Court decisions give rise to unlimited campaign contributions by corporations and political action committees started to become powerful forces in shaping legislation and picking winners and losers among politicians running for office. Ronald Reagan benefited from the new clout of corporate interests. He repaid the favor by revising the tax code, particularly with respect to investment income – allowing many corporations to escape any tax liability whatever – and reduced the top tax bracket from 78 to 28%.  

Meanwhile, over in England, Margaret Thatcher had to contend with an entrenched Labour Party and a society in which many key industries – such as coal – were nationalized. She promised voters that problems of inflation and the declining purchasing power of wages could be fixed through a campaign of privatization and austerity measures. The average voter probably did not fully appreciate the fact that austerity measures are a means of transferring wealth from the poor to the rich. Nor did voters fully appreciate that, after privatizing the coal industry, English workers would no longer be needed as miners, because less expensive foreign coal would be imported. 

In Thatcher’s England, inflation went down, but unemployment increased. A low interest rate reduces the incentive for private asset holders to lend money. When assets and credit flow into the hands of private financial firms, they are taken out of the manufacturing sector and the public sector. 

During the 1979 “Winter of Discontent,” when even gravediggers went on strike to protest against pay freezes, unemployment stood at 1.1 million, and the Conservatives swept to power on the message that “Labour isn't working.”
However, during the early 1980s, unemployment rose further still - it topped three million in 1982. The January 1982 figure of 3,070,621 represented 12.5% of the working population, and in some parts of the country it was even higher: in Northern Ireland, unemployment stood at 20%, while in some areas dominated by declining industries such as coal mining, it was much higher still (source).
The people who were most powerfully impacted by unemployment were members of racial and ethnic minorities. There were race riots, such as the Brixton Riot of 1981. Likewise, there were race riots in the United States. Nowadays, the people deemed most likely to remain unemployed and become angry about it are housed in prisons.

Police Prepare to Contain the Brixton Riot, 1981

Reagan and Thatcher happened to be in charge when a tipping point had been reached and private monied interests were able to abruptly reshape the political order in their own image. Reagan and Thatcher also share responsibility for forwarding the agenda of the monied interests at the expense of the majority of voters.  When Reagan died, I felt sorrow, not for his passing but for the damage he had done. And when Thatcher died, I was reminded of the era, when my political consciousness awakened, and yes, I decided it was a death worth celebrating.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Hyena and the Wildebeest

Ray Dalio is a hedge fund manager with a ten figure salary. He wrote a personal manifesto, ‘Principles.’ In it he describes his philosophy, which he believes was the guiding light that helped him overcome adversity and become the 28th wealthiest person in America.  By ‘adversity,’ I am referring to the misfortune of being born into the middle class. As a boy he disliked school, because he couldn’t abide by being forced to remember what other people wanted him to. He didn’t do well in college. So this is why, when you casually Google the name, you may see Ray Dalio listed among the fabulously wealthy who “started with nothing.” And that is important to all of us who find comfort in rags to riches stories. But none of his early privations stood in the way of Mr. Dalio obtaining an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Mr. Dalio Offers his Advice

In his manifesto, Dalio writes, “When a pack of hyenas takes down a young wildebeest, is this good or bad? At face value, this seems terrible; the poor wildebeest suffers and die. Some people might even say that the hyenas are evil.” Then, he raises the rhetorical question, is the hyena truly evil? After all, “death ... is integral to the enormously complex and efficient system that has worked for as long as there has been life.” The hyenas’ behavior is “good for both the hyenas, who are operating in their self-interest, and in the interest of the great system, which includes the wildebeest, because killing and eating the wildebeest fosters evolution, i.e., the natural process of improvement.” 

So, in other words, it is in the hyena’s self-interest to eat wildebeests, and it is in the wildebeest’s best interest to be eaten. One could argue that the hyena is getting the better end of the bargain. 

Is it true that evolution is a “natural process of improvement,” and that what is “good” is that which brings improvement? Well, no. It was by the process of evolution that the Irish Elk acquired antlers that were up to 12’ across from tip to tip, which ultimately doomed the species to extinction because the Elk would inevitably become caught on trees. After sea turtles hatch, they instinctively move toward a bright light. Once, this light source was the moon. Today, it is just as likely to be the security lighting of a swank beach front home. So, evolution does not equate with improvement. This leads to the second part of Mr. Dalio’s argument: evolution does not incline toward what is good. It moves blindly in the dirt, sometimes leading to fortuitous outcomes such as homo sapiens’ large brain, and sometimes leading to ghastly situations, such as dead elk hanging from trees, or beaches strewn with the decaying remains of baby sea turtles. There is a lot of waste and inefficiency and pointless loss of life.    

As mentioned earlier, Mr. Dalio is a hedge fund manager. What, exactly, is a hedge fund manager? Ernest Hemingway described it as a “hermaphroditic self-eating devourer of the dead, trailer of calving cows, ham-stringer, potential biter-off of your face at night while you slept, sad yowler, camp-follower, stinking, foul, with jaws that crack the bones the lion leaves, belly dragging, loping away on the brown plain …” It communicates using feces. It will leave a white smear to communicate to others, “This territory belongs to my clan.” It will leave a black smear to communicate, “I’ve already eaten all the dead and wounded creatures around here, so don’t waste your time foraging here.” 

In more prosaic language, the hedge fund manager subsists on the “short position.” A hedge fund manager bets that a company will lose money. If he (or she) bets correctly, he earns a profit. Now, this is a fairly innocuous – although unseemly – practice. It is the hyena’s modus operandi. It bets on a particular wounded wildebeest that straggles behind the herd by staying close and waiting for an opportunity. But hedge fund managers don’t just wait for the outcome to play out naturally. The hedge fund manager starts a rumor that such-and-such a company is about to suffer losses, and as the rumor spreads, the stock price of said company goes down, and the hedge fund manager wins his bet.

Sometimes, a hedge fund manager will design financial products to fail, and then bet on their failure. "This was the game of choice before and during the housing bubble. We know for certain that hedge funds colluded with big banks to create mortgage-related securities that were designed to crash and burn, so hedge fund investors could bet against them. In fact, the hedge fund bettors designed the bets by assembling the worst mortgages they could find to place into the securities (source)."

Mr. Dalio teaches his protégés to be the hyena. To salve any pangs of conscience they might feel, he reminds them, “Like the hyenas attacking the wildebeest, successful people might not even know if or how their pursuit of self-interest helps evolution, but it typically does.” One need only trust in the fact that there will be a beneficent result of one’s self-serving behavior, and not presume to have the prescience to understand what that result might be. 

A Seeking of Wisdom
It is true, however, that wildebeests have adapted. Their instincts tell them to circle around their young, their weak, and their injured whenever the foul odor of a hyena is detected. The same is not true of the American people. We do little to protect one another. We do little to drive off the hyenas that prosper when the economy stumbles. Instead, we invite them to international economic forums, lionize them in financial publications, and listen raptly to their wisdom.