Saturday, December 13, 2008

What the Ferengi Can Teach Wall Street

Known in the Star Trek series canon as an ultra-capitalist race of beings, will the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition provide guidance for Wall Street as a way out of it’s current economic slump?

By: Vanessa Uy

The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition is probably the closest thing that passes for as moral law for this “fictitious” ultra-capitalist race of beings. Given that in the Star Trek universe their greediness has not driven their entire race and civilization into extinction, can the Ferengi offer Wall Street some advice – no matter how inane – on how it can get out of it’s current economic slump? But first, here’s a brief primer and refresher on the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.

Given that their home world – Ferenginar – seems like being forever trapped in an eternal monsoon downpour, the Ferengi’s native environment probably shaped their drive into ultra-capitalism as a “way to get out of the rain”. As their civilization advances the first ad hoc Ferengi Rules of Acquisition was formulated by the first Grand Nagus (sort of like the president of the Ferengi home world) of the Ferengi Alliance named Gint. Primarily as a code of conduct in conducting business transactions with other alien races who are members of the Ferengi Alliance. Grand Nagus Gint chose the title “Rules of Acquisition” as a clever marketing ploy since for all intents and purposes these are just “mere guidelines”.

In the Star Trek series canon, there is a “creative” / “literary” consensus that Grand Nagus Gint numbered his first rule as #162, in order to create a demand for the other 161 rules that had not yet been written. The rules – according to the Ferengi – are said to be divinely inspired and sacred, and thus serve as the closest thing that passes for as a religion in Ferengi society. Also, the profit-obsessed Ferengi’s funeral rights revolved around vacuum-desiccating their “mortal remains” after they die and various mounted slice remains sold to the highest bidder. The amount of funds earned during the sale of their mortal remains determines their status on the “Divine Treasury” – the Ferengi equivalent of Paradise in their afterlife. Here, every Ferengi is held accountable for their adherence to the rules during their “living years”. If the sale of a Ferengi’s vacuum-desiccated mortal remains who has passed-on generates scant revenue, their “souls” are sentenced into “Eternal Destitution” their equivalent of hell in the thereafter.

When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – the particular Star Trek series which highlighted the Ferengi culture and societal structure – aired, there were already 285 Rules of Acquisition currently in place. The “quirky” ones include Rules of Acquisition #34 stating that “War is good for business.” while #35 states that “Peace is good for business.” Which only highlight’s the Ferengi’s acumen for flexibility when it comes to making a profit; Especially on Rules of Acquisition #177 states that “Know your enemies…but do business with them.” Serving as a twist on Sun Tsu’s “The Art of War” – which can also be applied on our existing corporate world. Even the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition #285 – currently their last – stating that “A good deed is it’s own reward.” Only epitomizes the Ferengi’s constant acquisition of profit as their society’s “moral center”. Even the Ferengi Quark – owner and proprietor of DS-9’s “Quark’s Bar” even irreverently created his own Ferengi Rules of Acquisition #286 stating that “When Morn leaves (his best customer with an extremely high-tolerance for intoxicating drinks) it’s all over, highlighting profits above all.

During their darker moments, when the Dominion declared war on the Federation / United Federation of Planets, Quark only mentioned that his home world only has known one major economic collapse. But during the time of the episodes airing, Japan was already reeling in from a recession when their Go-Go 80’s economic bubble went bust, investment guru George Soros was accused of breaking the Bank of England. Plus, Sumitomo was resorting to unfair means of cornering the copper market in the London Metals Exchange and so on. Even though we humans only knew 1929 as our only major market collapse (what about that Carter Administration era “economic malaise”? Reaganomics?), the Ferengi has indeed something to teach us, and even Wall Street. Greed is good, but if profits are acquired at the expense of Main Street, the market will surely collapse.