Can you imagine: Halloween “trick-or-treat”—a template for workplace relationship management and Wall Street big-bank dynamics?

Yes. Halloween trick-or-treat dynamics and insights into them provide relationship and life lessons of use to HR managers, employers, employees and, some would say, for anybody wondering how the 2008 too-big-too-fail bank bailout happened. Yes, how the 2008 bank bailout happened.

Here’s the template:

  • Institutionalized extortion: Basically, that’s what trick-or-treat is. You hand over the treat, or face the consequences—e.g., soaped car windows, toilet-paper bombed lawns or toothpicks in door bells, fortunately less common these days, but preferred, even over treats, by some of the meaner kids where I grew up.

Of course, what makes trick-or-treat special is not that it is extortion. No, what is unique about it is that it’s institutionalized, open and almost universally accepted extortion—resisted only by hard-core cynics, paranoids, paupers and misers.

Bank Bailouts and Bail-ins as Big-Scale Trick-or-Treat

The immediate applications of comparable extortionate Halloween trick-or-treat demands in adult business and finance that may suggest themselves are the Big Bank bailouts of 2008 and thereafter, including the more recent EU-approved and looming U.S. “bail-insthat allow banks to seize chunks of depositors savings to pay down the distressed banks’ debt. 

Bailouts, bail-ins and Halloween trick-or-treat: the same principle, the same broad acceptance, the same resistance demographics and the same outcome.

From this perspective, the U.S. big banks and their government proxies threatened a “trick”— collapse of at least the U.S. economy, vaporization of the dollar as reserve currency, even martial law, etc., if TARP funds or their equivalent were not handed over to the banks, instead of, say, to consumers, home owners, retirees or employees.

One non-extortionate alternative, actually urged and used in other recession-smacked countries, is consumer vouchers for purchases, to keep demand strong which Japan utilized in 1998 as a big component in its stimulus package back then and which mainland China, Taiwan, Japan and Thailand all instituted in the aftermath of the 2008 recession.

However, from a biggest-bank-for-your-buck perspective, the banks’ preferred bail-out scheme worked perfectly—as effectively as a 7-year-old’s skeleton mask and bones suit and with about the same limited resistance.

Mafia Trick-or-Treat

At the micro-economic level and apart from Halloween, e.g., in the routine operations of an office, trick-or-treat dynamics can also be effectively applied the other 364 days of the year.

The template is readily transferred to the workplace: open institutionalized extortion that is almost universally, if not also enthusiastically, accepted and successful, making resorting to the trick unnecessary.

The Mafia “protection” racket is, of course, the business archetype: “You pay up and we protect you from everyone, including us.” Alas, it is unclear whether the too-big-to-fail banks have lived up to their analogous promise.

Role reversals:  At its core, Halloween is, like many ancient and modern festivals, a safety valve—an outlet for pent-up frustrations, a welcome relief from the tedium of daily routine, and a release from life’s pressures and constraints.

From the kids’ perspective, Halloween is even better that that—it’s delicious revenge, relief and role reversal. It’s the one day of the year when, like licentious, and otherwise downtrodden revelers in a Roman or Rio carnival bursting with glee, little witches, zombies and devils cast off the shackles of civilization, e.g., homework, house chores and the diffuse sense of helplessness that comes with being a kid.

Anecdotal, additional evidence of this role reversal is the claim that in the family-radio era, dating from the 1930s, children on radio shows had to explain what trick-or-treating was to clueless adults, rather than vice versa.

Most to the point is that, grasping that adults possess all the natural power to command and control, kids relish the chance, however temporary, to exert supernatural power over the domineering adults who dominate their lives the rest of the year.

In short, Halloween allows kids to reverse the power structure and exercise the “kid id” within.

Hence the predominance of supernatural, super-scary costumes and role play. As for the kids who choose to be clowns, fairy princesses, elves or cowboys, they are still in pure role reversal mode as they exercise exemptions from having to be themselves and exert temporary powers to enchant, impress or control others in adult ways.

Perhaps this explains why so few kids dress up as kids on Halloween. The few who show up costumed as infants are betting on intensified helplessness rather than role reversal as their adult-manipulation technique.

As for adults in costume on Halloween—well, that’s seepage of their inner kid and its id, replete with ample examples of other role reversals, e.g., the burly dad who shows up as Dolly Parton, but with more lipstick.

Applied Workplace Trick-or-Treat

The same role-reversal satisfactions should be, where they already aren’t, made available in the workplace, because they can play a constructive, corrective part in management-employee relations.

First, and most obviously, an office Halloween party allows, through the use of costumed disguise, safe and healthy venting and offset of accumulated emotional baggage, such as the resentments and frustrations of being a subordinate, a “victim” or an exasperated boss.

Like a once-a-year trip to the cottage, a Halloween staff party can make the rest of the work year seem tolerable, if not more enjoyable.

Merely being able, even once, to shriek “Boo!” at your boss, coworker or employee can be enough of a kick or catharsis to bleed off the build-up.

As for the boss, to the extent that his accustomed role is that of calm, restrained and cool-tempered professional, the Halloween party permits him the luxury of exploring and staking out a broader image and management style, e.g., of overpowering vampire.

Other workplace extortionate role reversals can yield big payoffs the remainder of the year: A board of directors, unanimously concerned about the serious stress symptoms displayed by the company’s triple-bypassed, hypertense CEO, urges him to temporarily step down and be replaced by another member of the board, lest he have a heart attack or stroke.

Even though the threat is an arms-length sanction by Mother Nature, in effect she has been recruited as a co-conspirator.

  • Celebration of “Wall Street” Gecko’s “Greed is Good” credo:  Although Michael Douglas, as Gordon Gecko, Wall Street predator, never utters that now-iconic motto in the 1987 Oscar-winning “Wall Street”, Gecko’s speech fleshes it out:

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.”

Behaving as though they understand this, most trick-or-treating kids, always eager for more and more, would gleefully agree.

Even if not dressed up like a trick-or-treating scary banker.

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