After talking with a number of workers involved in the Wall Street troubles of 2008, sociologist Richard Sennett argues that Wall Street offices lack cooperation:
The financial industry is a high-stress business that requires people to work extremely long hours, sacrificing time for children, spouses and social pleasures. But after 2008, many of my subjects were no longer willing to make those sacrifices. Looking back, they realized how little respect they had for the executives who’d worked above them, how superficial was the trust they had for fellow workers and, most of all, how weak cooperation proved in the wake of financial disaster.
The fragility of this social triangle is disturbing. When informal channels of communication wither, people keep to themselves ideas about how the organization is really doing, or guard their own territory. Weak social ties erode loyalty, which businesses need in good times as well as bad. Many of the employees I’ve been talking with have come to feel embittered by the thin, superficial quality of social ties in places where they spend most of their waking hours…
Even for those workers who have recovered quickly, the crash isn’t something they are likely to forget. The front office may want to get back as quickly as possible to the old regime, to business as usual, but lower down the institutional ladder, people seem to feel that during the long boom something was missing in their lives: the connections and bonds forged at work.
This is an example of how sociology can help inform economics and/or social policy. In order for offices or any social group to work well, there has to be trust, solidarity, and cooperation. These traits cannot simply be dictated or ordered. Rather, relationships and social ties need to be started, developed, and maintained over time. These relationships may seem silly or unnecessary to some but it will be difficult to accomplish great things without them.
I expect an analysis like this is just the beginning of a flood of academic work and commentary about the recent economy crisis. And I would guess that a lot of research will show that people were not acting “rationally” but rather were working off of different emotions that led to “irrational exuberance.” Cultural and social factors played a role but it will up to scholars to determine how much.