By Colonel Smithers
Firstly, thank you, Yves, for the invitation to write a post in aid of Naked Capitalism’s fund raising month. I am delighted to do so, but feel somewhat, to use an equine analogy, of a pack horse in a field of thoroughbreds. Over the years, there have been fantastic posts, so this is exalted company that I now keep.
I imagine that the many financial and other, if not related, services professionals who frequent this blog enjoy the contributions, posts and comments, and share Yves’s objectives and concerns. So I trust if you haven’t done so already, you’ll proceed to the Tip Jar to support our collective exploration of these issues.
To be frank and, extending the horse racing analogy, this blog is competing for the classics. Much, if not most, of the mainstream media and some, but not all, blogs are selling platers, far down the handicap from where Naked Capitalism is rated. This community’s output and breadth of insight and locations puts the media to shame, not just in terms of all important content, but, in comparison with the competition, value for money, too.
I have worked in the financial services for nearly a quarter of a century, my working life. When I began in the mid-1990s, finance was not “big finance” and the behemoth that now dominates, if not perverts, the global economy and society. Finance, along with law, the civil service and what were the UK’s industrial crown jewels, e.g. GEC and ICI, provided security and respect. Neither finance nor the other sectors were perceived as gateways to wealth.
Even after the British scandals of the 1980s, vide Blue Arrow, Guinness and the misselling of personal pensions, and 1990s, vide Maxwell (pere) and Barings (also known as Leeson), finance still had a measure of respectability. Even then, there were still Tories who looked on such misbehaviour with distaste, vide Lonrho. To get on need not mean that one had to become a sociopath, if not worse. There were still partnerships and family firms in the City, although they were endangered species, where High Tory paternalism and “skin in the game”, a phrase that has become common currency as British life and even regulatory talk became Americanised, reigned. Having something in common with the leading lights at the firm, e.g. the turf in my case, often helped bridge some of the differences. It was not that uncommon for messengers and “tea boys”, e.g. David Buik and Brian Winterflood, to join from school and eventually run, if not own, their own firm.
As the millennium approached and the dot com bubble took off, the moral compass was discarded, causing disaster all over the world in the many years ahead. Gordon Gekko became a or even the person to emulate, not just his behaviour, but his vocabulary, hairstyle and sartorial style, too. The process had taken a dozen years from the “Big Bang” City reforms that brought the Square Mile into greater public consciousness. In the mid-1980s, a “barrow boy turned City slicker” explained to the BBC what many, not just in the City, were thinking: “His only aim was to get rich quick, get out of the City and watch the City become a car park”.
Many of us wrestled, and still do, with our consciences. Many of us ended up in the financial services industry, not just in London, as there was little other work available and did not plan to make career in the industry. Few, if any of us, deserve your sympathy. However, as financialisation marches on, what we have to do is increasingly emulated in other sectors, not just the private/for profit sectors, but government, too.
Even in “too big to fail” organisations, whether financial or infrastructure, it’s not difficult to work out who the sociopaths are. Stopping them, whether individually or collectively, is a different matter.
These institutions are broken, demoralised and, despite corporate and enabler propaganda aimed at undermining government and the public sector, often bastions of bureaucracy and inertia. They allow sociopaths to prosper and avoid accountability, but they are quick to punish, including blackballing throughout the sector, employees who are horrified by the lack of a moral compass.
Few people are indispensable. The few who are are quickly bought off.
Legislation, self-regulation and even honour are, to use the late astronomer Patrick Moore’s phrase, “Like using a pea shooter to stop a rhinoceros”.
How and why do firms and their rotten apples get away with it? High pay and blackballing is a disincentive to speak up or out. That applies to employees and those wishing to become employees, e.g. regulators, politicians and journalists.
The firms are also part of networks that allow like-minded persons and enablers to fraternise. This is increasingly on an international scale. The corporate reach into government, policymaking and media has also grown.
Further to my reference to Tory disapproval of corporate misbehaviour, one should compare that with New Labour’s reverence for business and “characters” like Sir Philip Green and Alan Greenspan, especially if one was an apparatchik on the make like Peter Mandelson.
How can we fight back?
In the era of corporate/oligarch owned media, including employing journalists who freelance for corporates when off air without declaring their conflicts of interest, information and insight, fresh and without corporate filtration, is essential, especially from people who share our hopes, dreams and concerns. The output from that coalescence of like-minded souls is Naked Capitalism. The depth of coverage and insight and the global extent of the poster and reader base is second to none. The comments are not without humour, too, a refreshing retort to the many po faced and sour cups of tea who preach austerity for the many and jam today for the one per cent and their enablers.
If you are able to make a contribution and enable us to find solidarity across borders and begin the long fight back, please do so by contributing with comments on and ideas and insights for posts. If you are able to help with the costs of this mammoth undertaking, please do what you can through the Tip Jar. Whether £10 of £1000, your contribution matters.
Let me explain how I came across Naked Capitalism. In the summer of 2008, not long after joining the City’s main and soon to be notorious trade body, I came across a link to a Naked Capitalism article posted by a reader on a Guardian blog. As per recent comments from The Rev Kev and Denise, I was looking for some insight into the Global Financial Crisis simmering that summer, the period between the demise of Bear Stearns and the gates of hell being opened by Lehman. I was reading at the office and hooked.
On most days and at some, if not much, cost to my productivity, the first thing that I do after logging on at work and logging off at home is to read Naked Capitalism. However, it was many years before I commented. I suspect that there are many more readers who do not comment than those who do.
Which leads me to a plea to readers who don’t comment, please do so. All of us have something to say and share. It would also be enlightening to hear from readers based or with origins in areas far removed from the Anglosphere, as well as from the Commonwealth analogues to America’s “flyover.”
Finally, why Colonel Smithers? The film enthusiasts, especially Carolinian, may be aware of the Bank of England official in Goldfinger. Although not a regulator, I deal with regulators a lot and could not think of any other regulator being depicted on screen.
If Naked Capitalism did not exist, it would have to be invented. One can tell that the blog is doing its job, upsetting the people, a definition that now includes corporations in the US, who should be upset.
Therefore, to conclude, a day, if not life, without sparkling Naked Capitalism would be rather flat, definitely not to the taste of Colonel Smithers. So drink up, and don’t forget a tip to your barkeep!